Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The Language Of Shoestrings


Driving through a blinking caution light at the intersection of Elm & Highway 321, I’m reminded of an Irish woman I worked with in the eighties. Her name was Maggie O'Brien and she toiled along beside me at the General Shoelace Company on the 2nd shift. She told me of her life as she helped me produce huge bundles of shoestrings in every hue imaginable. The other ladies in the plant didn't care for her; I’m assuming Maggie was a little too grandiose and haughty for their taste. She attached herself to a certain skinny, redneck boy and spilled and spilled and then spilled some more. I became her girlfriend of sorts. I was 17 and she was 42 and a mother of three. At dinner break, we ate potted-meat sandwiches together, smoked long menthol cigarettes and gossiped about the people in our factory that were having affairs.

She despised the little close-minded town we lived in and frequently entertained me with imitations of the other women in the factory that always came out sounding like a cross between Elly Mae Clamplett and Sue Ellen Ewing. She also really hated our boss, a grossly overweight tyrant that liked to tell filthy stories about his sex life to anyone within earshot. Plus, he only lived three houses down the street from her so she had to see him in her free time, which absolutely killed her.

Maggie had extremely bad sinuses and would frequently take time off to go have her sinuses “burnt out”. God knows what that process entailed but it sounded wretchedly horrible. Luckily for people now, I think they have better, less painful ways to treat severe sinus problems. Most days I had to really pay close attention to Maggie and do a little lip reading because of her thick Irish accent and the hollow, nasal quality of her voice. It was sort of like when you watch a foreign film and you have to really, really pay attention so you don’t miss any of the subtitles.

What Maggie talked (complained, I should say) about most was her eldest teenage daughter, Debra aka the Spawn Of Hell. According to Maggie, Debra was the most ungrateful, spoiled, selfish, thoughtless, cruel child (but aren’t most teenagers?) that ever entered this world. Maggie lamented her birth daily and claimed her to be a punishment from God for leaving her poor family behind in Ireland to marry an American soldier.

And then the other shoe dropped one day, Debra got pregnant by a black man. In a small southern town in 1984 that was… Escandaloso! Maggie had to spend a month at Broughton (a western North Carolina mental intuition) after she heard the news, I kid you not.

Shortly after, I left the shoelace factory to go to college and Maggie left as well "to keep an eye on Debra", but I knew she just didn't want to be at the plant if I wasn't going to be there anymore. She didn't really need the money. The job had been more or less an escape outlet for her.


Two years later I read an article in the paper that Debra had been killed in a car accident coming home from her waitressing job at the Waffle House one night at the very intersection I just mentioned above. Maggie O’Brien was currently petitioning the county to put up a stoplight at that intersection because she believed that her beloved, late daughter would have never died there otherwise.

I know I’ve spoken on this subject before, but isn’t it funny how everyone becomes a saint once they die? The girl Maggie talked about in the local paper sure wasn't the daughter she'd described to me, ya'll. I also have to wonder if Maggie thought her years and years of bitching about Debra had anything to do with her untimely death, that she perhaps she willed it to happen? 

Moral of this recollection? 

Don’t go around constantly complaining about loved ones or family to strangers or they’re likely to be having the same sort of thoughts I’m having right now.

The first thought I had when I read of Debra’s death?

“Well, I guess Maggie can finally stop bitching now…”

Harsh, but the truth.

I was in a local thrift shop not that long ago and heard an Irish accent in the next aisle over. I peaked between the shelves and saw Maggie was a lovely bi-racial girl looking at old prom dresses. I can only hope that Maggie holds her granddaughter dear and never, ever speaks ill of her to a soul.


Ya’ll be good.

Hug somebody that gets on your nerves.

1 comment:

Brahm (alfred lives here) said...

Interesting post, thanks for sharing...love the closer "Hug somebody that gets on your nerves." Not that I am gonna do it, yet, but its a great thought...