Assabet Lumber: summer, 1980

An installment in a spiritual autobiography. For other installments, search tags for “assabet lumber“. Cast of characters here. Names have been changed, and some identifying characteristics and events have been fictionalized, to protect privacy. These are early drafts and may be a little rough; bear with me….

On the last possible day, I went over to the registrar’s office and turned in the paperwork that would allow me to officially take a semester away from college. I waited until the very last day because I was uncertain about a lot of things. I wasn’t certain that I wanted to return to that college. I wasn’t certain that I wanted to finish college at all. If I did finish college, I wasn’t certain what I wanted to study. The only thing I felt certain about was that I desperately did not want to return to that college in September. I have only the vaguest memory of stepping into an office and handing in the appropriate forms, but I have a very definite memory of walking outside afterwards. It was a beautiful spring day, the kind of perfect spring day that you get in Philadelphia, warm and sunny, but I remember feeling a little odd, as if I weren’t quite there any more.

That summer, I went back to my old familiar summer job working as a camp counselor in a progressive day camp near near Concord, Massachusetts, where we lived. But even that familiar summer job didn’t feel all that familiar. My older sister no longer worked at the camp, and she wasn’t even living at home that summer. And unlike the other counselors, most of whom were college and high school students, I would not be returning to school after camp ended. In fact, I had no idea what I would do after camp ended.

The last day of camp came. We counselors said goodbye to the kids, and then we said goodbye to each other, promising each other that we would return to work there again next summer. I stayed on for another week, working with the maintenance man and the assistant director to clean things up and close up the buildings for winter. Then I had to start looking for work.

Reading the Help Wanted ads in the local paper discouraged me. I had no real skills. About the only job I could imagine myself actually doing was working as a bank teller, so I applied for a job with Harvard Trust in the center of Concord. Then, on a whim, I walked over to Assabet Lumber Company, walked in to the office, and asked if they were looking for help.

Surprisingly, I was immediately ushered in to the office of the president of the company, an active, friendly middle-aged man with a reddish face, and a bit of a paunch. He introduced himself as Frank Pierce, and told me that they just might need some additional help. “Let me call in Henry Barrett,” he said, picking up his phone, and punching in an extension. While we were waiting for Henry Barrett to come in, Frank Pierce asked me why I was looking for work, and I told him I was taking a semester off from college to make some money; I did not tell him that I had doubts about ever returning to college. He asked me which college, nodded in appreciative recognition at the name, and said that he was a Harvard man himself.

Henry Barrett came in, looking hurried and frazzled. Frank Pierce talked to him about whether the paint department might need an extra hand this fall, and Henry, without really looking at me, said he thought it might. Henry was dismissed, and left in a rush. Next thing I knew, I was hired to work out in the yard, and maybe in the paint department, beginning the next Monday and lasting through the month of December.