The Almost Daily Thread

musings from the blue chair


on March 17, 2015

2015-03-17 11.50.54

One of the assignments in a writing class I have recently attended was to list my quirks, and as much as some of you readers would like to jump on this bandwagon, I discovered perhaps the root of one, admittedly not my only, quirk.

As an 18 year old newlywed living in the dark basement of my mother-in-laws home it was time to grow up and go to work.  A high school diploma and one year at the Community College gave me little qualifications other than restaurant work.  I took a job at the Cinderella dress factory.  A huge two story red brick building with chicken wire windows around the very top which covered about half a downtown block.  The pay had a minimum but could increase with the amount of work produced.

At the time I was driving a black 1949 Plymouth whose windows you couldn’t see out of either.  I’m not tall.  The windows are small.  Joe thought that car was so cool (so why didn’t he drive it?) and it wasn’t as weird as the hearse we later drove for a while.  Oh my!  Anyway, I was getting up at 5am in the dark from a dark apartment to be at work by 6 driving that old, dark car to an old, dark factory.

Cinderella.  Really.  That’s the company I worked for.  The first floor was for shipping obviously and in production it was for cutting and putting together the bigger, easier pieces.  Upstairs women finished the garments with the more intricate pieces like collars, button holes, buttons, lacing or any trim.

The machines were all lined up in a grid pattern with just enough room between them to fit giant bins made of steel frame holding a huge canvas bag.  I would arrive in the morning to find the bin on the left filled with batches, belts at first.  I’d grab a batch onto the little shelf beside my machine, untie the bundle and begin sewing.  The machines had a brake!  A knee brake so the floor pedal could be pushed as fast as it could go and brake immediately.  So zip a belt through.  Stop.  Put another belt in. Zip.  Stop.  Insert.  Zip.  Stop.  Insert.  Repeat until the bundle is complete.  Pull them back through and snip the thread between items.  Rebundle.  Sign off on the tag and throw into the bin on the right.  When the bin on the left was empty it was replaced.  Bend over and sew.

Greta, the floor supervisor Nazi, would come by and check the stitching.  If any were broken or incorrect, do it again.  If the seams were crooked, do it again.  Once on polyester belting I had to do a whole bin over.  The stretchy material wouldn’t hold the stitching.  They changed the type of thread. My initials did not go on the tag twice.  Just pointing that out.

I remember my hands getting shrunken and raisined as I worked through 8 hours of handling fabric soaked in formaldehyde to keep it fresh. Are you getting the smell of the place?  Get a whiff.  Yep.  Formaldehyde.

Imagine the noise, the dirt and lint inside concrete walls, surrounding intersecting lines of sewing machines each with an electrical cord hanging from the ceiling to power each machine.  I don’t remember the lighting.  Florescent?  Those big round warehouse lights?  I remember it as grey and it being concrete block cold.  I remember my feet always being cold.  The space was open and empty except for the dust flying and the steel wheels of the bins scraping and the many machines whirring.  No one talked but the supervisor.  We raised our hand to have a break and a bell rang for lunch when a bustle and human chatter filled a then quiet room as women stood, stretched and went to the lunch room where they chatted and laughed in 30 minutes of relief.  Recess.

Intimidated by the big factory women, I thankfully met a girl my age to eat lunch with.  She had only recently moved there with her new husband who was military or law enforcement of security of some sort and a heavy drinker who had been fired from his job.  They were renting a place with an outhouse, rural Boyd County.  1969.  True.  She was sad and lonely and I tried to make her smile.  Her husband hit her sometimes and so had her dad who was a policeman.  I think she thought it was the way of things.  I was shocked out of my innocence at her prison, her isolation.  I got mad for her but she was so programmed she wasn’t mad.  She was resigned and my indignation did nothing to help her that I could see.  And I am hoping I am remembering her with less hope than she really had. She always had little food for lunch so I began to bring food for both of us.  I wanted her to have a treat in life.

Then the bell would clang and back we marched to the claustrophobia of production. I eventually made my time on sleeves and Greta and those burley, tough ol’ biddies, a whole faction of the culture I was very unfamiliar with, were pleased with my work.  They brought me upstairs where it was warmer and the women even less friendly to work on collars.  These women didn’t have to raise their hand to go pee.  Yet, even with the new “freedom” and being closer to natural light the atmosphere grew more and more dense.  I’d have to earn my way into their clique.  Or maybe lint floats up!  Or maybe because a strike was brewing. These tough, hard working, union women wanted more pay and an easier way of making it.  They sewed with a vengeance and wanted a greater reward.  Sew.  Stop.  Sew.  Stop.

As the days went on I grew more and more unhappy.  The early mornings.  The older, mean women.  My sad and stuck lunch mate who I could not pull out even to go to a movie with me or come to my house for dinner.   So with a determination I got through osmosis, maybe, I worked for 10 days to make “my time” on collars and the day I made my production equaled my wage, I quit.  My only regret was leaving my lunch mate.  The sky never looked so blue as the day I walked out of there.  The air never felt so clean.  The breeze blew freedom.

So back to my quirkiness.  I wash everything before I wear it.  Everything with the exception of a coat.  I wash it to wash out the formaldehyde and now that I know something about energy I wash off the frustration and exhaustion of the garment factory worker.

I dedicate this post to my lunch mate.  I cannot remember her name.  I remember her brown hair and sadness but not her name.  It is my fervent wish that you found your Prince Charming and you blossomed into Cinderella, finding your own beauty and wearing a dress made with loving, supportive, and smooth hands.

The doll is one of a series I have been making out of trim samples and “stuff.”  She is 9″x14″.

6 responses to “Cinderella

  1. Leslie says:

    I forgotten you worked there. Your memory is amazing.


  2. Leslie, Some traumatic life events are hard to forget! Those were the scariest women. I wish I could remember that woman’s name I was friends with. I looked for pictures of Cinderella dresses to post with this but couldn’t figure out how to transfer them. Mostly I found them on Ebay!
    Thanks for reading – and I think you have a much stronger memory than me. So…


  3. amanda1mc says:

    So moving. And explains some things! This sheds more light upin that pedistal I don’t think you’ll ever come off of! Truly, I am so grateful you are in my life!


  4. kimdmccarty says:

    Reblogged this on Spirit Writer and commented:
    Ready for my Fairy Godmother!


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