When we moved back to Maine several years ago, we settled in a small town not too far from the old mill towns of Lewiston and Auburn. I have visited the area often and am fascinated by the old mill buildings that still stand, mostly abandoned or converted to other uses. Even in various stages of decay, they still speak to me of a time when they were the heart of a small town. That is why I wrote Requiem.
They stand alone in stark contrast to their surroundings. Derelict, they speak of a time past, when they played a role in, no, were the heart of the community. Gone is the smoke filled air, billowing from the monolithic chimneys, spewing the acrid smell of wood and coal fired burners. Gone is the cacophonous sound of the belt driven machines, never pausing, providing the textiles, the shoes, and the lumber for a growing nation. The mill was the town. The town was the mill. Men, women, entire families, streamed in from Canada, Asia, and Europe, all in hopes of finding work in the mills. Rural New England families sent their daughters to fulfill needs, wishes, and dreams, looking to find something better then the poverty and pain they left behind.
Cultures clashed and families melded. Ethnicity’s struggled to survive, while slowly being pulled apart. Towns grew to cities. Roots were set. Standards established. Normality changed virtually overnight. It was a hard life, but one lived with pride. Workers labored through twelve and fourteen hour days, six days a week, reserving only Sunday to reflect on how lucky they were.
Through a war between the states that consumed a generation, they toiled. Those that could fight, did. Those left behind molded the fabric, leather, and iron that became the clothes and shoes and weapons that supported their efforts. Disease and infirmities squeezed the life from their bodies. The ravages of the mills took their toll. Many gave their lives to the mills. Many others took their place.
From this a nation grew and prospered on the backs of those that had a dream and chased it, and in the hearts of those that believed that there would be a better tomorrow if only they could get through today. It became their country and they strove to defend it and nurture it, cost be damned.
I gaze now upon the mills. Silent, they stand watch over today, remembering yesterday. A piece of history, now ignored. I do not see the weathered stone and hollow windows. I see instead a monument. It says to me “I am that from which this city was born. I did not abandon you as you did me. Inside, my heart still beats. I am the spark that ignited freedoms flame. I provided the mothers milk of opportunity. I am your foundation. In my halls a country was built. My empty floors now store the memories of a nation”.