Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Fresh off the Farm.

Fresh off the Farm: Hometown Proud! Mama always said that the boll weevil ran us off the farm. The farm where my parents and siblings had lived was in the community of Oak Hill. Oak Hill is in Newton County near the Henry County line and also near Rockdale County. When the boll weevil ate it's way from Mexico through Mississippi and Alabama all the way to Georgia, they found the place here "cotton was king" and took over, infesting a treasure of cotton plants and wipeing out the Georgia farmers' profits. Many farmers, like my father lost their whole year's wages. I found it most interesting when my older cousin. Aubrey Simms told me a few years ago that he remembered the very night, as a boy of 7 , when my father told his father about his decision to sell his farm and get a job in a nearby Textile plant. Aubrey said his Dad replied, "Uncle Wilson, I will go to share cropping before I will raise my children in a mill town." In a "class conscious" society, this was a step down. Apparently, my father, Benjamin Wilson Baird felt this his only option. He was in failing health when he made the difficult decision to get a job in one of the three mills in Porterdale. I am told he got a job and worked in the Old Porterdale Mill located on the Yellow River (picture above). Papa then moved his family "fresh off the farm" into that model mill town in the fall of 1922. I was born the next February.

After my father's death, when i was nine, my mother was employed in the Cord Weave Shop in Porterdale's Osprey Mill where heavy cloth for army tents and auto tires was woven.

During World War II, patriotism was high in town and in the mills. With may men away, more women and youth took on the needed jobs. The warps and looms ran 24 hours a day, weaving the heavy cloth that was used for tank tires and other defense materials.

I worked with my mother briefly, as a teen-ager in World War II and saw how proficient my mother was as as a weaver and in handling the massive looms and especially in threading up the looms for new widths of cloth. Long after she retired, mill officials would send a car to her home to take Eula Baird back to Osprey Mill to thread up the looms and to teach others for a new batch of the heavy cloth. (1) Porterdale became " hometown" to my younger brothers and me early on! Two of my brothers, John Thomas (Tom) Baird and Jackson Irvin (Jack) Baird served in World War II. Tom served in the Army in Europe. Jack served in the Air Force in the South Pacific. They both spoke so highly and longed so fervently to get back to their hometown, many of their World War II buddies vowed they would someday visit Porterdale. However, the Textile Industry that had moved South in the early 1900's looking for cheap labor and found plenty of both White and Black people needing jobs moved on in late 1940's. Shortly after World War II the thriving Textile Industry that had hired so many farmers, providing small salaries but also providing adequate housing, schools, churches and clubs, moved farther south all the way out of the United States. In the mid to late 1940's, Bibb Manufacturing Company, Callaway Mills and other Textile Companies closed down most of their textile plants in the Southern United Sates and sold their houses to their employees. Whether a good move or not, there was no longer large numbers of textile jobs available. Times were changing but other opportunities also opened up in the south. My brother, Tom Baird, worked briefly as a policeman in Porterdale after World War II and later qualified as a State Patrol trooper. He lived with his family in Cedartown as a Sergeant in the Georgia State Patrol until his death in 1998. My younger brother Jack worked as the supervisor of pipe fitters at large Mall construction sites in South Carolina until his death in 1989. However, my brothers thought and so did our classmates and I that Porterdale was a great place to grow up in the depression years of 1920s and 30’s. Our school teachers and other leaders were the best. Beyond the low wages from the factory jobs was the community spirit of love and cooperation. Even today, there is a great deal of Porterdale spirit, including happy and successsful former residents returning to Porterdale for an annual Homecoming reunion. I started to Porterdale school at five, skipped a half grade and was the youngest in my class from the Fifth grade on. (2) After the Ninth grade, one had to pay tuition and find transportation to go to the high school in Covington. The Porterdale School had classrooms for First Grade through Grade Nine. There was also a Music Room with piano and band instrumentds and a Home Economics classroom with sewing machine and stove. My brother, James Leon Baird (who died at age 3 of measles complicated by pneumonia) is buried in the Liberty Methodist Cemetery in Porterdale where Mama and Papa are also buried. This, I am told, was where Porterdale's first Methodist church building (Liberty) had been. I joined the Girl Reserves, (more details in another post) a civic club provided by Bibb Manufacturing Company for all the girls in town. It was similar to Girl Scouts in that we had regular meetings and wore uniforms. Our uniforms were white dresses with blue belts and blue scarves and blue dresses with white belts and scarves. The shirtwaist type dresses were made by our mothers or a dressmaker from cotton material woven in one of the mills and sold at a discount. I loved being in the Girl Reserves. One of the advantages of belonging to the Girl Reserves was the opportunity to make a trip each summer. I remember at least two trips to Savannah by train. The first time I saw the ocean and the first time I stayed in a hotel was in Savannah on one of those outings when I was about ten or eleven years old. I especially remember the large formal dining room in the Desoto Hotel in Savannah. It was at the Desoto where, for the first time, we were served fish that still had its head. None of us would eat the fish, and we little girls giggled and whispered into the night about the ridiculous idea of eating a fish while it looked at us. Our neighbors, who were so much a part of my life, included Obie and Grace Moore, Albert and Blanche Fincher, the Hornings, Capes, Moodys, Johnsons, Parnells, Martins, and Loyds. My mother used the term "We were neighbor to..." instead of saying "We lived next door to..." or "We lived near..." so and so. I have fond memories as a child of being in and out of the homes of the Finchers, the Parnells and the Moores. And they visited with us daily. We did not lock our doors - even at night. Neighbors were in and out all the time - often to borrow a cup of sugar or flour or an egg or two to finish out a recipe for a cake. Often they stopped in to share vegetables or cookies or cake. Mama also always had an extra dollar or two to loan to a neighbor who ran out of cash before the next payday. She always found time to take food to a neighbor who was sick or in need. Our house seemed to be the gathering place in the evenings after a long day of work. Neighbors would sit on the swing, the big porch rocking chairs or on the steps after the chairs were filled. Sometimes the visits lasted late into the evening; the adults sitting on the front porch and talking while the children played "hide and seek" or "kick the can" out in the front yard or on the unpaved road in front of the house. (3) Notes. 1. Bibb Manufacturing Company. Built the three large factory buildings, all the housing for employees, the schools, churches...the whole town. 2.My teachers in Porterdale School were: First Grade - Miss Jones; Second Grade - Miss Wright; Third Grade - Miss Webb; 4th Grade - Mrs. Tommie Hood; 5th Grade - Miss Bura Bohanan; 6th Grade - Mrs. Pearl Hacket; 7th Grade - Miss Willie Hayne Hunt; 8th Grade - Mr. John F. Allumns; 9th Grade - Mrs. Willie Hayne Hunt. Miss Ethel Belcher was principal of the school when I started to school. Miss Maud King was principal when I finished at Porterdale and started to Covington High. 3.My Hazel Street playmates included Dorothy, Hazel and Lamar Fincher, Mamie Miller, E. F. Parnell, Obie and Billie Moore. Hazel and Sybil Horning, Jeanette and Betty Martin. Other Hazel Street friends were Julia Sellers, Mildred Yancey and Frank Ingram. I kept in touch with Julia Sellers Smith until her death in 2000 but have not heard from most of the others in many years. I think of them often and would like to hear from them and their family and friends.