The Stretch Out

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Romance  |  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 of 1933 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 of 33 they had seven kids and she was pregnant due in late September.  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.

 

Work at Gull Yarn and Fabric ran 6 days a week with the 7th day on Sunday “the lords day” as the set day off.  Church on Sundays comprised of predominately mill workers mixed the workers that normally don’t interact and as of late battle lines were drawn between union and non union workers. Always facing the parishioners the Pastor could see the wear on their faces and demeanor.  The tricky thing with the Twig’s is that George being a white man was not welcome at black churches and the times that he did attend with Persephone the parishioners were not friendly.  When he'd try to make eye contact they would look down.  George told himself that it was a matter of balls and looking at the church donation cup he refused to contribute money to fall into their cup.  The church that the Twig’s attended was a white church during Jim Crow segregation and Persephone being of mixed races was caught in the line of fire no matter which way she went.  With most of the attendee’s working at Gull Yarn and Fabrics and Persephone being the owners bastard daughter they mulled her attending the church.  Weekly they would dress up their children wearing their best clothes sitting toward the back.  Persephone played the piano and she had a beautiful singing voice, often she would be called upon to lead the church in song.  Tension and resentment for her because of her relations to Joseph Gull made her feel like a target, she kept to her husband and children holding her developing stomach.  This week the pastor gave a sermon about God taking away Job’s wealth and family with a great wind collapsing four corners of his house killing his 7 sons and 3 daughters.  Satan made an accusation to God that Job would turn away from god if he were penniless.   The book of Job is the story of a man that persevered through continual torment.  The pastor being a man in his sixties did his best to stay away from the political battles that were affecting his church members.  He gave a sermon about being faithful to god during struggles when everything is taken away and all that is given is scrutiny and persecution.  The lines were drawn, he was not blind nor was he not well aware of the real war that his father had fought in.  The pastor looked directly making eye contact with Persephone as he read Job chapter 12 verse 3: “But I have understanding as well as you; I am not inferior to you.  Indeed, who does not know such as these?”  The typical hour and a half church procession was extended to nearly two hours walking out of the church George Twig was certain that many attendants weren’t listening to the message, seeing several union and non union members sticking the middle finger at each other as they went their own separate ways, Persephone stayed close by George’s side.

 

Persephone’s intuition was strong she was a woman lead by her emotions.  One of her strength’s probably because of her physical beauty is that she made men want to try.  In her youth it was that men would try to win her affection and in the case of George it was that he wanted to be a better man.  He’d always try to impress her with how brave he was or how hard he could work and then he’s show her his ability to make life better.  She felt comforted by his straightforwardness and his manliness most of it happened naturally with her naive femininity luring him to always show affection.  She knew real love especially because George proved it.  The absence of the want of her was noticeable as Persephone’s stomach grew with pregnancy.  Persephone tried to dress up and lure his attention without success.  Being avoided during the time that they spent with each other she had grown a slight bit of resentment.  She waved a hand in front of George’s face one night and the darnedest thing is that the typically quick witted lovable man that she married gave no response.  “Your a zombie” she told him to which he only shrugged before he went to sleep.  Humdrum human cog and machinery is unforgiving where the person fits a position and the grind whittles down a person like a stick and knife replacing them when they can no longer do the job.  Joseph Gull in concordance with the movements of labor board relations, union groups, anonymous walkouts, followed suit.   He wasn’t afraid to bend workers to his will and if they broke, then they could be replaced.  Mill Owners response to the new laws and demands from politicians in the height of the Stretch Out tension heightened hatred.  Mr. Gull brought in a time management group to study the workers efficiency in an effort to tighten up productivity.  At Gull Yarn and Fabrics the efficiency experts monitored the workers with stopwatches timing every move of the workers from threading broken string to drinking a glass of water even including eating lunch and bathroom exits.  As a result the extended workdays continued, scheduled meal breaks were discontinued, “Dope Wagons” sold sandwiches and caffeinated cola’s to keep workers moving while they ate.  Workers complained that the food smelled like feet.  Joseph Gull did it for the reason of control but the workers were not happy they called it poorly paid slavery and a “Pick Pocket System” The long term workers felt betrayed by a boss that in the past they considered fair and descent employer.  

 

