Monday, April 6, 2009

A sad spin on an all-too-recurring story

More than 40 years later, I remember this:

I’m on a field trip with my eighth-grade class. We’re watching a woman, seated at a table, as she places a coffee cup upside down on a device that spins it.

As the cup spins, she takes a paintbrush – the kind an artist uses – and places the brush end of it maybe half an inch above the cup’s upside-down rim.

Before we know it, the cup has stopped spinning and now has a colored stripe – a perfectly straight line – around it.

The woman smiles. As I recall, it’s not a smart-alecky grin; it’s a sign of pride in a job well done with a skill she knows she has been blessed with.

A skill that I – possessed of a nerve whose steadiness makes Don Knotts look like the Rock of Gibraltar – know I shall never have. A skill that fills me with wonder.

That’s the main thing I remember from the tour we took at our town’s pottery factory, which began making things in 1871.

And stopped making them today.

Over the years, the factory’s pottery was distributed all over the country. When folks from my town ate out of town, they often turned over their plates to see if they were from the hometown plant. (My Aunt Dorothy was particularly shameless about this, but, possessed of a doctorate, she did have the good sense not to do this while there was food on the plate.)

Over the past few decades, the factory, like so many factories in so many hometowns, changed hands more often than a softball during a particularly energetic triple play. The most recent owner, a company in Toledo, Ohio, announced late last year that it would be closing the plant, saying the factory, despite “considerable efforts,” had fallen short of “strategic expectations.”

(I suppose you could argue that the Maginot Line fell short of “strategic expectations.” But a place that made cups and plates?)

The owner did say that products with the plant’s brand name – which includes the name of my hometown – would be stamped on products imported from plants in other countries.

Which, of course, makes us all feel a lot better.

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