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(transcript) Oral History Interview with Icy Norman, 1979 April 6 and 30. Interview H-36. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007)
(series) Series H. Piedmont Industrialization. Southern Oral History Program Collection (H-4007)
Chapel Hill, N. C.
Southern Historical Collection, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Interview conducted on April 6 and 30, 1979, by Allen Mary Murphy; recorded in Burlington, N. C.
Interview transcribed by David Knudsen and Jean Houston
Forms part of: Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007): Series H. Piedmont Industrialization, Manuscripts Department, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Original transcript on deposit at The Southern Historical Collection Louis Round Wilson Library.
The electronic edition is a part of the UNC-CH
digitization project, Documenting the American South.
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[Interview conducted] by
Original transcript on deposit at
The Southern Historical Collection
Louis Round Wilson Library
ICY NORMAN: [. . . ] It was mean. It was just terrible.
MARY MURPHY: Were the people who first worked up in the mill from other areas? Mr. Haithcock thought that they had brought in a lot of people from New Jersey and Alabama to run some of the machines up there. And that's why a lot of the neighborhood was so rough.
NORMAN: I'll tell you, I don't know where they was from. I do know it was a lot of rough people. A lot of cussing and carrying on in the mill. But they finally got that all straightened out.
MM: Was that mostly the men?
NORMAN: Just the men. Especially on pay day night, on the second shift. They get as drunk as, they didn't know what they was doing. They got that all straightened out. Over the years you hardly hear anybody say a cuss word up there. You never did see nobody come in there drunk on the job. They got out of their Little Chicago mess when the mills went expanding. Like I told Mr. Love one time, "A lot of times it is a lot and lot of yarn that is wasted." I says, "You're making waste. Which if people would just stop long enough and take time, they can run that yarn. You're losing a lot of yarn that could be made into good cloth." I reckon he told the boss man and they got to watching some of them. They'd go and check on them and see. It was terrible, awful that the waste them people made. They'd just tear off yards and yards of cloth. It was just a mess there for a while. They finally got the mill going and going straight. I reckon people went to getting concerned about their jobs, and all and I went to taking only a little interest in it. But as I said, a lot of people would go to the restroom and sit two and three hours and left their job standing. That's not right. I believe in doing your job and not laying down on it, not slacking back waiting on somebody else. Everybody who is in any kind of mill work, any kind of textile work, they give
you a job and they expect you to do that job. They don't expect you to lay back and lay down and let it be in a mess when the next man come in on that job. I can always say that my job, when I left it, it was straightened out. The next one that come in on my job didn't have any problems. My trucks was filled up, my mills was creeled up. Of course, when we was skein winding, we had to run all of our yarn off and clean our swifts off and wipe up. But creeling, they had a thing that went around the mill and blowed the lint off. We didn't have to clean up. Maybe every two or three months we'd have to take all the yarn out, and as they'd say, "Wash the mill." We'd clean it with rags and alcohol. Then we'd creel it back up, thread it back up, start it again. I always left my job in good shape.
MM: Was it very dusty in the mill?
NORMAN: Yeah, it was pretty dusty in the cotton part. That creeling job was something on cotton until they put them fans that run around the track. That would blow the lint off of it. It was terrible until they put that up there. Out there in the cotton winding room, I don't know whether they ever did get anything. Now they did on the twisters, they had them blow things on the twisters that would run around the track. That kept the lint off of the yarn. But now the winding, they'd have to stop off about twice a day and clean up in the cotton winding room.
MM: Did people have trouble breathing sometimes?
NORMAN: I don't know. I never did work in the cotton winding room. The only cone winding I done was on them little Universal winders. But I did work on the cotton creeling. Them fans kept it blowed. The lint, and it wasn't too linty. When the mill was stopped off and we was changing the mill or creeling a mill on it was pretty linty. But when we started it up them fans would start blowing. Then the lint would all blow off.
MM: Do you ever remember any strikes up at the mill?
MM: When was that?
NORMAN: I believe it was in the latter part of '30 or maybe '31. They struck up there and I think they were out about two weeks. Then the old union would come to the mill and give out them old papers, wanted you to sign up. A lot of them did sign up. I never did sign up for it.
MM: How come?
NORMAN: I don't know. I didn't understand all it was about. I didn't think it was a good thing to do, to be honest with you. So I never did sign up for it. But a lot of them up there did sign up for it. But they never did get the union. Three or four months they would be out there. Then they put that fence around the mill.
MM: When was that that they put the fence up?
NORMAN: That there was along about '34 or '35.
They'd be out there at the gate with them old union papers wanting you to sign up. A lot of them in the Burlington Mill did sign up. And one time they thought that they really had the union, but they never did get it. But I never did mess with it.
MM: Did people come around and talk to you about why you should join?
NORMAN: Yes. I'd tell them I wasn't interested in it and they'd go on and leave me alone. I didn't know whether it was good or bad so I didn't mess with it. Something I don't know nothing about I don't like to mess with. So I just never did mess with it.
MM: When they went on strike, did everybody go out?
NORMAN: Yes, they had shooting. Up there at the Plaid Mill they shot
out the windows and they done right much damage up there. I know they'd all gang up up here, but I don't think there was ever any shooting up here. Down at the Plaid Mill it was. They'd throw rocks, break out the window lights. All of that while they was on strike up there. I believe Mayfair and Plaid Mill both was out.
MM: Why did the people go on strike?
NORMAN: They claimed they wanted more money. (Laughter) That's all I could ever hear them say. They did do right much damage up there at Plaid Mill and Mayfair.
MM: Did you know Reverend Swinney very well?
NORMAN: Oh, yeah.
MM: What was he like?
NORMAN: He was a sweet person. He was just a friend to everybody. When we come here the Glen Hope Church was in a little wooden building. Like you're going up Beaumont towards the mill at the stoplight. Over on the left after you turn, it would be on the right. It was a little wooden building up there. And that's where Preacher Swinney started preaching. In that little wooden building. Then they built the first church. That's the one that got burnt down. Then they moved. Where he was they kind of made a little apartment out of it. I think Holt owned that. They lived out in the field in a great old big house. But now Burlington Mills bought all that and tore that house out and made a parking lot and built a trucking terminal and all out there. They owned it. They had a three room apartment that people lived in. They finally bought so much of that land back over where it was at that they tore it down.
Yeah, Preacher Swinney was a fine person. He had a hand in making Burlington what it is. Really have to give him the praise for that.
He really had a great hand in making Burlington Mill people and the rest of Burlington what it is.
MM: He was very influential?
NORMAN: Yeah, he was a good person. He was a likable person. He just had friends everywhere.
MM: Did he and Spencer Love . . . .
NORMAN: Yeah, him and Spencer Love was real close. Spencer Love would give money to that church, money to help build that church. When that first church burnt down, I think Burlington Mills give them money on the church now that they got. I think they put in a whole lot of money to start it back.
MM: But they had helped build the first one, too?
NORMAN: Yeah. Spencer Love give big donations on that. And they give a lot on this other church. All of them head officials of the Burlington plant and Swinney was real close friends.
MM: Did you go to the Glen Hope Church? Would he ever talk about the mill at church?
NORMAN: You know like homecoming, he would always tell about. Sometimes Preacher Swinney would say that Spencer Love told him that whenever he needed anything to come to him and he would get it. Some of the rest of them might have told you that he would go and tell him the problem and Spencer Love would give him the money. Spence helped a lot in that church up there. I reckon they still give some to it, I ain't telling it for sure. But I do know that other church they did.
MM: Did Reverend Swinney's brother used to work up in the commissary in the mill? I thought Mr. Haithcock told me that Jack Swinney ran the commissary up there.
NORMAN: You mean the one that started the commissary. Might have been him coming around. They started bringing a little long tub on wheels in twice a day, with ice in it with ale. Then they started bringing little cookies and like that in. It was a hand cart. Now, what was his name? Anyway, he opened the commissary. He run the commissary for years and years. Until they expanded and built a place for the employees to go eat. Get things, all kinds of stuff out of the machines. He quit then. Bill Hancock was his name. He went somewhere and then went up there and started a little ice cream parlor. That's the last account I have of Bill Hancock. But he run that commissary. I can't remember nothing about . . . unless it was, I don't think it was Preacher Swinney's brother. It could have been.
MM: Did you know Mrs. Swinney?
NORMAN: She's just the sweetest.
MM: We're going to try to call her and see if we can visit her sometime next week.
NORMAN: Have you been up to Clarence's and Irene's? That's Preacher Swinney's daughter and son-in-law. He's the pastor of the church now. Clarence Vaughn. He lives right up there in that brick house. That's where Preacher Swinney and Mrs. Swinney lived. They built that for them. Swinney retired and they bought this house that they're living in, the church did, for Preacher Swinney and Mrs. Swinney. Then Clarence and Irene moved in the pastor's house there. But the church bought this home. You ought to go see them and talk to them.
MM: Did your mother ever work in the mill?
NORMAN: Not here. My mother worked some in Schoolfield. My daddy never would let her work. She had a job and worked I reckon about three months. My baby sister, she was just a little baby. They had a nursery. They would
take me and my brother and my baby sister--she wasn't four months old--to the nursery. Mama worked three or six months, I can't say. One morning there my daddy told her, "I didn't marry you to work. You got all the work you need at home and your children. It's not a wife's place to work. If a man can't make a living for his wife and children, he ain't no business marrying. Now if you going to work, I'll quit and come home and tend to our children." So Mama went in and worked her notice and come home. That's all she ever did work. My daddy wouldn't let her work. He didn't like it because she worked then. I don't think it was over three or maybe six months she worked. He says, "I'm not dragging these little young ones out in the cold carrying them to that nursery of a morning. Your place is at home and that's where you're going to be. If I can't make a living for you, then you can go to work and I'll quit and tend to the young ones."
MM: What kind of nursery was that?
NORMAN: They had trained nurses, real nurses. I mean they had a degree. It was a big nursery that the company had. They would keep tiny babies, year-olds, two years on up until they was sixteen years old. They had a category for each one. They had trained nurses. They checked when you went in that nursery--they changed your clothes, they put their clothes on you. They checked each child every morning. The little tots, where they could set up at the table, they had a big round table about that wide with little chairs for them little young ones to sit there and eat. Then they had place for the bigger children. It was a huge place, you know. They went in age groups. They had doctors to come in once a week to check each child. If any one of the children was running a temperature they would send for its mother to come home, to come to the nursery to take that child home.
MM: Did the mill pay for that?
NORMAN: The mill paid for that. Old Dr. Crumpler was the mill doctor there. They had a dentist. I forget what the dentist's name was. One time I had a toothache. My daddy carried me up there. That old dentist pulled my tooth. Didn't numb it, I thought I would die, sure enough. That made me scared of dentists. It was years before I'd go to one.
MM: It sounds like the mill ran the whole city.
NORMAN: They did. They built a Y.M.C.A. and they had this nursery. Then they built a huge Hilton Hall. Oh, that was a huge building. It was eight stories high, counting the two ground floors, counting the basement. They built that. People could go there that worked in the mill and have a boarding place. They served your meals and everything. They didn't charge but so much a week. All they had to do was cross the railroad and right into the mill. Then they built that Y.M.C.A. Then they put a movie in here. They had a huge city park. That was the most beautifulest park you ever seen. It was then, I don't know how it is now. I ain't been over there in years. Schoolfield just run all of Schoolfield.
North Danville, they had a cotton mill down there. They went in together and expanded. They are kind of expanding like the Burlington Mill, expanding out. Seems like the Plaid Mill or the Mayfair did run some yarn, nylon, for the Dan River. They expanding out too.
MM: Did you know Hester Taylor? She lives over on Rt. 100 going towards Elon. She came from Schoolfield and used to work up at the mill. She was a weaver.
NORMAN: I don't know but one Hester Taylor. I wonder if that there is my cousin.
MM: Her husband's name was Ellis.
NORMAN: I don't remember this one. The one I'm talking about has been married twice. Her and her first husband is separated.
MM: I don't think that's this one. I was just talking to her the other day and she used to board up in Hilton Hall. She couldn't remember the name of it.
NORMAN: Hilton Hall was the name of it. They had swimming pools there. They had exercise rooms, a gym. A huge gym. Once a week us school children we'd go swimming there. One day out of the week we'd go to the gym. One day out of the week we'd go learn to cook. One day out of the week we'd go learn to sew, the girls would. They had something else for the boys, too. But I never did learn to swim. I still don't know how to swim. It would just tickle us to death to go over to that Hilton Hall. It was so pretty. We'd go over to that gym, we'd play. They had all kinds of swings and things. Now they never did have no see-saw. When we went into that gym we had to have our white tennis shoes on and our white socks. If we didn't have no white tennis shoes we had to pull our shoes off. That floor was just like a looking glass. But if we had our white tennis shoes, we could wear our white tennis shoes in there. We'd go over there and have plays over there. It was just wonderful.
MM: Did you like school?
NORMAN: I liked school up until I was in the fifth grade and my mama got sick. My daddy couldn't get nobody--back then it was hard to get anybody to stay with you.
MM: Did they hire their teachers as well?
NORMAN: Went to school over on Baltimore. Had a great old big school over there. It went to the ninth grade, was the highest it went. Then when you got to the tenth grade you had to go over there towards Luland Lake. You had to go over there to that school when you got to the tenth grade. Over there in Baltimore school you could go until the tenth grade. I wished I had a went on back. I see where I made my mistake. I thought I'd be out six weeks. I never would catch it up which I could have. But I never did go back.
MM: So when did you get your first paying job?