In May the UTW turned down a posing strike after getting a seat on the National Relations Board, it was beyond the reach of the average mill worker though many UTW members were angry with the capitulation.  Under the nose of mill management many Gull Yarn and Fabrics workers joined the UTW, and the members wanted to end the Stretch Out.  At the mill there was a fair share of workers that were very hesitant to join a union for fear of Joseph Gull and because they were felt that they had job security.  On July 18th though UTW called off a national strike Local UTW’s went on strike in northern Alabama starting in Huntsville.  The closeness of the strikes sent a message to lower Alabama where Gull Yarn and Fabrics was located.  With the mills in Northern Alabama being closed on strike Mill Owners that had their mills shut down might have been lying or not but they boasted about how they weren’t pressing for production because of warehouses full of overstock.  Support of the strikers was wide but people like George Twig just kept on working.  He was like a horse with blinders on because it was all too goddamned much, the Textile Workers weren’t the only sector in America with Unions going on strike.  In May while the UTW decided not to strike 3 other unions in different sectors did.  There was the Toledo Auto- Lite strike, the San Francisco General Strike, and the Minneapolis Teamsters strike.  While there was strength in numbers and capitulation to the might of the unions there was blood shed and the police response with force brought fear and retaliation.  The weary workers felt battered by the swirling of political movement when all they wanted was to work, get paid, and live their lives with their family.  George Twig and Alexander Lesperance were two of those men.  At home Persephone had been having stomach pains, she was due in September in late June with Alabama summer if the heat wasn’t enough then the humidity was.  She was 6 months pregnant mostly stuck at home all of the time after a doctor’s visit he gave her iron pills and aspirin because she was anemic and having Braxton Hicks contractions that is typical with a tightening of uterine muscles as the baby gets bigger.  Admittedly the influence that George had on her kept her active.  While he was working at the mill she’d work on the farm even with pain just to keep her mind busy if not anything more.  Listening to the radio at home talk of sporadic walk outs and strikes and violence, she couldn’t listen and she wouldn’t talk to George about it because he was barely holding it together himself.

 

Whatever was happening throughout the United States with the comfort of living on a farm Persephone made her home as close as heaven could be on earth at home.  She was not a worldly woman and though she was weathered with a lot of ugliness that people have the capability of she retained a semblance of youthful naiveness.  On the farm Corn sprouts were knee high in July and the field looked green with growth in rows Cabbage, Corn, Lettuce, Tomatoes, around the perimeter George Twig had planted Peach and Apple trees.  The trees were still young and the fruit that they produced were small in comparison to what they would produce in the future years.  Persephone was home with her children a truck drove to her house.  Unexpected arrivals never happened, the last time her and George were with the children tilling the farm when the union men showed up.  Since then George was not himself and Persephone’s school year was completed.  She was sitting on her porch with a tight stomach rubbing it to ease her pain stepping out of the truck was her father.  Gathering her children as Jospeh Gull got out of the truck she walked down the front steps.  He had never visited her at home their interactions had always been formal regarding donations and progress reports of her work with school.  Persephone’s children walked closely behind her as she greeted the stout looking man that according to the children looked like a walrus with an over grown mustache.  “You’ve arrived unexpectedly there must be an important reason” She said partly in question.  Joseph Gull took off the Monticristi Panama hat that he wore revealing his bald on top head, his crystal blue eyes sparkled as he looked at the two young girls one with curly blonde hair and the other with straight black hair, fraternal twins.  He extended a hand waiting for one of them to shake it, “I’m Mr. Gull” Persephone prodded her children, “Go on shake his hand, she stood nearly in front of him holding the seven month pregnant ball like stomach as her summer dress wafted with the breeze.  He gritted his teeth as he was squatted low with his hand extended, “I’m Gertrude” The curly haired blond girl with a complexion nearly the same as her mother’s said.  Her dainty hand shake was met by Joseph Gull’s gentleness “I’m Sarah” The long black straight haired girl declared she shook more firmly than her sister.  Sarah’s complexion was similar to Joseph Gull’s and her crystal blue eyes were identical to his own.  Their eyes remained locked for a long moment then he stood up.  “Sarah takes after her grandfather smart and stubborn, Gertrude is sweet and delicate like me”  Joseph Gull stood back up and put that hat on his head he looked out to the growing farm then he looked to the house.  His mind was always focused on business, without talking about it he estimated a value for the property.  “George does a good job with doing well with little means” Gertrude and Sarah ran to the porch going inside of the house, Persephone looked back she tucked her hair behind her ears as strands she caught in her mouth as she looked to Mr. Gull, “Are you here as George’s boss or my father?  He’s run ragged he’s not complaining about money in fact he hasn’t complained but I am!”  Joseph Gull was motionless he was well aware of the state of business in July of 1934, “I’m locked Persephone, collectively all of the Mill Owners are, that’s what the government and the communist unions have done to us” Persephone never spoke openly or argued with her father whom was her husbands boss.  “Can you blame them?  Workers pay has been cut and their hours are unending along with all those extra duties.  Do you know that them union men showed up here threatening me and George with ax handles?”  Persephone expected a reaction Joseph Gull was a man that was calculated even when angry, “They aren’t interested in George they’re interested in you” Gertrude and Sara ran out of the house down the stairs holding dolls they sat on the stairs they began to play with them.  “Why?” Persephone asked.  Joseph Gull ignored her for a moment he looked at his grandchildren playing with dolls on the front steps he looked to her, “Because they know that your my daughter and you have influence with Negros”  “So!”  Ordinarily he wouldn’t explain anything if she were a stranger he wouldn’t be having this conversation, “With them people are chips and us owners are the ultimate evil, they will use you to harm me.  In the formal world your a secret child with a black woman what do you want me to do?  Am I a mill owner?  Yes. Are times pressing?  Yes, but there’s a reason why.  A textile mill is like a machine that functions like clockwork.  Like a car has gears production is the same.  In that machine all of us are just pieces of to the complete, in order for it to remain greased and running it has to act without error. Not all owners are like me” Persephone felt brain scrambled “George is a piece of machinery and a paid slave? What if he breaks because of all the extra burdens laid on him” She expected a reaction.  He looked eye to eye with her, “After the war demand for our products slowed the government is letting the Chinese and Indians cut into our business, then the Unions press us for trying to stay in business and with the depression how are your students parents dealing with it?” Persephone could not hold her emotions Mr. Gull hit a sore point with her the drop out rate and home visits hit her she pouted with tears welling, he walking past Persephone he squatted down in front of both children he reached into his front pocket he took out two nickels the little girls looked at the strange man with the overgrown mustache. “Both of you stick out your hands and close your eyes” The little girls closed their eyes reaching out their hands not knowing what to expect, he placed an Indian head nickel in both of the girls hands, “Now open your eyes” Gertrude and Sara did not have knowledge of the value of money but they knew that it was money.  “You can buy yourself some candy if your mother lets” Joseph Gull told them he stood up walking back to where he stood, “Go inside and put the money in your piggy bank” Persephone told her daughters.  “I’m asking a favor of you” Joseph Gull said “I knew there was a catch” “How many of my negro workers children do you teach?”  That wasn’t a question she knew that children and their families.  “What’s the drop out rate?”  He asked That also wasn’t a question, “There has been a lot of drop out but not with your workers”  Joseph Gull raised an eyebrow, “And I’m the bad guy?”  He pulled out a watch from his pocket he looked around the farm, “I’m asking you to give them a visit and reason with them to be steadfast that I want the stretch out to end like they do, but I can’t right now because of politics and economy” Her face was flustered and red her mind was buzzing with burden and her stomach pains tightened.  “What about George?”  Joseph Gull stood dryly and confidently, “George is tough, he’s not for the Union I trust that he will endure” He reached forward with a dry powerful hand grasping hers, “Thanks for the help” “What if the Union men show up again?”  Joseph Gull closed one eye and smiled to her pretending to be blinded by the su, “Tell them to go to hell!”  He gave the farm another glance, “This is heaven” He winked to his granddaughters giving a smile then he started up his truck and drove away.

