Saturday, November 18, 2023

willie kramer from volume one in this project, born in 1932, passed away november 4, 2023.

i recently learned the news that one of my favorite people in the world, and the man whose poem is the very first one in my first book of poetry through this project, willie kramer, passed away. here is a photograph i took of him in 2015:

i began crying as soon as i read this news from my hiking club [of mostly senior-aged folks; i have been 83 inside for years despite being apparently young]. i haven't had time to hike with the club in years because of how hard it is to keep up with life in working by day and being incredibly wiped out from that in having health issues which really need non-short rest in order to improve and potentially clear. i am slowly working toward the goal to be able to take time off, but it's a long way down the road, in having bills to pay. and this is also why i had been so behind on my goal to reach out to willie and his wife gerry and to visit them. i have missed them so much more than they could know. i used to write letters to gerry, and she'd write letters back to me, but i've been unable to keep up with my old norms for a long time now. yet i'm determined to get a letter out to gerry soon, now that i know we've lost willie.

it was absolutely intentional that willie's poem was the first in my first volume of poetry in this project. i can't recall, but he may have been the first person i interviewed for my poetry project on the manufacturing history of berks county, or if he wasn't the very first, he was one of the first few people i interviewed. and his poem which i wrote from interviewing him is one of my favorites because of the details it involves and how beautifully it flows in simple throws of lines from the memories he shared of his job at a former tannery in fleetwood, berks county. and i loved being able to create the gift of a meaningful poem about his life to give him in him being such a good friend, person, and human in my life and world.

willie was so kind, fun, caring, attentive, easy to talk to, and someone i loved spending time with. he and gerry meant the world to me. willie was a featured guest at my poetry readings for berks bards at goggleworks center for the arts, albright college, boyertown museum of historic vehicles, berks encore's senior center in wernersville, and possibly other community venues which i can't recall at the moment.

i remember the last poetry reading he joined for me was at the berks county heritage center, and i adored seeing how much audience members appreciated hearing about his life reflections through poetry and then getting a chance to talk to him and ask him questions about what he remembered. i loved this about every reading and every special guest senior i asked to be involved, but since willie meant so much to me as a friend i'd met through my hiking club, i valued this even more, and it made my heart swell with glee and a richness i am falling back into in a new way now in remembering that day.

in reading his obituary, i didn't know, or at least i didn't remember that he worked as a morse code operator in the korean war while serving in the u.s. army. i am so bummed that i didn't get to ask him more about that and what he remembered from those times, but as frank sinatra once sang, that's life.

here is a link to when i originally featured willie on this blog in 2015, with only a partial version of his poem, plus photos of him back in his tannery days while he labored there, but below, i am posting his full poem to honor him now in the largest way i can in knowing that i won't get a chance to talk to him or hug him again. i'm so grateful to have known him in what a gem of a soul he was. i'm also including photos of willie when he and gerry graciously traveled to several of my poetry readings for him to be a featured guest, including some with him or him and gerry as well, and looking back, i now realize he may have been the one person who was at the most of my poetry readings in order to help me teach the community about the lives of seniors in our area and their contributions from when manufacturing was at the forefront of everyday life in the u.s. he and gerry were in their 80s then, and it meant so much to me that they ventured out to help me share education, awareness, history, and understanding through this project.

willie kramer, south heidelberg township | born: 1932

i still have my cutting knives. but i spent
18 years in the color department before i began
slicing leather that soon became what people

would later sit on in automobiles. i kept cups
of colors in front of me, starting in 1957.
i matched mixed paint to the samples car

manufacturers mailed to garden state tanning
in fleetwood. we carpooled from cressona,
schuylkill county, and had some icy-roaded

scares on route 662 in the chillier months.
about 20 different hues took homes inside
50-pound barrels. they never put it this way,

but i became an incidental chemist, regularly
measuring and weighing what i blended.
one guy applied a base coat. another fellow

did a top coat. they called me a color matcher
until i spit up blood, spending several days
in the hospital. afterward, they moved me

to the cutting department, where i worked
for 20 years—split only automotive hide
and had to work fast, following the patterns.

one day, i saw three birds perched up high
in the factory. the mom and dad flew out
and sat on the street’s power line. they called

for their baby bird to join them. the mom flew
back, chirping up a storm next to the baby. it
flittered out the window behind her, to the wire.


