Life on the edge of the mill hill was a secure one for me. My mother and daddy worked in Alice Mill for all of my young life. Since my brother and I were not allowed to stay by ourselves, we were taken to my grandparents early every morning. My grandmother fed us breakfast and sent us on our way to school. We always knew someone was close if we needed them.
When I was in the 6th grade, I decided I was too old to eat breakfast. I had heard some of my friends say that they didn’t eat breakfast; they just got up, got dressed, and came to school. Now that didn’t get it with my grandmother – but she didn’t say a word. Instead, the next morning, she had prepared hot biscuits (hers were great!) with real butter, homemade apple butter, and a milkshake. Now Ma knew there was no way under God’s high heaven I would refuse such a feast, because those were my favorite breakfast foods in the whole world! So I ate!
It was not until I returned from Winthrop one fall that I reminded my grandmother of that occasion. In her own quiet way, she said,” Oh, yeah, I never did tell you – I used to put an egg in that milk shake and made eggnog.” She knew not to tell me at the time. I never would have touched the stuff! It was really a pretty good breakfast though: bread, milk, egg, and even a little bit of fruit. A smart lady she was! I always ate breakfast after that –I still do!
My brother and I walked to school every day. It was just up the hill from my grandparent’s house on Park Street. At the top of the hill, we had our first encounter with what folks today call “bullies”. His house was the last house on the right before we got to the school. His name was Jack. We approached his house in fear, because he threw rocks at us. He never left for school until he had his morning “fix” by persecuting us. By the time we got to the top of the hill, several others had joined us. One morning, somebody suggested that we pick up the rocks and throw them back at him! We did, and it only took a few days for him to stop antagonizing us. We never did become his friend, but we tolerated him!
After school, we walked down the hill and my grandmother always had snacks ready for us (and for our friends too, if they followed us home). My brother and I were always included in everything that our grandparents did: garden work, raking leaves, picking grapes or cherries, planting potato plants – anything they did, we were expected to do.
Daddy and Mother (one or both of them) usually got off work every day around 3 P.M., and they would come by our grandparents’ house to get us and take us home. We actually thought of both places as “home” and had free reign to go from one place to the other as long as somebody knew where we were. To leave without giving notice however, was a definite no-no! Daddy usually rested for about an hour when he got off work. I remember once when I decided that I could go to my cousin’s house and get back before he got up. Well, I just forgot all about time! Daddy started calling around to see if he could find me, called my cousin’s house, and told her mother to just let me stay until I got ready to come home. It was dark-thirty when I thought about going home. That’s the only time in my life that Daddy spanked me. I never did it again
I remember one day, my brother was helping Pa feed the pigs, and his friend Murray was with them. Murray had a biscuit in his hand that he had brought from home and no longer wanted to eat. So when they fed the pigs, he threw the bread into the feed trough. The pigs had had enough and didn’t eat it. Chuck (my brother) said, ”Look, Murray, even the pigs won’t eat your Mama’s cooking!” Pa really got Chuck for that!
Some folks thought that living on the “mill hill” was to be frowned upon. We never felt that way. We didn’t live in the mill village itself, but the mill provided our livelihood. And we never felt threatened by anything. Our doors were left unlocked. We were able to walk to school without being afraid. We played on the sidewalk after dark. I walked four blocks to take piano lessons by myself, when I was in elementary school. And if anyone threw rocks at us, we just threw them back!