I’m so tired that I’m cross eyed but please indulge me for a short story. A few years ago I volunteered to help with recording the audiobiographies of many of the millworkers that worked in Lewiston at the turn-of-the-century. A generation that was dying. Most of them were millworkers of Franco American descent. Their various stories brought both laughs and tears to those of us recording their lives. Today one particular story came to mind.
Jean and Yvonne both worked at the Bates Mill, Jean a machine operator and Yvonne a ” bobbin girl”. As a bobbin girl, Yvonne wore a long cotton dress every day and slid along the hardwood floors under the machines on her back lubricating the bearings while machines were operating. They were paid on piece-work and didn’t stop the machines for maintenance. The bobbin girls were small enough to slid under these looms while operating with only inches of clearance to the whirring and deafening looms. She was 14 years old when she started and worked 12 hours a day six days a week. After every shift she ran home five blocks away to exchange shoes with her twin sister as they shared a single pair of shoes typically making her sister late for her shift. After meeting Jean they moved back to rural Quebec and married at 17. For their honeymoon they traveled back to Lewiston to visit family and friends, it was the only vacation they could afford. Both ventured out one day while there to visit friends. Jean went nearly insane when Yvonne didn’t return after more than 24 hours. When she went back to the mill to visit with the ” girls” the supervisor indulged her to fill in for a vacant bobbin girl who was sick. She knew what a hardship this was on the other girls and agreed, working a double shift (24 hrs). She returned to the apartment the next day, her new ” travel clothes” and hair covered head to toe in cotton fibers. Her new husband cried and all was well once again…..True story as told by Yvonne.
Today I returned to our office after a very long and tiring day. Several of our team was still there after about a 12 hour day. A core group has worked these long days consecutively without break for couple weeks doing a massive software conversion that will be a huge asset to our customers. While not covered in fibers they have the same commitment Yvonne did to her “girls”. Gawd…sometimes they bring tears to my eyes. An inspiration and extraordinary bunch they all are. Thank you….