NORMAN: When I first went to work? That was at Elkin. They have a shoe factory there. My aunt, my daddy's sister, worked in the shoe factory. She'd always come over there on Sunday night and my brother would take her to Elkin. She stayed down with my cousin all week. Dewey would get her and bring her and then she'd go on home. Sunday night she told mama, "I want to take Icy down with me and let her see the shoe factory. It'd be a curiosity to her." I wasn't but thirteen years old. Mama says, "We got a big day. Got a big washing to do, I don't care if she goes if she gets back and gets this washing out." So I went on down there. Aunt Leotta carried me all over the shoe factory. Fred Knees was over. We was looking at different things, the cutting room. We started from where they started the shoe and ended up where the shoe was ready for you to wear, to be sold.
Fred Knees come up and he says, "Miss Carter, who is this little lady you got?"
Aunt Leotta says, "That's my niece."
He says, "Does she want a job?" I looked at him and thought my goodness, he's crazy.
Aunt Leotta laughed and said, "Yeah, she wants a job." Aunt Leotta was full of life, you know. He says, "Well, take her on up there with you and learn, show her how."
I looked at her and says, "I didn't come down here after no job."
Aunt Leotta says, "You come on here." Well, I went on. She told Dewey that Fred give me a job and he went home. Boy, mama had a fit. That young one down there, she ain't old enough to work.
I went in there and learnt to make shoes.
MM: What was that like?
NORMAN: It was electric sewing machines. They had a cutting room. They had sizes and would cut so many shoes out, vamps, and then they would cut the heel part. Then they would send it to the sewing room. Well, you take it there. They had it stamped. You put it on that brandisher, back part of the shoe to the vamp and you sewed. You'd go up this side and back down, make two little stitches along there. When you got that done, they'd take you along to the one that made the linings. The linings was made just like the shoe. And they'd make that and stack it and send it on in to where they put the soles on. Then they'd send it. Then put the heel on. It was interesting. I worked there then until it went bankrupt. Fred Knees then went into the woolen mill.
My daddy died in February. He come up there and he told mama. See, my daddy owned this farm. He told mama, "Now, I can give Icy a job in the inspecting room."
Mama says, "Can you give Barney and Dewey a job?"
He says, "No, I can't put them on right now. I ain't got no opening. But I can put Icy to work. I got an opening in the inspecting room." That's inspecting them blankets. I know you seen them Chatham blankets.
Mama says, "No she's not going to go to work unless you give Barney and Dewey a job. If she goes to work they'll have to take her down there and go get her, bring her back. That's too much running. I don't want her staying away from home all week."
MM: How far was the farm?
NORMAN: About nine miles. He says, "Let Icy go to work and maybe in a few days I can have an opening for Barney and Dewey."
Mama says, "No, if you can't put them all three to work, she ain't going to work."
MM: Your mother sounds like a tough bargainer.
NORMAN: Mama knowed how to manage and she knowed how to make a living. Naturally she didn't want me away from home, me nothing but a young one. I wasn't but thirteen years old. Well, I was fourteen then, I just worked at the shoe factory a year 'till it went busted. So, it would cause Barney and Dewey to make a lot of trips. Mama couldn't see no point in that. Then we went to Linksburg and I got a job in the cotton mill there filling batteries.
I worked there a long time. And Dooley Carter, the fixer that was in the shoe factory, he found out that he run into Barney and Dewey. He was a boss man then. I know you seen the Craddock Terry shoes. He come over there on Sunday evening. He says, "Icy, I want you to go to work for me over in the Craddock Terry shoe factory." Talking about a shoe factory. That thing was three stories high. Boy, you walk in that mill you thought you was walking on a piece of glass. Everything was clean as a pin. You didn't see nothing out of place.
I says, "Dooley, how much will I make?"
He says, "I'll start you off at two dollars and a quarter a day." That was more than I was making in the cotton mill.
I says, "Allright, when do you want me to come in? I'll have to tell Mr.
Sneed and work my notice."
He says, "You work this week's notice and then you be over there next week."
I went over there and I worked. Then work got bad. We'd work a week and stand two weeks. That's when we come to Burlington. See, I was working and making money. I come to Burlington and went into the Burlington Mills with nothing.
MM: When you were learning to sew on the shoes and then in the cotton mill, did they pay you while you were learning?
NORMAN: Yeah. They started me right off. I made five dollars a week in the shoe factory. No, five dollars and a half because we worked five days and a half. Dooley, he started me off at two dollars and a quarter a day.
MM: Did you like the work in the shoe factory?
NORMAN: I just loved the shoe factory. I enjoyed it and I hated to quit. Barney and Dewey didn't get no work period. I was the only one that was a working. Then I'd work a week and be out two weeks. And so mama said she thought it was better for us to go see if we could get a job where all could work. So we took off and we come to Burlington and have been in Burlington ever since.
MM: What year was that, that you came to Burlington?
NORMAN: Twenty-nine. Been fifty years.
MM: When you and your mother moved from the farm to Linksburg, did you sell the farm?
NORMAN: No, not right then. We did later on. We sold it after we moved here.
MM: Could you not make a living off the farm?
NORMAN: Oh, yeah. But mama just took a notion she wanted to sell it. I begged her not to sell it. She had the say-so, so she sold it.
MM: Did you like living on the farm?
NORMAN: Yeah, I enjoyed it. I'd get out there about daylight. Dooley, he would be a plowing this field. I'd be in this field on a harrow I'd have that field harrowed by the time he had that field plowed. Then we'd plant our crop. Then when the stuff come in we worked from sun up to sun down. That was good days. Back then you could work in the field until it was so dark you couldn't. Then you'd come in and have to milk the cow and feed the horses or the mules, whatever you had. Then fix supper. Then wash the dishes. Then you'd have time to go somewhere in the neighborhood. You know, the neighbors there lived a half a mile, maybe a mile apart. Some of them two miles. Some would always come to my house. We'd take a circle and we'd visit everybody, they'd take a circle until they'd visited everybody. And everybody just had a good time. Now people don't have time. They have more things to work with. They don't even know what the next door neighbors is doing. That's the truth.
Now you take a lot of places here in Burlington, you can have a lot of sickness and your next door neighbor don't know you're sick. You can have a death in your family and they don't know anybody's dead. I don't believe in that. I believe in fellowship and being friends and cooperating with everybody. I reckon it is because the way my daddy and mama raised me. People this day and time, they don't act like they care anything for you. All for self. But me, the greatest joy is if I can do you a favor. I want to do you that favor. I get more joy out of that and more happiness. If somebody's sick that I know I can
go to them and help them, any hour day or night. I'm ready to go. It's a joy to go in fellowship and do for people. That's my great--I said I didn't have no family. In the other sense of the word, I've got a big family, because I try to fellowship with the other fellow. If they need something, I'm there to help them. If I can do them a favor, I'm there to do it. I think that there is a lot of joy to me. Of course, some people may think that ain't no joy in doing that. But it is. You just come right down to it, you get more joy out of doing some little thing than anything in the world. You know, money can't buy happiness. Money can't buy joy. That's why I said I enjoyed working on my job. I got a pleasure out of it and it made me happy to do my job. When I come out of that mill, I know that I done the very best I could. Somewhere along the way I felt a peaceful mind. It's wonderful to feel that way. When I left the Burlington Mill, I left my family. They all felt like my brothers and sisters. I worked with some of them so long. I was the oldest one in Pioneer Plant, the oldest hand that they had. When those others come along, I got acquainted with them, I growed to love them. And I growed to fellowship with them. We'd all laugh and have fun together. It was just like leaving one of my family. I couldn't help but cry. I said all the time I wasn't going to cry. When I went out and started home I did cry, but they didn't know it.
MM: You didn't think it was the difference between living in the country and living here that made that difference of neighbors?
NORMAN: You mean trying to be friends with people. My daddy and mother teached us eight children to love and fellowship. If you could share something with somebody, do that. I reckon it was the way I was raised. Now you take
us children. If we had something that the other one didn't have, we shared it, what little we had, with them. Back then children didn't have things like children has today. We didn't know what toys was. We would get an allowance, each one of us, a nickel a week. We thought that was something. We'd go to the store and buy a nickel's worth of candy. We'd get a big sack full of candy for a nickel. My brothers and my sisters eat theirs all up and I had some. I just sat down and we share it together. That's the way we was. And if mine was gone, we'd share it until it was all gone. I reckon it was the way I was raised. I reckon it was one reason I took so much interest in employees. Now there was a lot of employees, different ones would learn them their job. They never did go back to lend that girl a lending hand if she got in a hole. I'd feel so sorry for her. I'd go over there and help her get straightened out. Really, it wasn't my place to go. I always put other people before me. I love to see other people have plenty and have everything they want if I don't have it. I get the joy of seeing them being happy.
MM: What kind of things did people do together in the country?
NORMAN: At school they'd have a supper. They'd call it a box supper. The teenagers, the young ones, they'd fix it. Well, if we was going to have a supper tonight at the school, well, you would cook something yourself. And you'd fix you a box and you'd wrap it real pretty. But you'd fix your box so you knowed it from the others. You didn't put your name on it. They would give that box off. The one that bid the highest, well, you had to eat supper with the boy. That was a lot of fun. We would have ice cream suppers and we'd have parties. In the wintertime they'd have dances in some of the homes. Of course, my daddy never would let them have a dance there. But he didn't care if us young ones was going. The young people would meet at our house once a
week. We'd have the biggest time. But my daddy never would let them have a dance. We'd go to dances at some of the rest of the homes. But we had to be home from that dance by ten-thirty, at the latest. No later. If we was later than ten-thirty we didn't get to go no more for a while. I don't know, all of us boys and girls go together. We all growed up together. We just had a big time. I reckon when you been with somebody like that and then you go into a textile mill, go to working, well, it come natural that you want fellowship with your co-workers. You want to be acquainted with them, to be friends with them. You take a lot of people come in the mill and work eight hours and never speak to you.
MM: Would people in the mill village get together and do things like that?
NORMAN: Yeah, they have the church. Senior citizens. They meet once a week and carry a covered dish. Then they meet, like the Sunday school classes, at your house. And the next month they meet at somebody else's house until it goes around. They have this big bus at the church, senior citizens go different places. I believe it was sometime along in March they went to Charlotte for the day. They go trips. People get together. Anybody can go on that wants to, if the bus ain't filled up. If you find out they're going, you just have to call Mildred and ask her if they got a vacant seat and you can go.
Another thing I enjoy, I like to get up real early and take my mile walk. But it's been so bad I ain't been this week.
MM: Where do you walk?
NORMAN: I usually go out Piedmont Way, down Hopedale Road, back down North Mebane Street back in around to the stoplight back up to Beaumont then back home. It's a mile.
MM: When you first came here, how big was the mill village?
NORMAN: Just a little old bitty place.
MM: Mostly over by Piedmont Way?
NORMAN: Yeah. Let's see, Piedmont Way and then Long Street was the mill houses. That street over there back of Long St., it was mill houses. But the ones that was going from the corner of Piedmont Way on Beaumont down on the left side, they was the Silk Mill houses. But then from Piedmont back to that other street was Burlington Mill houses.
MM: Do you know when this part of the town was incorporated into Burlington?
NORMAN: I don't remember.
MM: Because people say it was a real rough neighborhood until it got incorporated because there wasn't any law out here. There weren't any policemen out here.
NORMAN: Well, the roughest thing was people moving in and out of the houses. They'd get drunk and they'd fight. But that never did happen on the street I lived on. Back there on that street where Lottie Adams live, that street was pretty bad. They'd get drunk and they'd get to fighting. I don't know what year it was they incorporated, but it's been a long long time. Might have been in the '35s, somewhere along in there they incorporated. Then the policemen would make a round, but they didn't go every street. If you needed a policeman, you had to call him. He would make a round, like it was Beaumont then. But it wasn't no name. He'd make a round, back around by the mill and back in town, up Church Street, North Main Street, rather. Then they built that road on in and called it North Church.
MM: What kind of crops did you grow on the farm?
NORMAN: We growed corn and all of our vegetables. We didn't raise no tobacco. My daddy would plant one row in the back for chewing tobacco. That's all the tobacco he would plant. We'd have wheat, we'd have rye. When we gathered all of our corn, we'd cut them tops--now I was working in the shoe factory then, Dewey was, too. Barney wasn't there, he was somewhere in Roanoke. Me and him, we'd work until six o'clock. We'd come home and mama would have supper on the table. That's the only time my daddy would let me wear a pair of overalls, would be when I was cutting tops or pulling fodder. He'd let me wear a pair of Barney's overalls and tie them around the ankles on account of snakes. Me and Dewey we would come in at six o'clock. Well, in the fall of the year at six o'clock, it's dark. We'd go out there and cut tops and tie them tops and pull fodder by the moonlight until eleven or twelve o'clock by a night. To take care of our fodder and stuff for the cows and horses. Then we'd go pull the corn. Then we'd have a corn shucking. Now, that's when you'd have a good time.
They'd have a pile of corn bigger than this house. They'd shuck that corn. The mothers would always cook dinner, if it was dinnertime. At suppertime another neighbor would cook supper. Then after the corn shucking they'd give us young people a dance. That was a lot of fun. Then they'd have quilting. People would gather and have quilting at different houses. It would be the same way. They'd cook a big dinner, a big supper. And after that was through, the eating and everything, they'd pull everything back and the young people would have a little square dance.
MM: Who would play the music?
NORMAN: Different ones would make music. My daddy never would let no dancing going on. But he never did care us having a little party, a sociable party. Back then, if we both went to a dance. You had a fellow and me had a fellow. Teenage girls usually have them a partner. Like you and your partner and me and my partner. We went over here to this house, they was going to have a little dance there. They wouldn't have it at the same place every week.
MM: Let's start when you were born.
NORMAN: I was born in Coalwood, West Virginia. My daddy was a bank boss there. Something like a boss in a mill here, but they called them "bank boss" in the mines. We left West Virginia.
MM: When was it you were born?
