Written By: Barry Barnes
On a sunny afternoon a few weekends ago I worked outside. A neighbor approached me to let me know that his elderly father’s skittish dog has a propensity to run away for days when he hears loud noises. I had made an awful racket that day, so I felt bad. I knocked on doors ahead of time to let folks know that I’d be making noise, but I had missed the old timer’s place. An apology was in order.
An 83 year old named Rodger stepped outside when I knocked. We elbow-bumped, stepped back, and I apologized. He asked that I call ahead next time. No damage done this time because he had brought the dog indoors as soon as my hammering began. He wrote down a landline telephone number and handed it to me for next time. Problem solved, and a neighborly relationship emerged. We got to chewin’ the cud in his driveway.
Though I am in this area often, I am not a local. Rodger lived here all of his life. Turns out that this sleepy town changed a lot in the old man’s time. In Rodger’s day there were factories and mills. He worked in one of the mills. One day he went to work and found that he didn’t have a job anymore. The operation could not compete with similar products made in China and imported to American retail stores.
Worse still, Rodger’s company sold the manufacturing equipment, disassembled it, and shipped it to China. I suppose that the cost of firing the Mainers, disassembling the equipment and shipping it to China, then reassembling it so that the Chinese could make the widgets instead, then sending those widgets back to the US for Rodger and his newly unemployed friends to buy was deemed cost-effective. After he lost his job at the mill, Rodger found work driving a school bus. I wonder how many other Maine men with young families found stable work again? How long did it take? Did they have to leave town? Leave friends and family behind? Sell the house or the farm? Move to Portland or Massachusetts to find dwindling manufacturing opportunities, competing for stagnant wages with the “new Americans”?
Fast-forward, and Mainers are still working in paper mills and a few other industries, thank goodness. There is opportunity, though it is few and far between across the rural state. However right now there are no respirators or medical masks for workers to wear amidst the creeping viral pandemic. Why not? Well… the Personal Protective Equipment is made in China.