The Stretch Out (Part 1)

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Literary Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic


The Stretch Out

 

“Why don't you agree with the plan?” Pete Fruss a Gaffer in charge of the floor leaned against a broom while George Twig poked with a screwdriver as he worked on a spinning mule.  “It’s just jammed” George said he was frustrated and he was avoiding what Pete Fruss was talking about.  “Your a chicken shit” Pete looked down to George whom was squatted low while fixing the clog in the spinning mule.  He stood back up, “Things aren’t so simple for me Pete” Mill owner Joseph Gull very unlike him was making rounds throughout the premises it was was a tell to his nervousness of the goings on through the region.  As he walked near Pete pushed his broom as George Twig restarted the Spinning mule threads of yarn were spun in rows.  The model of the clogged Mule was a condenser spinning mule.  It was an improvement upon original spinning mules.  Condenser Mules fit 748 spindles of yarn and were used to salvage scraps that were left as waste from cotton fibers.  Gull Yarn and Fabrics was a comprehensive textile mill and the condenser mule made use of short fibers producing sheeting and blankets.   The spinning mule slid along the tracks George inspected the gears in the headstock to ensure that the clog didn’t effect the integrity of its individual parts.  The minder, a worker that ran a pair of mules and two young boys called a side piercer that tied broken threads and little piercer took over in working the production of yarn.  Gull Yarn and Fabrics was tightly packed with many different machines and departments full of workers with specific functions from the Balers that carried the cotton in the mill, the firebeaters that tended the boilers that powered the mill, with every process of cotton to yarn and cloth there was a duty and a person many being children filled that job description.  The lowest paid were the Doffers who's job was simple and yet integral they removed the spindles holding spun fiber and replaced them with new ones. Typically Doffers were young boys average 12 years of age, they worked shoeless.  When the job of changed the spindles they were allowed free time to go and play.  A whistle would be blown retrieving the doffers when the spindles needed changing.  Hung on the wall of the mill was the rules and regulations for the mill department.  Workers called it Gull’s holy grail.

 

The greater battles of management were for the most part above the responsibility or knowledge of the workers but the changes clinked down effecting everyone that worked at the yarn mill.  Nationally Unions were forming, Owners were fighting back with their own work reforms and implementations after time management studies were conducted Politicians had passed laws and formed employee employer relations boards.  For the locals, manufacturers that provided good stable work built towns and cities where the people relied on the mill for their source of survival.  Alabama was full of trees and farms and open space when a man asks the question what is freedom? The answer resides in the relying on oneself in the openness of country, in the city that’s where money is needed.  Freedom was never free that’s a blanket statement that effected poor people though many of the poor white folk went unnoticed and many non white folk thought it a given that white folk always had it better.  After the civil war things had begun to change in the south whether the inhabitants of the southern states liked it or not.  Southern resentment was as real as southern hospitality.  The Civil war had ended fifty years before this time but the effects of the war changed the south.  The aftermath is that both the North and the South bared the scars of war, brother against brother and while on the surface the reason for the war was slavery, people like Julius Howell whom was a confederate soldier and  commander in chief of the confederate veterans said that the war was over states rights.  In knowing that there are costs with building societies the north and south had a different way of paying those dues and visions for the future.  The build up was paid when the war was fought and with winners and losers there are consequences and rewards.  The visual scars of General Sherman’s infamous scorched earth policy with railway neckties handicapped the state of Georgia along with Union forces destroying most of the southern railway system.  Another reminder of the depth of the darkness of war during the Civil War was a prison in Sumter County Georgia, Andersonville.  It is estimated that over 13,000 Union troops died in that confederate prison.  Of all of the folklore that sprouted from the precipice of that war, the fear of prisons held a truth because of Andersonville.  After the war President Johnson forced reconstruction on the south and many changes were made, carpet baggers from up north went south and many freed slaves worked menial jobs like house servants and railway workers while few newly freed men were given land for free.  Alabama a neighboring state that had its own dilemma’s thankfully scorched earth was not its dilemma, states rights was a part of Alabaman tradition.  With the changes many southerners fought bitterly against changes including many Confederate higher ranking officials that were incorporated into elected office.  There were many battles and forming of groups like the Klu Klux Klan.  The Civil War was followed by the Industrial Revolution bringing a modernizing change all of its own with Ellis Island in New York being the birthing spot of the proverbial Melting Pot.  The textile industry once being a stronghold in the north had begun to move south as cotton was a predominant resource and reconstruction money being too strong of a lure for northern mill owners to ignore.  A truth is that southern culture while being slower paced than the north is full of good people that want work and family.  George Twig was one of those people in pursuit of the American dream.