Wednesday, October 14, 2020

the sixth annual memorial open mic for frank kelso wolfe.

2020. what a year, to put it lightly.

this autumn, we are hosting the sixth annual memorial open mic for frank kelso wolfe all online in a digital approach with blog posts, thus more flexibility for different people to be able to participate and check out content when they can.

dedications to frank as a pivotal inspiration in the labors of our fingertips: poems from manufacturing history in berks county's three volumes are tied to this. submissions are welcome via my blog for frank.



Thursday, September 12, 2019

the fifth annual memorial open mic for frank kelso wolfe.

annual news! the good kind. wholesome for hearts. and very poetry-centric.

via the blog for frank kelso wolfe.

the open mic is very relevant here, as frank served as 
one of the major inspirations for this project.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

leroy fretz from volume two in this project, born in 1920, passed away november 20, 2018.

leroy fretz from volume two in this project passed away last week at the age of 98.

he worked for glen-gery in the world of brick-making for almost four decades in his younger years; i just happened to use a glen-gery knit beanie on a snowman built with my niece nights earlier (sometimes, you just want to make a snowman in the evening) after having it stored away in a drawer for a year or two. 

and on the day when i learned of his passing but before i'd actually heard the news, i'd taken a long walk around wyomissing on my lunch break and discovered a hidden-away driveway with a no trespassing sign. deciduous tree branches probably of a more weedy variety were overgrown on the pavement, and i was tempted to check it out anyway, but in the end, i didn't and moved on in my walk around the borough. but before i moved on, i saw that glen-gery was the business name on the plaque noting not to trespass.

i had not stopped to think of glen-gery for probably months or even a year or more, before this.

—some eerie yet comforting happenings for ties to a man i so enjoyed my brief minutes with in visiting him a few times to document the memories of his job life. and also seeing how much he cherished and savored coloring beautiful images on sheets of paper into his 90s.

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

summer 2018: the corner shoppe in gilbertsville is now carrying these volumes of poetry.

the corner shoppe in gilbertsville, montgomery county, a few miles from berks county's southeastern border, began carrying copies of all volumes of the labors of our fingertips: poems from manufacturing history of berks county this summer.  it is well-worth visiting and is known for its colorful spinners along the sidewalk up to the front door.

this gift shop joins the peppermint stick candy store, the swamp door, and firefly bookstore in selling these volumes.

(letter bead + hands photo = by lilly-jay hetrick ludy)

Monday, July 2, 2018

a poetry reading at the berks county heritage center this august 2018.

the berks county heritage center, as a part of summer programming through the berks county parks & recreation department, is hosting a poetry reading for the labors of our fingertips: poems from manufacturing history of berks county on sunday, august 5, 2018 at 2 p.m. 

the address of the heritage center is 1102 red bridge road, reading, pa 19605.

see more about this project at

Thursday, April 19, 2018

a poetry reading at keystone villa at douglassville in april: celebrating national poetry month.

in early april, i ventured to keystone villa at douglassville and hosted a poetry reading from all three volumes of the labors of our fingertips: poems from manufacturing history of berks county in celebrating national poetry month. it's always nice to find out the mills in the histories of residents with their own job-related stories. knitting mills often come up in the sharing of memories. this particular crowd especially enjoyed casket factory stories from boyertown which isn't too far from douglassville.

Saturday, March 31, 2018

a poetry reading with the women's group at good shepherd evangelical lutheran church in muhlenberg township in late march.

earlier this week, i visited a women's group at the good shepherd evangelical lutheran church along stoudt's ferry bridge road in muhlenberg township to do a poetry reading for them.

barb greth invited me to speak and read to the group a few months ago after attending one my poetry reading featuring shirley kohl as a special guest from my second book last year at the muhlenberg community library.


barb kindly assisted with photography, so she's not in the eye-scenes here.

since i began handing out one sample poem (in large font, to boot) for people to follow along with and keep at each of my poetry readings in the past year or two, to help those in the audience absorb the language a little more easily than just hearing the lines, i featured charlotte o. moyer's poem as an introduction. barb and i decided on this in advance since we wanted to have a woman's story as the first focal point during march as women's history month, and while i read many other female-based poems, we mixed in some from men by the end, too, including the one based on john groff's jobs as a resident of earl township, born in 1936. john was a part of a poetry reading at oley valley community library in september of 2016.

