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A generation of hard workers leaving

By Angela R. Williams

About a month ago a video surfaced on the Internet of the company Carrier announcing that it was going to move the majority of a plant’s productions to Mexico.

The person that was making the announcement really couldn’t get everyone to quiet down to finish explanations of why it would be better for the company to do this, given the employees would lose their jobs in a year or two. This similar but different situation happened to my dad, James H. Williams, and the employees at Roseburg before the end of 2015.

Roseburg Forest Products told employees the company was shutting down the Oxford branch. By the end of December nearly all of the employees were laid off except some of the shipping employees, the department where my dad works. They would stay on to ship out what was left of their products and close out the plant. 

My dad will be 74 this year. He drives a forklift, loading and unloading 18-wheelers of lumber and wood products and has been there since not too long after the plant opened up in 1971 and has worked out there for 45 years. This plant was the very reason why my dad and mom moved from Calhoun County where jobs were not in abundance, to Oxford where this plant was brand new, had a lot of jobs and Oxford offered opportunities for a family. At that time the place was called U.S. Plywood.

It has changed hands several times from U.S. Plywood, International Paper, Champion, Georgia Pacific and now Roseburg. I have a lot of memories from this place. 

My mom and dad were new parents of my sister and two months later my dad started working here in Oxford. All my life I remember my dad coming home with the smell of sawdust and sweat. That was his working cologne. His hat, clothes, lunch box and car would be covered in fine sawdust. Anytime I smell sawdust or fresh cut wood it takes me back when I was old enough to wrap my little hand around my dad’s finger to help me walk across the parking lot when he wanted to show me the 18-wheelers hauling logs, pulp wood or lumber. The place was buzzing, no pun intended, of activity of loading trucks, boxcars to the train, grinding up wood and such.

My mom plenty of times had to carry my dad’s supper out to him, when he had to work a double shift, going in at 6 or 7 a.m. and not coming home until 11 p.m. or later that night or morning. When we drove out there at night to pick him up because his car wasn’t working, the night sky would be lit up with lights where the truckers could see where to pick up and unload and the huge silos that held the sawdust looked like they could sprout legs and walk… to me those were the Transformer then. 

Now it’s 10 hours, five days a week unless overtime is needed and about a 30-minute lunch and maybe a break or two. A lot of those silos and even a greenhouse are gone now, no longer needed, slabs of concrete left bare.

The company and the workers became a family. I heard someone say that it was the factory workers, miners, lumberjacks, truckers, train engineers, farmers, ranchers etc. that make this country as great as it is and the only ones that keep this country going — without them we would be helpless.

These men and women might have a college degree, or not, but they know hard work, blood, sweat and tears to bring home barely enough money to pay the bills, buy food and keep a roof over their family’s heads and to drag their exhausted bodies back to do the same job all over again. People say, “Well it was time for him to retire.” Yes, that might be true, but I would have rather seen my dad walk away from that active plant that I grew up knowing, than to walk away from a ghost town.

I’m proud of my dad for sticking with it, when there have been several times, threats to shut the plant down and knowing because of his age that he might not get good work elsewhere. 

My dad grew up on a farm, and helped his dad in a carpentry shop, and then he enlisted into the Army where his whole platoon except him and another person was shipped off to Vietnam. God had bigger plans though for him and moved him here to Oxford to be a father and grandfather and to become good friends with some of the greatest workers in Mississippi that worked at this plant for 45 years. 

Dad loaded the last box car to leave the plant last week and this week my dad will walk that final walk to his car and drive away and say goodbye to a big part of his life.

Angela R. Williams is an Oxford resident and can be reached at arwilli58@gmail.com.