Sixteen dollars a week was good money for a 16 year old in the deep south in 1942. There weren’t a whole lot of opportunities for a young man in Mooresville, NC in regards to steady pay. Those who lived in the mill village were happy to have a job. In fact, the Mooresville Cotton Mill was the biggest employer in the town back then. With its own steam station, factory homes and big pool, the mill attracted faithful workers at a time when textiles created a way of life for families.
It was understood that half of Paul Mills’ pay was also going back to his dad. He did it to help pay for the expenses around the house. Money was scraped together from every family member, and everyone worked…his mom, dad, brothers and sisters. Scrimping was a way of life in the years just after the Great Depression. Paul said, “They (my parents) always took care of me. Gave me money and an allowance. I didn’t fuss about it.”
As far as housing went: “They took the rent right out of the pay, and they’d expect you to take care of the houses. They had carpenters and plumbers that would come out and fix them. They had to keep the houses up to make the homes last.”
Paul was a one of the boys that helped to haul and fill around the mill. He could be seen pushing a big metal cart or a big box with three compartments in it. Through the long mill #1 and down the street (College St) to mill #2, they connected the separate processes of the mill by moving product and supplies. They would push large spools of thread to the spinning room that had been calculated by a formula to match the orders for color and size. At the end of the processes they would push the cloth into the inspector rooms where hopefully any faults would be at a minimum. The heavy cart would rattle along on the broad concrete floors as he went about his 2nd shift duties from 3p.m. till 11p.m.
“I would go to school during the morning, and then work in the afternoon and evening, “ Paul recalled. “In that job you got a lot of exercise!” He rolled and pushed the thread and cloth all through the evenings.
The mill has been transformed into an antique mall complete with restaurants. The employee parking lot of old is filled with shoppers and hungry visitors instead of “linthead” textile workers on the different shifts. In several of the corners, though, are pictures and artifacts that harken back to the days of whirling spindles and large spools of cloth.
Paul’s physical abilities have diminished somewhat because of age and time. At 93 years old it is to be expected. In the talking, though, you can catch a glimpse of that 16year old boy from yesteryear. Inside the antique mall he points to an old, heavy metal cart with sturdy metal wheels and exclaims that he had to push one of the those when he worked there. And his eyes move from the cart down the long corridor. With a bent arm he points to one of the rooms that used to be there as if he is pushing the cart in some far away memory bank in his mind. A memory of a time when the worker was fortunate to get just $16 a week.