Tuesday, July 19, 2016
a poetry reading at studio b this july.
studio b in boyertown hosted a poetry reading for the labors of our fingertips: poems from manufacturing history in berks county on sunday. this stood as the third poetry reading which the gallery hosted for the project in two years, and the support of those in charge is a big help, to say the least. like this project, studio b pushes art forward in our community thanks to grant funding from the pennsylvania council on the arts and the berks arts council.
leonard crowdell (born in 1928) of boyertown borough, and his family, attended the reading (you can glimpse a picture of them posing together below). some comments received in the surveys after the reading noted that the sidebar personal stories about crowdell were favorite parts of the event, according to some people in the audience. beyond the content of his poem, we talked about how when he moved here from england to work at great american knitting mills, inc., he had a temporary rented room for his residence, and after his wife and daughters relocated here the following month, they stayed with one of his co-workers until a home for all of them had been secured. he would walk from bechtelsville to his co-worker's home down route 73 in boyertown to see his family in that brief time because he had no car right away. and that is not a short walk, either, compared to how much faster it is to travel by car.
walter delong (born in 1936), and his wife dorothy delong (born in 1940), live in ruscombmanor township and visited as guests, in addition to crowdell. walter brought along old clippings of newspaper articles about boyertown auto body works, and we passed those around for everyone in the audience to see. pat erb, in the audience, asked if he knew dickie haas, her stepfather, and her uncle honey (what a name and such poetry-- to be able to say you have an uncle honey in the family !), and walter nodded. they had been his co-workers for several decades in building specialty truck bodies. everyone loved the story of dorothy's long-awaited pregnancy sparking into motion after a plug and electrical outlet shocked her while she worked at a cowboy boot factory on jefferson street in the boyertown borough. her doctor had the original theory about how her body rebooted from the jolt. long excerpts from the delongs' poems from the second year of this poetry project are below, after the eye-scenes from the reading.
all photography for this poetry reading is kindly courteous of laura kline.
walter delong, ruscombmanor township | born: 1936
at boyertown auto body works, i often welded front ends
together. at some point, we dived into building trolleys. at
first in 1956, they hired me as a laborer, joining my skills
with the others through assembling the vehicle bodies.
at the end, i’d become a crew leader. with the trolleys,
they sometimes had brass interiors, soft velvet seats.
we made some for anheuser-busch beer and even
las vegas itself, but also the city of philadelphia when
it celebrated its bicentennial in 1976 and dolly parton’s
dollywood in tennessee, too. we only made trucks—dump
trucks, mail truck for post offices, expandable vans for the u.s.
army. the engines came in, and we built the trucks around
them, custom but also stock orders. certain parts we had
shipped to us, but mostly, we fabricated what we needed. i
believe i earned $1.25 an hour, at first. i remember getting
a raise of 5 cents by 1957. in the 1970s, they hired women
as laborers, too, although some had worked there back
in the 1940s, before my time. my wife, she memorized a line
of mine from those days, nothing fit, when i’d be worn out
from engineered parts not matching each other, frustration
from that inefficiency exhausting me. on paper, it looked like
it’d work in the design, but in the end, we learned otherwise.
i’d eat lunch outside or in a truck. our bosses had carver’s
dairy bringing us white or chocolate milk cartons in big crates
around 10 a.m. for a few years, and i worked at the other end
of the building, so i’d often get there late, once the other guys
had grabbed all of the freebies. honing a clever side, i’d sneak
down a few minutes early, a pad of paper and a pen in my
hands so it’d look like i was busy working. i’d get a carton
to sip before the supply ran out. other guys grew wise like me...
dorothy delong, ruscombmanor township | born: 1940
in 1958, i graduated from high school. i didn’t want to work
at a shoe factory. it seemed everybody worked at one. so by
1959, i had applied to albright knitting mill, with its factory
along englesville road, where they made plain white sets
of underwear. shirts, shorts for men and boys. no sized
numbers on the pairs back then, and no XL—i only recall
S, M, and L marking the tags. a lot of older women worked
there, and i remember them looking in my direction, saying,
she ain’t gonna make it—what is she doing here. these little
old ladies with their ivory lace hair went to bingo a lot,
and they were often telling each other what meals they
planned to make for supper that night. in the finishing
department, i folded the clothing. two boys carried big bolts
of yarn in for the cutters, i noticed. they also took away
all of the boxes after i had them packed full. i left after one
year, and i ended up at a shoe factory after all, a place
situated along jefferson street in boyertown. i did lavish,
fancy stitching up the sides of cowboy boots for men. some
had eagle wings facing upward toward the knee-sections.
the women there were more rough with their language,
a whole different breed of them than the caliber of the ones
i worked alongside when i folded, folded, folded all day long
at my old job. ginny kuser, pearl weller, pauline jones, and
mabel mest, they knew that boot hide, just like i did. i had
a hell of a shock there, pulling a cord out of the wall, a bad
jolt, but walter and i had been trying for a baby for two years,
and within three months after the accident, i found myself
pregnant with deneen. the doctor thought maybe that brief,
tiny earthquake in me rebooted my system, sparking my
route into motherhood. when they switched me from
leather to suede stitching, i broke out in hives...