 

On the farm if Persephone didn’t keep herself busy there was the possibility of often felt experience of going stir crazy especially since the appearance of her father.  With hours to think about the meeting with her father she began to knit a blanket.  When George got home from work, he’d start at 6 am sometimes getting home at 8 or 9 though this night was 6pm he'd drink beer that Alexander brewed at his parents house.  While her father sold alcohol to his employees and though prohibition ended in December of 1933, liquor wasn’t sold in Alabama in July of 1934.  Most nights George would go to bed early, he always tried to get at least 8 hours of sleep but not that night, he drank nearly a dozen beers and he worked hammering in the barn till the early hours in the morning.  If Persephone was going to discuss her father’s visit then she had no opportunity to she woke when he lay on the side of her smelling of beer.  The following days she decided to make visits to the homes of the Gull Yarn and Fabrics employees whom were her students. She didn’t have a license but she knew how to drive and she promised to drop George off at work and pick him up along with being careful not to get caught.  While George didn’t know that her father visited her, he knew that she was troubled with school and no she didn’t have a license but George didn’t have respect for many of those that enforced the law because he found that they were as thuggish as the criminals.  Luckily he kept out of trouble with work and stayed on the farm but in his youth he had a different set of experiences.  Persephone made a list and followed the list of visitations on a daily basis home by home mostly pleading her father’s case to the wives of the workers, while giving a progress report for her students that attended her school.  Always part of the conversation was her pregnancy and it provided a lead in to talk of George and the long hours at the mill.  When talk of money came about the hours worked for free was griped but the weekly pay wasn’t and the talk of other families that lived in the neighborhood that were out of work and there was a spike in crime as a result.  Persephone collected notes, the complaints and the positives as not all black employees were mad at Joseph Gull for his business decisions.  The strikes in Northern Alabama were a tell, it frightened many workers while many union loyalists applauded the strike, bolstering the confidence that they would soon follow.  As employees quit or were fired new employees were hired and trained to replace them.  Long time employees labeled them “Rookies” though they were like most honest people looking for opportunity to earn an honest wage.

 

