But they're moving a little slower now. The whole framework of their lives was and still is mill work. Growing up in the rural south, they certainly have lived a very different life than mine.
They are a sweet older couple and they shared youthful memories with me of
waking early each day to take care of a large list of chores before heading off
to school, and how he raced off to his job in the local mill when classes ended
and worked until it was time to head home for sleep. She headed home after
school to take care of the household, for her millworker parents would arrive home
exhausted late in the evening.
Each earned their high school diplomas; though the husband
took a bit longer to reach this goal because of a work injury at the mill. His
hand got caught in a machine and his fingers were crushed and broken. He missed what was supposed to be his last
day of high school because he was in the hospital. Consequently he wasn’t there
for final exams, received failing grades and had to repeat his senior year, a penalty
that still frustrates him to this day. She
consoles him as he recounts this story and repeats just how proud she is of him
that he stuck with it and got his diploma because many others did not.
After graduation it was mainly “public work”, as they called
it, which involved many more years in the mills and working “production”. Their lives were all about making goods and
keeping those machines running. They talked
of the pride in the craftsmanship among the millworkers back in the day, each
and every item being inspected to make sure that it was perfect before shipping
but also about the devastating effects of an unfortunate change of focus by the
“boss man” to one of profits and greed rather than quality and how that
resulted ultimately in the loss of the mills when the companies all moved away
or shut down.
These two were sweethearts “from way back” and fondly spoke
of the days of their early marriage and of the hard times they faced, beds
loaded down heavily with quilts, stacked so high that it was hard to move –
protection from the cold and wind, made evident by the swaying curtains
covering the loose window panes. Of tricks that made food go farther and just
how good a can of tomato soup tastes when you’re really hungry. They talked of
gardening, frugal living, neighbors, family and the familiar poverty they all
faced. They reminisced with fondness and
talked about how the youth of today are really missing out on some important
life lessons because life is so very different now, and they’re worried that kids are coming out
of school without learning a vocation. “Computers are good and all, but people
need to know how to work with their hands!” And they spoke about life in such
gentle terms and with such gratitude for the littlest things, including the
tiny, sweet oranges that they’d brought with them for lunch that day. They seem to live still in those memories.
I however, can’t help but think of James Taylor’s The
Millworker. Have a listen: