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Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental.

Bodark Creek - 39. Chapter 39

Joann’s marriage was fine, showing us that Martin and I didn’t know what we should be worried about. She and Bobby found an apartment near the college. He got a job working at Kraft, and she started at school. They even bought a used car, so we saw them almost every weekend. Sometimes, we saw Joann more than that, when she had some time off between classes and just decided to stop out and see us. After a year, she got pregnant, but she was excited about that, too. “You’re going to be grandparents!” she shouted on the phone, so we were all excited. She switched her nurse’s training to a two-year course in dental hygiene, so she could finish it before the baby came. And Paul was born a month after her graduation.

Joann didn’t plan to start working immediately, and I thought she might never take a job at all. I supposed she’d have another baby in a year or two, and then maybe a third. Bobby was a good worker. Anything Martin worried about, about “him not being serious enough,” or “him being too good-looking to be a decent husband,” turned out not to be true. Bobby worked hard, and people liked him, and it wasn’t his fault that the factory he worked for was closing down.

The same thing was happening with the mill. No one seemed to need their sheeting anymore. Or when they did, they wanted it cheaper than the mill could afford. “If you can’t sell it to us,” one buyer supposedly threatened, “then we’ll go overseas.”

“That isn’t fair,” Albie complained. He was partly defending Rosalind, who could lose her job.

“It’s not a matter of fair anymore,” my sister told him. “It’s a question of running a business.”

And nothing the mill changed seemed to help. For the first time since the Depression, it was losing money. So the owners fired the managers and hired new ones. But the new managers only let fifty weavers go and let some others retire.

“It’s about time I went,” Rosalind said when she left the mill. She didn’t get a retirement payment or anything and hardly got a goodbye. She’d been there almost forty years. She was already fifty-eight. But the new managers didn’t know about that. “I thought I’d stay till I was sixty,” she said. “And I’d like to keep working. But things are getting so dangerous there, what with all the machines falling apart, that it isn’t safe.”

“They’ve just about closed down our old department,” Dougie added. “I stopped by last week, to see how things were going, and there was no one to talk to. Soon there’ll be no mill.”

“It’ll never get that bad,” I insisted.

“Just you wait.”

With Rosalind out of work, I soon asked Martin, “I wonder if she and Dock have enough to live on?”

“It’s not like we’ll ever let them starve,” he said. “And they have whatever money Albie makes, however little that is.” Albie was still only working four days a week at the drug store.

“Are you gonna be all right?” I finally asked Rosalind.

“Yes, of course,” she said, not that I thought she’d tell me otherwise. “We have a little saved, and I’m already doing some sewing. And babysitting, too. So we’ll get by just fine.”

But as Dougie predicted, the mill wasn’t getting by. It fired another fifty workers and hired another set of managers. Word got around town that the owners were looking for anyone who would buy the place. And they didn’t seem to care who.

“How would you like a bunch of foreigners being your boss?” I heard someone ask when I was in the market. And I really had to think about that.

“I’m glad we’re all out of there,” Dougie said when I told him. “And I’m happy that Walter and I have the farm.” Being seventy-two didn’t seem to slow Dougie at all, despite the warning of Sonny’s death. And Walter was working right with him. But they weren’t looking for jobs the way Bobby was. And a nineteen-year-old can’t support a family on babysitting and sewing.

“It looks like we might have to move to Dallas,” Joann told me one Sunday. She wasn’t happy about that, but she didn’t seem surprised. More and more of the young people were leaving town right after high school graduation. They either went off to college or moved to cities where they could find jobs. All of my brothers’ children had gone, and I was just waiting for it to happen to mine.

“It’s not that far away, Mama,” Joann had gone on. “We’ll see you every Sunday.”

“Didn’t you have any luck looking at the VA?” Martin asked her. “I thought you said they were hiring.”

“They are. And they said I could work for them any time. But that still wouldn’t give Bobby a job.”

“He could go to school,” I suggested. “This might be the perfect time.”