Persephone was a patient woman, she paid attention to the radio and all of the happenings with strikes and violence and not just with the textile industry.  Overseas there was talk about the death of the German President Hindenburg from lung cancer on August 2nd with the possibility of German Chancellor Hitler being elected President as a consolidation of power within the month.  International news frightened her and all of the tension and violence left Persephone praying that god curses the world of the devil that brought out the worse natures of man.  On August 13th the UTW had a convention in New York with a list of five demands, 1. 30 hour work week 2. Minimum wages from $13-30 a week 3. Elimination of the stretch out 4. Union Recognition 5. Reinstatement of workers fired for Union Activities.  There was a confliction even with Persephone’s own scope of understanding.  She decided that there would be no talking to George nor convincing herself to follow a different path as she had been working in concordance with her fathers wishes.  The day after the UTW convention she gathered the files that she had created making doubles for her own safe keeping putting them into neat order and visited her father unannounced to give the presentation on the work that she conducted based on his ask.  No it was not a scheduled visit but he allowed her into his office.  She knew how the employees that she visited would view her gathering information and disclosing the findings to the feared owner of Gull Yarn and Fabrics.  The meeting lasted nearly two hours Persephone knew the workers, their family’s especially the children that were her students.  Combining the students progress reports and notes with profiles on the families and their concerns and complaints along with the employees that were members of the UTW and others that might join.  She knew that Joseph Gull was interested in his employees but she was interest in her students.  If she was going to work for him during the heat of Unionization than he would have no choice but to help her through funding for her school.  What she had in mind was in exchange for her files and presentation of them along with the work that was put into to them that he would pay for 1 years worth of lunches for her students.  Since there was a high drop out rate with students from families that were not his employees Persephone believed that a guaranteed daily meal would help her to retain her students.  Now Joseph Gull was well aware of the UTW meeting in NYC with their list of demands, immediately he disregarded the notion of buckling to them because in his opinion they were unreasonable and given the pressures from the depression, foreign competition, national relation board demands, union strikes, profitability along with managing his own business and family he had a full plate.  He took time to acknowledge his bastard daughter, he was proud of her he admitted to himself that she was the prettiest of his daughters she looked uncomfortable with a big stomach.  Joseph Gull knew her pain because he was as the owner of a Mill with endless demands and many that wanted him dead, it made him feel like a zit until he looked at Persephone holding her stomach grumbling in pain as she moved, it slightly pleased him to see the resemblance.  As she left the office talk of her pregnancy was noted by the employees that watched her leave the factory.  

 

During the evening when Persephone picked George up from work after they got home she didn’t discuss the work that she had done for her father but what she did discuss with George was how she was able to get Joseph Gull to pay for a full school year worth of lunches for her students.  Enthusiasm and hope were real emotions that she showed, what she didn’t expect was George Twig’s reaction.  He had a fit he gripped a chair in the kitchen and told Persephone to put the children to bed because he had words for her.  She complied but she had words of her own and her pregnancy was making her irritable.  Now the lunches for her students was a big deal for her and he watered down her win.  After the children were laid to sleep and they said their nightly prayers George had a fit on how he had been working like a dog and pay could be better and the hours wore him thin.  He paced in front of Persephone as she sat in the chair that he stamped on the floor with.  The floor in the kitchen was pine and after he stamped the chair on it he gave it dents, Persephone didn’t like that.  He was full of words like, “Godamned Gull can pay for school lunch but he can’t give me a break.”  He looked to Persephone full of contempt pointed at her, “You know he brought in a time management group to “tighten us up” like we aren’t worked enough and you know what?”  If George was waiting for a response then he didn’t wait for one, “They went so goddamned far as to time my shit in the bathroom” Persephone covered her face in shock that anyone would want to follow a persons bodily functions.  Now George was loud and Persephone could only think of how her children could hear their argument while they were supposed to be sleeping.  He complained of how some of the workers had joined the UTW and how he’s hated for not being pro union.  “And these new workers are just too fucking thick and I don’t have the patience or time to fix the goddamned machine’s that break because they don’t know what the fuck they are doing” Persephone was appalled with the use of profanity but she wasn’t going to stop George.  “Now he’s fired workers that work faster than the new workers because they couldn’t keep up, he pays for a time management group, and he’s paying for your students school but he can’t afford to pay me a full paycheck?  I’ll be a fool for thinking that your not a daddy’s girl and I’m just a whipping boy” That’s when Persephone began to argue and she surprised herself and George when she stood up from her chair, called him a “Dickhead” she never swore, “There’s a reason why my father agreed to pay for a year’s worth of meals for my students” Persephone walked to their bedroom she opened up the closet she walked out with a bunch of papers in folders, “I made files” she placed them on the kitchen table.  George opened up one of the files, he browsed the contents, “Are you working for the FBI?” Persephone put a hand on one of her hips while the other held her stomach, “Do I look like the FBI?  My father visited me” George didn’t hesitate, “On the farm?”  Persephone nodded, “Yes, he met our daughters” George flung the file that he had in his hands, “You keep secrets from me, use my car to play spy for Gull, made files on his black employee and their families.”  George pointed an accusing finger nearly pressing it against Persephone’s cheeks, “You done wrong!  What did you do with their trust?”  Persephone smacked George’s pointed finger, “He wants a workforce that he can trust and he don’t want a union.  Did you know all of my students whose parents that work for him none of them dropped out and I thought if he wants me to work for him then he will help me with the school and I figured because I know my students that if they had a guaranteed meal everyday that they would attend and that their parents would want them to go somewhere where they could get a formal education and a guaranteed meal five days a week.  He don’t care about them and neither do you but I want to see those kids stay out of trouble and know how to read write and count.”  Persephone stood face to face with George she wasn’t backing down, “No one will ever know about what he had me do except for me and you and the paid for meal will help for black employee moral.”  George for the first time during their argument he was quiet, Persephone walked to the fridge she opened up the door to the Frigidaire and grabbed one of George’s beers she walked to the counter picked up the opened and took off the metal cap pouring its contents into a glass and drank it quickly, “C’mon Perse your pregnant” She lifted a hand, “I’ve had it up the here, you’ve been giving me nothing but hell and this baby has me feeling like a pig.  I don’t want to drink but tonight I will and your not going to complain”. George walked to the Frigidaire he opened a beer, “What did you make for dinner?” 