NORMAN: In 1911. The thirteenth of April. It was on Easter Sunday, snow, mama said, was knee deep. As best as I can remember, I've had two birthdays on Easter Sunday. They left from there then--I wasn't but three months old.
MM: Were you the oldest?
NORMAN: No, my brother that lives in Florida is eighteen months older than I am. My mother was married twice. Barney, he was born in West Virginia, but he was born in Dixon. But I was born in Coalwood. And he's eighteen months older than me. We left from there and went back to Wilkes County up in the mountains. My daddy stayed there. I think he put out two crops. Then he went to Schoolfield.
MM: When he was farming, did he buy his farm or was he renting?
NORMAN: He owned a farm. Then we went to Schoolfield. I think I was around three or four years old. I don't remember going to Schoolfield then.
Well then he took a notion to go back to the farm. Well, he went back. I was about eight years old when we left and went back to Schoolfield. Stayed there fifteen years and he worked on one job fifteen years.
MM: What did he do?
NORMAN: He run an elevator in Number Four Mill. He worked there fifteen years. His health got bad. Back then, doctors was good doctors, but they really didn't know then what they do now. They didn't have the kind of medicine and they really didn't know what to do like they do now. My daddy got sick, he had high blood and sugar diabetes. He had heart dropsy. He got to the place he just wasn't able to work. He wanted to go back to the mountains to live and die there. So we moved back to the mountains in 1927, the fourteenth of February. He lived from then until the ninth of February of 1929. He died on the ninth. That's how long he lived after he did quit work.
My mama had him in all the hospitals. Winston-Salem and High Point. She had him in Danville before we left from there. Then she had him in Mt. Airy hospital. They all told her they wouldn't operate on him for nothing. Said his blood was so high that he would die. He had a fatted tumor in his stomach. That tumor was so big you could see the shape of it when he'd have his clothes on. He had high blood and sugar and heart dropsy and then that fatted tumor. He died kind of sudden on Saturday night.
MM: All this time, how were you getting along? He wasn't working.
NORMAN: Well, see mama has been married twice and she had five children by her first husband. So my daddy, he helped raise them five children. Then she had three by my daddy. Barney and me and Florence, my sister that lives in Greensboro. She's the baby. The baby boy by her first husband, he was
grown. He farmed. And me and him, we would put a crop out. Then they had a shoe factory there in Elkin. My aunt, my daddy's baby sister, would come home. She'd stay down there with Jenny all week and then Dewey would go get her on Saturday. She'd go home and stay and Dewey would take her back Sunday night or Monday morning. One Sunday night she stayed all night at our house. She told mama, she says, "Let Icy go with me down there, I'll take her over to the shoe factory and it will be a treat for her." It tickled me to death. I wasn't but a young one, thirteen years old. I wanted to go see it.
Mama says, "Well now, we got a big washing to do. If she'll get back in time to help me start that washing, she can go."
I got up next morning and went with Aunt Leotta and Dewey, carried her down there. She was showing me over the plant, how they cut out shoes and how they sewed them. She sewed, that's what she done. She showed me where they put the bottoms in the heels. She showed me where they smoothed them off and polished them, ready to ship out. That just tickled me to death. We started back up the steps and we run into Fred Knees.
He says, "Miss Carter, who is that little girl you got with you?"
She says, "That's my niece. That's my brother's daughter."
He says, "Does she want a job?"
Before I could say "No," Aunt Leotta says, "Yes, she wants a job." Well, it scared me to death.
I says, "No, I don't want a job either."
Aunt Leotta says, "Yes she does, too! Put her to work, Fred." "Alright," he says, "You come along with me, little girl." I was scared to death. I didn't go for no job. I just went to see it. He carried me over
there and he told me to stay with Aunt Leotta. She showed me everything about it. Well, I could sew on a pedal sewing machine, but these here was electric. Anyway, I reckon it was electric, too, because you just mash a pedal and the thing would just fly. He put me out by myself. He put me on the leather part, he put me out making the linings. Well, I messed up I don't know how many. That machine would go so fast and I was scared to death, too.
Well, I didn't go home and did mama throw a fit. She told Dewey, "You get in that car and you go down there after that young one. She's not going to go to work."
Dewey says, "Mama, I can't. She's already at work."
My daddy says, "Aw, Charity, they'll cook her. She'll come home if Dewey goes down there."
Dewey says, "No, Aunt Leotta told me to tell mama to fix some clothes and send Icy and we'd be home Saturday." I stayed down there and stayed at Jenny's. Well, you know, I loved to sew anyway. I just enjoyed that after I got the hang of it. It didn't take me over a day to get the hang of the machine. So then he put me out sewing the vamp of the leather onto the sides. After I got on that I made a little more money. I made five dollars and a half a week for five days and a half.
Saturday I went home and mama just had a fit. My daddy says, "Charity, now just hush. Let that young one work if she wants to. She don't have to work. If she likes it, let her work a while."
Well, I went back. Aunt Leotta come back Sunday night. Instead of going to Jenny's Sunday night we went to work Monday morning. We would just cross that little old branch, at dinnertime, and go in Jenny's house. She'd have a hot dinner on the table. We'd eat dinner and go back. We'd work until six
o'clock. We'd eat supper. I was really liking my job. Of course, I didn't make nothing but I thought that I was rich when I got that five dollars and a half. You know they didn't take nothing out of it. I'd go home and I never would open--you know then they would pay you in a little brown envelope about that long, and it was sealed up and would tell how much was in that envelope--I never opened my envelope. On Friday night--no, on Saturday. On Saturday Dewey brought my daddy to the doctor down there. While my daddy was in the doctor's office he come up there and got me and Aunt Leotta. Well, went on home. That was my first paycheck. We got back home, my daddy had to lay down and rest a little while. See, we had to go nine miles from Elkin to where we lived. So mama had the dinner on the table but he had to lay down and rest a while. I went in there and I says, "Papa, here's my money. Look and see how much I draw." He looked and he says, "I'm tickled for you."
I says, "It's yours."
He says, "I don't want it. That's your money."
I says, "Uh-uh. It's yours."
He says, "You take this and do with it whatever you want to do with it."
I says, "No, papa. I want you to have it."
You know as long as he lived I give him my money. He go to Elkin, he'd go like sometime through the week. He would surprise me when I went home on Saturday. Mama didn't like it at all because she was short of me helping her do all that work. I'd go home on Saturday--we got paid every week. I'd take my money and give it to my daddy.
He says, "I'm tired of you giving me that money. I don't want it. It's your money. You take it and buy what you want to. If you don't want to buy
nothing, you save it.
I says, "No, I want you to have it."
He says, "I don't need it."
"Well, you take it."
He'd go down there. I'd come home on Saturday. About once a month he'd have me the prettiest outfit you ever seen. He was the best somebody to buy clothes. I know one Easter he went and bought me a new dress and a new pair of shoes and he got me a hat and he bought me a spring coat. First spring coat I ever remember seeing. Oh, I thought it was the prettiest thing I ever seen. You know right today I can't buy nothing I'm satisfied with. My daddy, he could go buy things for me and it was just perfect. My mama, she couldn't buy nothing that I liked. Mama would go buy me things but I didn't like it. But just seemed like my daddy knew exactly what to buy me. And today I can go see things that I think that I like. I get home and I don't like them. That's one thing I think my daddy ruint me. He ought have made me start buying things. He was the best thing you ever seen. He would go to town. He bought all of mama's clothes. Mama never did offer to go buy her an outfit. She was like me. She would get home and she was dissatisfied with it. He'd go pick out. He knowed exactly what to get that would look good on her, that would look pretty on her. Well, after he died. The shoe factory then went busted and I was out of a job.
MM: Did you like working in the factory better than working on the farm?
NORMAN: Oh, yeah. But I'm getting a little too fast. In the meantime me and Dewey still put the crop out. He was there by day and I would help when I got home, you know.
Well, Fred come and told me one Saturday, "You tell Dewey to come in. I need a hand in the cutting room."
I says, "Goody. Goody. Goody. I get to go home every night." So I told Dewey. And Dewey, he went to work. Well, we had the crop planted and it was coming up. We would work. We'd have to work until six o'clock. We'd get home and since we eat, we'd take off to the field. He would plow and I'd hoe. We worked that way and raised our crop.
MM: What were you raising?
NORMAN: We raised corn, beans, stuff like that to eat on the farm. Back then you couldn't go to the store and buy vegetables. You had to raise everything you'd eat through the winter. We raised wheat for flour. Of course that wasn't no trouble. All you done, you sowed your wheat in the fall. That's all you had to do to it until you thrashed it. Then a man come around with a wheat thrasher and with a crew of men and they'd thrash a big field of wheat in a day. Yeah, you had to raise everything you eat. We would always raise potatoes. I've often wondered why people can't do that this day and time. Back then we would raise potatoes anywhere from seventy-five to a hundred bushels of Irish potatoes. My daddy would have Dewey there in the field take this wheat straw and put down and put a shock of fodder and corn right in the middle and stand it up and pour them potatoes around it and then cover them up in wheat straw and pack dirt all the way around them. And we done our sweet potatoes that way.
MM: That kept them?
NORMAN: Yeah. And we done our cabbage that way. And turnips. My daddy would have us pull our turnips up. They call them holing them away. And we'd
fix them. We had all of our sweet potatoes and cabbages and turnips and Irish potatoes and stuff like that holed away. Then mama would always can all of our beans and made her jelly and canned all of her fruit. You didn't know what it was to go to the store and buy something because they didn't have it. All you could find in the store would be this green coffee, and even then you had to parch it. You could buy sugar and salt. We had our hogs. We had our chickens. We raised everything we eat, you know. They take the wheat and have it ground up in flour. We'd take our corn and have it ground up for corn bread. We had plenty of milk and butter. What more do you need? You had everything. When the crop was laid by, me and Dewey would come home and pull fodder, tie them bundles of fodder by the moonlight. By the time we got home then it was dark. We'd eat supper and we'd take off to the fields. We maybe have ten or fifteen acres in corn. We'd pull all that fodder and go back and cut all them tops and tie them. Shuck them, and stack them up. Then we'd go back and pull our corn. We done that by the moonlight. Then they'd have a big corn shucking. People would come in and help shuck your corn and throw it in the crib. Maybe the next neighbor would have his ready and we'd all go to house. That's the way they done until everybody got their corn shucked. And put away in the smoke house. Then on Saturday evening me and Dewey would cut wood to last all the woolen week, to burn in the fireplace and cook with, too. We'd stay there all evening until late at night sawing wood and packing it up do all the week. That was our Saturday evening's work.
Then the shoe factory shut down. My daddy he died the ninth of February, 1929. So, Fred come up there. He told mama, he says--he went to the wool
mill, he was overseer there--"I can put Icy to work. She'll make good money in that woolen mill. I can put her in there inspecting."
Mama says, "Well, will you give Barney and Dewey a job." Well, Barney and Dewey had a job down there and I don't know what happened. Well, I do too. I think they got sleepy. Went out there and crawled down in a car and went to sleep and left the machine running. They fired them.
He says, "No, I can't give them no job. Now you got your home here. You got your living made at home. Let Icy go to work in the woolen mill. I've even got her a ride so she can come home. To go every morning and come home every night."
Mama says, "No, if you can't give Dewey and Barney a job I ain't going to let her go to work."
I just begged mama to let me. We had a home there and had everything. My daddy had three great big hogs killed. We had over fifteen hundred pounds of meat hanging in the smokehouse. No, mama wouldn't do it. So we went to Linksburg.
MM: Did you sell the farm?
NORMAN: No we kept our farm. Mama's twin sister lived at Linksburg. She wrote her and told her to have Uncle Hugh see if he could get us a job. He wrote back and said, "Yeah, they said they'd give us all a job." In the meantime Dewey and Barney both had married. So we took off then to Linksburg, where Rosetta worked a while. But she didn't get to work but three months because she was pregnant with her first. That was Dewey's wife. So Mary, Barney's wife had a little baby. He wasn't quite nine months old. He was born the fourth of December, 1928. My Daddy died in February. Then we moved to Linksburg on my birthday the 13th of April. That's how old Gilbert was.
So Mary, she didn't try to go to work. Me and Dewey and Barney and Rosetta worked--she worked about three months and then she had to quit. At first she didn't know that she was that way when she got her job. We worked there then until August. They closed the mill down for two weeks. They'd work a week, then stand two weeks. You know, back then you didn't draw no unemployment. So the two weeks that the mill stood, Mama told Dewey and Barney, "We can't live here like that. You don't know, the thing may shut down for good. We're going to go hunt us a job, hunt you all a job." So we got in my daddy's old T-Model. The whole two weeks that the mill stood there, we was on the road hunting jobs. We went everywhere. Back then it was in the Depression was starting. Mills was closing down. So you just couldn't get a job. Every freight train that you seen pass was loaded down with people going from town to town, hobo-ing.
