Traditions: ‘slicky poles,’ cotton queens & river days By Jessica Shaddix
Life in Valley seemed directly connected with The Company, not just in the mills, but beyond those bittersweet brick walls and its monotonous whistles. Throughout the years, The Company provided activities for the mill people to do, creating “family” traditions that would last until the closing of the mills. Even though the mills are now empty, the southern textile mill heritage where life seemed simpler and where the good times ebbed and flowed like the Chattahoochee River lingers. Valley continues to host many eventful traditions, with its annual Day on the River. Since 2006, the city has held a Trick or Treat Festival at the Rams Stadium, handing out prizes for the best costume and giving treats to the children. There is a tree lighting every year at Christmas and a production called “A Cotton Mill Christmas” that has been taking place since 2008. Although these new traditions seem to bring life to this small town, the traditions that started many years ago bring life to a past that is sometimes forgotten.
Vacation Week Every week the mills would be up and running, except for the week of the Fourth of July. During this week the mills would shut down and the workers would catch up on their rest. Some would head to the beaches in Florida, but some would stay home and enjoy the festivities that The Company provided. Each mill had its own celebration, each one being slightly different, but all of them creating lasting memories.
Contributed by the City of Valley
Children partake in the tradition of eating watermelons during the Fourth of July. “It was an all-day thing,” says Jean Williams, 82, who grew up in Langdale and eventually worked in the mill recreation department. At Langdale everyone would go down to the softball field and gym to join the festivities, Williams says. People would gather to get watermelons, hamburgers and refreshments. Donnie Ray, who grew up in RiverView, remembers the day well. He says he remembers having relay races, Domino and Rook and marble tournaments, shooting horseshoes and all sorts of games. Both Ray and Williams recall a “greasy” game the children would play every year. “We called it the ‘slicky pole,’” says Ray. Usually, a member of the recreation department would grease down a pole with Vaseline “so’s not to ruin clothes.” Then boys and girls would try to climb up the pole to get a prize. “They had money posted
all the way up it,” says Williams. “The higher you went, the more money you got.” Williams says not many girls tried to climb the pole, but it was funny to watch the boys try and climb to the top. “Very few money was gotten on that pole,” says Williams. “I tried, but I never was that good,” says Ray. “I tried it when I was 6 or 7 for the first time. You’d jump up, wrap your arms and legs around it and try to get up and then you’d slide back down.” Ray says the climb was worth it because a dollar was a lot of money back then. All in all, Ray says climbing the pole was fun, but it was even better if you chose your position in line wisely. If you waited to be the fifth or sixth person in line, most of the Vaseline had worn off by then and it was easier to make it to the money. Besides the ‘slicky pole,’ the Fourth brought another greasy activity. Williams
says they also had a greasy pig for the boys would chase after. Whoever could grab it and hold on to it would win a prize. Ray also remembers the “old greased pig,” and jokingly says they must have liked to grease things down back then. Along with the greasy festivities, Williams says older ladies would “put their shoes on their toes and see who could kick them the farthest” and whoever won got a prize. Another game she also remembers was called “jumping the pole,” where they would see who could jump the pole as it was raised higher and higher. Williams says she especially enjoyed the Fourth because all the children got to go swimming in the Langdale pool. What usually cost them 50 cents for 10 visits was free that day. In the pool, there was also a water pageant for locals where they judged synchro-
nized swimming and diving, says Williams. Later in the evening, a beauty pageant was held in the gym. Williams says the pageant first started with just Langdale people, but eventually any girl in the Valley who was in a club could enter. Ray and Williams say the Fourth was always fun and memorable as kids, especially because it was free. “You were just entertained all day, and it didn’t cost anything,” says Williams. Around town and “Family” Folklore Small town life may seem boring to some, but for those growing up in Valley, boredom was hard to be found. Williams says when she was growing up everyone from Langdale could be found at Lanier’s Hill at the end of the week. “Every Friday there was a party up in the attic,” says Williams. “We use to go up there and play music and dance.” She says they liked to have good old-fashioned fun, the kind where you didn’t cause trouble. One of her favorite memories, she says, was getting together with friends, bringing food and having a good time. “Sometimes we’d have a pound party where you’d bring cookies or whatever you wanted,” says Williams. “We didn’t do anything bad. We knew better back then.” In Shawmut, Williams says across the street from “The Circle,” where most of the town’s events were held, was a Masonic hall. In the top of the building, she says, they frequently have would dances. Ray says he remembers different dances too, especially having a “sock hop” in the
