“Eh, What’s up Doc?”
It was my boss speaking to me as he passed by.
The Charleston Rubber Company had hired me on for another summer. I was surprised since they had given my dad his walking papers a couple of months before. The reason they gave was his inability to give his full attention to the job. The job was over a hundred miles away in Clover, SC.
The move to this new plant was a promotion he was told. He accepted it but let it be known that he would commute since I was in my senior year in high school. He refused to uproot his family by moving at this time. He may have had a premonition that this upgrade was the first step in asking him to leave.
My dad was a strong willed honest man who gave his all to any task he was given in every job he had ever had.
When he worked at Armour Star, his boss told a customer that my dad was the only man he knew who was honest. He added that he could leave a million dollars on his desk over any weekend dad worked without worrying that dad and the money would be gone on Monday. Honest as the day is long was his final word. Dad had a reputation for honesty but it was accompanied with his speaking his mind. This trait often brought trouble around his neck since most men don’t want to hear the truth.
His work ethic was the reason he was always put on salary. No one wanted to pay him overtime. He stayed until his job was done to near perfection. It meant long hours, which a salaried person could put in, for a fixed payment every week. They always assured dad this move was a promotion. He only cared that he was able to do the work to his standard. Money was not the object.
At the meat packing plant he was finally put on the night shift because his spoken thoughts about some practices were heard by the wrong people. On nights he was not liable to meet such people, thus the problem was solved. He was also told the position of manager at the plant in Winston-Salem, NC, would be his in the near future. He was happy about that promise and took on the night shift with a forward looking eye.
He promised us we would visit the plant on our way to Ohio for a vacation. We were going to visit a Navy buddy of his who lived in Cleveland. Our trip started late on the first day. We arrived in the city of Winston-Salem long after dark.
“This is it, dear,” said mom. “Shouldn’t we find a motel so we can visit tomorrow?”
“Yes, we’ll ride a ways out of town so we can get a fresh start tomorrow. Be on the lookout for a place to stay when we pass the city limits. After we get settled we’ll drive back to have a look at my plant.”
“Rickey, you can help look,” said my mother looking over the seat back and smiling at me.
The city was rather large and we drove for some time before we left its limits. The road we were travelling was what we call a back road these days. The Interstate highways had only just begun to be built under Eisenhower’s administration so we did not have that luxury. The road was dark in the night sky and it seemed we were the only ones traveling.
“There’s one!” I yelled. I pointed at the brightly lit row of motel rooms.
“It says ‘NO Vacancy,’” said Dad. “We’ll have to go a little further. Good eye, son. Keep watch.”
We drove for a good while, the darkness lit only by an occasional car passing in the opposite lane. Two more motels came into view. Both had “No Vacancy” signs lit up in bright neon.
“How long will we have to drive before we see a motel with a vacancy, daddy?” I was getting anxious. Our driving was taking us further and further from the plant my dad was going to manage.
“Until we find one, son,” he answered.
Another twenty minutes passed when mom pointed to dad’s left.
“There! It says they have a vacancy.”
Dad slowed waiting for the cars in the other lane to pass. He pulled into the parking area. The door to the manager’s office said open. Dad got out of the car to go register. We watched him chat with the man behind the counter. He handed dad a key. The door slammed behind dad as he came back to the car.
“Is something wrong, dear?” asked mom as dad cranked the engine.
“Winston-Salem is a hundred miles back. It’s too far to drive back. We’ll have to stop on our return trip. I had no idea we had driven so far. Such a long way for a motel room.” His disappointment registered in his voice.
“It’ll be something to look forward to on the way home,” said mom, ever the optimist.
“Yeah, you’re right,” he said smiling over at her. She put her hand on his shoulder. His smile broadened.
We spent the night. The morning came early. We packed up and got onto the road with the sun just visible behind the tree line to the east.
We spent almost two weeks in Cleveland at the home of dad’s Navy buddy. He had children about my age but the only one who stands out in my memory is the cute redhead named Rose.
We spent time at the zoo which was highlighted by some lively penguins shooting out of the ice cold water behind the glass partition like rockets blasting into space.
There was also an amusement park that introduced me to a huge Merry-Go-Round with a brass ring. I was too small to reach for it.
We went to a theater to watch THIS ISLAND EARTH which stuck with me for years. Dad enjoyed science fiction movies, a trait he passed on to me.
When our trip came to an end we spent a long time with our goodbyes. I was particularly sad to leave Rose behind. Her memory stayed with me for a long time afterward but we never saw one another again. It was a childhood crush that faded with time.
“Everything ready?” dad asked mom as he slipped behind the wheel.
“All packed,” mom replied.
“Off we go then.”
“Daddy, don’t forget we are going to see your plant on the way back.” I was pulling on the seat back.
“I won’t, son. Please don’t pull on the seat back,” he said.
I let go and slid back into the backseat.
“Yes sir.” I pulled out my stack of newly acquired comic books and settled in to read as he found the highway leading back to Winston-Salem.
Dad drove into the night. The radio was playing so he could catch the news. A reporter was speaking of a Hurricane Hazel. It was the first we had heard of it. No one listened to home news while on vacation. We listened as dad drove into an area that was closed off. A policeman in a rain slicker advanced toward the car. Dad slowed down. The policeman rapped on the window with his flashlight. Dad rolled it down.