below is charlotte's poem from my third and final volume of the labors of our fingertips: poems from manufacturing history of berks county.

charlotte o. moyer, upper bern township | born: 1938

mae fisher nudged me to get a job at glo-ray knitting mills
in 1958. i knew mae from church—a friend of my parents.
a woman from west lawn drove through south heidelberg,
picked up me and mae on the way to robesonia. we’d give her
some cash to help her out, thank her for the ride. i remember

children’s sweaters, striped across the chests and arms with
dyed red fibers, white ones in between the wide lines. trying
to match up the stripes perfectly, linking the arm-parts and
what touched the back and belly, seemed like some cruel joke,
silly but real stress by day. i checked sleeves first, then sewed

them into their grand finales, finishing off the wait of selvage,
the underside of excess where the two faces of material met.
i started up the sides, from the bottom of the waist to a loop
around the armhole. workers would bring me one heaping
pile of sleeves and the main middle halves. you had to be very

exacting with those sleeves because if you stitched too far by
a small measure in the intended zone, they’d turn out more
than just a bit awkwardly. and nobody wants clumpy-fitting
sleeves, nor would those be approved for packaging. merrow
manufactured the machine i used. it stitched and cut off any

excess at the same time. every night, i came home, felt fuzzy
wads of sweater aftermath in the creases of my neck, elbows,
irritating, pesky annoyance to scrunch my nose at once i
walked through the door. i extracted them from my skin,
pulled off pieces of clammy sweater debris sticking to my

clothing. at a picnic one summer, they had a shaving contest,
women taking razorblades to santa claus-like faces of men,
done up in cream. they draped long, red fabric over the guys
to keep from getting far too messy. i took some of that ruby
textile with me—they were going to throw it out, anyway, and

i still have it in a box, to this day. that game of passing a single
orange from one person’s neck to another, with the no-hands
rule in full use, is in a picture i took that afternoon, a camera
often stuffed into my purse, even back then, documenter

of history that i am, knowing simply—stories are everything.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

a poetry reading at keystone villa at fleetwood in mid-march.

in mid-march, i visited keystone villa at fleetwood and hosted a poetry reading from all three volumes of the labors of our fingertips: poems from manufacturing history of berks county. this served as a part their history program series. the event was coordinated and sponsored in part by the fleetwood public library.

several residents in the audience mentioned that they knew edna machemer from volume one since they worked at diener's underwear mill in leesport with her, too. they remembered her hard work ethic but also great wit and how fun she was to be around. her edna-specific humor is evidenced in her poem, which is above where her name is hyperlinked.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

a poetry reading at the boyertown area historical society in mid-february.

the math of mixing snow-rain as ice meant the original date for a poetry reading at the boyertown area historical society was pushed out to this past wednesday from the previous one. but a nice crowd arrived for it, and thankfully, alice gerhart was able to make it as a special featured guest, even though harold schoenly unfortunately couldn't.

besides talking about alice's short-lived job in a paper mill in west reading where parachutes were made during world war ii, she also told us about her father owning a knitting mill in the city of reading, selling hosiery to businesses in european countries, and being an inventor of an inspecting machine in his industry.

this audience involved some really great curiosities with questions asked, like about any inspirational poets and styles impacting this project's work. while the style of the poems is a blend of many influences and creative utility fleshed out across years of working with words, interviewing, documenting, and translating details onto the page, i did mention a few names of recent poetic appreciation: ted kooser, jim harrison, and nayyirah waheed. and i talked about their lives and approach to writing for a bit, too. 

photography credits during this event go to eric eidle of the boyertown bulletin.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

this poetry project as the final feature in a positive-only local news publication called news, not blues.

in 2018, i've finally retired my positive-only local news publication called news, not blues and used this poetry project to do so. here is a link to the final feature to say adieu to the publication.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

a poetry reading at the boyertown area historical society—*rescheduled to wednesday, february 14 at 7 p.m.

the boyertown area historical society is hosting a poetry reading for the recent release of volume three of the labors of our fingertips: poems from manufacturing history in berks county on wednesday, february *14 at 7 p.m. (recently rescheduled from wednesday, february 7 due to expected winter weather) the poetry reading will also be a final recap of volumes 1, 2, an 3 in this project.

