Living on the West End: I remember! How could I forget?

By Bill Shepard

The little boy lives on inside the body of an old man.

The two get together often and relive the happenings they both like to recall. The following is one of them.

It is written just the way it happened a long time ago! All those who lived this story with me are gone, the big mill that was the central part of so many lives has been torn down and hauled away.

The place where it stood for near three-quarters of a century now stands vacant. The years of it pumping life’s blood into the little town of my birthplace seem forgotten.

There are a few struggling to build a memorial to the memory of that time long ago, but help has been slow in coming.

Now I have strayed from the story I started to write. I shall try to get back on track! Forgive me!

When I was a little boy, not yet of school age, I lived with my Mama and Daddy and my two older brothers. We lived in a small three-room house near the big mill where my Daddy worked.

My two brothers attended school each day at the red brick school building nearly a mile away. I stayed home with my Mama! I liked those days!

My Mama began her work day each day at 4:30 a.m. That was when the horn at the big mill began to blow. The sound was so loud it would cause the windows in our small house to rattle. The first blast of the horn was known as the wake-up call, and it would do that!

At its first sound, the lights would come on inside houses all over the village. At the sound of the horn, my Mama would awaken. I would too.

I would hear her footsteps as she hurried to the kitchen where her workday began. Within moments she would have a fire burning in the wood-burning stove that occupied one corner of the kitchen.

Dad would be next to get out of bed and dress for work at the mill. If it was in the summertime, Dad would go back to the back porch, wash his face and hands with cold water from the only faucet in the house. If in winter, he would fill a pan of water and go inside the kitchen where the fire burning in the stove had warmed the kitchen.

The horn at the mill would blow at 15-minute intervals until it was time for work to begin.

There could be no excuse for anyone to be late! When the lights all over the building flashed on at 6 a.m. each worker was expected to be at their position and ready for work. To be late could cost a person his job!

Mama prepared a large breakfast each morning. It would be steaming hot, a pot of hot grits, a pan of fluffy biscuits and fatback meat fried to a crispy brown, all cooked just the way Dad liked.

If the hens in the yard were in their laying season, there would be eggs, and always plenty of black coffee to wash it all down!

Oh yes, there would be syrup aplenty!

Mama always said that the work at the mill was hard and the day was long, and a man needed a good breakfast to carry him through it!

I would be awake and listen to hear the door close and I would know that Dad had left for his 12-hour workday at the mill.

My two brothers would be next to get up and prepare for their day at school. I often wondered what their day was like, but I did not wish for the day that lay ahead when I would have to join them.

I was last to get out of bed and join Mama in the kitchen. Mama would have already begun preparing her next meal. Mama cooked three meals a day, breakfast, dinner and supper!

I would sit at the table and wait for Mama to speak. I knew what I wanted to hear. The words I liked best were, “Eat your breakfast and we will go to the Company Store!” I liked those days! I always got a small sack of candy when we went to the Company Store!

It was a long walk from our house to the Company Store. Mama walked slowly and I followed behind.

We would cross over the bridge that spanned the creek that separated the village from the big mill and the Company Store. We would pass by the mill and I would look to see if my Dad was standing at the window. Sometimes I would see him and he would wave at Mama and me. I would wave back.

At the big store, Mama would give the grocery list to one of the clerks. That was when the clerk would fill a small sack of candy and give it to me.

Mama liked to look at the pretty cloth the store sold and she would buy enough to sew shirts for her boys and sometimes a dress for herself.

With the pieces left she would sew her an apron. Mama liked to wear aprons when she worked in the kitchen.

The old pedal Singer sewing machine was kept busy.

On our walk home from the store we would be quiet. I was busy eating my sack of candy and Mama would be thinking of her workday ahead.

Suppertime was our favorite time. That was when all the family would be together.

At exactly 6 p.m. each day, the lights at the old mill would flash again.

That was a signal that the long workday was over. Within minutes long lines of tired workers would be seen headed for home.

I would often stand in the yard waiting to see my Dad. At first glance I would run to meet him. He would take me up in his arms and squeeze me tightly.

At home, Mama would have spread the food on the table. If in the winter when darkness came early, she would have the kerosene lamp already burning. This was suppertime!

My seat was always by my Dad. My brothers would be at their special place.

Mama would be the last to take her place at the table. Dad gave thanks for our food and eating would begin. Not much talk would be heard.

Supper being over, Dad would retire to his rocking chair in the bedroom. I would climb upon his knee and sit. Mama would shortly end her work in the kitchen and join the rest of us.

A tired family was ready for bed. Darkness would have long covered the village. Tomorrow another day would begin. Another day to remember!

Author: Rachel Howell

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