Previous Challenge Entry (Level 1 – Beginner)
Topic: Flat (01/03/13)
TITLE: Red Brick Rubble
By Justin Atkin
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But it’s a helpless feeling to see our own cotton mill flattened. Not left lying flat by a storm, or war, or an act of God; but by greed stricken men in scrap metal trucks and yellow bulldozers. Those men taking anything of any value and leaving us with what looks like pictures our grand daddies showed us of the great war. We should be getting used to the sight. You see these piles of red brick rubble all over the deep south. We’re not unique at all in that fact, but it’s different when it’s the Chiquola Mill. They say at one point in the early 1900’s, nearly every citizen in my hometown of Honea Path worked at the Chiquola Mill.
The cotton mill built our homes, schools, recreation centers, and ball fields. They built our stores, even our church buildings where we gather to worship. Chiquola Mill put shirts on our backs and food on our tables for generation after generation after generation. Now it lies flat. Never again will one piece of machinery ever run. No young man will ever put on a white button up shirt and his best pair of overalls, walk through those century old doors, and ask a gray haired mill superintendent for a job. Never again.
Don’t get the wrong idea. It wasn’t all good, not by a long shot. I reckon the cotton mills took more than they ever gave. They took our chance for a better life when we traded our education for minimum pay jobs- that were downright dangerous. They took our health with diseases like brown lung. Their machines took our hearing, fingers, hands, and too many times… our lives. In 1934, lives were taken not by machines, but by fellow shift workers that mill management had armed with shotguns. Simply because they wanted a better way of life. Volumes have been written about the hardships of cotton mill life, but it sure beat starving to death on a share cropping farm.
It’s hard for some folks to understand how we can thank God for that old cotton mill and in the same breath, curse it. I reckon that’s why we don’t put up much of a fight when they come to flatten those towering red brick buildings. I’ve seen huge fundraising campaigns to save our old train depots. The same train depots that haven’t even seen a train in over fifty years. Poor people giving parts of their old age pensions to remodel them for the occasional family reunion. Our old family houses, that are no longer livable, stand for generations as some sort of monument to the men and women of the past who had our same blood and our same last names. Our old dilapidated barns in our backyards are sought out, painted on a canvas, and hung in the lobbies of doctor’s offices in the city. But not the cotton mill. We shed a tear, we lose hope at the sight, but we don’t try to save the cotton mill.
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