“He doesn’t want to. You know Bobby and books. He thinks they’re only for propping up lopsided tables.”

We laughed at that, as we had before. But now it meant that Joann, Bobby, and Paul would be moving away. Martin didn’t say anything to stop them, because he also knew what Bobby needed. We’d offered him work on the farm, but Bobby didn’t want that, and it might have been just as well. When only Martin was running things, everyone did what he said. But with Martin, Del, and Neal in charge, all they needed was Bobby adding his opinions.

“Besides,” Del admitted, “he doesn’t know anything about farms. He grew up in town.”

“And he couldn’t keep up with us for half a day,” Neal warned.

They were still working harder than they wanted, even with the insurance business. Going from row crops to cattle meant some less planting. But they still had to plant hay and corn for feed.

And no matter what Joann said, I knew we’d see less of her and Bobby. Dallas was only a two-hour drive, but people didn’t do that every week unless they had to.

“We could go and see them sometimes,” I told Martin. Though I could have bet on what he’d say.

“I hate those city drivers.”

Still, Bobby found a good job, in a factory that promised him promotions. And Joann began working for the VA in Fort Worth. But then she got pregnant again. She tried to sound as excited as before, but we could all tell that she wasn’t. And then I guess the pressure to be good parents and still be young people, and to get by on less money than they would have liked just started tearing them apart.

“I don’t know why we’re fighting,” Joann told me once when she called. “We have a great place to live, and Bobby has a fine place to work. And we have everything we really need. But nothing seems to be working out.”

“That’s what I meant,” Martin said when he heard. “They have everything, but they don’t know what to do with it. They were too young to get married.”

We’d tried to help. And we’d started sending Joann a little extra money even though she claimed she didn’t need it. But as she said, that wasn’t the problem.

When their second baby, Lilah, was born, we all loved her. Bobby was especially sweet because he’d come from a family of boys. “I didn’t even have many girl cousins,” he reminded us. “And she’s so pretty. I can’t wait to watch her grow up.”

Unfortunately, he wasn’t going to have the chance, at least not living close by. One weekend Joann came to visit with just Paul and the baby. And after staying through most of Sunday, she asked if she could come home again.

“You know you can visit any time,” Martin said. “You don’t need to ask. And you can always stay as long as you like.”

Maybe he said that to avoid misunderstanding. He certainly didn’t want to embarrass Joann. But I think he knew what the real question was.

Joann had to ask again, and this time Martin said, “Of course, you can.”

I didn’t know how he really felt. We already had the boys and their wives living with us, and we liked having them around. The few evenings when Martin and I were alone were a little too quiet. Though after Joann came back, it was never that quiet again.

2021 by Richard Eisbrouch
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Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental.
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And so it happens:  small towns that relied on factories become ghost towns when products can be bought cheaper elsewhere.  The town I grew up in was full of glass factories (there were 6 at one time!) and lots of coal mining.  Now...no factories, coal production is practically nil, young people have left, and the town looks like something out of a war zone!  There is still some business, but the tax basis does not allow for upgrading the City anymore. 

I left a long time ago as I knew what the future would look like in a few years after I did leave.  I love my new home and totally enjoyed the job I was able from which to retire.  It makes me sad to know that all I have left of my childhood home is memories.

Such a well-written story!

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Fortunately, the town that Bodark Creek is loosely based on has done pretty well.  But that may be because, with faster cars, the town became closer to Dallas, and people could commute to there for city jobs.

Do you ever visit your old home town?

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The last time was 6 years ago and I have no plans to do so again.  It was not a happy experience...I felt I truly saw what quiet desperation really is!  It is no longer home for me. 

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That's too bad.  My hometown is technically New York City, where I was born and lived full-time till I was six-and-a-half.  Then my family moved to the nearby suburbs.  But although I lived all over the country, I was in and out of the city frequently until my early forties.  I always felt comfortable in New York and, for that matter its suburbs.  You just need a lot of money to live in the City.

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