the historical society's programming room at the front of their main building is located along 43 south chestnut street, boyertown, pa 19512. for non-members, the cost of attendance for the event is $5.

special featured guests for the event will be alice gerhart from volume one and harold schoenly from volume three. there's a chance someone from volume two may attend as well, but that can be a surprise for now, since it's in limbo.

here is harold's poem, as a hint of what the night's programming will involve.


harold schoenly, douglass township,
montgomery county | born: 1931

after richard yoder checked the documentation to match
my workload, i learned 1968’s fatal gunfire of senator robert
kennedy led to his body joining a casket i’d made with my
own hands. these caskets didn’t sell so often, priced high, not
so profitable. i’d started at the casket factory in boyertown

in 1958, remember hearing that these three-inch thick planks
as mahogany caskets cost around $5,500, even back then. we
called them no. 4900 mahogany. they were heavy—a finished
casket might weigh around 300 pounds. i spent 15 years
making these caskets, but how long it took to do them well

meant you didn’t make much money per hour. i think i still
have my first paystub, $46 typed out across that old piece
of paper. my mortgage cost $36.30 a month back then. i’d left
the u.s. air force in 1957 after carving out three years serving
in germany, glad i knew pennsylvania dutch so i could

understand some of the conversations better. i’d learned
intelligence, tested in, signed off with a top secret clearance,
but you can’t ask me about that. you can try, but it won’t help
you any—history is bound to be hidden sometimes. john
brower did help me get into a casket once, closed that

lid down, didn’t lock it shut on its cart. olive johnson
walked over to push it to the finishing room. when she
went to grab the tag inside, she saw me in it, my eyes open
boldly—jumped back, screamed. the lid bounced back down.
i built houses around town for a while, some before i quit

in 1973. by 1979, boyertown planing mill company hired me.
i did shaper work, a white-knuckled kind of job, especially
with fancy stair railings, elegant, but the pressure in getting
it right made me think i even left fingerprints in the wood
sometimes. a desk at one of the philadelphia television news

stations had known its early changes through my palms.
i retired in 1996. my handrail work is still in an 11-story
hospital in wilmington, delaware. what comes from trees
remembers who touched it, whose eyes know its integrity,
how much it misses the memories of its oldest roots.

Thursday, January 4, 2018

a book review of volume 3 published in "north of oxford" based in philadelphia.

north of oxford, with its hometown as philadelphia, recently published a review of the third and final book in this poetry project, beautifully penned by local writer marian wolbers.

here is a link to the review published in january 2018. north of oxford is run by editors diane sahms-guarnieri and g emil reutter who have been wonderful to work with in getting to know them in the past few years.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

volume 3 & book donations to libraries & historical societies in berks county.

it's been a busy year, to put it lightly.

a total of 41 envelopes are now finally prepped and ready to mail donations of the third volume from this project to libraries and historical societies in berks county.

i am a big advocate of supporting libraries since they are so supportive of me, in a sense, and the community. all of us who love libraries back. i appreciate being able to borrow books, books on CD, music CDs, and DVDs of films. as i get older, libraries become more and more valuable to me. and since the beginning of this project, making my books available to those who can't necessarily afford to buy them or don't feel a need to own copies can still enjoy them—has been a goal.

for anyone who would like to buy copies, other than reaching out to me for an old-fashioned sale, there is the gofundme campaign to donate to with your name, snail-mail address, quantity, and book volume(s) wanted.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

tom mauger's poem in volume three, which is now for sale.

last sunday, i hosted one of the last poetry readings for this project besides any which are requested by local organizations (boyertown area historical society reached out afterward and wanted a poetry reading for this work for their february 2018 program–more on that later).

poems from volume three of the labors of our fingertips: poems from manufacturing history of berks county, the final book in this project, were the focus of this particular afternoon at studio b in boyertown.

copies of volume three are now available for purchase for $20 each (including tax) the old-fashioned way by cash or check (email thelaborsofourfingertips at yahoo dot com with your request) or through donating to the gofundme campaign for this project.

only one of four special featured guests were able to attend, tom mauger, but i'm very grateful for that because one is far better than zero, and tom had some good prank-rich stories to share from his old jobs, including ones outside of his poem which is below. 

and poetry reading photography was kindly contributed by laura kline.


