Sixty years ago when time to go home from the chemical factory, you needed a shower. Dupont and Carbide* did not want the troubles going home, though if you left your car outside regularly, the paint could get harmed from the air. That was a downside of the Kanawha River Valley. The upside were the people.
Evidently, back in the day of my grands, as the men would head to the shower someone would get smacked with a rolled up towel, let out a yelp, and that would be the key for some good hymn singing. Not all the men were Christian, but most knew the standards and we all know how good singing sounds in the shower. Years later, one of my Papaws was told something like this: “Work is too serious ever since you old guys left.”
I suppose someone somewhere in some human resource department ended these hijinks. Dupont might kill you with asbestos or burn down the river**, but no Christian Shakespearean ribaldry! Nothing is so humorless as gigantism and corporate culture gone to HR, expect perhaps a Christian college humanities professor.
That is another story. As to stories, Mom points out stories told about the past too often leave out too much in order to fit an agenda. One kind of person would focus on the evil done by chemical plants. Many of these have been cleaned up and I am told you can fish in the Kanawha River again, so optimists would talk of this progress. Both are true stories and worth discussion, but do not leave out the people. The eternal was the soul of each man in that plant. They were, after the Depression, thankful for wages that allowed a lifestyle never experienced in three hundred years of living in those river valleys. Some of these men fought in World War II, others had made the products that overwhelmed the industrial might of the Nazis.
These stories are what interest me and how the gigantic, the corporate, the secular began to change them. We sing less: leaving making music to the professionals. Granny could not carry a tune, but she would loudly sing while cleaning the house. This was common: the choirs of my childhood had to be restrained from being too loud, a problem that has vanished. Music is so powerful, if Plato is right cosmically powerful, that we must be musical. Too often this is reduced right now to consuming tunes. The men in the showers of the plant were not made that small. They did not snap in water proof earbuds. They made their own glorious, echoing music. They defied reduction to be men.
They were jolly. Like Shakespeare (think any comedy!), they reverenced the holy enough to bring the great things to their small jollifications. When they were tired, they were physically tired. They engaged in some horseplay and so found the key to eternity. They sang the songs of Zion in the dark Satanic Mills of Dupont and so transformed them to chapels.
God bless them, everyone. I hope they pray for us tonight. The world was not worthy of them then and is not worthy of them now. We do not have to be afraid. They pray for us. We will meet them. Let us sing.
*At least one grandfather was killed by Carbide asbestos policies: as they admitted. Another grandfather may have had a shorter life as a result of the practices at Dupont.
**Let’s say one Papaw witnessed the river catching fire.