gym at RiverView, where you’d dance in the gym with just your socks on. Along with these daily traditions, people heard stories that dated farther back in Valley’s history. One story of couples getting married at Riverdale Mill has been told amongst the people of Valley for decades. Martha Cato, Valley city clerk, says she heard couples would get married in a certain part of the mill that crossed over into Georgia. “They would get married on Friday, have their honeymoon on the weekend and then be back to work on Monday,” says Cato. Ray recalled hearing this tradition as well. “Since that part of the mill was in Georgia, you didn’t have to wait to get married.” Cotton Festival Once a year the towns of Valley would gather together for the Cotton Festival. The streets would be lined with people, waiting to see the Cotton Festival parade and later a ball would be held for the mill workers. At the ball, the Cotton Queen would be crowned. Ray says each small town would make a float and try to outdo each other. He says there were marching bands and people throwing candy. “The queens would come by in their antebellum dresses and represent each town the best they could,” says Ray.Although The Cotton Festival seemed to have left a lasting memory on the city’s heart, it was just one of many other festivals, celebrations, parades and pageants that took place in the area.
Christmas celebrations give citizens rich gifts By Max Newfield
Randy Moon will not act, but he will sing all day long. For the majority of the year, this fact barely plays any sort of role in Moon’s life. But when the weather starts to cool off and casting begins for “A Cotton Mill Christmas,” Moon’s willingness to sing becomes a vital part of his personality. “I ended up singing in the chorus because I didn’t go to the first (production) meeting,” Moon says with a smile. “Afterwards, they ended up having only one man singing so they said, ‘you have got to come,’ so I did. It was fun.” Moon, an employee of the city of Valley and lifelong musician, wrote the songs for “A Cotton Mill Christmas,” Valley’s newest Christmas tradition. “It took a while to write it because, basically, I wasn’t real sure how to write it or what to write about,” Moon says. “So I just started writing things down and going through the traditions that we have, trying to come up with couplets and verses then one day you look at it, and it’s like, ‘whoa, there’s a song here.’ After the slow start of putting pen to paper, Moon says the songwriting process took off when he settled into it. “Then all of the sudden, you’ve got three or four verses and a chorus,” Moon says. “And then once I got that, then it had to be put to music. So that took a while, but once it starts it kind of takes on a life of its own.” “A Cotton Mill Christmas” debuted in 2008. Written, directed, produced and performed by members of the Valley community, the play is a series of vignettes depicting scenes from the Valley during Christmas time. Some of the stories are about Valley Christmas traditions, such as the company Christmas tree, while others depict scenes from around the Valley community at Christmas time. Moon says the focus on the Valley community is what makes “A Cotton Mill Christmas” such a success each year. “Everybody liked it,” Moon says. “I mean, they really loved it because
it’s their stories. They’re stories that most of the people have lived at some point in time or they know somebody who has. So the city has been very receptive of it and very supportive. All the feedback we’ve gotten has been very good.” The play was written after Danny Branch, a member of the Valley Historic Preservation Committee and director and writer of “A Cotton Mill Christmas,” compiled all of the Christmas stories of the people of Valley. Jean Crowder Williams, an 84-year-old resident of Valley, shared many of her stories. “I think it’s very important for a town to hold onto their traditions and preserve them as long as people are interested,” Williams says. “A Cotton Mill Christmas” has sold out each year the town has put it on. Moon says that in addition to people clapping and singing along during the performance, he has heard tremendous feedback from those who attended the play. Each and every song and skit, particularly the titular song, has affected someone in the town on a personal level, according to Moon. “This lady that was in the play last year, she said she got in the play because of that song (A Cotton Mill Christmas),” Moon says. “She was sitting there and heard that song, and it just spoke to her. Everything that was in that song was part of her childhood. When she was growing up, she was in a big family. She was like, ‘It was like it was speaking to me.’”