 

George Twig in the year of 1934 held a passion that burned inside of him.  He worked in the lumber yards, on the rail ways, he did whatever was available to him to build himself up from the pits of disparity.  Eventually he wound up working in a textile mill proving his worth with management enough to make him a Gaffer that ran a floor and most of the time engineer.  Machinery and the knowledge of how machine’s work was a thing that George fully understood.  Now George was not a young man, no he had reached the age of 40 and his first wife was baron later dying of the pox along with a good portion of his family.  His past decade of life he had buried a dozen of his family members due to various ills and his grievances were over there loss without return.  At the mill he met a woman as she frequented the mill that caused many woes as well including a night time visit by people holding torches breaking his arm and jaw.  While working he met a woman whom was of the mulatto persuasion and she happened to be the owner of the mill’s bastard daughter.  Talk of the mill owner’s relation to that woman was never spoken about openly.  Persephone Twig was a prim woman lighter in complexion than not. She was a school teacher in all black grammar school.  She’d frequent the mill to visit her father whom was married with a family of his own.  Setting up a trust donating books and supplies to the school legitimized the visits though the mill owner didn’t care for the education of all black students and before she was a teacher the he’d donate to her church, he did care for his daughter whom he had with a house servant some twenty five years before.  Her beauty caught many men’s attention though none of the caucasian persuasion, together George and Persephone had begun to raise a family with twins already being born and another on the way.  The year that southern reconstruction had ended in 1877 Jim Crow Laws were passed.  When George Twig met his wife in 1927 she was 16 and he was 31, racial lines were defined with very little crossover without ramifications.  Age wasn’t the issue because standards were different and the relationship between races were not equal.  Nepotism was probable for a bastard daughter like Persephone but crossing that line for George made him a target.  His work ethic, knowledge, and ability at the mill made him dependable and needed, the mill owner was strict but he did have a need. Not being one to fail to recognize the limit of ones own capability George provided a needed skill, he kept the machine’s working and he knew how to talk to people, the mill provided him with the stability that he desired.  Spreading throughout the United States in waves from north to south the stresses of the workers union movement brought pressures and decisions that tested the integrity of the greatest of men. Not everything has to go as planned.  That is part of what improvising is.  Those that are stuck in the box that work the box don’t know out of the box.  The workers union movement had begun to test the limits of the dexterity of the box of the way things were.  

 

