Copyright April, 2013
Arriving in Columbus, Georgia on Wednesday, April 10, 2013, I struggled not to allow depression to overtake my mood. Exhausted from an eight hour drive, I plopped on to the tiny sofa, attempting to relax. “How can I relax,’ I whispered to myself. ‘This is the city that struggled to destroy me.’
Phil watched a CSI marathon. I chose to bathe. Remembering those troubled years of my youth, when sadness captivated me, I practiced the art of positive thinking. ‘So much of Columbus has changed. This is a different time, a different setting, and now, my mother is gone. She can’t hurt me now…’
Exhausted, I went to bed, praying silently that this week all will be fine. ‘It’s a new day,’ I said. ‘A new journey. A new chapter.’
The next morning, Phil and I drove to Bibb City. Phil touched my hand and face and kissed me on the cheek. “It’ll be OK,” he said. “Today is a new day.”
I smiled. “Those are the exact words I told myself last night.”
Driving on the roads leading to Bibb City, I exhaled deeply. Wanting only silence, I turned the radio down. My mind drifted back to my childhood in Bibb City.
The Village my grandparents called Bibb City is framed by the setting of The Bibb Manufacturing Company, a tall brick building with a clock edged into the masonry work. The tiny brick houses in Anderson Village looked the same, with exception of the clutter on many of the porches and around the small lots. The white houses in Bibb City were now painted a variety of colors. Some of the houses were attractive and well cared for; other homes still looked the same, with exception of junk in the yards and the porches cluttered with boxes and other essentials the residents could not store or put away.
Serving as the focal point of Bibb City during the textile era in America, the Bill Mill dates back to 1920. The Bibb, as elders called the mill, is located on 38th Street and First Avenue.
The tranquil, close knit mill community called Bibb City encompasses north from 35th Street to 44th Street, and west from Second Avenue to the Chattahoochee River. The streets are narrow and winding. Mill houses consist of approximately 247 dwellings, located within walking distance of the mill. Most are constructed of wood, painted white, landscaped with magnolia trees, sweet gum trees and other varieties, some laced with Spanish moss.
Bibb City includes the mill acreage along with a smaller area called Anderson Village. The houses in Anderson Village are brick with interior walls of stucco. According to elders who still live in the Village, Bibb City is one of the best planned mill villages ever built, because of the quality of the residential developments and how they were maintained for mill workers. In the 1960’s the mill chose to sell the homes to mill workers. My grandparents jumped at the chance to own a home.
The dwelling my grandparents bought was located in the middle of Walnut Street, a solid brick structure, containing two small bedrooms, a living room, one miniature bathroom, and a kitchen. The house was less than 1,000 square feet, total living space. Mill workers were accustomed to living in small settlements. ‘We made do with what the Good Lord provided us,’ according to Papa and Grammy.
The car approached the monstrous skeleton of the remains of Bibb Manufacturing Company. Staring at the entrance, the mill was vacant of mill workers. What remained now was the front entrance standing alone. The mill closed its doors in 1998, leaving fingerprints and footprints of mill workers. In October 2008, the mill burned to the ground.
I replayed my grandfather’s words when I was a rebellious teenager desperate to break away from Bibb City.
Papa said, “You stay here. Marry a mill kid and if you want to work, go to work at the mill. Bibb Mill takes care of its workers. All you have to do in life is marry and have babies.”
My reply, “Bibb Mill makes you a slave…and I don’t want to live my life here. I don’t want to be a baby machine. I want to sing…”
Papa laughed, placing a piece of Wrigley’s Juicy Fruit gum in his mouth.
As a child, I was already a feminist!
I parked the car, grabbed my Nikon digital camera, inhaled…exhaled… My fingers were shaking. Phil remained in the car, downloading software on to his Ipad.
Clicking my camera, I took several images, recognizing some parts of Bibb City while realizing I had blocked most of the memories away. Gone was the white house where I spent the hot summers with my grandparents. At the site, was an abandoned parking lot. I did not see anyone walking along the sidewalks. Images of mill workers, dressed in Bibb overalls, danced in my mind.
‘Bibb City is a ghost town now,’ I whispered. ‘Like the mill, gone are the memories of my youth. I glanced up, wiped a tear while glancing at the Bibb water tower. ‘All that is left are the charred remains of a building where workers strove to make a better life, only to discover the mill controlled and dictated their lives and future. Now, the mill is a ghostly, charred remnant of their hard work. Gone are their footprints and fingerprints.