Huge, this thing is, seeming to take up as much space as the neighborhood where its workers once lived.
They’re tearing it down, you know.
I don’t pretend to know how it happened.
But I have heard stories the natives tell – natives of all ages, who witnessed its heyday first-hand and through chronicles from their parents and grandparents.
I drive by the mill several times a day. I try not to look. I’m getting better at it.
But on walks in the evening, it’s hard not to notice the old chimney still standing some 10 stories high. The American flag sits on a pole just as straight against the skeletal remains of the American town-sized factory.
Old Glory looks ashamed.
Through a chain-link fence surrounding the place, I stop to peer through holes in the factory walls, catching glimpses of tables, signs and metal stairwell railings that someone’s grandfather used to touch every day. I am humbled, honored, solemn, polite, respectful and downtrodden when I see these things.
I imagine the place a half-century ago.
I never know what to think. Am I allowed to think about it? Should I be thinking about it? Perhaps I should let it go.
My feet get caught on the uneven pavement. No one’s bothered to maintain the sidewalk in years. On the other side of the fence along the sidewalk is a blacktop parking lot with the texture of the salt mines in Utah where they set land speed records. It’s probably where the factory big shots used to park – in the ramshackle garage on one side. All the other guys – the muscle of the mill – used to walk in time for their shifts, supporting their families through grocery purchases at mill village grocery stores and mill village drug stores and mill village …
… mill village everything. Their lives revolved around this factory.
Will there be sadness when demolition is complete? It’s a mess these days – certainly not a bargaining chip for the fluff-bag chamber of commerce. I wonder if the cretins at the chamber of commerce even mention the mill to outsiders when they tout the city’s latest strip mall with a super pet shop across from the current strip mall with the current super pet shop next to Walmart, which is the city’s epicenter for development.
Maybe I should stop being so mean to the chamber of commerce. It’s doing the very best it can to honor the 19th-century attitudes of city leaders who don’t like vacuum cleaner bags being available to the public on Sundays before noon. The city leaders are the reason I have to ride to the Walmart side of town for an ice cream cone on the Sabbath.
Let the crabgrass grow through the sidewalks of the mill! Tear it down! Leave the chimney so we can make a plaque! Surely this is significant homage to what paved the way for 147 restaurants!
The next to go will be the villages surrounding the mills. They’ve already become half-assed ghettos and safe havens for the disregarded descendents of lower-level mill workers, who worked too often for too little to chase formal educations and lessons to pass on. Let ’em be in their crumbling mill villages now – they’ll shoot each other or smoke-meth-to-death in time for the next Project Smoke.
Then I remember: I am only here to observe. These are hallowed grounds, surrounded by barbed wire. They once contained true greatness and tenacity, passion and devotion. These burial grounds for the American Dream were once walked by men who taught everyone how to live.
It’s not their fault no one listened.
I should let the Dream rest in peace.
I guess what I should say when I pass by the old mill is nothing at all.