Cumberland County cotton mills
There aren’t many cotton mills in North Carolina anymore, none in Cumberland County where I grew up. Both of my parents worked in various cotton mills throughout my childhood, and I hold them near and dear to my heart.
I never knew people more generous than those who owned and worked in the mills. I can see my dad backing up his truck to the loading dock of Tolar-Hart in Massey Hill on a winter’s day and the mill supervisors loading fruit boxes into the trucks and cars of the mill’s employees. They gave my sister and me Christmas stockings as tall as we were, filled with goodies, every year until the mill met financial difficulties.
I remember family picnics at Dixie Yarns on Cumberland Rd., and I hear the whistle blow at Holt-Williamson on Gillespie St. I can’t drive by a cotton field without thinking of my parents coming home, their dark hair covered with white cotton lint, their hands marked from working with winders and twisters. They brought home grey cardboard cones with colored tips that we sorted and repacked into colossal-sized boxes to earn extra money.
Holt-Williamson provided a college scholarship to my sister, who was the first in our family to pursue secondary education and to graduate from high school. A few years later they gave me the same scholarship.
Elk Yarns, the last surviving mill in my hometown of Hope Mills, closed June 27, 1997, the day of my mother’s funeral, when I was 25 years old.
I am 43 now, but when I pull a cotton t-shirt from the dryer or a pair of jeans from my dad’s antique dresser, or when I visit a farmers market and lift from a bushel basket a few locks of newly harvested cotton heated by the sun, I breathe in a million memories as I close my eyes and smile.