I'm a big fan of higher education. I have a couple of degrees. My son is making a career of college and my youngest daughter is in her second year. Their big sister earned a doctorate from UGA Like I said, I believe in higher education.
When I was an undergraduate student I gleaned a lot of knowledge from my college professors -- information that I use in a practical manner every single day. Don't ask for an example, please -- but I did. I must have. I have a diploma on my wall.
I'll tell you another place where my practical knowledge was greatly enhanced -- the dope house in the Porterdale Mill. Now before you jump to conclusions, the dope house was what everybody called the break room. I am pretty sure it had something to do with the fact that Coca-Cola, when first bottled, contained traces of "medicinal" ingredients -- specifically the leaves of the coca leaves, which are the source of cocaine.
Long before my time Coca-Colas were referred to, in cotton mill jargon, as "dopes."
"Pull me a dope," meant reach down in the icy water and pull out a six-and-a-half ounce bottle of Coke. Thus we took what few breaks we had in the "dope house."
It was always good to take a break, particularly since the dope house -- or break room, if I must -- was air conditioned. It offered a welcome respite from the heat and swirling cotton present throughout most of the plant.
But the best part of those precious minutes spent around the wobbly tables was neither the rest nor the refreshment. The best part was getting to listen to the men who were old before their time swap stories.
They all took a great interest in the young people who worked in the mill, especially those who were going away to college. "You going over to Athens in the fall?" was a question I answered nearly every day for four years. Every time I answered in the affirmative one of them would warn me, "Stay away from them houses down near the river."
To which someone else would say, "You talking about Effie's? I believe it was on Elm Street."
I would turn red when the talk took this risque turn and pretend that I had no idea what they were talking about. I am certain the advice to stay away from such places was rock solid, though.
A lot of the men who worked in the mill had nicknames. Curly was as completely bald, but, then again, so was Baldy. And nobody ever had to ask where Possum got his name. A lot of the men who worked in the Porterdale Mill in the '60s had fought in World War II in the '40s and once in a great while would delve into stories of atrocities so awful that I found myself wishing they would go back to talking about Effie's.
Those old men valued their jobs as much as any group of folks I have ever been around. "They'll fire you for that!" was a common warning whenever anyone strayed too far from the norm of accepted behavior.
"Good!" was almost always the response, followed by the time-worn phrase, "I was looking for a job when I found this one." But everyone knew that the speaker didn't mean it.
As entertaining as the conversation was, I learned more from those mill hands by watching them than from listening to them. They showed up to work on time, every day. They never came late. They never called in sick and they always gave a hard day's work for a day's wage.
They were thrifty men who brought their lunch to work in brown paper sacks and those lunches were heavily weighted toward bologna sandwiches, Vienna sausages and soda crackers -- and, yes, many is the time I've seen a Moon Pie and an R.C. Cola serve as lunch.
Those men were generally a God-fearing sort. They went to church on Sunday and prayer meeting on Wednesday night. They paid cash and set something back in case hard times came back around and, this is the most important part, they appreciated the value of the education they didn't have and always, always, always encouraged young people like me to stay in school.
When I was a freshman at UGA my sociology professor found out that I was raised in a mill village and informed the class that "Mr. Huckaby was raised in poverty." My professor was obviously educated beyond his intelligence. We weren't poor in Porterdale, we just didn't have any money. There's a big difference.
And I have followed those old men's example. I have encouraged my son to stay in school, too. But I didn't mean forever!