"Androscoggin Mill: The Fixer"
World War II 1944
written by M. Chambers.
Florien Dubois sat on his heavy metal toolbox and pulled hard on a freshly lit Camel cigarette. Billowing folds of bluish smoke swirled and followed the air stream out of the small tool room and towards the massive cacophony of the weave room. There, twenty-five “U.S. Standard” looms feverishly disgorged 10 foot wide bolts of fine cotton linen headed for the “WAR EFFORT.”
Florien wore a battered “Red Sox” hat smeared with grease, hydraulic fluid, and endless amounts of lint. Lint filled the air in the card room
where cotton BOLES became cotton FIBER combed and fib-rated by thousands of bright steel fingers as sharp as awls. That is the beginning of the “Trade”, make fiber from boles, make linen from fibers.
Since his adored wife Loretta died, decapitated in an instant when she stumbled into one of the “Volcanic” carding machines, Florien staggered through life's waking hours either at work on the complicated machines that only he could be trusted to fix, or sloppy drunk at “Little Joe's Grill”.
There he would talk about the early years in Canada roaming the wheat fields of “Lac Megantic on horse back, or, about the Montreal Canadians”, as the owner tried to close the place down for the night. He sang old french songs while his drunken buddies held up the bar, or was the bar holding them up?
In his fourth floor apartment in “Little Canada”, when sleep evaded him, he fell to his knees and screamed out her name, begged the Lord to see her again. Only the black, empty night called back. He could call her name at midnight he could see her in his dreams he could feel her all around him as the room began to spin. When it all became too much to bare, he would drain his fifth of Black Velvet and curl up in a ball on the kitchen floor and weep until sleep or daylight came.
Florien was the #1 FIXER at the mill. All the difficult or unusual “Break Downs” where under his personal direction, it was his territory. The knowledge of the machinery, which he began to imbibe as a 16 year old “Bobbin Boy”, and had so intensely ingested for 38 years had served him well and could be forwarded as the reason he made $6.00 per hour. That was more than any Supervisor made in 1944.
If a loom is “down” the profits stop coming in and all the weavers involved are left with a smaller pay check on Friday. That is something that no one in war weary 1944 could live with.
As long as the looms where happy and supplying dollar bills in the form of rolled linen, the weavers could take breaks. They were called “Smoke Breaks”, and more than a few non-smoking women, my mother included, took up cigarettes to take advantage of this break. The smoke room was the place to congregate and relax for a short time.
One of Florien's favorite things to do when not engulfing Camels in his tool room sanctuary, working on some small mechanism that keep the persnickety looms happy, was to visit the smoke room.
There was this new type of VENDING machine, which delivered tiny cans of hot soup if you deposited a quarter in the slot. There was Tomato soup, Chicken noodle soup, and, Florien's favorite, Beef Barley soup. A small, dried soup encrusted, can opener hung on a chain attached to the large vending machine. Hygiene was not at the forefront in 1944.
Florien never attended high school. He just showed up, one wet Monday, at the employment desk of the mill and told the clerk that he was sixteen and needed a job. The clerk, taking in Florien's square shouldered stance, had a job for him in a minute flat. Now he had a job and only the future remained to be worked out.
Curly brown hair loose bib denim overhauls, no shirt, keg chest bristling with gray hair, and a JESUS tattoo. A tobacco stained friendly smile, black plastic rimmed glasses duct taped together at the bridge, Florien was easy fodder for the heartless mill's daily grind.
Man will always be emboldened by the efforts of his labors. Florien found peace and purpose when he had tools in his hands as frantic supervisors, with college learning, watched in awe as the old loom came back to life. Smiles and pats on the back, but, never any real love or respect there. The results where always the same, “Old Florien” would save the day. Many times he would need to manufacture small parts that where no longer available. Out of date. Priceless at these crucial war times.
Late in 1945, the war was over and demand for the linen slowed.
Florien was forced to retire. There was no retirement party nor, even any words of praise or thanks. They just turned his little work shop into a storage room and that was that. I watched him shuffle across the steel foot bridge that spanned the canal, head down, and out of sight.
I never saw or heard of Florien again until a few months had passed. We heard they had found a body beneath the railroad trestle over the Androsgoggin River. Later the body had been identified as Florien Dubious. Some one said he really had nothing left to live for if he could not work. I only know, whether it was and accident or a choice, he would not have to face this cold world alone anymore. Now, he was with his sweet Loretta again.