It all sounded so simple when our editor Barbara Van Reed called last week asking me to write about the Cranston Print Works building demolition. "Ginger would you talk with some of the former employees to get their reactions and tell their stories," she said.
However, having watched the range of emotions that my husband - and third generation CPW employee - has experienced over the past four years, I should’ve known this wasn’t going to be an easy task.
Since the last of the employee parking lots was once again a bustle of activity as people gathered to watch the different buildings come down, I started with the obvious and began knocking on the windows of the parked cars.
Noting that one particular vehicle had been there almost every day since the demolition had begun, I thought they’d be the best place to start. "Excuse me," I said tapping on the driver’s window. "I’m writing a story about Cranston Print Works and was wondering if you used to work here?"
No, but my brother and father did," the person replied.
"Would it be possible to ask you a few questions?" I continued.
"No, I can’t," he responded. "They’re both gone and watching these buildings coming down is too hard for me to talk about." The anger in his voice was almost palpable.
I could respect that and apologized for intruding on what was certainly a difficult moment.
Going on to another vehicle that I’d seen in the parking lot several times in the past couple of weeks, I once again asked if they’d worked at CPW.
"No, but my husband did," she said. Noticing the bundle of used facial tissues on the seat beside her, I quickly assessed that this was probably not the best time for me to ask if she’d like to share her memories.
Once again apologizing for the intrusion, I headed to another car and asked a third person if they’d worked at Cranston Print Works.
"Yes I did," she said. But after listening to my reasoning for asking, she explained that she’d also been a third generation employee and her feelings were too raw right now to talk with anyone.
There were twenty cars in the parking lot. That was the most I’d seen in two years. There had to be someone that would talk with me.
Approaching one more vehicle I asked what was rapidly becoming a dreaded question. "Did you work at Cranston Print?" I said.
"My grandparents met while working at CPW and my father, brothers and uncles all worked there," she said. "I’m here because I am the only one left in our family."
Suddenly feeling like the obnoxious television reporter who asks the grieving widow how it feels to have lost her husband, I realized this wasn’t going to be as easy as I’d thought. "Mike, no one wants to talk with me about Cranston Print," I said returning home.
Later that afternoon we saw Norma Mailloux who used to work in the CPW Human Resources department, as she was leaving the Webster Post Office and heading back to work with her new employer, Christopher Heights.
"Norma, no one wanted to talk with me," I said describing what had happened.
"Ginger, it’s like every one of those bricks holds the memory of a person that used to work there," she said. "For more than two hundred years that building has been a way of life for this community and watching those bricks come down is like watching all of those memories disappear as though the people and their memories never happened."
Sitting here writing this column I am surrounded by those memories as I look at the photo I have of my husband sitting at his desk in the lab. His 20-year watch sits on his desk as does the heavy copper lamp he received when he joined the 25-year club.
The lampshade is made from CPW fabric and on the front is an engraving of the Roller Print Machine patented in 1783 by Thomas Bell. Beside that is the symbol for ‘Proudly Made in America.’
The machine has left CPW and now awaits its new home somewhere in a museum. The fabric for the lampshade is now printed in Pakistan, China or India and awaits distribution back to America.
- Wednesday, 02 May 2012
- Posted in Categories: : Ginger Costen's From This Corner