Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Dear Almira

"We agreed, that since we must work for a living, the mill, all things considered, is the most pleasant, and best calculated to promote our welfare; that we will work diligently during the hours of labor; improve our leisure to the best advantage, in the cultivation of the mind, -- hoping thereby not only to increase our own pleasure, but also to add to the happiness of those around us.”

Almira, The Lowell Offering, 1841

Dear Almira,

Spring is slowly arriving around the mill pond. The trees are in bloom, and the sky was a perfect clear blue today. The dark red bricks popped with color against it, and the pond was as still as glass, so that when you looked into it, it appeared to have no edge – like you might fall into the sky if you leaned too far.

As I climb the narrow stairs, worn by thousands of high-buttoned boots, then by wingtips, then high heels, now by sneakers, I pause on the landing – admittedly to catch my breath, but also to marvel at the orb spiders, such as you may remember from mornings in Maine, that take up residence outside the arched windows. Fat as mice, they spread all their long legs across the products of their engineering. I meet one eye-to-eyes, and I think she is the spirit of you.

This old mill is inhabited now by nature’s spinners, who remember the women who once did real work here, and were glad to have it. You lived alone together, saving money to send back home, flirting with the salesmen who came to call, meeting up for lectures and magic lantern shows at the library. You ran down these roads holding bonnets on your heads, and every morning – just as I do – you made this long climb to the top floor.

We complain that the meeting rooms are too cold, though I know you walked this floor in 3 layers of wool between rows of steam-driven machines. We have “white noise” machines to distort the distraction of voices, but I don’t forget the deafening scream of the looms that greeted you.

I try not to.

When that last flight of stairs starts to get the best of me and I think it would be easier to just turn around and go home, I remember. And this work really isn’t so hard. As I watch a spider repair an anchor on a perfect latticed circle, I remark that nothing I do all day is that hard, nor that beautiful.

We miss you, Almira.
Your loving friend,

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