Saturday, June 23, 2012

News from Home

The Heald Machine Company no longer exists, but in its heyday it was a major employer in Worcester, Massachusetts and an important manufacturer of grinders and other machine tools for American industry. During World War II at least 1,000 of the company's employees served in the military, and the monthly newsletter shown here, the Heald Listening Post, was produced by the company and mailed to their servicemen and women wherever they happened to be stationed. Subtitled A Periodic Message to All Heald Employees in Uncle Sam's Armed Forces, the newsletter probably began in early 1942 and was still appearing in the fall of 1945. There was no masthead, but the editor, at least for the parts of its run that are in my possession (Nos. 15-25, 35-39, and 44) seems to have been one Lew Hastings; there were other regular contributors and staff members, including Larry Bacon, Maurice Brigham, and a woman referred to only as Blondie. It appears to have been produced by mimeograph, though some issues have a sheet or two of black-and-white photos on glossy paper.

The newsletter was intended to boost the morale of those in service and provide news and gossip about the company and their fellow employees. It included a regular quota of corny jokes, often mildly risqué and sometimes racist (judging from the photographs of men and women in uniform, there were few if any African-Americans in Heald's employ). Much space was devoted to the company's bowling leagues and other sponsored sports teams, and at least in later issues there is a fair amount of feedback from the recipients, who gave updates on where they were and how they were doing. An upbeat tone was called for (and the newsletter was no doubt subject to the approval of censors) but the Listening Post does note the deaths of at least nineteen employees who were in service, as well as a few who died at home. Sometimes it can be quite blunt about the circumstances:
No doubt some of you know Jack Pillings, who has been kicking around here for some 25 odd years. Of late he has been down to Prescott St. Jack didn't have a chick or a child - not a relative. He hasn't been too hot lately, and decided the next world might suit him better, so a couple of weeks ago he turned on the gas in his room at a boarding house, crawled into bed and went to sleep for the last time. (Issue 15, May 17, 1943)

Some of you fellows probably know Albert Pierson in the Unit Assembly department. Last week Al was feeling fine and was here all the week. Sunday, without warning, he collapsed and was gone before medical aid could reach him. (Issue 19, September 21, 1943)

In addition to female Heald employees who signed up as WAACs and WAVEs, there were also WOWs (Women Ordnance Workers) who stayed home and took factory jobs:
Haven't mentioned the WOWS in the last two or three issues since they have become part of the picture and it would seem strange to go back to a man's shop. Naturally some are more efficient than others but on a whole they rank high and for steady going they put the male to shame.

Some are running lathes like old timers, whetting up the tools, slapping on the dogs and leaning right in to check that tool cut.

Jim Symes has a bevy of them in the Screw Machine department, they snap the levers into position, correct flow of oil and Zip, a piece falls off. As for Inspection, why they handle a pair of mics with the dexterity and finness [sic] of Lady Astor fingering a teaspoon at one of Eleanor's "My Day" parties.
The V-E Day issue (below) was celebratory, naturally, though it noted the deaths of two more servicemen.

The only issue I have after that is No. 44, from October 15, 1945. By then the war was over, but the editor cites one additional name for the company's Honor Roll, a Sgt. Albert P. Belaki who was listed as missing in the Pacific theatre. Many of the Heald employees were now being discharged, though others were still writing in from places as far afield as France, India, Japan, and the Aleutians. One soldier sent in a brief, haunting note:
"I am now in Dachau, Germany, where the Nazis had one of their worst concentration camps," says S/SGT. FREDERIK HIRTLE. "It was sure a horrible mess over here."
I don't know when the Heald Listening Post ceased publication, nor have I turned up anything so far about its editor, Lew Hastings. The Heald Company published at least one other periodical, the Heald Herald, but this was more of a regular trade journal aimed at customers. According to published reports, Heald was acquired in 1974 by Milacron and liquidated by the parent company in 1992.

Feel free to contact me if you have any additional information or if you know someone who worked for Heald during the war and would like me to check to see whether he or she is mentioned in the newsletter.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Walking (from a work in progress)

There was something going on in the park but whatever it was she wasn't in the mood. She walked slowly around the square, barely glancing at shop windows, smoking and blocking out everything but the taste of the smoke. Everyone in her family smoked and nobody had ever quit; she had picked it up from her cousins when she was thirteen and it was now as much a part of her as her skin.

She turned her back on the square and entered a block of quiet townhouses, all well-maintained but not too freshly scrubbed and polished, and so probably mostly occupied by longtime residents. There were sparrows hopping around on the sidewalk, looking for crumbs and seeds among the debris in the cracks, and someone was walking a huge, slow-moving basset hound that turned its head towards her inquisitively as she passed. She wasn't fond of dogs; they smelled and ate disgusting things and spread diseases, and back home they threw stones at them. It was different here but the attitude was engrained. Cats were better, if other people owned them, though she wouldn't want the bother herself.

She thought this was a block she wouldn't mind living on, someday. Money was the issue; whatever inheritance her parents would split up among her and her siblings would never pay for this. In fact she wasn't sure who could afford to live here: plastic surgeons? bankers? She didn't think the university faculty would be able to swing it, unless they had family money. Blue bloods, old money, she guessed, the ones who hadn't dissipated it all or made so much of it that they had moved on to crass palaces on the shore or ranches in Montana. There were house numbers but no signs, no Tot-Finder stickers on the upper storeys, just tidy planters with geraniums and pansies on the lower windows and fanlights over the doors.

She knew what her parents would think: they would disapprove because the houses were too narrow and the rooms too cramped for a family, and at the same time they would be intimidated by what they imagined was the exclusiveness of it all, those rich white people who will never accept you. They didn't understand that here it didn’t matter if they accepted you or made jokes about you behind your back because of what you looked like. If you had the money you were home free. You cut your ties, you kept your door locked, and someone would always sell you whatever it was you needed. The city was just a set of geographical coordinates. It didn't define who you were or determine where you belonged. Family, nation, social class — all of those loyalties were precisely what she wanted to leave behind. You slipped through the city like a ghost and no one saw you unless you wanted them to. The other people — they were all ghosts too. They turned back into flesh and blood when they returned to their houses, to their boyfriends or wives, but when you passed them in the street you could see right through them, and they could see through you as well. That's why nobody ever made eye contact, unless they wanted something from you, usually, in her case, because they wanted sex. You didn't stare at people, you didn't even look them in the eye, because to do so was an affront — or an invitation. You kept your sunglasses on, even in the rain.