 

For a brief span of time Persephone experienced moments of self questioning as if a string of her mental integrity had been plucked.  The spool of her probity was shaken and though she had an agreement with her father she held discontent and she had an unspoken battle with George.  Day after day while at home George worked like mad in the barn wacking and wacking with the hammer.  He wasn’t a finished carpenter and most of the work was learning by trial and error.  It wasn’t that he couldn’t build a stick box with wooden studs 16 inch on center it was that he had never done finished carpentry before.  Alexander was his go to guy when he needed guidance but when he wasn’t there and George was taken by the need to keep himself busy while avoiding his pregnant wife that hovered around him like a dog that wanted too much affection, he improvised.  With a speedway skill saw to aid with cutting wood quickly he found himself smoking cigarettes, of course he knew that Persephone forbid smoking cigarettes but for now he’d handle thing the way that he wanted to.  She forbid a lot of things that George wanted like eating steak only on rare occasion and oatmeal for breakfast instead of bacon and eggs.  Sure he was lean and in good shape better than most men half his age, but heck her noose was tight and her needs were high.  Recently he had been traveling into the woodlands on his farm with his David Bradley Chainsaw.  Locally some tools were hard to get but the Sears and Roebuck company sold some really good tools that local mom and pop stores didn’t sell.  The one person chainsaw was a relatively new invention being made completely out of steel but it hummed like a small car and when the chain blade bit into the meat of the tree it had a thick grit and wood chips flew.  George might have been a stickler with money but when he spent money it was on things that were meant to last.  Along with the purpose of firewood he cut medium sized logs squaring them off using his horse with hooks to drag the lumber to the barn.  The squared logs with the help of Alexander were used as ceiling beams.  Slowly but surely with night after night of persistent work the barn had begun to take shape.  Because the materials were cheap and he knew how to work with them he decided to have Cob flooring for the barn.  Cob flooring is a simple mixture of clay, sand, straw as filler and water, he got a deal from a friend that owned land along a river.   Clay was abundant as was sand in exchange for a promised bushel of both apples and peaches he was allowed access to as much sand and clay that he needed and straw was abundant on the property.  After many back and forth drives with a cart attached to his car he had enough material to begin the floor work.  Mixing the mud it plopped like soft cow manure piles.  When he hucked it with a shovel it would stick to a wall and after a few throws he decided that the outside walls would be covered with cob.  When it came time to spread the cob he used a wooden beam for the floors it spread out nice and thin, then he used a trowel.  Night after night room by room he worked on the floors of the barn and then he began to spread it to the outside walls.  Persephone kept her distance as the day to day persistence began to be a normal pattern of their everyday activities.  By late August the humidity had slowed down Persephone’s movement with the cumbersome bulkiness of her pregnancy reaching 8 months her stomach was distended and her breast were full.  Gull Yarn and Fabric had hard pressed its employees and throughout the United States union strikes amplified the heat of activism.  Now Persephone kept her distance for nearly a month, she let George do his thing in hopes that he would come to senses from whatever break down that he had.  In that time she had her own unbundling that she had no choice but to deal with.  Often she’d drive a tractor along the farm tending to the job of watching it grow keeping herself busy in order to pass time.  Living on the farm with the isolation of self and then her two daughters there was no safety net to catch her from the falling fears of anxiety, depression, helplessness and many things that she was well aware of in others that only when she experienced those realities herself could she fully comprehend the real power that they have.  Books offered her temporary reprieve particularly her favorites were Mary Shelley and Emily Dickinson.  With the matter of the mind Emily Dickinson spoke of a semblance and mental mastery that was a pinnacle especially for a woman that lived in isolation Persephone felt a parity.  The presence of a strong woman voice gave her the confidence that she was not alone.  Persephone realized that living on the farm saved her where if she lived in the city and were not married she would have done bad things that many women like her at that time fell victim to.  Early in August a night when there was rain and then cool breezes to follow she made her way to the barn where George was working.  She walked in through the doors that she had not set foot in to see him mixing mud in a wheel barrel, she looked at the progress that he had made with the barn, he turned around with a lit cigarette in his mouth.  Persephone didn’t give George room for movement she barged in quickly grabbing the cigarette from his mouth she tossed it out of the barn doors stepping on it, “WHAT IN THE WORLD DO YOU THINK THAT YOUR DOING?”  Now George was caught in the act of smoking a cigarette, something that he didn’t consider the worse of vices but he knew that he couldn’t convince Persephone otherwise.   “HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN SMOKING BEHIND MY BACK?”  George dug in a shovel full of mud and hucked behind Persephone out of the barn doors to the ground.  He ignored answering her at first then he began to comizzerate to himself while picking up the handles of the wheel barrel wheeling it outside of the barn so that he could apply the cob, “Why George you really have outdone yourself with the barn that you have been working nightly on.  Does your wife recognize that?”  George nodded no, “No she don’t get it.  Not only are you putting in 60 freaking hours a week at Gull Yarn and Fabric but you have been putting in nightly hours in the barn and might I add George Twig you’ve done some good work.”  He looked to his wife, “Wouldn’t you agree?”  Persephone didn’t acknowledge his work with a complement when she had contempt for catching him smoking.  The last part of the sun had begun to set with a glimpse of its peak catching Persephone in the eyes, she moved out of its brightness, “Your hurting yourself and your hurting me by the way that you’ve been treating me.”   George picked up the trowel along with taking a cigarette from his front pocket he lit it and continued to work.  She took a step forward George gave her a serious look and a response that caused her fear, “If you know what’s good for you, you’ll keep your distance.”  Persephone stopped, standing there dumbfounded and feeling betrayed, “I let you drink beer, but I won’t let you be a cigarette smoker, my children need a father and I need a husband.”  George flicked the cigarette George wasn’t in a bad mood and the time working in the barn it helped him to unwind he spoke to his wife candidly he walked to her he reached for her hand she retracted from his grasp.  “Your not touching me while that thing is lit.” George kept his distance, he opened up a beer drank a beer and smoked his cigarette, “Smoking and working with the barn is helping dealing with the stress of everything that is going on.  This is my promise to you Perse.  After the baby is born I’ll quit smoking cigarettes but until then I’m working in this goddamned barn and I’m smoking cigarettes and if you make me move out here because your mad then I’ll do that.” 

