Press On
Joanne Faries

I struggled to keep up with foul-mouthed Barbara, but in between tasks, I observed, with fascination, her factory power. It didnít matter where one stood in the plant. All five foot two of her could be heard. Jaw-dropping oaths exuded like a stream of consciousness, and I was often the brunt of her exhortations. †

The company owner didnít want college interns to get physically hurt so we werenít allowed to operate machinery. However, we could haul raw material and finished product back and forth from the warehouse to the staging area to inspection. Mental anguish was another matter, and anyone assigned to brassy redhead Barbara was in for a true education. †

Sheíd let loose a blue streak when I didnít provide enough material to her pipeline. I blush to write the new words I learned that summer. However, I worked to ascertain her secret for top production. I watched. I scrutinized. I analyzed. †

Barbara moved non-stop, but so did most of the press operators. Product equaled money. Yet, she was seamless. One hand weaved material; the arms pushed the machine, and various sized o-rings popped out. A lit cigarette dangled and somehow she kept the whole press package in motion amidst a whirl of smoke. †

ďIím cranking a new record today, so donít get far from this point,Ē she said with a few raspy curses thrown at me.† She used chalk to mark an X on the factory floor and expected me to stand for instruction - await a nod to signal time to switch out buckets. That was my time to offer a swift silent prayer. Donít tip anything. †

I witnessed her dress-down of a supervisor, a complaint to the union representative, and various catcalls to other co-workers. All was achieved with the cigarette tip glowing, no bathroom breaks, and a heightened pace of the ca-chunk, ca-chunk, ca-chunk press thuds. †

Nearing the end of summer, I stood on my X spot and yawned. Iíd been out late to a party the night before, and I was already thinking ahead to the weekend. It was time to go back to Penn State soon. Flush with funds, I contemplated giving notice, eager for a vacation week at the shore. †

Silence. I blinked, realizing the machine had stopped. This was unprecedented. I gulped as Barbara strolled over, exhaled smoke in my face, and poked me in the chest. ďYou college kids are all alike. Watch the clock. Earn money. Itís a joke to you. Get out of here.Ē She turned and flipped her switch. †

Everyone watched as I exited the factory floor with the sound of the press thunk echoing a lesson Ė dedication to craft, pride in workmanship. †

First published: May, 2010
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