Oh Hudson, my lovely lady. My little mill town is so remote and the gravel roads so winding to her center that truckers swear that Hudson floats freely between the Mason-Dickson and the Forty-ninth parallel. There is a thread of truth there.
The fall had brought an early flurry and crippling economic misfortune nation wide. Nearly every man woman and child was employed by the Hudson Valley Lumber Company, the company kept its money in the Western Federal Bank. When the market fell it took every bank in the country down with it. The morning we all heard the news they found Boss Thompson’s body three floors below his balcony. When the workers went in at the morning whistle they found a note and locked doors. The mill couldn’t pay anyone’s salaries, everyone was sent home without a weeks pay. At home they found that the houses that they lived in, which were owned by the mill, were being foreclosed on them and the families were sent out into the unyielding frost. With no money to move to another town, most families took all they owned and set-up tar paper and tin shacks near the dump south of town. So in this way the little town of Hudson moved five miles south of itself.
I had no business driving my heap of a car anywhere. It had a shot transmission, the carburetor had a hitch in its giddy-up, the tires were bald, and the radiator had a runny nose. It was a sorry sight. It wasn’t the cars fault, my Packard had become the manifestation of the deep loathing of the financial advantage I had over most of the citizen’s of Hudson. It was my whipping boy. But a cowboy needs a horse and a college boy needs a ride to his campus. I rode my whipped stallion down to the grayed town center to McCoy Auto, a red brick hovel owned by an old friend named Marks. I haven’t the faintest idea who McCoy is.
If I was kind I’d say he was stout, but really he was fatter than any man should be in times of financial strife. But I knew his spirit; there wasn’t a man more giving. Despite the increasing chill, reams of frail, shaggy men stamped the morning powder with determined feet. The marred snow rose and mixed with the sunlight and covered the queues of men. The glaze of white made the shivering men look like apparitions. They came out to fill the precious few jobs that would crop up. Every morning throngs appeared outside the mill doors to fill positions that were already gone like a name written in water.
When I pulled into the garage Marks was berating the three nappy headed boys he’d hired to sweep glass and mop up grease. They seemed to spend more time next to the radio than behind a broom. He looked like an emphatic preacher before an indifferent throng. They ran their big dirty shoes through the gravel and passed jovial glances beneath Marks’ glowering. One couldn’t blame them, there wasn’t but two cars in the lot, business and therefore dirt was sparse.
“Morning Boss, my Packard’s on its last leg,” I said stepping out of the car.
“I bet that last one’s got a limp in too. You know times are too tough to throw money in pyre like that Packard, you should learn how to tinker around on your own.” Mark huffed out with a grin.
“My father was a mechanic,” I said, “I never inherited that gift from him. I’m all thumbs when it comes to working on machines.”
Marks circled my car and smiled again.
“Roll it in boys and jack it up.” A boy yawned. “If words won’t move you my hands sure will, now get on before I clap them on you,” he bellowed. Lazily, the boys took my keys and drove my car into the garage.
“How’s things Marks?” I looked over his face. Marks’ eyes were sunk into his dark face; streaks of grease lined his white beard.
“Nothing another banker with bad news can’t make worse.” He grinned. “A man with clean shoes came by today. My daddy told me to never trust a man with clean shoes. Those kinds of men could never understand more than dollars and cents and they’ll glad hand you into the street to get yours.”
“You get some bad news today?” I asked
“It’s a bad news year.”
“Hard times give us room to grow I guess,” I shrugged and brushes of the seat of a wicker chair.
“Grow into what? The only thing growing are rich men’s pockets and starving men at the soup lines. I was out there yesterday talking to father Tom. He said they’ll have to shut the soup kitchen down if Sunday collection doesn’t pick up. Imagine that, even goes in a recession. If God can’t feed the poor, I don’t know who’s left to help.” He lit a cigarette and smirked out a puff of smoke.
“I guess this is why I come to you for a fix up and not to lift my spirits.”
A black cloud from the west descended on the white touched roved of the mill. The lines of men buttoned up their coats and covered their mouths with rags.
Marks watched the cloud blanket the lines of workers. “How many times will clay footed bankers crumble under the weight of their own greed?”
“Our politicians will see us through, that’s what we elect them for.” I stretched my legs out and watch the boys jack my car up.
“Those politicians got the same ideas about poverty that old time Christians had about leprosy, they assume a bodies responsible for their own predicament. Besides, they don’t know what’s going on anymore than the birds in the trees.”
“That’s that red talk; you’ve been letting too many communists cross your door step.”
“White man been covering us in red so long we finally said, okay, we’re red.”
The bulging lines outside of the mill began to thin as distraught men headed back to their tar paper town. I turned to Marks, who was looking out at the men.
“So what’ll we do Marks, how do you hope against hope?”
He stood up and made his way to the shop’s office.
“Capitalism’s for carnivores son, and most of us weren’t gifted the teeth. I just pray you don’t get that kind of hungry,” he muttered. “We’ll get your car going.
The sun lay low in the sky by the time I rolled away from Marks and the boys. I stopped at an intersection a block away I saw him put a for sale sign in his office window. I was the only car on the road and would have been home in minutes, but I took my time and sped away from the oppressive mill and the somber town. When I got home my parents were eating supper. I watched silently as my father chewed on his steak.