Linda, 66, took classes with The Literacy Project in the late 1980s, through a grant which funded GED classes at the Erving Paper Mill. After receiving her GED, she served as a tutor, fundraiser, and a member of the Board of Directors. She has lived in Orange, MA since 1959, after growing up in a small town in southern Vermont. Here she reflects on work, family, and changes she has seen in her community.
When I was growing up we had eight grades in one room, [in South Newfane, Vermont]. I was the oldest in my class. So I always got to do costumes and things like that, for holidays. That’s how I learned to sew. I still sew. I don’t make my own clothes anymore, but I used to. And I used to make all the girls’ clothes.
I had one sister and four brothers. We rode in the mail truck, in the back of a pickup truck, to school. In the winter, he used to throw canvas up around the back. It was cold! I didn’t go to high school. We lived too far out, in East Dover. It’s about 35 miles the other side of Brattleboro. And the high school was in Brattleboro. There was no bus or anything. So we couldn’t do that.
[We just had] a little country store. When you needed a pair of shoes, the man at the general store would draw around your foot. And take the copy into Brattleboro and get you a pair of shoes. That’s the only way we ever got shoes.
There were no jobs there. It was more farms. Gardens. Farms. And then lumber. My mother didn’t ever work. My father worked in saw mills. And then in later years he went into Connecticut and he worked at a state mental hospital down near all the farms. And he worked there for, like, twenty-five years.
I moved here in the late fifties. Moved to Orange. Union Tool was here. So I went to work there for maybe three, four years. That was a tool shop, and I would grind tools. I don’t remember what they looked like, but I remember the grinding wheels.
Then I got married. And we moved into a bigger apartment. Then [my first daughter] was born. So I went to work at night. At the mill. So that Bill would come home and I would leave. And we did that for, like, twenty years. And we bought a house on Brookside Road.
I worked thirty years in the paper mill. And I did a lot of different jobs in there. Machines and placemats and napkins, and—converting machines and packing machines and all that for thirty years. And I stayed there until they moved that [division of Erving Paper Mill] out. When I first went there, there was toilet paper and paper towels and everything. But by the time they left, there was just napkins. And then I was out for a year, when they closed.
And I went down to what was Rule at that time, in South Deerfield. But it’s Kennametal now. There was a tool shop. It’s where my husband worked. And I worked there for ten years. And I didn’t like that as well because it was heavy work. It was tools and saw blades and that kind of stuff. But, I did get my ten years in. Get my retirement.
When I went there, they had bought a shop in Virginia that they moved in. The new buyers were setting up this new factory, in the factory. Which was not too, too easy. Because the people that worked there already felt threatened. So there was a lot against us. But we did get it done. I kind of liked that setting-the-jobs-up year. Because it was something different. And you had to learn as you went.
In the paper mill, I guess I just liked moving around. Kind of not staying at one thing. Like, the supervisor would be out, so I’d take her job for the day. And the foreman was out, take his job for the day. You know, there were some days I could have done without, but that’s mostly people and personality things. You know? But. There was nothing that was really bad.
When I was at the paper mill, fifteen years ago, [The Literacy Project] came in and gave a talk. I think Jim Vaughan [Co-Founder]. And they came [in to offer classes to workers.] I just thought, “Well, maybe it’s time I went back and got my GED.” Because everybody was talking about it. And there was maybe a half a dozen of us that started. And we studied at the Usher Plant in Erving. Once a week. And only four of us finished, I think.
I enjoyed it very much. I enjoyed learning everything. Except math. I got my GED. And then I wanted to give back something. So I came back to the office [in Orange], and I worked there, for quite a while. I think I helped a lot of people.
I tutored. I tutored evenings. There was a lot of people. There was a lot of people that came. But, there was one guy that we taught to read and write. And he came in one night and thanked us all because he could leave his wife a note when he left for work. And he thought THAT was really great. So that made us ALL feel good. And, then when I lost my job at the mill, I got a job in South Deerfield. But that was seven days a week. I couldn’t do both. So I had to stop.
I was on the board [of The Literacy Project] for a while. We did read-a-thons. Two or three years in a row. It was basically to get everybody to come in and read [to raise money]. And we’d set on the step all day and wait for people to show up! But it worked out pretty good.
I have three girls. My girls all liked school. They’d do their homework blaring with the TV and I don’t know how they did it. But they always came out with good marks. And they went to college. And they’re doing all right. Although only one of them is doing what she went to college for. That’s the teacher, the middle one. But they’re doing what they want to do.
The whole way of living is different than when I was younger. We used to walk everywhere. You know, everything was in walking distance. But now, nothing. Nothing seems to be in walking distance. You have to travel for everything.
People that don’t work in factories, they either have to travel or they have to work, like, twenty hours at Cumberland Farms, and twenty hours someplace else. We need more industry. We need more, more jobs. We really do. Couple more stores. It would be nice if we had another supermarket, with Victory gone. It would be nice if they had a place where girls could work in the office. Some clean jobs. Some not dirty tool jobs. You know what I’m saying? Where they could set down at a desk and work and not have to stand on their feet eight hours a day.
[Now that I’m retired], I’m always busy. I don’t know when I had time to work.
"I enjoyed learning everything. Except math. I got my GED. And then I wanted to give back something. So I came back to the office [in Orange], and I worked there, for quite a while. I think I helped a lot of people."