The cotton fields in Alabama are plentiful and historically sharecroppers are paid a measly sum but there’s freedom with living on a farm that has a value beyond monetary compensation.  Joseph Gull owned a farm that spanned nearly 1000 acres he housed workers with families that worked the fields supplying his textile mill with the cotton that produced yarn and dyed yarn and fabrics in Dothan, Alabama.  Farm workers had families that lived on the farm with housing provided, the men had their wives and children work the farm.  Child labor was used and was not seem as a problem with the father’s prodding their kids to work with less danger being in an open field. Gull Yarn and Fabrics in Dothan was a prosperous mill even with tough times causing the problem of overproduction.  Joseph Gull was a son of a bitch to work for but he ran a business that stopped on a dime.  He housed his workers, built a park, store, recreation center, and even had a secret stash of alcohol.  Prohibition made alcohol illegal but Joseph Gull was not a man without resources and his political influence was extensive and in 1933 when prohibition ended he sold the alcohol to his workers in the company store.  One of the traits that made him feared and somewhat hated is that he micromanaged most aspects of his workers lives but for the most part he ran a clean and safe as a facility as could be afforded at the time.  The workers made competitive wages nearly double what the sharecroppers made working in the field.  While it was Alabama with very tense racial relations over 10% of his workers were African American.  Jim Crow laws were followed but considering that it was Alabama Joseph Gull was not considered a discriminatory employer.  One of the things that he was guilty of was child labor, with families living in housing wanting their kids employed to bring in as much income as possible.  Accidents happen due to fatigue and personal error with laws being passed because of young kids being crushed by older model Jenny Mules.  If it could be avoided he delegated younger kids to cleaning duties not operating machinery until they were of age to possess enough coordination to handle the duties safely.  Still accidents did happen and the machines were unforgiving but production needed to continue.  Joseph Gull was a guilty man when it came to came to child labor but he admitted their usefulness.  The machines were tightly packed and children workers could fit in spaces where adults couldn't to effectively clean out the loose cotton from production shedding.  Gull Yarn and Fabrics were two massive brick building structures both buildings predominately produced yarn with one building producing fabric products like sheets, blankets, and rolled fabric.  A machine count of Gull Yarn and Fabric was assessed at 40,000 ring spinner, 4,000 twister spinners, 2700 mule spinners, 240 Cards, 350 Broad, 225 Narrow Looms, 3 Sewing machines, 3 Boilers, 20 single and ply wearing and knitting yarns, turksih towel and table damask.  It was assessed that Gull Yarn and Fabric had roughly one million dollars in machine operating assetts in 1933.  The past couple of years with the increase in foreign competition and the stock market crash of 1929 followed by the great depression the dropping price of cotton and overstocking of it effected the bottom line of profitability.  Discontented workers formed groups throughout the United States.  They had demands and the owners of mills did not like to meet those demands because they owned the mills not the workers.  As the heating of the political environment was met with economic strife with business the impact felt had real costs.  Collectively the mill owners struck back at the workers when they made demands.

 

The great depression was catastrophic in America, a young nation without the infrastructure and system to soften the impact of tough times had an effect.  After the stock market crash in 1929 the years that followed tested the integrity of a people experiencing drastic retraction after unheard of growth within a capitalist market.  Unemployment rose from 4% to 25%  and 50% of human manpower went unused, the great contraction with less consumption lowered prices of goods by 20% decreasing manufacturing by 33%.  Many textile workers were not well versed in formal education, no they were for the most part hard working, loyal Americans.  The series of programs initiated by the Roosevelt Administration with the New Deal a term phrased by advisor Stewart Chase, created a governmental foundation that never existed in the young country that is the United States.  The New Deal flipped both Republican and Democratic parties.  Where in 1860 the Lincoln Republican Party wanted to free the slaves and give constitutional rights to all men, the Roosevelt Democrat wanted to feed, house, and provide a safety net for lower class Americans.  While not being fought with guns and knives it was a civil war with government, business owners, and workers being involved.  The depression was a hole the fight was how America was going to get out of it.  Business owners didn’t want government involved with how they handle their own business and they didn’t want to pay taxes for a government that doesn’t help them.  With the end of the first world war in Europe giving rise to communism in Russia, Fascism in Germany and Italy and a rebuilding in Europe and Eastern Europe.  In America the mill owner - worker tension gave rise to worker unions.  During the height of the great depression in June of 1933 President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed as part of the New Deal, The National Industrial Recovery Act.  It called for cooperation between labor, government, and businesses along with the newly found NRA National Recovery Administration.  It’s intention was to multi task reducing overproduction, raise wages, control weekly work hours, guarantee rights of workers to form unions, and stimulate economic recovery.  

 