 

The date was August 24th several electrical extension chords were connected together taped where they met leading to the barn.  Soon it would be dark and George would use the electricity to power the lamps.  It was George’s plan to wire the barn but until then he had a few outlets to work with enough to light the barn and listen to a Zenith radio.  The radio was on, the newsmen were discussing what had taken place on August 10th in Columbus Georgia, a city on the border of Alabama, Georgia Webbing and Tape Company had been on strike since July, a man by the name of Reuben Sanders was killed in a fight between strikebreakers and strikers.  George had known about the man’s death and Persephone stopped listening to news about the death that seemed closer in proximity than it was.  “And you wonder why I began to smoke?”  George asked her.  Persephone took a moment to gather an answer that she could come to terms with she pointed to George, “After the baby is born you will never smoke cigarettes again” George nodded in agreement, he walked close wanting to kiss his wife she wouldn’t allow it, “You better bathe before you have any thoughts of getting into the same bed with me.”  She turned around and walked to the house leaving George to work in the barn.  He hucked a few shovels full of mud at the outside of the barn.

 

The next day while George was at work a truck drove up to the house.  Seeing a truck drive towards the house in the distance Persephone thought that perhaps it was her father since he recently visited, the closer that it got she knew that it wasn’t her father.  Stepping out of the truck were two men one of whom Persephone recognized as John Crud.  George owned a few guns being defensive she grabbed the shotgun as the truck got near, she kept it across her lap.  John Crud stepped out of the truck looked around at the growing farm then he walked to the front steps of the porch, Persephone stood up with the shotgun in her hand, “You two are not welcome to my home, please leave the property” John Crud smiled and laughed, “You know in a week’s time there will be a nation wide strike and your daddy’s mill will be shut down because of it.”  Persephone lifted the shot gun pointed at John Crud’s muscle man, “I’m not my father, that’s his problem.  But if you walk on my front steps it will be the last thing that you do”  He waved a hand through his hair he pushed a hand down almost like strangle her, sweat beaded down his forehead.  Persephone thought that he looked like a man under a lot of pressure, “No you listen to me.  You don’t have to be so stubborn.  The unions will be good for the workers and I was thinking that since I know that your a school teacher for colored folk that you could help us and help yourself in the process.”  Persephone inwardly laughed.  She started to talk to the man but she realized that he wasn’t listening to her, he showed up with his own purpose as if her involvement was a given.  The Union leader began to give a proposal that was not that far from the proposal that her father had given to her.  All in all it was a good pitch but she wasn’t sold, “I’m sorry that you had to trouble yourself with a drive to my property but as you can see I am due to give birth soon and I will have no part in any kind of politicking union or not union.  I recall that you have 300,000 or so members, I can’t help.  Now if you don’t mind Please leave me property.”  John Crud was red in the face with being turned down from Persephone he began to walk to his truck then he turned around and pointed to her, “You don’t need us now but soon you will just remember that!” The two Union men turned around and as they began to walk Persephone said loudly, “Before I forget” the two men turned around, “Before you forget what?” John Crud asked.  “My father told me that if the you Union men come back to visit me to tell you to go to hell!  Because this"  Persephone rubbed her stomach, “Is heaven” She waited for a response as the John Crud squinted his eyes surprisingly he held his tongue, the men drove away from her property leaving her with goose bumps.  She was ready to use the weapon if needed.  Persephone had never been that forceful and she was grateful that her daughters were taking a nap while the words took place.  That night when George got home from work they discussed what happened and George went straight to the authorities to file a complaint.  A police officer took note of his complaint and when he got home instead of working in the barn for the first time in a long time he spent time with Persephone.  She slept soundly after endless nights of self questioning with a sense of security.