NORMAN: We tried there, and Mama said, "Being we're this close, let's just go on to Durham and see Don." That was Mama's oldest boy by her first. Him and his wife lived out on the Raleigh road. I don't know what they call it now. And they had built a home there. So we went down there and spent the night. And Mama was talking to Don and said, "We've been everywhere, and they can't find a job. They've still got their job in Linksburg, but they work a week and stand two weeks." And Don says, "Well, I might could get them on there at the Golden Belt." That was a hosiery mill. "Next week I'll see what I can do. Mama, while you're this close, don't go home tomorrow." That was Sunday. Says, "Don't
go home Sunday. Go up to Burlington. Somebody told me that they was hiring help. They're starting tearing out the cotton and putting in rayon. You might get on up there." And Mama says, "Well, we ain't tried there. We have to go back that way anyway to go back to Linksburg." You see, we had to go through Haw River and Danville and then to Linksburg. And so we come. Back then, they didn't have no fence. There was a little old bitty mill; it was a little old wooden mill, two rooms, and they had everything in it. What they had, they had a few frames of spinning, and they had two slashers, and then they had I forget how many dobber-headed looms. It wasn't many. And then they had spooling, and they had spinning. It was all in that little two-room building. It's up there now where they got the. . . . Of course, they built on to it and made it much bigger. They made a warehouse out of it. And then they built on to it and made it bigger. And so we drove up, and Dewey and Barney got out. You know, anybody could go in, any time day or night that they wanted to. There was a little old bitty machine shop; it wasn't as big as this porch. I can just see that little old shop now. And they didn't have but two hands a-working in it. And so Barney asked that man, "Can you tell us how to find Mr. Copland?" And he says, "Yeah, he's right down yonder on that first. . . . There ain't but two slashers. You can't miss him. One of them's broke down, and he's down there helping us get that slasher going." They went down there, and he had his sleeves rolled up, and he was greasy as a hog from his elbows on down. And he seen Barney and Dewey, and he just had a fit. He says, "Well, where in the world is your mama and my little girl?" My daddy worked for him there in Schoolfield, and he'd come every Sunday evening and spend the evening with
my daddy after he got to the place he couldn't work. He thought the world of my daddy. And Dewey says, "They're out there in the car." And boy, here he come. He grabbed up a piece of old cloth, and here's the way he was coming, just like this, a-wiping it off. He come out there, and he was just tickled to death. And he told Mama, he says, "Well, I promised, the last time I seen Mr. Norman--I take it that he's gone." And Mama says, "Yes." And he says, "I promised Mr. Norman that if you ever needed any help and I could give you all a job, that I wanted you to come to me. I reckon that's why you all have come, ain't you?" And Mama says, "Yes, we've been everywhere hunting a job." And he says, "Well, you don't have to hunt no farther. You've got a job. I can put Dewey and Barney to work tomorrow, but I can't put my little girl to work under three or four weeks. I can put Barney and Dewey to work tomorrow. We're tearing the cotton out and putting in all rayon."
MM: What year was this?
NORMAN: 1929. And so Mama says, "No, if you can't put Icy to work, we'll not come."
MM: Your mother was a hard bargainer. [Laughter]
NORMAN: And so he says, "They can go to work tomorrow. I need them." And she says, "No, if you ain't got nothing for Icy to do, we'll come back when you can give her a job." And he says, "Well, you come back, and don't make it over three or four weeks." You see, Barney and Dewey knowed everything in the mill. They could do anything: they could spin; they could doff; they could fix; they could do anything. And me, I was helpless; I didn't know nothing.
MM: What had you done in the woolen mill?
NORMAN: I didn't do anything in the woolen mill. I filled batteries in the Linksburg Cotton Mill. That was in the weave room, filling batteries. I knowed how to do that, but see, they didn't have nobody doing that here. And so we come back, and he told Mama that he was ready for me to go to work. And he says, "When can you move?" Mama says, "Well, if you'll give Icy a job, we can move any time." And so he called up a moving van, but before he called them Mama says, "Have you got a house empty?" And he says, "No, not right now, but I'll have you one empty in a week or two weeks, a five-room house. I know Mr. Andrews up here in the Post Office. He just finished building a new house. Go up there and see him." Went up there, and Mr. Andrews said no, he hadn't rented it, and so he give Mr. Copland the keys and we went up there and looked at it. Oh, it was the prettiest little house; it was a little rock house. That was the prettiest thing, and I was tickled to death over that. Oh, it was so pretty. And so we went back by the Post Office, and Mama paid him the rent. And so Mr. Copland asked Mr. Andrews, "Can I use your telephone to call the transfer?" And he says, "Yes." And so he called a transfer, and the transfer says, "I'll be there in a half hour." And Mama told Barney, "You take Rosetta, Mary, and the baby"--that was Barney's little baby--"and Icy back to Don's, and me and Dewey will go with the transfer, and we'll be back tomorrow evening." We went back, and it just tickled Don to death. But I still thought. . . . I was so green, I didn't ask Mr. Copland would I make any money. And come to find out, anybody that didn't know nothing had to go in and learn the job, and if you learnt the job and they was satisfied with you, they'd give you a job. Well, Mama and the transfer come in. We left Don's and
come on back, and the A and P store was there where the old Duke light place where you'd pay your light bill, where they tore down, do you remember it? They tore it down the other week. Then it was an A and P store there. We stopped there, and my mama told Barney, "You stop and get some coffee." She told us to stop and get some coffee and get some flour and some milk. And we stopped there at that A and P store and got it, and we went on up there. We had the key to the house. We went on in and took our suitcases in. All at once, Gilbert started screaming and a-crying. We couldn't get him to shut up, and instead of getting sweet milk Barney got buttermilk. And Gilbert was on the bottle. [Laughter] It was right funny. You laugh at it now, but Lord, it just worried me to death. That young'un screamed. And there was two big old pear trees out there. Well, there we was. We didn't have a bite to eat, no way to cook nothing, and so we set there. And so Mary says, "I'm going out there and get me one of them pears. I'm about to starve." So we went out there and got us some of them pears and eat them pears. And poor little Gilbert. We'd carry that baby and we would give him water, and we'd try to give him that buttermilk, and that give him the colic. And we had a time. And so there was a big old house right across on the same side, and that woman come over there and says, "What's the matter with that baby?" And Mary says, "He's hungry, and Barney got buttermilk instead of sweet milk, and he's wanting his bottle." She says, "You come on home with me." It was Mrs. Jones. "Bring his bottles, and I'll fill his bottles up with milk, and we'll fix that little feller something to eat. I kept hearing that baby a-crying, and I couldn't figure where that baby was at. Then I seen one of you all with him, a-carrying
him." And so we went over there, and [she] says, "Have you all had anything to eat?" And I was bashful. I never opened my mouth. And Mary says, "No, we ain't eat nothing since we left Uncle Don's house in Durham." And she says, "Well, we'll fix that. We'll fix you all something to eat." And oh, she was the nicest somebody and a sweet woman, but I was bashful. And I was starved to death. I was bashful, but I wouldn't eat but just a bite or two. Oh, Lord have mercy, I could eat a whole cow, if it had been. [Laughter] But I was bashful. And so she fixed six bottles for Gilbert. They always kept six sterilized bottles ahead. And so Gilbert was happy as a coon when he got, and the little old feller, he took that bottle and he sucked that bottle, and he went to sleep. We fixed him in the car. And it was hot, and Barney run the car up under that pear tree under the shade. We opened the car doors. The little old feller, he just died. Well, it went on, and poor old Mama and them, they didn't get there, it was nine o'clock that night. Back then you didn't have no electricity; you had to use lamps. We didn't have no light. Mama and the truck and Dewey come in. Gilbert woke screaming again, wanting his bottle. The little feller was just hungry. [Laughter] And Mary stuck one of them bottles in his mouth; we didn't have no way to warm it. Mary says, "I'm not going back over to that lady and ask her to heat that milk for me. He can suck that or do without." And so he took it. And so nine o'clock Mama and them come in. Well, we was all getting hungry again. They unloaded the furniture, and we put the beds up and fixed our beds where we'd have something to sleep on. Mama brought some kerosene oil with her. We lit the old oil stove, and Mama says, "I don't know where none of that
stuff is. They packed that stuff." And we rambled around in a box, and we found a ham. We was already eating on the shoulder. Mama wasn't going to let us cut our ham until we eat all of our shoulders up. And that's what we was hunting for. We'd got down to the good lean meat on that shoulder. Oh, it was so good. And I just couldn't wait to get a piece of it. I was so hungry. I didn't eat but a bite or two, because I was bashful. And so Dewey says, "Mama, here's a ham. I can't find that shoulder we was eating on." Mama says, "I don't care. Cut it. I'm getting weak." [Laughter] So he got the lamp lit, and he cut. He just went right down the heart of that ham, and he sliced it. And Mama and Mary and Rosetta all was in there, and we had on two frying pans full. And we fried a platter that long and that high of that ham. And Mama went and fried some eggs. We had a big old pan. It was that wide and that square--it just fit in the bakery of the stove--she made that thing full of biscuits. Made some hot coffee. We set down there, and we ate every bite of that platter of ham. And she made a big bowl of milk gravy. And boy, was that good. That was the best stuff. And we sat there and we ate. There was Rosetta and there was Dewey and there was Barney and there was Mary and there was me and there was Mama and there was Florence. That was seven of us, and it didn't take long for that platter of ham to get gone. And it didn't take long for that bowl of cream gravy to get gone. We ate that big old square pan of biscuits. And I have never in my life eaten no ham that I thought was as good. My daddy could really fix meat. Oh, Lord, I wish I could get some like that now, but you can't. But don't nobody know how he fixed his, but he could fix meat.
MM: Did you know how he did it?
NORMAN: Yes, me and Mama would fix it like Papa. We had hogs after we come here, too, and a cow. We didn't have no cow in Linksburg, but we bought us a cow when we come here. Me and Barney and Dewey went to work Monday morning. That was the twentieth day of September, 1929. Barney and Dewey went to making money right off. They carried me over there to Dewey McBride. He was weighing up yarn. He told Dewey, "I want you to fix a place for this little girl. She's going to learn to wind. Give her two spools of thread and show her how to tie the weaver's knot." If I had knowed that I had to have done that. . . . You see, Mama was a weaver. If I had knowed I had to work through all that rigmarole learning to tie that knot, my mama could have showed me and I could already know. I sat over on that old box all day long tying old weaver's knot. I thought, I'll never make it. Jim Copland come by and Old Man Smith, they come by and they set down there. Jim says, "How's my little girl doing?" I says, "Mr. Copland, I ain't doing. I can't tie that knot." And he set there and watched me. The more they watched me, the scareder I got. I never could do nothing with nobody looking right at me. Can you?
NORMAN: So he had showed me how to tie it. And I sat on that old box two days. When I started home, Dewey MacBride give me two spools of thread with just a little bit of rayon on it. Says, "You take this home, and you practice this tonight." And I said, "Well, I'll take it, but I'll never tie that knot. Why can't you just tie a knot like this?" He says, "You can't do that, Icy. It's got to be a weaver's knot. It
can't be no chickenhead knot." Well, I went home and I set down there and I started after supper. I told Mama, "Mama, I've had to do this all day long. I can't tie it." Well, Mama showed me how to tie it. You know, you're supposed to tie a weaver's knot on that middle finger and the thumb, and hold it with this finger. I couldn't do that. Mama would show me. She could just shut her eyes and just tie them just as fast.
MM: Where had your mother worked?
NORMAN: My mother worked in the woolen mill after her first husband died. She rolled the sample blankets there at the woolen mill. She was the one that made the samples that the salesmen took out on the road. She set there and she showed me. I said, "Well, that's the way they said I had to do it at the mill, but it won't do for me." So I kept messing. Next day, on the old box I sat. Well, I sat there. The more I studied about that thing, the more I hated that. Oh, I hated that mill. Ooh, how I hated it! And I thought, "Well, if this is all they got for me to do, I don't want it." I went home and I was crying. Mama says, "What are you crying about?" I says, "Because I can't tie that old knot." And she says, "I've told you how to tie it, and I've showed you how to tie it. That's the only way you can tie a weaver's knot." I said, "Mama, there's a way you can tie that knot. I don't care what they say. There's a way that I can tie that knot and it's a weaver's knot, and it's all the same thing." She said, "No, you've got to tie it and make your loop around it, take this finger and hold it, and bring it through." I set down there. She said, "I want you to hush up that crying." I says, "Mama, I wisht I was back in Linksburg. I hate it up there." I says, "I wish I was either in the
mill there or back up there at Craddock and Terry's Shoe Factory." I went to work there in Craddock and Terry's Shoe Factory in Linksburg, and I made pretty good there. But Mama, because the cotton mill was running slack. . . . You see, in the meantime, when we wasn't hunting a job, Dooley Carter had let me work up there in the shoe factory. Dooley was a fixer in the shoe factory there at Elkin, and he let me work when we wasn't on the road hunting a job. I had a good opportunity, but Mama wouldn't let me take it on account of Barney and Dewey. No, mnm-mm. So she says, "Sometimes I think we might have made a mistake. But things are going to work out. It's got to get better." And Mama was a good Christian woman, and she says, "You just forget about it. I have prayed about it, and I've left it in the Lord's hands. And the Lord ain't going to make no mistakes, and the Lord is going to look after us. We might not have the best; we're not promised nothing but bread and water. You read the Bible; it says the Lord promised us bread and water. All the finery and all the fine eating. . . . The Lord just promised us bread and water. And I'm looking to Him. I don't have no doubts." I couldn't figure it out, and I just cried and I just cried. Well, I went ahead, and you know, one day there on that box, I was doing my best to do like the bossman told me, and that thing would slide out with me every time. So all at once something come to me just like it spoke: Tie it on your forefinger. And I looked down at that forefinger, and I fixed that thread just like I fixed it on you. I put it on there; instead of taking this finger and holding that down like that, I took this finger and held it down. And you know one thing? I'd tie them
things as fast as you could wink an eye. And there come Jim Copland and Old Man Smith. And I thought, "Lord, I better not let them see me do that." Well, I went back. Oh, Lordy. I hated it; I hated it so bad. Jim Copland says, "Well, how's my little girl doing? You can tie that know now, can't you?" I says, "If you'll let me tie it the way I want to tie it, I can tie it." He looked at me, and he said, "What do you mean? It has got to be absolutely a weaver's knot, and it can't be clipped. You've got to leave it a half an inch after you clip it." Well, you know you had your scissors stuck on this finger. You kept your scissors on your hand all the time, never took them scissors off. You run that finger through there, and there you clipped it. And I tried and tried. I says, "I can't tie it." And I says, "Well, let me show you how. . . . Something told me to tie it like this." He looked at me so funny. He says, " 'Something told you'!" I said, "Yes. Something told me to tie it on my forefinger." He said, "Well, let me see what you're talking about." I'd put that thing down there and I'd just tie them and I'd just tie them, and he looked at that knot, and he said, "Do it slow." I got so I could do it just as fast. And I did. I fixed it on this finger just like I done on that, but I couldn't tie it on that. I fixed it, put it down . . .