tom mauger, amity township | born: 1948

too young to get hired by some factories, at 17, i took a truck
route delivering bottles of milk, ice cream, eggs, and butter
for longacre’s modern dairy, still in washington township
today. one of my stops at unicast in boyertown involved

pushing a cart to sell bottles of milk, before they installed
a machine to keep it cold, automated for quick grabs.
some workers paid in cash right away. others paid their
tabs to me weekly. anybody who didn’t pay didn’t get

more milk—the same went for families i delivered to—
they didn’t get more milk until they paid up, either.
but the trips into unicast led to them hiring me
part-time. weight-moving, inspecting, grinding,

and pulling castings out of sand, swatting or sawing
off excess molten iron where it first and last entered
the cavity opening to meet the pattern. we called that
knocking off the gates. i might have done that job

first, before the others. we made trivets for resting hot
skillets and casserole dishes, to let them cool, little
toy trucks, nutcrackers, even the meowing persuasion
of cats crafted in cast-iron. itty bitty-sized cars and

motorcycles were produced, too. charlie miller taught
me how to mold, fiery foundry minutes bringing out
my sweat. on the hottest days, molders went home
early—too hot of weather for pouring. the guys there

called me a blond-headed kraut, combining my german
heritage and the hue of my hair. one guy only spoke
pennsylvania dutch, so you had to know the dialect,
or you couldn’t talk with him about work or anything

else. coal crackers came from up north, carpooling
to work with us, maybe from schuylkill county. some
men would find an ideal second to drop a lit cigarette
butt into a guy’s back pocket as he worked, waiting

for the stench of the smoking to catch up to his nose.
even a cut-off pig’s tail made it into some back pockets.

Monday, September 25, 2017

a poetry reading at studio b on sunday, october 8 at 1 p.m. to introduce volume three officially.

studio b in boyertown is hosting a poetry reading for this project and its final book's release.

the poetry reading is set for sunday, october 8 at 1 p.m., and studio b's address is 39a east philadelphia avenue, boyertown, pa 19512. it is near the long-lived grill shop (which is in a poem this year, by the way) and neighbors with spirit holistic center, the local united way office, modellbahn ott hobbies, inc., and the peppermint stick candy store.

please send your RSVPs to thelaborsofourfingertips at yahoo dot com. invite friends and the famfam, if you like. we'll have some refreshments, too.

the bulk of copies of volume three will be available for purchase by the time this poetry reading rolls on around.

betty seifrit (she wasn't able to attend during a july poetry reading) and tom mauger will be special featured guests from the third and final volume in this project, as will gary and doris williams. the opportunity to ask the poem-sources questions about their lives after their poems are read is the always-there perk of these events so that you can learn more about them through genuine connections in conversation.

here are eye-scenes of them and a teaser poem about one of them, in the order in which they were mentioned above.


gary williams, rockland township | born: 1948

sam hartline told me, you’re a natural at welding, once he
trained me but acted like i hardly needed the lessons. walter
delong had shown me the heat-firing ropes any time a free
minute or two cropped into our shifts at boyertown auto
body works. before sam’s nodding of final approval, i only
assembled the trucks, starting maybe in the late 1960s or

early 1970s. when contracts were slow to absorb inked

signatures in agreement, they laid me off, so reading
truck body hired me to work on dual-wheeled utility
vehicles. they paid more, but my heart functioned its
best back in boyertown. i welded shelves on the trucks,
crafted the sides of those dual-wheels from scratch.
when boyertown auto body works had some openings

again, i returned. in winter, sometimes walter and i

stole a few moments to throw snow into a cardboard
box outside of building 11. we were up on the balcony,
a perfect location for aiming snowballs down at guys
below, a way to add a laugh or two into a morning.
welding—with it, i felt like i accomplished more than
just putting in rivets and screws as an assembler. few

men there could fashion aluminum just right, its soft

and difficult tendencies always swimming easily close
to failure, botched jobs, but the flame, the sparks and
i got along well enough. stainless or galvanized steel,
too. i’m pretty sure i once glimpsed one of our emblems
on a box truck in a dirty harry movie, maybe magnum
force from 1973. to think our work made it to california,

that what we touched traveled so far and made it onto

the big screen—i like that memory, that little reminder,
to know what we did started in a small town, reached
so far beyond pennsylvania, beyond the blasting flashes
of what the steadied control of my arms made happen.