 

There was nothing to think about George didn’t have to think, his path was already laid out.  Most of the machine breakages at Gull Yarn and Fabric were small parts, with his duties the problems were common and when when they were major it took up more of his time shutting down mules until the parts arrived.  Joseph Gull was an edgy man more temperamental than his typical self especially with the eventual uprising of the UTW.  In the morning when Joseph Gull called for George to give him a report on the notes of the machines that he had worked on along with the workers that operated them he began the conversation, “John Crud and one of his union muscle’s showed up at the farm yesterday when I wasn’t there” Joseph Gull sat behind a thick oak desk with an oil painting of himself hanging on the wall behind him.  He grumbled, “They balled” he declared.  “I don’t understand what that means” George responded Mr. Gull nodded he flicked a finger, “Not my mill, they balled my daughter” On instinct George took a defensive stance, “Does that mean that I have to fear for her safety?”  Mr. Gull nodded no, “They don’t want to harm her they want to put me out of business with their strike”  George considered asking more questions but he could tell that Mr. Gull was perturbed he pulled out his notepad from his back pocket and gave the list of actions that he had completed.  As the days rolled on, if there was a tip then it was a knife in the back and George could feel it along with the soft murmurings of what he knew was to come unless it was his internal voices leaking to his self conscious.  At home Persephone kept to herself nearly bursting at the seems, she was due to give birth and she had finished the baby’s room in anticipation for its birth.  On George’s time off he stayed to what he knew as of late it was working in the barn.  By week’s end he finished troweling Cob on the outside of the barn.  Sure there was more work needed on the interior but the floors were done in the stalls and wash room he connected terra-cotta drains digging tunnels for them to fit with cast iron covers in stalls that could be taken off when the stalls were brushed and flushed.  The pipe-way was less than 12 feet long in each stall, he knew that there was the possibility of eventual clogging, he kept a toilet snake tacked to the wall as a mode of treatment.  The drain in the wash room was a normal drain.  After work on Saturday George was ready for a day off but he did intend to attend church with his wife and children.  Sunday morning Persephone walked slowly with great care always with her hand on her stomach.  Unlike most weeks Persephone did not pay attention to the sermon preached, she was in a haze unable to focus and the weather caused her breathing to be slow and heavy.  The past couple of days she had begun to have contractions, although not severe.  She was alone even when surrounded by people that was the essence of her spirit reaching a bottomless hole.  At home the day was a swelter it was the second of September George turned on the radio at the barn.  BREAKING NEWS strikes in Georgia.  25,000 on strike, a picketer and mill guard died in a shootout in Trion, Georgia, in Augusta, Georgia two picketers were killed by guards.  George nearly shit himself with the news of deaths with union strikers.  The rest of the day was a blur to him, he kept busy in the barn with his ears attentive to the radio and the next day when work began a surreal ness took over Gull Yarn and Fabric.  The machines created a hum drum that was typical of the day to day activities and the workers worked like normal though murmuring of the news sounded like Cicadas and Beetles, the buzz was prominent.  Given all of the factors that were typical a hollowness and slow motion reel filled the periphery vision of George, something was wrong.  It was nearly noon the typical daily rhythm of production had some semblance of normal, the union strikers that traveled by truck mill to mill calling out workers to go on strike were called “Flying Squadrons”.  When they drove to Gull Yarn and Fabric on September 3rd, it came unexpectedly.  It was known that if the workers didn’t join them that the Unions would picket the mill however; the response amongst the unionized Gull Yarn and Fabric workers was expected and abrupt 2/3rds of the workforce walked out of the mill at once.  Production on the mill was shut down Joseph Gull was flustured and feeling betrayed, he vowed revenge and workers like George Twig and Alexander Lesperance were in the position of being a strike breaking scab.  By the end of the week nearly 400,000 workers were on strike effectively shutting down textile production in the United States.  Joseph Gull was prepared and the potential strike breaking employees lined up by the hundreds even with the picketers getting violent clashing with police and national guard.  

 