NORMAN: Just hugged his neck. He is just like a daddy to me. Because he has been in our home and went to our table. Sat down and eat whatever we had on the table. He acted like he was just tickled to death with it.
MM: I heard he was a pretty rough man.
NORMAN: He was hateful. Now, if he liked you, he liked you. That's the kind of man he was. He was a regular old tyrant if you made him mad.
And old man Smith, now he was a fair old scratch. I've seen him pick his hat off. He'd had great big old chewing tobacco that big. Him and old Spivey, too. I've seen them get mad. They'd pull their old hat off, throw it down and spit in it and jump on that hat and stomp it. Yeah, Mr. Copland, he was a bird if he was mad. And boy, he was strict. But he never did say one harm word, what I mean, like he was mad at me or anything.
MM: What kind of things would get him mad?
NORMAN: That would make him mad? If you done anything on the job he thought you wasn't supposed to, he would tell you right now what he thought. And it would have to be done right. It went on then, and then they took me off of my box and carried me over there and put me with Essie Gammons. Old man Smith told her, "You teach her everything about handling the yarn, how to tie it up, how to find the ends."
Well, you know, she was on piecework. She was after making every penny. I could understand that. I could understand it. She wouldn't let me open a pack of yarn. She wouldn't let me touch that yarn. All she'd let me do, she let me take the full spools off and put the empty ones on. She never let me try to put up one end. Well, it went on there about the middle of the week. Mr. Smith and Dewey McBride come over there. Mr. Smith says, "Mr. Copland says to give you that little winder, that forty-three end winder over there. Come on."
I thought to myself, I'm going out the other door. It scared me to death. Went on over there, Dewey, he weighed up. They was in ten-pound packages. And it was five skeins in a hank. They called them a hank. You'd pull a hank out and shake it out and you had five skeins there. Dewey marked me up ten pounds. I said, "There ain't no need to mark that up." He says, "Why? They give you a job."
I says, "I can't help it. I don't know one thing about that. Old man
Jim, he looked at me. He says, "What's the matter?"
I says, "Well, you want me to tell you the truth, don't you? I don't know nothing about that. I've never fetched one of them packs. I've never opened a pack. I've never pulled a skein out. I've never put a skein on. I don't know how to cut the tie bands. I don't know which way the tie bands go." About that time Jim Copland come over. Old man Smith, I can see him. He had a wad of tobacco in his mouth. He yanked that old hat out. He throwed it down. He spit in it, jumped on it. He was just cussing up a storm.
Mr. Copland come up. I was sitting there crying. I was scared to death. He sat down, he put his arm around me, "Honey, what's the matter?"
I says, "They give me that pack of yarn and told me to go to work. Mr. Copland, I don't know nothing about it. I'm going home."
He says, "No you ain't going home. I give you a job and you going to work on that job."
I says, "You ain't give me nothing for I don't know nothing about it."
He says, "Didn't that girl teach you?"
I looked at him. I says, "You want me to tell you the truth? My daddy always told me to tell the truth if it hurt me."
He says, "Yeah. I want you to tell me the truth. I'll believe what you'll tell me."
I told him, I says, "All she ever let me done, she let me take the full spools off and put the empty ones on. She never let me cut a tie band, she never let me touch that yarn. She never let me open my pack of yarn. Mr. Copland, I don't know nothing about it." I was a boo-hooing. Tears was just rolling. And he was trying to get me up. I says, "I'm touching that.
I'm afraid of it." And Dewey McBride, he opened it up.
He says, "Come here."
I went over there and I stood. And he showed me how to open a pack up. Well, there lay it all. It was the prettiest whitest yarn, as white as snow. And five skeins in a hank. He took up a hank and ran his arm through it and kind of shook it. There was five skeins. He showed me how to put a skein on. You run your hand in it and kind of straighten it out. Then you pick this reel up and start and go over it. You've seen an old spinning wheel?
NORMAN: Well, that's the way they was except they had spokes up here on the side and it was empty here in the middle. But it had a band from this leg to this leg. That helped the yarn up. Then you would pull them bands up and tighten the yarn and hitch it on to the spool. It would go around and around. He showed me how to do that.
He says, "Now here's one tie band that's got the end to it. It's a different color. Be sure to put your knots, all your knots will be on the right side. Cut all your other bands and then come back to this here certain band with the end to it." He showed me how to start it up. Says, "Now you try it."
I says, "I ain't going to do it. I'm scared of it. I'll mess it up."
He says, "No you won't."
I says, "No, uh-uh. I'm going home."
So he turned around and walked off. Mr. Copland was still sitting there. He says, "You come down here and sit down. I want to talk to you. Now, honey, I give you this winder. You going to make a good hand.
I says, "Mr. Copland, I can't do that, for I don't know how."
He says, "Well, I'm going to help you." He rolled his sleeves up and he helped me get that side of yarn on. He went down to the next one, Ethel Glenn, now Ethel Smith. Her sister was working on that other frame. They told both of them, "If you see her can't find an end, you go down there and help her."
Well, here was the end broke. I seen they would run their fingers around and turn this swift until the end would come up. But I was afraid I'd mess it up. I'd roll the wheel, the swift around, but I couldn't see no end. Mr. Spivey, he come by. He stopped and was talking. Some of the yarn had run out, the empty swifts were standing there. I was still crying and I told him all about it. He helped me get it straightened out. Put it on. Just like Mr. Copland did. He says, "Look, if an end breaks, you just let it go. Then me or Dewey McBride or somebody they'll come and help you find it."
I says, "Well, I'm scared I'll mess it up."
He says, "We'll help you."
So it went on. I'd go home and I'd cry all night long. I'd get up the next morning and my eyes swelled shut. Mama just talked to me. She was so patient. So it went on.
MM: Were you getting paid now?
NORMAN: I was getting paid for what little I done. That wasn't much. I think I made a quarter one day.
So it went on there. I think I made a quarter one day and one day I made fifteen cents. Anyway, I didn't draw but a dollar. And I just cried. I told mama, I says, "I wish I was back in Linksburg. I was making two dollars a day. I ain't making nothing. I won't never make a winder." All of them girls, they was on piecework, they'd make anywhere from twelve, fourteen, fifteen dollars a week. I knowed I never could. So I'd just cry about it. And poor Mr. Copland would come and sit and talk to me. Well, everyone of them was so nice to me. They didn't talk hateful to me. If they had I'd a went running out of that mill.
One day Mr. Love, he come by and he sit down. He says, "Well little girl, how you doing?" When he first sit down, I didn't know who he was. I didn't know he owned that mill. Him and his daddy, you know. He was goodlooking. He was young then. He says, "You look like you been crying."
I sat down and I says, "You know I hate this place." And I started crying.
He put his arm around my neck. He says, "Don't cry. We all have to go through this."
I says, "Yeah. I got a mama and a little sister to take care of. I ain't making nothing."
He says, "You know one thing. Thems the ones that make the best hands."
MM: What did he mean by that?
NORMAN: I didn't know, I didn't know what he meant.
He says, "Thems the ones that make the best hands. Honey, don't cry. You'll catch on to it." Oh, all the rest of them was just working up a storm and making money and me doing nothing.
Well, Ethel and her sister, I really did like them. If I got messed up, both of them would help, they'd have their side a running. Well, they wouldn't have nothing to do until it run out and they'd start putting on more. They'd come down there and they'd help me. They'd help me find my ends. And they'd show me. They showed more about winding than Essie Gammons. Essie Gammons didn't show me nothing. Old man Smith went up there and carried her in the office and what he said to her, Lord knows I don't know. But I told the truth because mama and papa always told me, "Tell the truth if it means it's going to hurt you. Don't never tell a lie about nothing." I was raised to tell the truth and I told the truth. From that day until the day she left the mill she never spoke to me.
Well it went on, Ethel and her sister would help me. Finally I got to
the place I'd keep my side up pretty good. The first big check--it wasn't a check, it was money in a little envelope--I drawed five dollars. I thought, well that's better than drawing a dollar. I went home but I was still crying. Because I knowed what was on me. There was mana and Florence and myself. So I was so disheartened.
Mama says, "It's all going to work out, the Lord's going to help you. He's going to be with you. I have prayed that the Lord's going to help you."
I says, "I ain't getting no help now." Back then I was a sinner, you know. My poor mama, she was a good Christian woman, her and my daddy both. So I kept on working. First thing you know, back then they had a board. They'd put each day, where your name was, how many pounds you run, production. There was a production sheet, that's what they called it. Well, I never would look at mine for mine was so pitiful. Everybody else, they was it. And I felt I was nothing. I think that was one reason I cried so, because I couldn't compete with them. So one day it seemed just like something spoke to me, "You can do it. Get in there and do it." Just as plain. I thought, I says, "Well, there's all of them girls working making good money. If they can do it, I can, too." After whatever it was, I don't know what it was, but it just seemed like something just spoke, "You can do it. Get in there and do it." I looked around and I didn't see nobody. Well, that got me to studying. I thought, "Well, maybe I can do it." I went to work and I worked, oh brother, I worked fighting fire. I got so I could put the yarn on real good. I'd cut a leave blank and I'd wet it and flip it up on the spool. It would go just a flying. First things you know I run two packs of yarn that day. I was so tickled because I hadn't been running sometimes a half a pack a day. I run two packs. Dewey McBride says, "You getting a little better, ain't you?" I didn't say nothing. He made me mad because he thought when he put me over there I
already knowed all about it. And I still carried that in my mind. I never spoke to him. I went on there, ripped that old pack open and I went to putting it on. I went to tying it up. Well, I got them all going. Ethel come down there, she says, "Bless your heart. You're getting better, ain't you. I noticed on the board you're hitting around two packs."
I says, "What?" I didn't let on. I knowed I run two packs. I says, "I didn't even look at that old board."
She says, "Honey, you ought to look at it every day."
I says, "I did. I'm so downhearted. I hate this place."
She says, "Don't feel that way about it. You doing good." She and her sister would brag on me. So I run two that day. I run two more packs. I said, "I'm running two packs a day." Next day I worked just as hard as I could work. Next day I run my two packs. I went down to the scales and I said, "Dewey, I want another pack of yarn."
He says, "WHAT!" just like that.
I says, "I want another pack of yarn."
He says, "What have you done with that other one, put it in the waste can?"
I says, "No. I run every skein of it." He give me another pack and I run half of it. That was two packs and a half. Well it was a little bit better than the other two days. I kept on going but I never would go on over and look at that production sheet. Here come Mr. Love and his daddy. They sit down there and got to talking. Spence says, "Honey, come on over here. I want my daddy to talk to you."
I drawed up. I knowed he owned the mill, him and Spence together. But I'd been talking to Spence but I didn't know that was his name. I just talked
plain to him. Come to find out him and his daddy own that mill. You could have pushed me over with a feather when I found it out. I went over there, his daddy slid down on the box. He says, "I want you to sit down right here." I sat down right between them. He got to talking, he says, "Spence has been telling me what a hard time you had. Honey, don't feel bad about it. Everybody has to learn. I had to learn. It was hard for me to learn. Spence there had to learn." When he said "Spence" then I knowed they was the ones that owned the mill. I could have went through that box. He says, "He had to learn."
I looked up at him and I says, "Are you all Mr. Loves? Lord mercy, here I've been talking to your boy telling him all my troubles and a crying. Telling him how bad I hated my job. And he owned the mill. I apologize. But I do hate it."
He says, "Little girl, you're doing fine. Mr. Copland is real proud of you."
I says, "Mr. Copland's been knowing me ever since I was a baby."
Him and his daddy sat there and talked to me. Every time they'd come through the mill--we'd have boxes back here at the back of us to put our yarn in--they'd sit down there. They'd say, "Come here, I want to talk to you a little bit." If they hadn't encouraged me like they did. And Mr. Copland. I wouldn't have stayed in that mill as long as water would have got hot. I hated it. And on payday, them men, especially on second shift and a lot of them on daytime, they'd slip out, I don't know where they'd get it, they'd bring the stuff in there and get started drinking and they wouldn't know one end from the other.
MM: Did the supervisors . . .
NORMAN: No, they went home. They'd get drunk. They'd have a ball. And the supervisor went home. Now the supervisors didn't drink, it was the help. Well it went on then, old Odell come in there. Did he take Mr. Copland's place? But, anyway, went on, and boy I was just working up a storm. First thing you know, old man Smith come over there and says, "Come over here." I thought, "Oh, what have I done?" Went over there, he says, "I want to talk to you and I want to show you something." I thought I had done something that he was going to fire me.
He was worser than Mr. Copland. Boy, now he was an old bear, an old tyrant when he was mad. I went over there and thought, "Lord, mercy, what have I done?"
He carried me over there to that production sheet, he says, "You see that production sheet?"
I says, "Well, Mr. Smith, that's the first time I ever looked at it."
He says, "Why?"
I says, "Well, because I knowed there wasn't no need to me a looking to see what I done for I didn't do nothing much. Wasn't no need of me coming over here and looking at it."
He says, "Well, from now on I want you to look at that production sheet. Look up there at your name."
I looked. I says, "Yeah, I see my name up there."
He says, "I'm going to tell you one thing. I'm really proud of you. Mr. Copland's coming here and he's going to talk to you. I'm really proud of you. You know, this end of this week--that was on Monday morning--you was the top winder."
I backed away and I says, "No."
He says, "Well, there it is on the board. You is the top."
