~~ Originally printed in Carrboro (NC) Free Press, November 2008 ~~
My people are North Carolina people. Mountain people. My mother’s mother went to high school with Andy Griffith in Mount Airy. Mimi’s daddy, Quilly pack, was the original “Floyd” the Barber. My father’s mother’s father actually was the Deputy Sheriff in Pilot Mountain. I mean, Mount Pilot.
When Grandma Pack wanted some Yuletide mistletoe, she used her shotgun to blast some out of the treetops. And my father’s father’s father was a bootleg moonshiner. There’s a story about him shooting up the police station to break out his son. Or something. The details are a bit sketchy.
And then there were the mills. My mother’s parents worked in the textile mills in Mount Airy. My uncle still works in the industry. Quality Mills. Kentucky Derby Hosiery. Renfro, the sock kings of the world. Those were all a natural part of my lexicon from a very young age, and the mills themselves were marvelous, cavernous places for a small person to explore with her beloved grandfather.
Oh, and just so you know, if you have ever been frustrated with sizes when trying to purchase socks, where the numbers seem completely arbitrary and having nothing to do with shoe sizes, you can thank Renfro. Yes, Renfro Corporation of Mount Airy, NC, is responsible for patenting the sock-sizing specifications that are the standard for the entire US sock industry.
So it makes sense to me that I wound up in Carrboro, with this town’s illustrious mill history. Hosiery mills, no less.
Socks have always been big in my world. In the ‘70s and ‘80s, whatever the sock fad was, I had it. In every color. Pompom footies. Stripey toe socks. Tube socks. Argyle socks. Sometimes I even got to go into the factory and choose. And I benefited from the competition between my uncle and grandfather, who worked for competing companies. I was literally lavished with socks – which ones would I like the most?
Well, Carr Mill (#4) has been quiet for over 40 years. I buy my own socks now, and I’ve purchased quite a few pairs of warm woolies there. But no one’s actually making them in the mill anymore.
There are, however, quite a few talented people around town who are doing some very cool things with textiles, wearable, functional, and decorative. I hope you enjoy reading about them in this issue. Be sure to look for them in local galleries and boutiques and at the Farmers’ Market. Textiles are, after all, a Carrboro tradition.