Amalgamated Widgets (album foldout)

John Brennan

Liner Notes

I remember an old photo of my grandfather. It was undated, but probably taken a few years after he returned from his service in Europe during World War II. He was walking towards the camera on the street where he and my grandmother lived. He was carrying a dull metal lunch box and a tired smile. From his short sleeved work shirt to the full bloom of the oak trees which lined their block it must have been high summer. If it were winter snow would have covered the ground.

My grandfather worked as a shift supervisor at a factory that manufactured household appliances, stuff designed to make the home life better. Early air conditioners, boxy refrigerators, washing machines, stuff like that. I suppose after the war the idea of personal comfort and ease held enormous appeal. He got the job because an army friend of his recommended him to his father who co-owned the company. Since my grandfather was a Staff Sergeant and a man whose mere presence commanded respect he was hired on as a shift supervisor although he had no previous manufacturing experience. Discipline, hard work and practical intelligence can keep open those doors you somehow manage to squeeze through by fortune’s kind hand. That job enabled him to buy a modest house, send his three children to college (my mom among them), take a week-long vacation every August, and eventually retire in modest comfort. Both he and my grandmother died when I was a baby. I rely on stories and myths to imagine what his life – and those of his generation – were like. They certainly seem like golden times, but memories are tricky that way.

The factory where he worked is long gone, a familiar story. So are many other American factories and businesses, either torn down or abandoned, pockmarks on the blighted landscape. Blame is easy to come by, solutions are not. I look into the eyes of those currently being left behind, those whose lives are ripped apart by the swirling forces of greed and wonder, wonder how my grandfather might have handled the reality of today’s American life. No doubt he would have managed somehow. At his core he was a survivor. But if he were a young man now and I could snap a photo of him walking home after a day in the jungles of 2013 his smile would be gone, replaced by rage and fury about what has happened to the homeland which gave him so much promise.

Pete Cale, Sourland Mountain, January 2013

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