Assabet Lumber: early September, 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….

The coffee shack was a sort of shed tacked on the back of the main building of Assabet Lumber. The coffee shack was pretty small, all of twelve by sixteen feet, and divided into two rooms. The back room had a shelf with the coffee pot under two windows looking out at the main entrance to the yard, and the rest of the room was mostly filled up with a picnic table. The front room had the time clock, a shelf where we put the yard tickets when the orders were filled, various odds and ends of equipment and junk, and a the window that looked out on the yard. On one wall of the front room, there was huge map of eastern Massachusetts, maybe three feet by four feet, showing all the main highways and most of the smaller through roads.

We got a fifteen minute coffee break every morning. I usually wound up taking mine at the same time as Frances Blood. He was the shipper, or dispatcher, a slight, calm, quiet man with a quizzical smile. He’d always have exactly the same thing for his coffee break: a small container of milk that he brought from home. He was pretty friendly to me, in a non-committal way, and we’d chat idly about this and that.

One day, Sam Gagnon, one of the truck drivers, happened to come in for his coffee break as I was sitting there, and just as Frances was leaving.

“Ever notice how Franny always has milk for his coffee break?” Sam said to me, after Frances was out of earshot.

I nodded.

“He has ulcers,” Sam announced. “He’s so quiet, you wouldn’t think so, but he’s got ulcers.”


Most of the yard crew got to punch out and go home at five o’clock, but the yard stayed open until five-thirty, so two men had to work an extra half hour. One evening, Ed Fox, one of the truck drivers, and I were the two who wound up working from five to five-thirty. Ed and I watched the other guys punch out, and after they had left, Ed said something about wishing he didn’t have to work late.

I didn’t mind working late because I had to hitch a ride to and from work with my dad, and because of his work schedule he couldn’t arrive to pick me up until twenty after five at the earliest, so I might as well be paid for that time. But I didn’t say that to Ed. “I’ll work late every day,” I said. “I need the money.”

Ed looked at me seriously. “You wait until you’ve worked here a while first,” he said. “Then you tell Carolina that, and unless someone else wants to work, you’ll probably get to work late every day.” He paused. “Except when Sam wants some extra money and decides to work late, but he needs money he usually arranges with Frances to change the oil on the trucks. He does as much of the maintenance as he can. But if he decides he wants to work late, he has the most seniority, so he gets to bump all of us.”

A customer came out of the store just then, and since I was low man on the totem pole, I had to walk out to him — “Can I help you?” — while Ed stayed in the coffee shack staring at the nearly empty yard.

That evening, when I got in the car to drive home, I told dad there was a pretty good chance that I’d be able to work until five-thirty every day. We both knew that I needed all the money I could earn to help pay for college, and we both knew that the last half hour was overtime pay for me — an extra two dollars and thirty-six cents for that last half hour. Dad nodded, and said something about how it was good that I’d be able to make some extra money.