Mill owners felt betrayed because they owned the business, most provided housing, paid wages, and employed the workers.  They created towns, before them there was just the earth and wild life itself.  With the struggles Mill owners fought back trying to manage overproduction, overstock, dropped prices, overseas competition, and worker strife.  In New England and Mid Atlantic many mills went bankrupt.  The noose around manufacturers profitability was tightening while the control over their workforce was loosening.  Collectively they fought back against the demands of the NIRA and when a minimum wage was set along with a work week hourly standard, owners fought back with their own demands.  “The Stretch Out” was a phrase given to the changes that the mill owners forced on their workers to meet their demands.  Some mills that previously paid hourly wages had started to pay their workers by piece.  Other mills like Gull Yarn and Fabric demanded that workers produce in 40 hours what they previously produced in 50 hours.  He had also begun to dock the workers for errors.  Gull Yarn and Fabric workers had many unhappy employees and Joseph Gull was not shy with firing employees bringing in new ones that lined up in droves when he send the message that Gull Yarn and Fabric was hiring.  Most workers couldn’t physically handle the work load so they found themselves working 50 hours for a 40 hour paycheck.  More fabric Looms and yarn Mules were assigned to the Minders and the Gaffers duties were extended.  The United Textile Workers (UTW) had roughly 15,000 members in February of 1933 by June of 1934 there were over 250,000 members, half of whom where cotton mill workers.  Members of the unions hoped to put and end to “The Stretch Out” that thinned the resolve of the workers ability to maintain both work and family.  

 

George Twig was hard pressed but he found a way to manage.  He was one of the few employees that did not live in mill housing and he owner a car.  Talk of walk outs and joining the UTW had made way from time to time.  Secrets in a mill were often hard to keep, especially for the Gaffers because they had the most movement within the floor.  George Twig being an engineer knew just about everyone and their families that worked in both buildings.  He knew the Gaffers that he could trust and the ones that he would put up with when he had to.  His arraignment within Gull Yarn and Fabrics was different than most employees while every employee reported directly to Joseph Gull, George because of his position not his relation to Mr. Gull’s bastard daughter that he had more interaction with him.  The employer worker line was always there George only talked to Mr. Gull when he had to, he kept notes on his actions.  When machines broke, which ones, the parts that he had to fix, and the cause for the breakage.  With pressures from Unionization Mr. Gull held meeting with all mill employees meeting with the gaffers and minders separately, he didn’t ask questions he had demands.  Mr. Gull was brash and brilliant man that preferred control knowing that meeting in smaller groups the focus of his control would be managable.  It was his intent while showing his power to also know that he wanted his workers to have the comfort of longevity.  Being hot tempered when there was opposition he threatened to fire every and any employee that tried to bring unions to his mill along with making sure that anyone involved would never work in the state of Alabama again.  Still even with the threats talk of a walk out and joining the UTW was silently talked about.  For George Twig he was left with a predicament between family, work, and loyalty to his fellow workers.  Did he want to join a union?  Not Really, he liked his role within the company but he really was overworked and the pay could have been better.   In 1934 Union representatives had begun to meet with the mill workers including the minders and gaffers outside of work hours at offsite locations.  George Twig decided not to attend but what he did do was visit his best friend Alexander Lesperance a Gaffer in the Yarn building.

 

His days off as of late were few and far between but he was a continually constructive man, he needed to do things to give him a visual sense of accomplishment.  Hitching up a horse to a plow he tilled a several acre field as Persephone followed behind planting seeds and seedling with corn, lettuce, cabbage, carrots, while a smaller area was dedicated to lesser consumed vegetables.  For extra money George Twig would sell his harvested vegetables to local stores.  It allowed him and Persephone the ability to purchase upgrades to their property.  This afternoon was unlike many others as a truck full of men arrived on his property.  George was alarmed, yes he was and for good reason because he didn’t recognize any of these men and the last time a group of men showed up at his house holding torches he nearly died.  What George did expect is for Alexander Lesperance to meet him at his house some time during the day to help him build the frame for a new barn but as the men arrived they jumped out of the back of their truck holding ax handles and they didn’t seem like they were there to help build a barn.  Persephone panicked her children were near her she huddled them close and George grabbed a shovel.  One of the men flicked a toothpick at George’s feet.  He recognized them, “Your from the UTW” A short man wearing thick glasses with his hair potted in the middle stepped forward, “We knew that she’s Gull’s daughter and that your his engineer” George tried to remain cool but his wife and children where there on his own property surrounded by men with weapons.  Silently he prayed that Alexander would show up.