Several nights during the week the Lesperances had dinner with the Twig’s on the farm.  Both women were ready to give birth and the dinners were more like big festivals with most of the vegetables consumed were from the garden even if they were exactly ripe for the market and the meat came from a bull that George owned that could no longer work.  No George was not butcher and Alexander wasn’t either but they found a way to cut it up even with extra meat being on the bones and hunks of meat when there should be steaks but somehow it got done.  Did it matter that typically old bovine are tough?  Since the meat was slow cooked in large pots with vegetables a tough steak was not their concern.  During the week Joseph Gull and many of the mill owners scrambled to hire employees.  The new employees knew that their roll was as strike breakers and while they had fear most of the new hires had the need to have money for survival, it outweighed the fear.  Wednesday September 12, 1934 nationally the Textile strike was well underway and many of the clashes were not pretty.  Outside of Gull Yarn and Fabric, Union picketers held signs and waved fists while screaming and shouting.  Local and State police along with National Guard ordered by Governor Benjamin Meek Miller were well armed standing in front of the mill escorting strike breakers to enter the premises before the first day of production resuming.  George and Alexander walked together toward the mill, as they walked words and threats were thrown, as was expected “scab” was typical.  Gaffer Pete Fruss was in the crowd he looked to George Twig yelling “cocksucker” it stopped George but Alexander prodded him to keep walking.  From somewhere in the crowd amongst the picketers a rock the size of a chicken egg was thrown hitting George squarely on the side of his head barely above his left ear.  It hit him unexpectedly knocking him down unable to gain baring for nearly a minute.  As police rushed toward him so did picketers and a fight began.  Perhaps there was enough animosity and hatred being bred surmounting with the stretch-out and lack of pay.  One of the National Guardsman against orders fired teargas in the direction of the center of the battle, unfortunately for George it landed a few feet from him making his dire situation worse.  Barely able to breathe and hardly able to walk Alexander hoisted George on his shoulders lifting him as best as he could while holding a handkerchief to his face.  Slowly he made for the entrance of the mill.  Like the parting of hair between two men a woman emerged holding a handgun she pointed it at George, “This is for J.P” Alexander turned in time to see the woman, “Marie White” he recognized her.  It shocked her being recognized, she and Alexander got along very well but she blamed George Twig’s for causing her to walk out, her arm veered and a shot was fired as if her finger squeezed against her will.  Less than 10 feet away the bullet hit Alexander in the meat of his right thigh, George fell to the ground with a thump and police went into a fervor causing the battle between police and picketers to reach a rabid brawl.  Marie White mixed in with the crowd putting her gun in her purse fleeing from the scene.  From his third floor office Joseph Gull watched the events unfold.  He knew that Gull Yarn and Fabrics would commence production after a short delay.  Joseph Gull’s secretary knocked on his door to inform him of the injuries to the several new employees along with what happened with Alexander Lesperance and George Twig.  Shortly later ambulances arrived to tend to the injured consisting of Picketers, Police, and Strike Breakers, Within the fighting though no one was killed, there were injuries and many people were arrested.

 

George’s head throbbed and his lungs and nostrils were full of tear gas he had refused medical attention instead flushing his eyes with water and taking aspirin that was offered to him.  Amongst those sent to Moody Hospital a local hospital in Dothan, Alabama was Alexander Lesperance.  It was George’s intention of visiting him at home as soon as he got out of work and eventually he did get back to fixing machines and seeing that the Gaffers were attentive to the workers that were overwhelmingly new though willing to learn.  Joseph Gull had hired a small security team to guard the inside of mill while a large police presence staid outside after the battle and picketers still remained vigilant.  By mid afternoon George held a pad full of notes many of the notes about new gaffers and minders the good prospective workers and the ones that he would replace.  Without asking questions George gave his report to Mr. Gull whom noted the welt and swelling on George’s head along with his severely bloodshot eyes, he didn’t ask of his well being.  That didn’t concern George nor did he expect sympathy, “I’ll be going to visit Alexander after work is done.  He got shot in the leg but it didn’t appear to be serious” Joseph Gull stood up he looked out of his office window, “I was watching from my window” He turned to George, “You got dropped like a sack of potatoes, can you guess who fired the shot?”  George didn’t get to ask Alexander if he recognized to shot him, “No, I have no clue”  Joseph Gull had an angry fire in his eyes, “Marie White” George shook his head then he firmed he would believe that Marie would be crazed enough to force herself to murderous action.  “I’m asking to leave early so that I can have enough time to visit the Lesperances” Joseph Gull sat at his desk he didn’t give the notion thought, “No!  You’ll visit him, but I need you at the mill until the end of the work day.  There’s too many new hires and I trust your work and judgement.” Those words were the first complimentary comments that Mr. Gull had ever told him.  George grumbled, “Both Persephone and Mary Leseperance are due to give birth any day” Mr. Gull lifted a pen he wrote notes in a book, “They feel my pain” Not wanting to stand around unsatisfied with being denied of a request George got back to work.  

 

That night after work George went home cleaned and dressed while Persephone tended to George’s head and the Twig’s visited the Lesperances.  Alexander rested in a chair with his leg raised.  Both women ready to give birth, Alexanders leg was swollen and bruised from the gun shot and bullet removal and George’s head was wrapped in gauze.  Throughout the eastern seaboard many clashes were had between strikers, strike breakers, and police and military resulting in injuries and even death.  Alexander returned to work by Tuesday September 18th he noted that the picketers presence outside of the mill had dwindled and after work ended on Saturday 22nd of September the UTW had called for an end to the textile strike ending the 22 day battle.  George was relieved with the ending of the strike though it didn’t solve any of the issues that he had to deal with at Gull Yarn and Fabrics even with a near skeleton crew to work with.  Sunday morning church was an event if there was a place where enemies had met for the first time after fighting then church was it.  Uncertainty of their own future many church parishioners that were employed by Gull Yarn and Fabrics were both anxious and hostile with each other.  Monday Morning September 24th as unionized workers following orders to return to work approached the mill Joseph Gull stood with his private enforcement.  He had made a decision, no worker that had gone on strike would return under his employment.  With his decision being made final nearly 300 employees were turned away as they went to work like it was a normal day.  If they lived in housing provided they were given till weeks end to get their things out.  Not far away one hour apart from the other Mary Lesperance and Persephone Twig’s water broke they went into labor, giving birth later in the day.

 

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: June 13, 2021

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