Summary: This is a sermon in the narrative style, built around the story of a mill whistle that would blow at an unusual time of day. This sermon was the first in a series about the Lord’s Prayer.
The 10:30 Mill Whistle
The Rev. Dr. W. Maynard Pittendreigh
Sunrise Presbyterian Church
I grew up in a small Southern mill town named Ware Shoals, SC.
The term mill-town doesn’t mean that you have a mill and a town; but rather that you have a mill and a town that co-exist in such a way that one cannot do very well without the other.
The town becomes the body of the community --its flesh and blood.
The mill becomes the community’s life -- its heart and soul.
I remember the gas station, owned by the mill. I remember the Big Friendly, the company store. I remember paying a quarter to go to the movies at the local theater, operated by the mill of course. In the summer, the swimming pool was opened, thanks to
the mill and Riegel Textile.
And late at night, when your house was quiet and everyone else was asleep; when you couldn’t hear the sound of a single truck out on the highway and even the crickets were silent -- you could still hear the sound of the weave room a mile away, with the
steady beating of hundreds of looms.
Even the time table of the town was regulated by the mill and its whistle.
The mill whistle would blow at 8:00 every morning. Time for the first shift to come on! Time for me to get out of the house and get to school!
At four in the afternoon, the mill whistle would blow again. Time for the second shift to go to work. Time for me to throw down the school books and do whatever teenagers do in small towns in the afternoon.
After going to bed, I’d be in my room and I could hear the whistle blow again. It was midnight and time for the third shift to start, and time for me to go to sleep.
Now that’s the way it was in every small Southern mill town, but in my town, there was one other time when the mill whistle would blow.
It would be during P.E. class, when I’d be down in the school stadium (the Riegel Stadium, named after the company). For those of us taking P.E., it meant that it was 10:30, reminding us that we had about 10 minutes to finish the softball or soccer game
and to get to our next class.
Occasionally, I would wonder what this 10:30 whistle meant for the folks at the mill. It wasn’t time for the shift change. Why blow the whistle?
I suppose I could have asked my father. After all, he was the General Manager of the mill. But like many teenagers, by the time Dad came home, those great questions of life would have been forgotten in favor of Star Trek reruns and so I never asked him.
It was during the summer when school was out that I finally got an answer about that 10:30 whistle. I’d not done well in math, and my father decided (on his own!) that I needed to be tutored in math. Everyday, I was to go to Miss Frank’s house to study math.
I tried to talk my father out of it, and after exhausting my better arguments, I pleaded with
my father, "Please, don’t send me to Miss Frank. She’s got to be the oldest living lady in town. What will I do if she drops dead of a heart attack?"
(While that had never happened to any of my teachers, I always felt that I had the potential for causing one to drop dead of frustration.)
"Don’t worry," my father said. "You want be so lucky."
"But why Miss Frank," I asked. "What does she know about math? She’s the Latin teacher."
"Oh I’m not talking about that Miss Frank," my father said. "I’m talking about her mother."
So there I was, spending my summer with the mother of the oldest living lady in town.
Each day I spent being tutored, I tried to make conversation with Miss Frank in an effort to change the subject away from math. This was a ploy that usually did not succeed, until one day when our tutoring session was changed from the afternoon to a morning session. Right in the middle of listening Mrs Frank explain how to approach calculate a square root (a skill I still haven’t put into practice in over 30 years of real life), I heard the 10:30 whistle.
"Hey, Miss Frank! Have you ever wondered why the mill whistle blows at 10:30?"
"I know why," she said.
"You do? Tell me," I asked.
"It is a call for prayer."
"Prayer?" I was mystified. "What do the folks at the mill pray for? Quittin’ time?"
"No," she said, "it is a call for the workers in the mill to pause for just a moment, and for the community to stop and to pray for peace and an end to the war."