 

****

 

Mary was digging into the Kitty again and Alexander was overwhelmed because of it.  Now Alexander Lesperance was dead tired putting in nearly sixty hour work weeks at Gull Yarn and Fabrics.  He was grateful that Mr. Gull had paid him nearly full pay for those sixty hours but the stretch out made many of the workers discontented.  They complained some bitched just to bitch but they did have a right to bitch.  Some of the more emotional Minders would work themselves into a frenzy and then complain about the lint, or work themselves into a fever and complain about the heat.  Breaks were shortened and some cut their breaks so that they could make production quota in less than fifty hours.  Amongst themselves there were threats that the unemployed could take their jobs leaving them to picket the streets for food.  Alexander had heard all of the murmuring of unionizing or walking out but he had too much on the line to entertain any kind of notion of it.  The political battles along with the great depression made sure that he kept his eyes down working hard and being loyal to the company that kept him employed and paid the bills.  Listening to the radio and reading the newspapers Alexander Lesperance was well aware of all of the people out of work and all of the businesses that were closed.  He wasn’t blind he knew that there was a healthy stock of product and a backlog on cotton and the grumbles from the demands from management without pay was breaking him down.  Mary had given birth to a daughter in February and by help him god she was the biggest baby that he had ever seen being nearly 16 pounds at birth.  The doctor claimed that the baby was bigger because Mary was diabetic but that woman had been spending money when she shouldn’t and Alexander was having a shit because of it.  On his one day off he hoped to relax for a few hours before going over to George Twig’s house to help him build the frame of a new barn.  “That’s my ass Mary” Alexander yelled at his wife, Mary held baby Yvonne in the crease of her arm, holding her hands between her thighs, she smiled, “I know it is dear, but it’s worth it.” Now Xander Lesperance was a Gaffer at Gull Yarn and Fabrics and he was a damned good one but the economy had him scared and the threats from Mr. Gull left him with nightmares and then there were the Union Reps holding meetings and he felt like a pickle in a Jar.  Xander was French Canadian originally from up north and Mary was a stubborn Irish Woman, with the birth of their daughter in February they had seven kids and they had started talk of having more children.  If there was a man that was locked without room for movement then that was Xander’s fate.  Mary was not a dumb woman nor was she a little girl, she stood up from her chair kissed Xander on the cheek, “You should be getting on to George’s house, give Persephone my greetings.”  While Xander wished that he could spend more time with his family he knew that his good works would pay off for all of his family members some day.  He drove a 1933 Buick that he saved up for years to buy.  

 

****

 

