I carry a broken feather everywhere I go. I drag the crooked tip through the heavy sand on my walks and travels. The trail that this blackened feather leaves is always carved sharply into the ground. As zephyr winds may blow or rains might fall, I know to trust this line to lead straight to me. Not many try to follow the stroke that winds wherever I may wander. Few bother to look for my tracks at all, but from this tracing on the ground, my big sister has always found me. She has watched from faraway and nearby as the contour twisted and twirled under my feet. For her, I forever try to remember to cut deeply as I trek onward.
Monday, January 3, 2011
Dearborn by Don Halvorson
I never quite got the point of the goddamn factory. Back in those days, the factory employed the entire town. Their employees made enough money, more income than most any other profession in town was guaranteed. The factor offered an incentive so large that every poor, uneducated man nearby started making their cars eventually. The men that came from a little bit of money were managing the floor or working one of the more difficult machines while everyone else had to put a couple pieces on the car as the partially assembled unit went by. The whole place was so impressive for being an industry built upon a little farm-grown town full of people that didn’t know how a car works. Without each other and a few profiteers from out east, the factory would have never worked.
The important idea that everyone knew for making this or any other factor successful was simple: we were never finished. If we stopped for one moment, we knew damn well that the other companies would not. Car companies are always competing. Many small towns in Michigan were working the same hours trying to make the same dollar we were. Therefore, our factory and their factories had developed the same mentality. We both knew that we were behind. We were always behind the other companies, even if we were selling more than the other companies. We were never quite sure if we were or weren’t more successful financially in actuality, but the presses were worked noon and night in many towns with that bit of uncertainty. If the machines or the line fell quiet, every employee was aware the town would be out of a job.
That was the twentieth century until that point. America was producing because of this delusional approach towards unattainable achievement. As a result, the products were new, and the market was growing. Everyone relied on each other to work hard to innovate and produce enough to keep this town afloat. Before the factory had to lay everyone off, the whole town gave everything they had to keep every job the factory provided in our little town surrounded by farmland. Endless hours were spent keeping our brand competitive. When we heard that cars had reached both coasts from our little piece of Michigan, most of the town rejoiced about spending every free moment working to keep the dream of competition alive.
I never got how the factory was able to move into our town so easily though. Before making cars, the town worked off the trade of the nearby farms, so we were by no means penniless or starving before the factory offered us a better price than we had ever heard for their work. A few years went by as they built up the factory, and the little peasant economy of a small farming town in Michigan was gone. Men went off to the factory instead of the field at dawn. Some that had been in a car went to work to forge wheels to frames. Making cars was expected of our town’s sons as soon as they quit school.
Our jobs paid well until the depression hit. We couldn’t do much after it did. The cars weren’t selling. Inevitably, hours were cut back until eventually, the faceless management from out east starting casually laying people off. The jobs they provided were gone, and so was the farming market. We recklessly moved the entire sustainability of our town upon a large factory. Now, I understand that mistake, but the town working for the automaker deserved to have some money. Hell, I started working for the factory to give my wife and son the lifestyle that their money could afford, but we weren’t prepared to live the desolate life that followed after they laid me off. No one in town could really have been ready to lose a job that paid as the factory did.
Halfway through the decade, my family had no income and no money saved up. I realized that I had wasted many years working for a doomed factory, and now, we were without the security I had presumed would always be holding the walls of my small, rickety house. I had metal scars all over my hands that I got knowing that I was giving my family a comforting life, but I had regretfully deceived myself. The flash of income that had given us a two-bedroom rambler on our own acre was gone, and we knew the day the factory announced the first lay-offs that we were going to lose the house.
I wanted more than anything to keep that house. For years, I went to work every morning to allow my wife to spend the day with our son in our house surrounded by some of the prettiest trees in Michigan. She spent her days teaching our son everything that I couldn’t. I wasn’t there enough to show him everything he needed to know. He spent his youth with the only girl I trusted to show my son the world in a good way. Working in the factory meant that he would at least always have her, and for years, he grew in the small house I gave him with the small woman that loved him because of a steady paycheck for a decent amount of money.
My sweet girl taught him more than I hoped she could. She knew it meant a lot to me to have him reading at a young age, and she taught him despite having grown up on a farm with a family that could barely read. She made sure that our little boy wouldn’t struggle to read because she knew his reading meant enough to me. He never did, and she even grew better at reading along with him. By the time he was gotten through a few years of school, they had each read books that I hadn’t had time to read. They were telling me about authors that made their mark that I haven’t heard of. Fitzgerald was my wife’s favorite, but I couldn’t name a novel that he wrote before she told me about his works, and I couldn’t have been happier to not know something.