You know one thing, it wasn't long before Mr. Copland come down there. And
he had Spencer Love with him. They was talking to me about how proud they was of me. Well that made me feel good. If you do anything and anybody admires you, it boosts you up, don't it. Well, that boosted me up. And they says, "Well, I'm really proud of you. You're the top winder."
Well, it went on, I guess about six months after that. The truck brought in some yarn and it was damaged. He turned over somewhere or other. Anyway, he had damaged the yarn, busted the boxes open. Them old wooden boxes hitting that yarn and just made it matted, you know. They wanted us to try to run it. It wasn't no way, every time it come around to that matted place it would stop. I put it up on my post, I beat it, but that old matted place wouldn't come out, wouldn't come out for nobody. Finally I got to looking at it. I put it on the reel and I cut one, the end and everything, pulled the tie bands out. I got to turning that thing, got to looking at it. It looked like it was a way you could save some of it. Dewey McBride said they was going to have to make waste out of every bit of that truckload. It was just all matted. Looked like you just took it and rubbed it. I got to looking at that thing and running my finger under there. I kept running my finger until my finger would go all the way around the reel. And it wouldn't hit that fuzzy place.
NORMAN: I didn't know Jim Copland and Spence Love was back up there. Well, I seen them, too. I take that back. I seen them up there talking, but I thought they was talking about, you know. But they was watching me, come to find out they was watching me. I kept running my finger around there and it was all smooth. I took my scissors and went through there and whacked it off. I pulled it off. My end come up in my hand. I put that old matted place in the
waste can. Started it up and it run just as pretty as you please. Well, I put another skein on and I done it the same way. And they was up there watching me. I was on my third skein. I was running around, my finger was running smooth around, and would run into that mat. I started to make a whack.
Mr. Copland says, "Honey, wait just a minute."
I thought, "Lord, I done it this time." For you supposed to run every inch of that yarn. But it wasn't no way you could do that yarn, because they done said they was going to have to make waste out of it.
He says, "I want to see that."
I says, "Well, Mr. Copland, I thought it was better to save a little bit than throw it all away."
Mr. Love spoke up and said, "You're right. I want to know how you figured that out."
I says, "I just figured it out. I thought that maybe we could save some of it." So I whacked it. They was standing there seeing me. I throwed it in the trash.
He says, "I want to see that yarn after you start it up." I started it up. He run around and looked, he says, "You got every bit of the fuzz. You know that is really good. I'm proud that you thought of that. We can save part of that truckload. Why aren't them other winders doing that?"
I says, "I don't know." I went on and I had mine just . . . They come down there and say, "How you getting that matted stuff to run?"
I says, "The matted places ain't going to run. You got to cut them out."
"I wouldn't cut one out for nothing. You'll ruin the whole skein."
I says, "Well, you see mine's running." It went to running out and I put on another matted and they stood there and watched me. I cut it out and started it up. They said, "I'm going back and I'm going to try it." They went back
and they cut too deep. They ruined the whole skein. They come down there and wanted me to come up there and show them how I done it.
I said, "I showed you with that skein there I put on."
"Yeah, but I want you to show me on my winder."
I says, "Alright." I went up there. They put a skein on. They pulled the bands out. I started where that fuzz was, I picked it up. I run my finger under it. I kept bringing the swift over, my finger was going on around. It come to where it was smooth. "Now cut it," I says, "right there where my finger is at." And they did. By me doing that we saved part of that truck. I forget how many hundred dollars that was going to cost.
MM: Did the company ever give people rewards when they thought of ways to do things better?
NORMAN: No, well that ain't been over eight or nine years ago. If you wrote a slogan they would give you a silver dollar if they put--no. I sure did make plenty of suggestions in that mill. Sometimes they would work out. They would fix it and they was real proud. Sometimes they paid no attention to it.
After I got used to be in there. And I really loved my work.
MM: How long did it take you to begin to like the mill?
NORMAN: After I got to where I got up to drawing ten dollars a week I was well satisfied. I liked it all right except on payday when they, them men, would go to getting drunk. I didn't like that.
MM: Did the women get drunk?
NORMAN: No, I never seen a woman up there drink. But the men would. I don't know what it was they drunk or nothing about it. They would have something they'd get drunk on. They'd get so drunk they'd pass out. Them machines running. It was a lot of waste. Spence Love lost a lot of money there on
account of the help, because the help didn't care. A lot of places, all they care is eight hours and pay day. As far as making perfect work, doing their job right and trying to improve their job where it would make it easier on you to do your job, people don't care. As I say all they look for is eight hours and Friday, or whenever payday come, is all they care for. They don't care nothing about their jobs. It's a many and a many a person that's working like that. They don't take no interest in it. But I did. I took an interest in my job. And I'd study to see which would be the best and which I thought would be the best for the company. I tried to keep my job up. When I come out of that mill I was keeping two warp mills up on cotton. Them other warp mills they had three or four hands in them, creeling, and I kept two a running myself. It's just like I said, a lot of people, they just don't care. They'll lay down and let the work get behind. Next thing they holler to the boss man, "I need some help." They could go ahead and do it themselves if they was a mind to. So many people ain't going to do that.
MM: How did they get things straightened out in the mill, how did they get people to stop drinking?
NORMAN: I started to tell you. They come a union there. They was wanting to get union in. Work was running bad. It was people that was working there when work got bad would quit and go to other places. Then when the mill boomed out they'd come back to the Burlington Mill. That's the way it was. They put a fence around that mill and they had a gate watchman. They took our picture. Couldn't nobody go in that mill unless they had a picture on them. He looked at your picture every time you went in, that gate watchman would.
MM: This was after they tried to get a union?
NORMAN: No, that was before. We was wearing our pictures then with our
picture and number on it. After they put that fence around there that stopped the drinking. They couldn't run out and get it all during the night and day. But Jim Copland, he would fire them. If he come through. He got so he'd go through there of a night. I don't see how the poor fellow stayed awake. He'd come through there of a night every two hours. He'd go over to that mill every two hours.
MM: He was there all day?
NORMAN: And he'd be there the next morning. I don't see how in the world the man held it down. But he did. If he seen any of them a drinking he'd fire them. Hire somebody and put in their place. But everybody went in that mill, they had to learn their job for nothing. But now in this day and time, people would laugh at you if you said, "Well I'll give you a job if you want to learn it. After you get learnt I'll pay you." They wouldn't do it. No way could you get nobody to do that this day and time. Then that was the only way you got a job with the Burlington Mill. If you didn't already know how to do. If you went in there to learn you learnt for nothing. And I really learnt for nothing.
I stayed on with them. A lot of them would try to get me to quit when the work was slack and go other places. I wouldn't do it. I stayed right on with them. I know work was getting so bad, Spence Love come down there and he look like he was so down and out. I said, "Mr. Love, you look like you're mighty low this morning."
He says, "I am. I'm just on rock bottom. I don't know which way to do for the best. I'm going to have to close the place down."
I says, "Well, there's always a brighter day a coming. My mama told me that when I come here and I told you how bad I hated this place. But I really love to work here now. It will be a brighter day."
He says, "You really think so?"
I says, "Yes. It will be a brighter day. I'll stick with you through thick and thin. If you sink, I'll go down with you." I laughed and he got to laughing.
He says, "You just beat all I've ever seen." Then it wasn't too long until that strike, they walked out.
Well, I think they was out, a week or two weeks. Some of them signed the union and some of them didn't. I never did sign it. Time and again since then they'd be out at the gate trying to get-- I believe a time or two after that they give them papers out. And I think a time or two they did come in the mill and people would go talk to them. If you wanted to sign, you signed. If you wanted to not sign, you didn't sign.
MM: You were never interested?
NORMAN: I never did sign.
MM: How come?
NORMAN: I don't know. I just heard so much about the union, I thought "I don't know whether it would pay or not." I read the paper about people being out for months and months on strike. I just didn't believe in it. If you was working and was making money all that times you was out on strike, you would come out to the end a whole lot better than you would be laying out maybe three and four months at a time. So I never did sign it. So I stayed with the Burlington Mill. I did everything they ever asked me to do. I always got along with every boss man. I seen different bosses. In other words, I seen overseers, bosses and second hands go and come. I always got along with every one of them. I never did have one say a short word to me because I always went and done what they would tell me to do. I do my work as near right as I know how.
And so I swung with them for forty-seven years. I said, "Well, you knowed that was in the making when I quit." I begged them to let me work on but they wouldn't. They knowed it was in the making. They could have let me work on until January. Then I could have got that big profit sharing they all get now. It's five retired since I did and they ain't been there the years I was there. I feel like I was part in making the Burlington Industries, because I come there and stayed with them, I went with them through thick and thin. In other words, I give the best part of my life to the Burlington Industries. It kind of hurt me to think that as long as I stayed there and as faithful as I worked and all, that I didn't get none of that profit that they . . .
MM: Was this a pension or a profit . . .
NORMAN: Well, you see, if you're there so many years and retire at sixty-five you get $12,500.00. See, they knowed that was in the making. They could have let me work on until January and I would have got that. But my bosses and my supervisors, my second hand supervisor and my superintendent, they had a meeting. They brought it up. They said that I was part of the Burlington Mill, I helped found it. And I stuck with them. They felt that I should have that. You know Klopman, he's gone in the Burlington Mills. Old Klopman spoke up and said, "No, if she's to get it, the ones that been out two or three years wasn't entitled to it. Do you think so?" And that's what my superintendent and overseers and all--and Klopman said, "No they'd have to come back."
That kind of hurt me, kind of hurt my feelings. I felt like I was part of the Burlington Mill. Because Burlington Mill was nothing but a little old two room plant when I went there.
MM: What year was it you retired?
NORMAN: I retired in '76, first day of June. They let me work until June.
And my birthday was in April. I wanted to work on but they wouldn't let me. But they could have let me work from June until the first of January. It was five that retired since, see I retired in June. They had a meeting after I retired and explained it to them. It was five in January, February and March, all five of them retired. All of five of them, I absolutely knowed, they quit, and worked at other places three or four years and then come back to the Burlington Mills. I still say they didn't do me right over that. That was allright if that was the way they wanted it. I still say I'd rather work at the Burlington plant than any other place I heard of. I enjoyed it. I enjoyed my work. I took pride in my work. I tried to get along with everybody. When I retired it was like leaving my family, because I felt like they was all my family. I was just with them day in and day out. They felt like my family. So that was the way it was. Every time I go back up there I feel like I'm going back home. (Laughter)
MM: Do you go back up very often?
NORMAN: Yeah, I go back once in a while. I go back when they have their dinner. Lots of time I'll take a notion to bake them a pound cake and take up there. I go about lunch time. Then I go around and talk to all of them. I see them there at lunch time. I haven't been up there since I come back from Florida, but I think if nothing happens I'll go up there before too long.
You take Milton, I run into him over here at the store. He says,
Mattie and Bill both was winding. They's first. They was skein winders.
MM: They told me one day when Millie nailed your brother up in a box and was going to ship out, Barney.
NORMAN: I don't remember that.
MM: She was talking about how people used to play jokes.
NORMAN: Some of them up there took to doing everything. That Bill, I call her Bill, Millie Jane, everybody calls her Bill up there. She was forever more doing something. One time there our winders had a wide belt, a leather belt on it about this wide. It was at the end of the winder. You'd start the winder up, that belt would pull it. It was about that wide, leather, and about that thick. One time Ethel--you know back then they wore their dresses long, not down to the floor, and full skirts, about four yards of cloth in the skirt--she started around the end of the winder, coming up there to tell me something. She was full of life, always had something going. Here she started around the end of my winder and that belt was running, and it caught the tail of her skirt. She hollered. I run down there and I cut it off. It done had pulled her skirt slap off of her by the time I got down there. There she was in her petticoat. I laughed and I laughed. It scared her to death. I knowed she wasn't hurt, so I couldn't stop laughing. I laughed and laughed until tears rolled down.
It went on, I forget who it was, seems like it was Barney. Somewhere or another he slowed the belt and got her skirt out. It didn't hurt her skirt except in one place, it kind of chewed it. A place about as big as your hand. She put it back on. But I laughed seeing her standing there in her petticoat. She had a blouse and there was four yards of cloth in the tail of that skirt. I run, she a hollering. It done pulled it off of her time I got down there and cut it off. It kind of scared me. I thought it was going to pull her in there. I stood there and laughed and laughed. I said, "Ethel, I ain't laughing at you, but it was so funny, I can't . . ." It scared her, she was afraid it was going to pull her on in there. It wouldn't have hurt her unless it got her arm or something.
MM: Did people get hurt in the mills?
NORMAN: Oh, yeah. That's one thing I want to tell you about. I was talking about Bill Shoemaker and Mattie. They first was a spooling and then they moved the spooling out. Then they went to winding. Then they went to skein winding. As you say, Bill was forever more running her tongue. She had something going all the time. She's all the time doing something. She was a person she didn't care. She'd see a stranger she'd walk up and start going on, old crazy talk and all. I wouldn't done it for nothing in the world. But Mattie, poor Mattie, she was sort of like me, a shy type. She was in for things like that. She'd push Bill, she had Bill fronted. She wouldn't do it but she'd push Bill. They would up there. I tell you, that Bill is something. But I always liked her. They always kept something a going. Always doing some plan, some kind of prank on somebody. After all, they was all right people. They didn't do nothing to hurt nobody. It was just full of prank.