George Twig stood in the middle of the soon to be cornfield in front of his horse and plow where his wife Persephone and two kindergarten aged children stood cradled to her legs.  The men holding ax handles surrounded George, his first inclination was to fight the group of men with his wife and children near though his level headed estimation was that his flat stomached muscularly natural 180 lb five foot eleven frame might put up a good fight but against a group of 8 similarly sized men aside from their leader, should they attack he didn’t doubt that he and his family would be dead.  The short man was barely above five and a half feet tall, his black and silver speckled hair was potted in the middle and his thick round glasses rested on his bulbous nose.  He walked with a wide stance carrying a stick with the prominence of royalty.  Holding the handle of the ax he pointed it at George Twig he pushed the tip against Georges chest, “We don’t like that your trying to stick your nose into Union Business.”  Briefly George shook his head giving and honest reaction, then he read through the bull the short man was instigating him in front of his family on his own property.  “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”  George pointed to the road leading to his property, “Now take your men and get the hell off of my property.  You're making a spectacle in front of my wife and kids and it got them scared.”  The short man walked past George and then group of Union men walked closer to him, the short man handed his ax handle to one of the men, he approached Persephone. George rushed stepping in front of the short man, “You leave my family out of this”. Two men stood in front of George with ax handles gripped tightly.  The short man nodded to the two men they stood firm, “Mrs. Twig I assure you that we are here under good intention with respect to the working conditions and pay at your father’s mill” The top buttons to Persephones blouse were unbuttoned, her pregnant cleavage caught the attention of the short man he licked his lips, “You do know that I’m his bastard daughter? We barely talk to each other.  I don’t know anything about Mr. Gull’s business, George works there not I.  If you’ve done your homework like you should have then you’d know that I am a school teacher with all colored students.  What has your union done for them?”  George wanted to take a swing and fight to the death of him.  Persephone looked to George she nodded no.  She dipped down to her children and whispered into their ear, a moment later they began to run through the freshly plowed fields toward their house.  “George let him talk” Persephone ordered.  The short man held out his arms hip height as he stood even heighted with Persephone.  She looked to his hands as he stood barely a foot from her, he thrust his hips up.  “A year and a half ago there was fifteen thousand of us UTW’s and today there are over two hundred and fifty thousand, the mill owners can thank the stretch out for that.”  Persephone didn’t fear the man, “Thank the Depression and the New Deal for forcing pressures on business owners.  How would you like some little man with a stick telling you what to do?  That’s what you are to me.  If there was one thing that my father did do was instill in me to think from the other person’s perspective.  I’m the business owner and you're the bully holding his stick in my direction.”  George knew his wife often he’d laugh but he wasn’t laughing though several of the Union men did laugh.  Persephone picked up a rake, “If you want to make nice with me then you men need to help me plant corn kernels.”  The short man turned to his workers, “This woman has guts” A Buick drove into the Twigs driveway parking near the house in time for the Twig’s two children to greet him, it was Alexander Lesperance.  As he got out of the Buick he picked up both of the children kissing them on the cheek putting them down when he noticed the group of men surrounding George holding sticks in their hand.  He told the children to go inside of the house, he held a hammer in hand as he walked to the group of men.  A man shorter than the rest was talking with Persephone as two men stood in front of George.  Xander gripped his hammer as adrenaline pumped in his veins and his hands shook with fear, his bowels grumbled with anxiety.  Xander knew that the men were from the Union movement and looking he knew that even with his hammer that he and George wouldn’t be much of a match should things get physical, but he did what loyal men do.  He gripped his hammer and walked to the side of George looking the men in the eyes sternly.  He didn’t talk in a tense situation he knew that silence and tension brought the rigidness of action and capability should it be followed through.  The short man walked to Xander he looked at the hammer in his hand, “And what are you going to do with that?”  Xander looked into the mans eyes without speaking, Persephone walked to Alexander, “He’s a gaffer” George sighed, he didn’t want to give the short man any information.  The short man noted that Xander was wearing a wedding ring.  “How’s the stretch out treating you and your family? Do you like working for free while Gull makes a killing off of you?”  Xander Lesperance was not blind, he was well worn worked to the near maximum of his capacity and so were many of the workers at the mill but his belief was that it was temporary and that things would get better and while he wasn’t against a Union with better pay and conditions being bullied by men with sticks in an open field wasn’t the way to do it.  Persephone walked to in front of the two men she stared at the group of Union Men, “Didn’t your mother ever teach you any manners or do you bully good hard working workers and family men into submission?”  The short man took the cigarette from George’s mouth he began to smoke the cigarette, “You better thank your wife, she saved you from two busted knee caps!  If your smart you’ll keep your mouth’s shut and help with a walk out.  This won’t be the last time that you hear from us.”  The short man lead the way as the group of Union Men walked to their truck, the short man opened the passenger door entering the truck as a driver was waiting.  The men waved farewell holding their ax handles as the truck drove out of the Twig’s driveway.  Alexander exhaled a sigh of relief he looked to George and Persephone, “That” He took a brief pause full with anxiety, “Was John Crud, he’s the Union President.   Persephone tugged the rake that she held, “I don’t give a care who he is, you don’t threaten a woman and her family while they're working on a farm.”  George looked to Xander, “Ready to build a barn?”  George unhooked and unlatched the horse from the plow leaving it up to Persephone to walk the horse to the temporary shed where it was housed.

 

