“It’s only paint”

A fictional account of the chartering of venable

By Catherine DeVine

The published histories of Carrboro’s establishment as a town apart from Chapel Hill place all of the action at the West End train station and the prosperous textile mill adjacent to it. We know that Julian Shakespeare Carr bought the mill from Thomas Lloyd, who died the same year the town was incorporated as Venable in 1911. The fact of Thomas Lloyd’s illiteracy appears in all accounts. I invented his helper. —Catherine DeVine

They were all dressed up that day, even the clerks. The University had dispatched a young man with a camera, and a rumor started early that he was trotting up to the West End with President Venable himself. Whether or not the President wanted his picture made at the train station, there was a freshly painted sign out there waiting for him to smile beside: “Venable, North Carolina.” The young man with the camera would make the most of that.

The ink was to go on the paper just before the noon whistle. Mr. Carr thought that would be a nice touch.

Many of Mr. Carr’s nice touches taxed the staff in ways to which they were not accustomed. This or that nice touch always required some choreographed execution. The historic incorporation of the Town of Venable had them all in a dither. Their footsteps pounded back and forth across the vast second floor of the Durham Hosiery Mills all morning under Mr. Carr’s imaginary supervision. The workers down below had no notion of what was in store – an afternoon off.

It bothered Sallie Pandry greatly that the formal incorporation document came in from a typewriter in Durham. Sallie prided herself on her secretarial skills, which had gone unused since Mr. Lloyd got too sick to need that particular assistance. Mr. Lloyd was in fact no longer alive. He was dead. Sallie mourned Thomas Lloyd because she had loved and served him, and now worried terribly about her job. Thomas had relied upon Sallie not only to write his outgoing correspondence but to read to him the letters he received. They understood each other.

Mr. Carr didn’t even know Sallie’s name. Julian Shakespeare Carr had no need for a writer or a reader, much less a woman second in charge – she who practically used to run the place. Now she was in charge of a big surprise picnic and that hideous new sign dripping like a popsicle in the sun. She fervently wished for a sudden rainshower to solve her immediate problems.

Sallie had a bigger problem having to do with her employment. She could not take this trouble to her minister or confide it to her sister. Hiding it from her husband was easy as pie. Sallie’s problem was that her dear dead boss had left her rich.

She could sit at her desk with her hands folded in her lap for the next thirty-five years and her wealth would increase. She could read novels all day at her desk if she wanted to, perhaps penning a few of her own. Mr. Lloyd wished for her to read and write for her own enjoyment for the rest of her days. His will specified that she was to receive both the typewriter and the desk after he died and left her unemployed.

But she wasn’t unemployed. Mr. Carr had kept them all on the payroll when he bought the mill. Sallie’s mind went round and round. She couldn’t quit, she couldn’t talk, she couldn’t do anything but get rich and make a show of working her butt off.

The secret of Sallie Pandry’s wealth was mostly burdensome to the legal attorney entrusted by the estate to manage it. His name will never be published. He made quite a lot of money in the process of executing Thomas Lloyd’s Last Will & Testament and retaining himself per his client’s last wishes. The man could not read nor write. Sallie typed the will. Et cetera.

Mr. Carr arrived on the scene at about eleven o’clock in the morning. Sallie was already exhausted from doing nothing. (Still no real math done on Sallie’s part, today’s equivalent of winning the sweepstakes and going to work the next day.) She strode up to Mr. Carr and took him by the arm and led him away from the wet paint you could smell from here to tomorrow. She talked fast and somewhat flirtatiously. Sallie stood a good foot taller than Mr. Carr did, a handy stance when you need some reassurance that you’re in charge.

“Don’t let’s get too close to the brand new sign just yet, Mr. Carr. Oil paint doesn’t come off good wool. Nice day, isn’t it? I prayed for a nice day, didn’t you? The workers will be so pleased. My main wish right now is for something to serve them. We had no advance notice.”

Julian Shakespeare Carr looked Sallie Pandry right in the eye and snapped his fingers. Like a magician.

Five horse-drawn carts were pulling up alongside the railroad track, loaded with amazing food all cooked and arranged. A hundred and fifty people could easily feast here with enough to take home. One of Mr. Carr’s goals was to send special food home to the mill houses. He met that goal. The food was pork and catfish and enormous vats of delicious beans. The biscuits ran out at about the same time the photographer ran in unaccompanied and unsure of his mission.

Mr. Carr invited Sallie toward the end of the afternoon into his office. She was willing to face whatever music she had coming to her, with no idea what it might sound like. Sallie expected Mr. Carr to let her go.

Her mind was all organized for that, including the part where she told her husband they were rich and she had been let go. Some parts of the story she would simply have to finesse.

“The workers had a fine afternoon off,” Mr. Carr opened. “Well done, Miz Pandry.”

So he did know her name after all.

“Sallie,” Mr. Carr continued, “Mr. Lloyd spoke very highly of you.”

“As I will always do of him, sir,” replied Sallie Pandry, poised on the brink of whatever. If Julian Shakespeare Carr had any notion of reality, she might as well put her stamp on it. “Mr. Lloyd wanted West End to be named after him.”

“Well, I want Venable to be named after me,” said Julian Shakespeare Carr. “It’s only paint.”

Sallie allowed as how that much was true.