Friday, June 01, 2012

Fresh off the Farm

Mama always said that the boll weevil ran them off the farm. The farm was in the community of Oak Hill. Oak Hill is in Newton County near the Henry County line and also near Rockdale County. Cotton was then king in the South! (Picture of one of our school buildings in Porterdale)

When the boll weevil infested the cotton plants, it wiped out cotton as the major crop and as the farmers' profits. Many farmers lost their whole years wages.

My father, Wilson Baird was in failing health when he got a job in one of the three mills in Porterdale and moved his family "fresh off the farm" into that model mill town in the fall of 1922.

I was born soon after the move to Porterdale, on February 19, 1923 and was only 6 weeks old when my family faced the sadness of the death of my three year old brother, James Leon Baird who died of measles complicated by pneumonia. Leon is buried in the Liberty Methodist Cemetery in Porterdale where Mama and Papa are also buried.

Liberty Cemetery, I am told, was near Porterdale's first Methodist church building (Liberty) had been. I vaguely remember seeing the small white frame building which was burned down in 1935 after being vacant for several years

I am told my father, Wilson Baird worked in the Old Porterdale Mill located on the Yellow River (picture above) as long as he was able. My father died in 1932, when I was nine. My mother also told me that my father walked with his hoe in hand, the long distance to Liberty Cemetary every week to make sure no weeds were growing on Leon's grave and it was kept up properly.

My mother continued to work in the Cord Weave Shop in Osprey Mill until after World war II. The Cord Weave Shop wove heavy cloth for items like army tents and tank tires and ran three eight-hour shifts all all during the war. Ieula Baird, my mother was proficient 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 (1) would send a car to her home to take my mother back to Osprey Mill to teach the skill to others while she threaded up the looms for a new batch of the heavy cloth.

In the early 1920's the thriving Textile industry moved South looking for cheaper labor. They found plenty of hungry workers needing jobs among the White and Colored people in the Civil War torn part of the United States.

After the hour and wage labor laws in the mid 1940's, the industry closed down most of their "looms and twisters" and moved farther South outside the United States.

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. My brothers came home from the war, but Carroll Adams, Neal "Red" Cole, Homer Cook and J.W. Rye, my friends and classmates, were among those who did not live to come back home from World War II.

With no jobs in their hometown, my brothers and others had to look elsewhere. My brother, Tom worked briefly as a policeman in Porterdale after WW II and later was a State Patrol trooper. Tom lived with his family in Cedartown as a Sergeant in the Georgia State Patrol until his death in 1998.

My youngest brother, Jack Baird worked as short-order cook in a restaurant in Savanah for a time, as a pipe -fitter and later as the supervisor of pipe fitters at large Mall construction sites in South Carolina until his death in 1989.

However, my brothers and schoolmates thought and so did I that Porterdale was a great place to grow up in the 1920s and 30’s. Our school teachers were the best.

I has started to school at five, skipped a half grade and was the youngest in my class from the Fifth grade on. (2) We had to pay tuition and find transportation to go to high school. The ninth was the last grade in Porterdale School in the late thirties. (The picture of Porterdale School had classrooms for First Grade through Grade Nine. There was also a Home Economics classroom with sewing machine and stove and a Music Room.) I tell in another post about my high school and other experiences

In Porterdale, I loved being a member of the Girl Reserves, (more details in another post) a civic club provided by Bibb Manufacturing Company for all the girls in town.

The Girl Reserves 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 and the Parnells more often than the others. 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.

Our house seemed to be the gathering place where neighbors would sit on the porch swing that hung from the ceiling and seat 3 people and the big porch rocking chairs that mama had made cushions for comfortable seating.

Neighbors (mostly the men and children) sat the steps after the swing and all the chairs were filled. Sometimes the visits lasted late into the evening; the adults sitting on the front porch to rest after a long day of work. Always much talking tok place on our front porch 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.

1. Bibb Manufacturing Company. Built the three large factory buildings, all the housing for employees, the schools, business, churches...the whole town. We had three large churches that were filled every Sunday for church and Sunday School and prayer meeting on Wednesday nights. We even had a community doctor, nurse and social worker. People rarely locked their doors, even at night.

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.

1 comment: said...

So, I don't actually believe this will work.