****

The following week work conditions at the mill were pretty near unbearable, the weather was hot and humid though the fans created cross circulation and the cotton fibers flew it made breathing heavy.  Humidity had one benefit less yarn line breakage as that cotton absorbed some of the moisture.  The rapid pace of work with extra looms and mules assigned created a chain gang grind, the workers were likes dogs that walked too far without enough strength to make it home and the complaints and arguments among themselves made things worse.  From the rumors that were circulating George surmised that Pete Fruss was the union informant.  A minder by the name of Marie White really got on George’s nerves.  Marie was a auburn haired thinly set nimble woman, when she got into a rhythm she worked with finesse.  It’s typical for spinning mules with hundreds of threads of yarn to have breakages by the minute.  Marie always kept the mules running smoothly and worked well even with the added spinning mules assigned.  I could be that she was starved for attention and was crying wolf but to George she was just being too god damned needy.  She was a widow, her husband J.P had died from cancer having it begin in his testicles.  There were several men that had worked for Gull Yarn and Fabrics that had that same form of cancer and many others got lung cancer from the dry cotton fibers that flew throughout the mills.  Nationally testiculor had been occurring and the professionals came to the conclusion that the type of oil that was used to lubricate the looms and spinning mules was to blame as the machine’s are waist height to most men with the oils seeping through clothes onto skin.  The mill owners collectively changed the oils used to a more natural oil to prevent testicular cancer from happening.  This day in particular Marie pushed too many buttons, she called George over to fix the problematic mules, “You better not be calling me to look at nothing.”  Gull Yarn and Fabrics had a rule of no chewing gum in the mill, he inspected what he suspected to be a jam where the yarn on the spindle is strung to the drafting zone, essentially the part is a big needle with a hole for the yarn to string through.  Several of them were clogged and upon inspection wads of gum were gunked up on the tips of them.  George lost his cool, “Marie what have you done?  Are you trying to get yourself fired?”  And though she worked for the mill for nearly 20 years that June afternoon was a breaking point, she gathered her son and daughter that worked beside her spat on the floor in front of George’s feet and gave a stage worthy spectacle that nearly stopped all productions on the floor.  She put up enough of a stink to cause Joseph Gull himself escort Marie White and her children out of his mill.  In the fabrics building two Cardroomers, Workers that worked in the Card Room got into a fist fight.  Joseph Gull had himself a day.  Word spread quickly of what had happened, the workers were like chickens that had come home to roost during their shortened break time and the eggs that they laid were like eggs that had baked in the sun popping with little pressure.

 

With the little time that George had to spare he worked on building the barn and planting seeds.  Persephone was having a tough time with the students at the school where she taught.  In Alabama there wasn’t a set school schedule between 60 to 80 days per year was considered a healthy school year for whites and far less for colored people.  It was typical for Persephone to make home visits to students that had skipped many days of school.  The school house was in a poor neighborhood as all black neighborhood were poor in Alabama.  With the school year ending for the summer Persephone had a drop out rate the was more than the students that were still attending.  What she decided to do was make rounds of home visits to the students that had dropped of out her school.  She found herself arguing with stubborn parents that didn’t care if their kids could read and write and count so long as they could find jobs and put food on the table and help to pay the bills, there were some that didn’t care at all.  At home she knew that George was not himself, there was a hollowness about him that left Persephone with a chill.  She had a need, being burdened with the hurt for the lack of future of her dropped out students, she needed to vent.  “What is it Pers” George asked wincing with listening.  When she laid her burdens on George it proved to be too much for him to bare.  George Twig was a fearless man until he had a fear.  When he lay down to sleep and thoughts of growing old and eventual death he became overwhelmed.  Work was too much, many workers hated him because of his marriage to non white woman, and others held contempt because he was considered one of Gull’s chosen few.  The workload was heavy and the other pressures including being a father, having another one on the way, being threatened on his own property by Union thugs and then Persephone’s student drop out crisis caused George to run on instinct.  Uncontrollably almost, A long blank of nothing took over.  He was shaken by eventual reality and he could not shake the fear of nothing.  Something had taken his light, the silver lining of hope was gone.  For weeks on end he worked on autopilot, lacking a soul to his self.  Looking in the mirror when he took a good look at himself he seemed unrecognizable.  At night his prayers went unanswered to the coming days that were relentless.

 

 

References Used :

 

www.mendorailhistory.org/1_logging/work_conditions.htm

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Textile_workers_strike_(1934)

www.scencyclopedia.org/sce/entries/stretch-out/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/doffer

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/spinning_mule

https://libcom.org/history/us-national-textile-workers-strike-1934-jeremy-brecher

www.weasteheritagetrail.co.uk/resources/some-old-job-titles-from-the-textile-industries/index.htm


Submitted: April 30, 2021

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