Pansy Clayton Marlow (Holly's mother) standing in front of her mother-in-law's mill house on Bolton Street. Erwin Mills is in the background. Ca. 1948
My parents grew up in the Erwin Cotton Mill community of Old West Durham, nostalgically known as "Monkey Bottom." Daddy used to tell me that when he was a boy, it was a wonderful, magical place in which to grow-up, and I can relate, because I too lived there. I've lived on Case Street, Page Street, Caswell Place, Anderson Street, and Erwin Road, and I played ball on the Erwin ball field. I attended Southside and E.K. Powe Elementary Schools, and if I close my eyes, I can vividly remember the smell of Jim Wagner's Grocery Store, and the taste of the wonderful cherry and vanilla cokes that were made behind the fountains at Brewer's and McDonald's Drug Stores on Ninth Street.
It was not unusual to receive a notice to move when you lived in one of Erwin Mill's houses on Mill Hill or in Monkey Bottom in West Durham, N.C... You have to remember... the houses were owned by the Mill, and you lived in the Mill's houses at the mercy of the Mill.
Often, when these houses would get into ill repair, they would move families to another Mill house, while they repaired the one that you and your family were in... Sometimes, the Mill would just tear down a house that had gone beyond repair.
One of my fondest memories, as a child, was when a house, scheduled for demolition, would become vacant. My brothers and I and the children in the neighborhood would play in the houses, and we had the best of times! We played Store, we played Army, or we pretended these treasures were Our Castles, and, literally, we just let our imaginations run wild.
Although we would be sad when the houses began to be demolished, this just sent a signal that a newer and greater adventure would soon occur. As the demolition teams began to tear down the houses, us children would scavenge the boards, and with our Daddy's old saw and hammer, we would use the boards to build a clubhouse or a fort of our own... No Girls Allowed!
All day long, we would work like ants moving the boards to my house, removing the old rusty nails, only to straighten them out again for re-use, and we would build our new Citadel... Gosh... what great times!
Bill Marlow (Holly's father) worked in the mills all day, went to school at night, and worked at the Carolina Theatre on weekends. Ca. 1940s
Halloween was a holiday where the children in West Durham all pretended to be something other than what we were: a Cowboy, an old man, a clown, etc. We actually pretended... something that today's children don't know how to do, and our parents accompanied us from house to house, as we carried either a large brown paper sack or a pillow case in which to receive candy (a seldom treat in those days) from our neighbors... And if we were really lucky, we would be invited into a neighbor's home for a cup of hot cider or cocoa...
It is leaf-raking time, and I remember as a child having to rake the leaves, and what fun it was to watch the green grass emerge again from beneath the various colors of the leaves... Then, we would all run and jump into the pile and start all over again... Sometimes, we would (my Daddy) burn the leaves, and I can still remember the aromas mixing with the smell of the home fires burning as the smoke from each chimney of the little houses on our neighborhood's streets rose and fell (mostly coal fires) to mingle with the smell of the burning leaves... I loved that smell, and I knew that the Holidays were not far away!
Holly Marlow's first mill house. Ca. 1952
There is an old 1930's vintage, Silvertone banjo, and an old 1903 Thomas Edison Amberola that sits in the corner of my Study that belonged to my Grandfather and Grandmother, Julius Arthur and Martha Turner Carden. I also have an old trunk that belonged to my Grandparents, and I am told that when they got married, in 1910, everything they owned was in that trunk. My Grandmother Carden (herself a twin) bore 13 children, and of the 13 children, she bore two sets of twins... All of her children, but 4, did not survive. It was evident, by the stories that my Daddy told me, that their lives were filled with many hardships... Yet, through it all, I will always remember my Daddy's affinity for his childhood. When my Grandmother died in 1975, the banjo, the Blue Amberola, as it is known, and the trunk were given to me by my Daddy. I cherish these items, and they are a continuous reminder for the importance of my current family, and the connection I have with my family's era gone by. I remember, as a child, my Grandmother playing, what she called, the Edison, and I faintly remember my Grandfather playing the old banjo; he died in 1957. The old phonograph played those old cylinder records, and to this day, both the Amberola and the Banjo play just fine... Each rings with an echo for yesterday's longing! I have several turn of the century records, including, "Silent Night" and "Don't Let Your Deal Go Down."
When I was growing up, my Mama never cooked a turkey for Thanksgiving or Christmas; she and my Daddy said the meat was too dry. Instead, Mama would get Mr. Wagner, from Jim Wagner's store on Ninth Street, or Mr. Cottingham, from Cottingham's Grocery at the corner of Hillsboro Road and Lawndale Avenue (depended on where we lived), to order her a fresh hen and ham.
Frank Marlow was a loom fixer at Erwin Mills. Ca. 1958
To accompany the hen and ham, Mama would cook a smorgasbord, which would have been envied by the local K&W Restaurant... Mama's side dishes included creamed potatoes (potatoes boiled, creamed, hand-buttered, lightly salted, and hand mixed to a light, fluffy consistence); gravy (made in a pan, with sifted flour, salt and pepper, and the pan drippings from the hen); turnip greens or collards, and green beans (cooked in streaky-lean meat); candied yams, with plenty of cinnamon, brown sugar, and pecans; onion-saged dressing; potato salad; deviled eggs; corn; and homemade biscuits (kneaded, sifted flour, mixed with lard, buttermilk, and salt). For dessert, and always made from scratch, Mama would bake sweet potato pies; a fresh-grated, coconut cake (I remember breaking the husks with a hammer, and saving the coconut milk to ensure the cake would be moist... I remember grating the coconut and scraping my knuckles in the process); she would make a chocolate cake and a fresh pineapple cake, and there was always plenty of Mama's hot percolated coffee, from the stove, and sweet, sweet iced tea! Let me tell you... these were meals fit for a King!
Even at the normal meals, I can tell you this... the Carden family never went hungry, and although there were many meals when we did not have meat at the table; i.e., sometimes, we would just have vegetables, or we would have rice and stewed tomatoes for the main entree... we never had a meal without homemade biscuits or cornbread (flat-fried in the pan), and we always ate our meals together... each and every meal!!! These were wonderful times, even though, mealtimes would often turn into family discussion periods (sometimes not so pleasant, because we would talk about our school work, our grades, the things we should not have done that day...); but we did sit down together, and we worked out the Carden World's problems by the end of the meal... Most times, we would use these mealtimes to just "catch up" and enjoy one another's company...
Pansy Marlow enjoying the snows of East Campus (houses along Markham Ave in the background). Ca. 1945.
Many of you who also lived in this Old West Durham neighborhood, and
even though our community may have been viewed as a community with little
societal means, being underprivileged in a monetary sense did not mean
that we were not wealthy in the important things of life. Actually,
in the spirit of love, honor, and respect for one another, we were truly
the richest people in the world! For we had a real sense of community.a
common thread of commitment to one another, we were the epitome of a
Nola, Frank, William and Holly
Marlow standing in front of mill house at 710 Bolton. Note house has
no underpinning. Ca. 1953.
Charlie Julius Carden, Jr. is the son of the late Charlie Julious Carden, Sr. and Betty Lou Bynum. He grew up on various streets of the West Durham mill village. Today, Major Carden serves on the State Highway Patrol.
Holly Marlow Hall is the daughter of Bill Marlow and Pansy Clayton Marlow. She also grew up on various streets on Mill Hill. Today, Holly drives around Durham in a BMW convertible (hopefully not anywhere near the Highway Patrol). See Holly's memories of growing up in the West Durham mill village.