One day Bill and her, what was her name, was a back winding. I can't think of that girl's name. But she was a great big old fat girl. Her husband run a warp mill. Anyway, her and Bill was backwinding. They got so much for how many spools they back wound. Bill and her got in an argument. Bill told her she [unclear] backwound more spools than she did. They got in a pretty stiff argument about it. Finally they got it settled. This girl, she got plum mad but Bill didn't. I think Bill, I think she done it more as a kind of a joke, for she was forever more doing something. But Mattie, like I said, she was full of life. She enjoyed it, but she always put Bill in front. They wound up there and finally when they took the winding out they put them in the cotton winding room. They had a little old universal winder that they put me on. I wound off of cake yarn on to the cones for the high speed warp mill. When they had skein yarn they had the dye house down there at the railroad. Then
they would dye the skeins of yarn, they went to running all colored yarn, no white yarn. They got so that they would order their white yarn already run on cones. They'd dye all their skein yarn. We'd make stripes and we'd have some of the prettiest patterns you ever seen. Them stripes was bed ticking. I know you've seen these here mattresses with all colors of pretty stripes on them. That's what we wound. You had to let in the warp mill.
NORMAN: Little universal winders in there. They went from that back to dyeing the cake yarn. They'd get the cake yarn in white and they would dye the cake yarn. I would run one of those Universal winders. That's the way they made their stripes and different designs of colored material. Then they took it out, took out all of the rayon, went to ordering all white and it already wound. Put in the rayon and then they took out part of the rayon. They left two mills for the rayon. They put the rest in on nylon, pure nylon. They put in these dye slashers. Now they run it all white and put it on that slasher and run it over in the color. They color it any color they want. I sure did love to run that little old Universal. I know one time they moved my little old Universal winder over against the wall down there to give room to put in these nylon warp mills. Spence Love, he had been dead, I guess, two years. He was playing golf or something and had a heart attack and died. So it was about two years after he died that his wife and another lady come through the mill. They was looking around, come on down. I had my back towards them. I went to turn around, I was doffing my cones off, went to turn around. She come over and grab me and hug me, she says, "Honey you are still with us, ain't you?"
I says, "Well, Miss Love."
She says, "I don't see nobody I know. They all new. I'm so glad to see you. You sure have been a faithful person. You have been faithful to the Burlington Mill."
I says, "Yes, Miss Love, I give my whole entire best part of my life to the Burlington Mill."
She just hugged me and she says, "I'm so glad to see you." After she left, a lot of them come running over there. They'd say, "Do you know her?"
I says, "I've been knowing her for forty-seven years." Now, I said forty-seven, but it wasn't forty-seven. I said, "I've been knowing her for forty-seven years."
They said, "I seen her grab you and hug you."
I says, "She sure did. I was just as tickled to see her as she was me."
But one time, the first time they ever give a supper. They give a five year pin and a supper. They give it up here at the old Army hall. I think they tore that building down. They had a supper up there. Well, Spence and his daddy and his mama and his wife, a lot of them big shots you know, was there. They made a talk.
They had tables set and had your name at your plate. I wound up and Mack Freeman was sitting beside of me. While they was talking, nobody didn't eat until they got through talking. They made the talk, how proud they was that they could fix a supper for the ones that had been with them five years. They had a little present for us and a pin, a five year pin. They had a wonderful supper. You know, Mack Freeman was so drunk, he layed on the table right beside me. That about killed me. You know, one night he lay down on that table and he eat, he eat. He never heard one word they said. I said to, I believe Lottie Adams was sitting next to me on the other side, I said,
"Lottie, how come you couldn't have got beside of him?" (Laughter) I says, "Of all things, I had to sit by that thing." When the rest started to eating he didn't even realize he had eaten. So then that was the five year pin, then they give the ten year pin, the fifteen and on up like that you know.
MM: What did they give you when you retired?
NORMAN: When I retired? They fixed a dinner. On Wednesday. Milton come told me, says "Icy, they're going to take you to Greensboro tomorrow."
I says, "What for Milton?"
He says, "They're going to interview you at the main big office."
I says, "I ain't going."
He says, "Oh, yes you are. They're going to leave at eight o'clock in the morning. You come in dressed. You go have your hair fixed. I want you to look real pretty."
I says, "I'm pretty the way I am. You know that ain't so."
He says, "You go and have your hair fixed. They'll pay for having your hair fixed. You come in dressed. They're leaving at eight o'clock. The personnel man and Lloyd--Lloyd was my boss man then--and Jimmy Jordan, that was the super. They're going with you."
I says, "Can I be trusted with all them men?" He just laughed.
Well, I got my hair fixed and went in dressed next morning. They all says, "What did you come in dressed up for?"
I says, "Because Milton told me to dress up. He wanted to see me pretty one time." And I laughed.
They says, "I have to admit you sure do look pretty this morning." Everybody just complimented me about looking good. I did try to take extra pain.
I went up there to that main office. They carried me all over that thing.
I met everybody. Each floor had a different color carpet, different design, different furniture. I went clean to the top. You know what they had in the top? They had the prettiest white rug. It was a beautiful thing. Beautiful furniture. Everything was white.
I says, "They went all the way out with this, didn't they?" This girl that took us a tour. She was about your size, hair a little darker and she had glasses made like yours. She was the sweetest thing.
She says, "Do you know what this room is, Icy?"
I says, "No, but it is something. Them other rooms is something." That was the prettiest place I ever seen.
She says, "This is where the big shots come. This is where they have their meetings when they gather from New York."
I says, "What?"
She says, "You going to meet all of them."
I says, "No I ain't either. I'm going home."
Personnel man laughed and said, "You won't go home until I take you home."
First thing you know, all them big shots from New York, twenty-five of them. There was poor little me, scrootched up with all them men. They got to talking to me, asking me questions. They asked me how long I'd been with the company. Some of them says, "That's amazing. She's the oldest hand the Burlington Mill has got anywhere." I'd been with the company longer, that's what I mean. They talked, they took pictures. Well, they asked me everything in the book. Sort of like you ask me, questions. I'd answer them. They says, "You know one thing, you might not believe it, but if you ever come to New York I want you to come to the main office. You will have a welcome mat for you. Spence says you just really don't know how Spence Love has remarked about you. Did you know your name is on top in the main office in New York?"
I says, "Huh."
He says, "That's right. We knowed you by Spence talking about you. I am so proud to meet you." So then we went down to dinner. There I had dinner with all that bunch of men. I really enjoyed it. It was a whole day of it. We talked, I got to talking to them. I felt I knowed them all my life. We sit there at the table and we talked. They was taking down everything that was said.
They says, "I just wish he was able to been here to eat dinner with us. He'll be here later on." It ain't Kauffman, I can't think of it now.
Anyway after dinner we went back up in to another room. Then we went into the studio. They made pictures. They made all kind of pictures. They made pictures with me with some of them, pictures by myself.
They says, "You know, this will be showed on T.V."
I says, "You mean that's going to be showed on T.V.?"
Them people from New York says, "Sure, we can't let that go by without showing it on T.V. I don't know when it will be, but we'll notify you. It will be on the "Sixty-Minutes" program."
I says, "Well, maybe I'll get to see it." They then carried me into the studios and reshowed it all on T.V. I really enjoyed it, I enjoyed that so much. After they said I was going to meet all them executives, all them big shots in the Burlington Mill. After they got to talking they said they already knowed me from the way Spence Love talked.
"You know one thing," he says, "you are one hand that Spence Love said you went through thick and thin with them. You have made the Burlington Industries. Your part and your faithfulness to the Burlington Industries, you have got a part in all the mills that the Burlington Mills owns."
I says, "I feel like that I'm a part of it. I wasn't nothing but a young one there and I growed up with them." And they laughed.
See this all happened after I went to New York. See, I got a chance to go to New York to Madison Square Garden. Preacher Wilson, he chartered a Trailways--that's the church my sister and them goes to--a hotel bill and all didn't cost you but fifty dollars. My sister and niece put at me to go, too. I thought I have always wanted to see New York. So I told my boss man that I wanted off for two days. He says, "I don't know whether you can be off or not."
I says, "I got a chance to go to New York. I never been and I want to go. I've always wanted to see it. I've seen some of it on television."
He says, "Sure, you can go. Go ahead."
I went up to my sisters and we caught the bus there. That's where Preacher Wilson had it chartered. That thing was loaded down. We went to Madison Square Garden to see Don Stewart. He's the best thing, the sweetest somebody you ever seen. He was running a crusade there. He had it at Madison Square Garden. We went to the meeting. The Madison Square Garden was right like over there. You crossed the street and there was Madison Square Garden. Well right down here, the second building, was the hotel we was in. Preacher Wilson had chartered rooms for each one that went. We had receipts. Each Preacher, the bunch that he brought, had reserved seats. If I had a knowed that I would have went to that place. But I didn't know it until after I was getting ready to retire. Next morning they chartered a bus and they carried us all over New York and showed us all over New York that morning. They carried us down there in what they call Chinatown and all around. Have you ever been up there?
NORMAN: This man, we went down one place, back kind of, I don't know if you've been on that street or not, but the bus made a wrong turn. It was a raining. And people was just laying on the street. Just laying in the road and on the street. I says, "Well what's the matter with them?"
Preacher Wilson says, "I don't know unless they must have been drinking something and got drunk."
This man that was announcing on the bus, telling us each building and, he says, "No, what you see out there, the bus driver made a wrong turn. We wasn't intending to bring you all down this way. What you see out there is people that's on this dope. They took too much and they passed out."
One of the men spoke up and says, "Why don't they put them in jail?"
He says, "You know, we've got 15,000 policemen in New York. And every jail we got is running over. And we ain't got nowhere to put them. We just leave them a laying out."
You know, it was pitiful. Some of them was just laying across one another. Some of them, maybe three or four, laying on top of one another, just cross ways. It was just pitiful.
The bus driver says, "I'm sorry I made the wrong turn. I have to go down this way now before I can get on my right route." And he passed this main building where all the executives and all, and he explained it to us. If I had known it see, I could have got to go in there. I didn't know it until later I retired.
See, I retired on Friday. Milton told me Thursday, he says, "You don't have to work tomorrow. You come in, tomorrow is your day, you do whatever you want to do. I know you want to go around and tell everybody good-bye. Go in the weave room, go in the winding room, all around and see a lot of people you
know there. Tomorrow is your day. They didn't say a thing in the world about fixing me a dinner. On Tuesday, well Thelma Ward had retired, they had made her a cake and had ale or coffee or whatever you want. Had her a pretty cake, they had it trimmed in blue. There at the table on Wednesday we was all laughing and talking and saying, "I wish I was Icy, I wish I was Icy. Friday will be her last day. She won't have to worry about getting up." Going on like that.
I says, "Well listen. You all shut up just one minute. Let me say one thing."
Milton says, "What's that Icy?
I says, "I know in reason you all have me a cake. But please don't have it trimmed in blue."
Milton looked at me so funny. I seen him jump up. I didn't think no more about it. I says, "Please, please, don't have it trimmed in blue."
Milton laughed and said, "Well I think that's pretty."
I says, "Thelma's cake was pretty, but I didn't like the decoration on it." That's all was said. In a few minutes he looked at me just as straight, and he jumped up, closed the door and went in his office. He called and told them, he says, "When you make that cake I ordered. I told you what to trim it in. Don't do it! You trim it in pink and yellow."
So I didn't know. It wouldn't have mattered to me if it was trimmed in blue. I just said it you know, I didn't mean for him to, after he had done placed the order. I didn't know he had placed the order.
He laughed and said, "How do you know you're going to get a cake?"
Well, I says, "I don't care if I don't get a cake. You all like my cakes pretty good. I'll just bake one and bring it up here." So that's all was said, "You know, I was so short. They used to have wooden
stools and then they got in that stool over there--that's the stool over there. I told Milton, I says, "Milton, I want to tell you, I have never took nothing out of this mill that wasn't mine. When I go out the last day, I have dragged my stool with my name on it for forty-seven years. I dragged it from one warp mill to the other. That's part of me, Milton. I'm going to take my stool with me."
He says, "No. Lordy, mercy, do you want to get me fired?"
I says, "No. I'll go out the back way, but I want to take my stool with me. I'm going to be a little piggish. I don't want nobody to have my stool. That's mine."
Well, I went in there. There was about two weeks before I retired. My stool would always be sitting at one or another of my warp mills. I went in my warp mill, my stool wasn't there. I thought, "Well, they left it over at another mill. I'll go over there and look." They was changing the other mill. I was looking for my stool, so I could get the top, for I couldn't get the top unless I had this stool. And my stool wasn't over there. I went up there to Roy, a colored fellow that run the front of the mill. I says, "Roy, where's my stool."
He says, "It's back there in the warp mill."
I says, "It ain't."
He says, "Oh, it's over there against the wall."
I says, "It ain't over there nowhere. Have you hid my stool?"
He says, "Icy, I ain't touched your stool."
I said, "My stool's gone. Somebody has stole my stool."
Well, he helped me hunt. We hunted all over that room. We looked in every empty of box. I thought, "Now, somebody is playing a prank on me. Roy", I says, "Let's look in that empty box." We looked in every empty box. We killed two hours hunting my stool. I says, "I can't work without my stool."
He says, "Well, you'll just have to use my stool." I says, "I'm not going to use your stool. I want my stool, and I ain't going to work until I find it. You can just sit down or you can help me hunt my stool." I went out there, he come to me, and I thought, "Well, they got it over on the nylons." I went over there and looked at every stool.
They said, "What are you looking at?"
I says, "My stool's gone." Elena was up on the stool. I says, "Elena, let me turn your stool over."
She says, "What for?"
I says, "My name is on my stool and I'm a hunting it.
She says, "Icy, this is an old stool that's been over here all the time." She sat down, I looked at it and it wasn't my stool. I says, "No, it ain't mine." I went on every warp mill, up and down each side, and I couldn't find my warp stool.
NORMAN: . . . my stool. I went up there in the slasher room. I went up one side and down the other. All over the front. I was so sick over my stool. About that time I was coming from the slasher room back to my warp mill.
He says, "What you doing up here, Icy?"
I says, "Milton, somebody stole my stool."
He says, "Ain't nobody stole your stool."
I says, "My stool's gone. Roy's helped me hunt it and I've been all over this plant, and I can't find my stool."