She sang to my boy as well. I couldn’t do that. I knew a little piano that I would show off around the holidays, but she sang beautifully to him most mornings. I really never understood how she could sing so sweetly and so kindly. Just by listening to her, he learned to whistle so well at an early age. She made him show me one spring night. She told me that he was better than the hundred little chirps outside the window in the morning. I didn’t believe her until I heard that he was. I couldn’t have shown him anything like that.
I taught my son how to write though. He quickly picked it up, and he never stopped. I made sure he knew every little grammar bit I knew, and I showed him to look at the people beyond the story. He was too young to really understand what I was saying when I first told him everything I could, but somehow in many ways, he was able to write within the little world in Michigan he held dearly in his own way. Some days after work, I would gather him up and ask him if he had written anything recently. One late June evening, he showed me a little poem about the smoke that came from the factory. The little lines were used to show that the world around the factory choked on the dirty air the factory exhaled. He asked me if he had made the factory sound foreign and unaccepted. He wanted to know if he had written it well enough for me.
He also wrote stories about a girl that lived a few miles across town. He wasn’t a perfect writer by any stretch, but he knew I loved whenever he wrote about that girl. He didn’t ever really know what he was writing about, but I think he really felt sincerely and deliberately lost writing his way out. No one could have taught him the confused curiosity that he penned. He had a natural interest for her and the world that produced her. He threw every bit he could into writing about her because of his innocent fascination with the complexity in which he saw her. He never wanted to call her a muse, but he couldn’t deny it either by the time he was a young man. He had written too much as a result of her to call her anything else.
Sometimes, his writing was contrived. Many times, he wrote blindly, and I even encouraged him to write poorly if he had to use the detriment of style and structure to write genuinely. I didn’t want him to ever be afraid to write anything, even if the most judging eyes fell on whatever he wrote. I tried to have those eyes, and he knew that I could be his angriest judge. He liked that the judgment was being passed by a friend. I have never seen a writer grow as he did, and I needed him to know that he ought not to stop. I don’t know who would believe me if I said he had talent. However, I know he can write very true.
He loved growing up in that muddy town between farmland and woods. He never minded that the sky was always cloudy or the streets were always dusty. He didn’t care that door handles by the factory were covered in motor oil or that most of the buildings were made of rotting wood. Few people would call the town cozy by any means, but he always seemed to like the dirty little town.
He especially liked the growing season in the springs. He would go across the thawing snow to see the landscapes and persons on the outskirts around our town that have been frozen away for the winter months. By the time he had gotten a little older, he knew most, if not all of the nearby farmers that lived too far away from the factory to start working there or weren’t fast enough with their hands to maintain a job that demanded so much. He would go by their places to lend a hand every now and then. Most of the farms were struggling to stay afloat, so he knew he was helping tremendously with a couple hours work here and there.
He loved seeing the lakes in the summer. The lakes and streams nearby weren’t great for fishing or swimming. In fact, the nearby waters weren’t deep enough for much besides skipping rocks. Regardless, he would spend nights looking at the waters from his spot on the shore. He wrote about the color of the cloudy sky that was sunk underneath the pearly, blackened water. He wrote about the glimmering hue that the water revealed to him many times. He told me that his girl had the same color eyes. He needed me to trust him on that because I never saw the girl’s eyes before her family moved out to California. He told me that the color was perfectly similar to her eyes and I should have seen them.
He told me so much through his writing. I liked the words he threw together, but he didn’t write much after she left. I don’t know if he has written anything at all since we had to move to New York. We couldn’t afford our rambler on our acre anymore, and even though farm work in New York wasn’t making any money, I have been able to give my family food by moving out here. My wife stopped reading the afternoon I lost my job. Even worse, she doesn’t sing in New York.
I couldn’t give my son the lake that was the same colors as his girl’s eyes. Our family lost most everything in Michigan, so moving to New York grew necessary. We had to start farming because that is all I knew how to do besides putting door handles on unfinished cars. I don’t mind the work nowadays, but I wish for him that he wouldn’t have to spend his life cultivating the clean land between the deep lakes of the state that was never as cloudy as Michigan. When the factory started laying people off, lives went down without much concern. I couldn’t do anything to keep the prettiest trees in Michigan around our rambler on our acre. That was the depression.