Friday, July 14, 2006
Electricity had one job. Illuminating the bare light bulb hanging from the ceiling in the boss's office. The cash register was mechanical. No plumbing. No heat. A single portable toilet in it's dirt parking lot. It was there before Henry Ford covered the land with the black four wheeled spawn of Satan. In Bernardston Massachusetts. Not far from Bernardston General Store. There it was. Bernardston Grain Company. The massive two story wooden structure next to the train tracks wasn't built for people. It was built to mix grain for cattle, horses, and pigs. I suspect either Rube Goldberg or Salvador Dali had a hand in it's design. The grain mixers were run by a series of belts and pulleys that were in turn run by rope cables set into motion by a water wheel in the river 100 yards distant. Whenever I saw boxcars on the siding I knew we were in for a long day. Unloading 100 pound grain bags. Are we making a dent? Maybe those bags are multiplying in that boxcar just to mock us. Whit smiled. "Keep your back straight or you'll curdle your milk." His name was Mr.Whitaker but everyone called him Whit. It seemed a little disrespectful. I took the coward's way out. I never addressed him by name. He was in his mid 70's. That made no sense. He was hard. He was wiry. He contained more urine and vinegar than a spring foal. He could unload a car full of 100 pound sacks faster than most 20 year olds and used that fact to taunt us. He liked me. He called me "shit-ass". I grew up without a father. A smile of approval from a respected older man was exponentially magnified in importance. Add "shit-ass" and forget about it. Made my day. I was eating lunch in my car on May 21, 1977 the day I got some perspective on Whit's age. I know the date because Paul Harvey's voice on the radio said that it was the 50th anniversary of Charles Lindbergh's landing in Paris. Later that afternoon I asked Whit if he remembered that day. He said "Sure do. That happened on my second wedding anniversary."
It's 28 years later and about that since I've seen Whit and Bernardston Grain Company. Don't know if the building still stands. If Whit does, he's 104, clutching a grain bag about waist high, smile on his face, imploring some shit-ass to keep up. I wouldn't bet against it.