He said, "Well, I'll look around. Could be that some of them in the twisting room come down here and borrowed it."
I said, "Why didn't they borrow some of the rest of them?" I went on back, I had to take Roy's stool. I worried and worried and worried about my stool.
Didn't nobody know that I told Milton what I was going to do. If they had I'd have laid it on any of them, hiding it. But didn't nobody know it but Milton. I told Milton. So come to find out I never did find my stool.
On Friday morning I went in. I had my Sunday clothes on, my Sunday shoes. Had my hair fixed right pretty. Everybody says, "You look so pretty, you didn't come in to work."
I says, "I didn't. This is one day I'm going to pester everybody." I had to learn a girl, Julia Candem, to creel on my, she was going to take my job. I learned her how to creel. I took more pains with that poor soul. She wasn't old, she wasn't but thirty, maybe thirty-one. I took the most pains. I said the way I was treated when I went in there, the way Essie treated me, if I ever had to learn anybody, I'd do the very best. Show them everything. And help them anyway that I could. And I did. And I learnt, I don't know the hands I learnt. So Julia went on over there and says, "Icy, Lord mercy, I can't keep them two warp mills up."
I says, "I'll be back after a while and I'll help you." So I went all over the slasher room, talked to all the slasher men. They all hugged me and said, "We sure will miss you."
Then I went on up to the cotton winding room and went around to all of them. They all hug me and says, "I wish you the very best. I wish it was me."
I come on around to the office there where Gene and Allen and Boyd, all of them, I talked with them girls, their secretaries, Jean, all of them was in there. They was all around me and hugging me, saying, "I don't know of nobody in the world I hate to see, as bad as I hate to see you leave."
I says, "Well, I hate to leave you all. I growed so fond of everybody. I love everyone of you. Y'all feel like one of my family. In fact, you're the only family
I got here in Burlington. All the bosses says, "If anything in the world ever comes up and you need us, you holler. We'll be right there."
I had talked to Sherry that lives right there. I was sitting there and talking to her. All at once the telephone rung and I was leaving from there going up to the main office, to talk to Fran and all. The personnel man. She laughed and said, "Yeah. She's fixing to leave right now. She's going up to the office and talk to the personnel and Fran and all." And it was Milton, he called. It was him she was talking to. He told her and her face turned just as red. She says, "Well, I'll do my best."
He says, "I'm getting on my scooter and I'll be there in a minute. You hold her there. They're all down here."
I says, "Who was that. You looked at me and laughed. I'm going up to Fran's and see all of them, personnel, Jimmy, that was the superintendent. I'm going up there and tell them goodbye."
She says, "No, you can't. Milton's on his way up here on that scooter."
I says, "I ain't riding on that there little scooter."
She says, "Well, he's on his way." About that time here he comes busting in the door.
He says, "I come after you."
I says, "You told me I could go around and tell everybody 'bye'."
He says, "I did."
I says, "I ain't got to the office up there. I'm going up there."
He says, "You can go up there later. I got something down here I want you to do for me."
I says, "Go ahead, I'll be on down there." I thought maybe, what popped into my mind, was that Julia run up against something she didn't understand. I says, "I'll be right on down."
He says, "You're going with me."
I says, "I ain't riding that scooter."
He says, "Yes you are." I got on the back of that thing. I says, "I'll fall off of it."
He says, "No you won't. I won't drive fast."
He rounded the curb and the whole crowd was standing there. All of them from the main office, slasher hands, dye hands, the warp hands, and two or three of the retired hands was there. They had everything fixed. When Milton drove up and turned the scooter this way and they snapped our picture. Then Jimmy, he made a little talk. He didn't say but a word or two, he filled up and he quit. Personnel man was talking. Every one of them cried. They took the picture of the table.
I looked at Milton, laughed and said, "You didn't fix me no blue floweredey cake, did you?" That was the prettiest cake, I just wish you could have seen it. That cake was that long and it was that wide. I have never seen a cake that long. It was decorated all up. It had the year I come there and the year I was retiring. And says, "Happy Retirement, Icy. We love you." That was the prettiest thing. They give me several presents. Bobby, he knowed I did snuff. They had paper cups there at them vending machines, and I'd always take one of them and I dragged my cup along with me. If I had to go over to the other warp mill, I'd take my cup with me so I could spit. You know what he had, them warper hands made up and bought me a gold cuspidor with my name "Warpin', we love you Icy." He hand me that.
I says, "Bobby, if that's a cone of yarn, I'm going to throw it at you." That's what I thought it was. I opened that.
He says, "Well, it ain't no yarn." I opened that up and that was so pretty.
He says, "I want you to use that."
I says, "I'll never spit in that. That's too pretty to spit in." They made me up $350.00 to give me and give it to me with a real pretty card with everybody's name on it. It was real nice. All the other retirements, they said something about it. A lot of times they'll call and say, the bosses will, "What's you going to do. You got anything planned tomorrow." And if I did, I'd tell what I was going to do. They'd call that next evening, "You got anything planned tomorrow." And I'd say, "No."
"Well, you be ready. We're going to take you out to lunch." They come and carried me out I don't know what the times for lunch from the mill. They ain't done none of the other retirements like that. Thelma Ward especially, she said, "They never did take me out for lunch."
I says, "They come and carried me out. They called me and asked me, told me to be ready, they'd pick me up at five minutes to twelve. We'd go out and eat dinner."
It kind of hurt me about the money they giving them now. Of course, I got my little dab of profit sharing. It wasn't much. I got it. But still that wasn't like that main. I could have really used that money. I felt like if anybody was entitled to it, I was, because I put my whole life there. My young life and I growed up there. Where them that's getting that money, they have quit and be gone for from two to five and six years and come back and get another job. That wasn't fair. Probably it's fair to them. I'm glad they're getting it. But it wasn't fair to me. I felt a little hurt over that. Milton and Jimmy and all of them said they done their level best to get it for me. They said Klopman put in his two cents. They said it knocked me out of it. They really felt that if anybody in the world needed it and got it for the years that I give to the Burlington Mills, I deserved it.
Burlington Mills, I deserved it.
MM: Let's go back a little. You were going to talk about people getting hurt in the mills.
NORMAN: I guess it's been maybe seven or eight years. Wilma Clemmons, do you know her? She's not retired, she's still working. She was running the front of the warp mill. Well, on that warp mill it didn't have no stop motion. If the end broke down, she had to stop it off. I was creeling up there in the corner of the mill. I was helping another girl quill her mill. My mills was running. Wilma was over there. All at once I hear something scream out. I turned to Mary Dell and said, "What was that?"
She says, "It's somebody pranking."
About that time I heard them scream again. I looked and I said, "Lord have mercy, something's happened to Wilma." I flew under the end and I flew to her. That roller was taking her whole arm up. She had one of them great old big thick wedding bands, real thick. She had that on. That mashed that wedding band as flat as a flatter [unclear] and it tore every speck of the meat off of this hand. She didn't have no meat on there. I run to her. I didn't know how to stop it off, not that one. Had it been one of the others I could have stopped it.
I screamed to Buster, "Buster, run here quick and stop this mill." For I knowed it was going to take her whole arm. He run over there and he stopped it. About that time the boss men come. They went running to the machine shop and they got some iron poles that big that was bent flat on one end. They had two of them things on the front prying that roller and two at the back, with men, two on each one of them, doing their best to pry that roller up. And there she stood. Shirley she come running. "Shirley," I says, "Wilma is going to
pass out. Run and get her some ammonia." She run and got some ammonia. By the time she got back and give her the ammonia, they got that roller up enough that they could slide her hand up. It wasn't nothing but bones there. Oh Lord, it made me so sick. They grabbed her, called the ambulance and rushed her to the hospital. You know today that poor thing's like that. She can't use that hand. She ain't got no feeling. You can feel of that hand and it's like a chunk of ice. They kept her over here a long time, I forget how many weeks. Then they sent her to Chapel Hill. She can't hold a broom to sweep her floor. When she come back to work they put her out there in the cloth room, something that she can pull the cloth with one hand. She can't use that hand.
MM: That wasn't too long ago then.
NORMAN: It's been about seven or eight years ago.
MM: Do you think that machinery lately is more dangerous than it used to be?
NORMAN: No, uh-uh. Since then they went around and put them stop guards on all the machines. But them others, them high speed, if an end come down on them, when it run up to where that end fell out, it would stop. But this one, she had tied the ends and went to start it up. Some way or another that thread wrapped around her finger and took it on in.
Oh yes, it's much safer. I know I was creeling, helping them change the high-speeds. They had a stool just like that but it was this high. Them high speeds is higher than this house. I couldn't reach the top. I couldn't reach them two top ones on a stool this high. Lunchtime, Lena got down and she started and says, "Icy, let's wash our hands. It's time to eat."
I said, "Lena, I didn't know it was that late. Time sure did fly." We had all the yarn took out of the mill and starting creeling the pieces back on. The mill was empty with them spindles sticking out. I went to come down off of
that high stool. My foot slid on the second step and I just went right down between the middle of that mill. It hurt this arm. By the time I got up it hurt me so bad. It didn't bleed. By the time I got up my arm was as black as a nigger. It hurt me so bad I didn't know whether I broke a bone or not. Lena turned around and looked and I was crying and holding my arm. I looked at my arm and it was just as black. Instead of going to the bathroom to wash I went on up there to the first-aid room. Pat was working on somebody's eyes. She turned around to me and says, "Icy, what in the world happened?"
I says, "I fell off of that stool. I started down that high stool and I missed the second step and I fell down between the warp mill."
Well, she run over there and she checked it. She says, "There ain't no bones broke." She went to putting ice on it. She called Milton and Milton come straight on up there. It scared him. He wanted to know how it happened.
I told him, I said, "Lena got down off of her stool I started down mine. She said it was time for us to go wash and eat. I told her, 'The morning sure did pass fast.' I missed the second step. Spindles was out and I fell right down, down them."
It scared him, he thought I'd broke my arm. Pat told him, says, "I checked her. Ain't no broken bones. But she does have a terrible bruise."
He says, "You stay up here with Pat."
They was all working and I still hadn't eaten no dinner. She kept that ice on me there about two hours. Then she rubbed some kind of medicine on it and she wrapped my whole arm in that wide--like that you wrap your leg or something in. It hurt me so bad. Milton says, "Icy, you can go home if you want to."
I says, "No, I'll stay and do what I could. I couldn't reach up with this arm. I put the cones on where I could tie. I didn't lose no time.
It wasn't but about a week until they come down and measured. Pat, she come. Pat and the personnel man and another man come down there that evening and looked. They talked.
I said, "What you all going to do?"
She said, "We're going to get rid of them stools. We ain't going to have nobody else fall. We're going to have some made just like bannisters with a rod back there and two rods down the side and down the steps."
I said, "That will be in the way of creeling."
So they made two for every warp mill. I never did use one. I couldn't. It seemed like it hurt my back. I'd have to reach over to put the yarn on like this. I still drug my little stool. Milton would get after me. I said, "I ain't going to use that old stool for I can't do it. I wouldn't have fell if you wouldn't have made me go over to that old nylon mill."
"Well," he says, "we didn't want you to fall."
But they changed the stools. They put them rods then a handle you could hold to go down.
MM: Was Milton the superintendent?
NORMAN: No, he was the head boss man over the warping.
That's the only time I ever got hurt. Well, I did one time, it wasn't me that done that. We was creeling on them little old V-creels. I come out to get a box of yarn, truck of yarn, rather, to go back in. It was one of them hand trucks, you know, that you slide under. It was in Thelma's way and she give it a shove and it hit my big toe there. Lord, I just sit down and cried it hurt me so bad. She didn't mean to do it. She hated it awful bad. She said, "I didn't think I give it that hard a shove." But it sure did hurt my big toe, and I've had trouble with that old toe with an ingrown toenail. I never did know what
an ingrown toenail until she done that. But that's been years and years. When they had them little old V-creels. I loved to creel them there spools on them little V-creels, because they wasn't but just so high. I think you put eight spools in a row, that's about how high. You didn't have to have a stool or nothing. I loved to creel on them. Thems the ones we run the colored yarn to make them patterns, like running stripes and things for bed ticking, these inner spring mattresses and things like that. But it was fun. We had good years, we had bad years. I reckon that goes through life.
Everybody seemed to get along and everybody seemed like they enjoyed working with one another. Just like I said, everybody up there in the room I worked in felt like just one family. We just laugh and joke. We'd say anything. We didn't think nothing about what we said to one another, because nobody paid no mind. We'd all work together and tried to pull together. I think that's the main thing on the job. Especially where it's a group of people. If they all work together.
MM: Was there a lot of competition? Did they always have that production board up?
NORMAN: No, they stopped that. When they went to running the high speeds. They had a clock on there would tell you how many yards a warper hand would run a day. It would clock it off like your automobile, how your automobile will tell you how many miles you got on your car. Something similar to that. Its wrap mill is running and that clock is a clocking all the time. At the end of the day, the warper hands, they had a sheet to do them all with. They put down how many yards they run each day, the days of the month, and all. We didn't have to keep production. I creeled anywhere from seventeen to eighteen hundred cones a day. Long towards the last them cones went to weighing anywhere from eight
to ten pounds a cone. It was kind of heavy. But I enjoyed it. I really did love my job. I hated that I had to quit. I just begged and I done every way in the world to get them to let me work on. So now they let you work as long as you want to, so they say.
MM: That's the law.
NORMAN: But I did, just let me work one more year. Just let me work from now until next April. Then I'll have all my debts paid off.
They says, "I wish I could. I hate to see you leave so bad. We'll never replace you."
So I went back up there in a month or two. Roy says, "Icy, please go over there and creel that mill up for me. You know I ain't run one yard all day long."
I says, "Roy, you know better."
He says, "I ain't."
(END OF INTERVIEW)