“This road is closed down up ahead. Hurricane Hazel has left a lot of damage so we have an alternate route for all travelers,” said the cop.
“We were planning on going to Winston-Salem in NC,” said dad.
“I’m afraid you are going to have to go another time. Hazel beat up that area pretty bad. That detour to your right will take you around the areas shut down. “
“We’re going home to Charleston, South Carolina. Any idea how far out of the way will it take us?” asked dad.
“I’m not sure, mister. You’re going to go around it all so I’d guess about a day, maybe two, over what you had planned. Better move on now, so’s I can tell the cars behind you. You and your family be careful now.”
“Well I’ll be jiggered,” said dad as he turned off the main link to the detour route. “We won’t see my plant again.”
“It’ll be alright, dear,” said my mother. “It must be for the best.”
To be truthful my mother never wanted to move from Charleston so it came as a relief to her that we wouldn’t have to check it out. There would be time enough for that when the move was upon us.
We got back home a couple of days later than expected due to the detour. My dad went back to his night shift work. That night shift lasted for several more years. Dad used to tell me that he was not Dracula though he did sleep all day and get up at night.
There came a day when he was told the plant in North Carolina was no longer to be his. This was a huge disappointment for him. It was not long after that he turned in his resignation. His boss tried to dissuade him by offering him a job on the dayshift but three years of working nights for a promise was enough. He said no and walked out.
Charleston Rubber Company was advertising for a position. He applied. Though he had no clue about the work he began digging into it as he always did to be more learned than some of the old timers there. His reputation became well established in this new environment. He was accepted as honest to a fault expecting everyone else to be similarly inclined.
As before, he was put in a position of management with the salaried payment plan. His outspokenness once again brought him to the night shift. A new plant was being built in Clover, SC. It was hinted he could be the manager when it was finished.
Dad could not allow a product under his management to be of inferior quality. His job was to make rubber gloves for electrical linemen. There were china forms made in the shape of human hands. They had to be dipped into a solution of liquid rubber in thirty or forty layers.
The forms were placed on a rack, twenty at a time, which had to be lowered into the solution by a hand crank. It had to be done slowly so that no bubbles formed on the gradual layering of the glove. His job was to train the laborers to acquire that finesse with the crank and the liquid. The rubber was kept in the liquid state through dissolution in chemicals which were later found to cause cancer. Their immediate action was drunkenness.
Those he taught realized they could simply watch him do the job because he wanted the job done right. All they had to do was crank the rack in too fast or turn the rack too slowly so that the liquid dripped producing runs ruining output. Instead of making certain they did the work correctly, dad would take over to insure the best product. Those who worked under him laughed when he was not around.
At home I remember dad working on formulas to produce a better glove. He did not have what would be termed a high school education over here having left school at sixteen in England. He spent much time researching and formulating the rubber soup that the china forms were lowered into. After months of this he produced a formula which he took to the boss of the company.
His formula was implemented. With it the company began to produce a much better product for which my dad was given an “attaboy” along with a small monetary bonus. Though he was an asset to the company his tendency to voice opinions, though correct, was not popular. Clover was dangled in front of his eyes.
Dad took the promotion and began his commute to and from Clover. He would stay at the plant Monday through Friday and drive home on the weekends. This was not what the management wanted. They wanted him settled in Clover with his family.
One Friday night on his way to Charleston he fell asleep at the wheel and crashed into a bridge abutment. His brand new 1962 Ford was totaled in the crash. He was taken to the local hospital.
“Wake up, Ricky,” cried my mother that night.
“Huh? What’s wrong?” I said still asleep.
“Your dad has been in a wreck. We have to go get him.”
I got dressed and we hurried to the little town halfway between here and Columbia. He was hurt but not seriously. We didn’t realize how fortunate he was until we saw the car. How he wasn’t killed is a mystery.
“It’s a miracle, dad,” I said as we walked around the wreckage. Dad had wanted to get his tools from the back so we had driven to the junkyard to which it had been taken.
“Yes, it is,” he said taking the damage. He stood for a while like that then walked to the trunk.
“Damn!” he said. “Some bugger has taken my tools.”
His tools were sacrosanct. That someone would take another’s belongings from a wreck without checking with the owner was completely foreign to him.
“They can be replaced, dad. You can’t be. We’re simply glad you are alive after that.’
“Yeah, you’re right. It’s just that I took a long time getting those tools together.”
“Now you can start a new set.”
We walked back to the car. As I got in I watched him as he looked back at the pile of junk that used to be his beloved Ford.
“I’ll never buy another brand new car,” he said as he closed the door. Since 1950 he had bought a brand new Ford every two years. This was a statement of finality I would never have expected.
Shortly after this wreck he was asked to leave Charleston Rubber Company because he had shown his heart was not in his job. It did not come as a surprise to dad. He had seen the writing on the wall, as he said, and was ready to leave.
My graduation from high school was only a few weeks after that. Dad had taken a job selling insurance but found that was not for him. It was blatantly corrupt in his view. This trainer was taking him to houses to sell insurance.
“He sells insurance to people who can’t afford it. He collects a commission on each sale and then the people he sold to cannot keep up the payments and lose the coverage. It’s wrong. I can’t do it.” And he didn’t after a week.
So I was surprised when I applied for my annual summer job with Charleston Rubber Company that they hired me but it was the very last time. College loomed on my horizon after this summer and I never went back working this summer job.