The History of Christmas in Valley Christmas has roots in Valley that run almost as deep as the cotton plant. Even before the 20th century began, the Valley always had some sort of Christmas celebration. “My Poppa went to the first -1893) when he was 5 years old,” Williams says. “And he saw the last one when he was 80 years old.” The first Valley Christmas tree, a great cedar tree cut from the area, according to Williams, was placed at the home of Robert Langdale, the superintendent of Langdale Mill.
people, Some such as Williams’ father, had never seen a Christmas tree before. “Poppa was so e x c i t e d , ” Williams says. “He had never seen a tree so decorated before.” At the first Christmas tree, the mill supervisors of West Point Pepperell handed out gifts to the community, a tradition that continued as long as the tree was placed.“They’d always hand out bags Contributed by the City of Valley with fruits and nuts and things This undated picture shows Santa and his elves on his annual visit. like that,” says Allen Hendrix, the director of planfor the carousel; it’s one of the stops ning and development for the city of The Merry-Go-Round Keeps they always make,” Snowden says. Valley. On Spinning “It gives people an opportunity to “And believe it or not, and you In the history of Valley’s catch up on everything they’ve couldn’t do it now, but when I was in Christmas celebrations, the merry- missed. Some people come and seventh and eighth grade, they’d go-round is the rock in the river of never even ride it; they just come to come around and give out pocket change. see other people.” knives to all the boys. You don’t “It’s just not Christmas if you Snowden says the communal give out knives now.” don’t ride the carousel,” says Suellen atmosphere around the carousel is As West Point Pepperell’s days in Snowden, the director of the recre- what has made the carousel a mainthe Valley drew to a close at the end ation department. stay in Valley Christmas. of the ’90s, so to did their gift giving. Snowden says the merry-go-round “I think it was such an important The trinkets and treasures given to was established in the Valley area in part of everybody’s holidays that the children grew smaller increas- 1956. Since then, more than two people don’t want to see it go,” ingly while the seasonal fruit baskets million people have ridden the great Snowden says. “Christmas is about disappeared entirely. gold carousel, she said. family. You share everything at “In The Company’s last years, “West Point Pepperell started Christmas time. The merry-go-round they just started giving the kids sil- bringing it in every year. They put it is another opportunity to spend time ver dollars instead of toys,” over in Fairfax on the old ball field with your family and it just puts you Williams says. “When the tree didn’t and children rode it for free,” in the Christmas spirit.” come back it was a shock. Hendrix says. Snowden says she hopes the Everybody was all, ‘What? No tree?’ The merry-go-round moved from merry-go-round continues to put but also I think it was expected.” the ball field in front of the senior people in the Christmas spirit for Williams says that although the center to the community sports cen- many years to come. loss of the amenities provided by the ter in 2008. Regardless of its loca“As long as there is a demand for company was a shock, the town per- tion, the 20-horse merry-go-round it, the tradition will still be alive,” severed. keeps spinning in its sawdust cov- Snowden says. “I know the younger “It was hard, but I think all of us ered patch of field, still covered in generations like it, but not like us. realized you can’t have progress garland and shining lights. We were tied to the textile industry without change,” Williams says. Companies like Knology and and it was such a part of us growing “Nothing really is constant but Greater Valley Development up. I never thought about losing change, so we accept it and move on. Company help sponsor the annual anything like it. So the carousel is a I think the city has done a remark- event, and the merry-go-round is still way to continue on with what we able job of holding onto as much of free to ride. grew up with.” our tradition as we can.” “A lot of people come home just