Emotions run gamut for veteran mill employee

Published 10:08 am Saturday, March 20, 2010

It is amazing how in an instant or the blink of an eye a person’s life can suddenly change — how one thing forces you to see what is really important in life.

I know, as six months ago my life began to change with the announcement of the closure of the Franklin International Paper mill. From that day of mere shock and disbelief, I have experienced every emotion imaginable: sadness, anger, fear, frustration, insecurity and, now, mere hope for the future that lies ahead of us.

All the questions of why and how this could have happened to our longtime mill and hometown seem less important to me now as I try to focus on the days ahead. As I watch my fellow employees throughout the mill begin to trickle out one by one, I begin to reminisce about times and experiences many of us have shared together. For me, what used to be a goal to reduce the cost of office supplies is now a goal to see how many bags of paper I can shred in an 8-hour day. Today the new record was 12.

In my mind I have chosen to deal with the reality by hoping “some miracle” would come our way; perhaps someone had made a mistake and the inevitable would not happen, that the mill would not close. But today as I bid farewell to two young ladies, the reality set in once again.

Each of them gave me a valiant smile, a hopeful hug and a “thank you.” For what? I thought as I watched them leave. I should be thanking them for being a part of a chapter in my life for the past 23 years and for the opportunity to get to know such an elite, dedicated group of people.

As they left my office, I sat there in a flood of emotion knowing I could possibly never see these individuals again. In a matter of minutes, I returned to the “shred” room in escape from the reoccurring fears and emotions that began to cloud my mind again.

As the next wave of employees prepares to leave within the next few months, my husband will be in that group. Our lives will surely never be the same again, as will all the families of IP employees. Where we go from here, the unknown future that lies ahead of us, none of us know.

Each day as I face a new day of packing boxes, shredding documents and saying “farewell and best wishes” to my coworkers, I gain a newfound respect for the caliber of IP workers who continue to remain steadfast through this transition and who continue to walk through those doors every day doing their jobs to the best of their ability. That in itself is a testament to the employees at the Franklin mill.

Today as I walked out into the manufacturing area, the tarp-covered sheeter was a certain reminder to me of the inevitable, knowing that in a few months its fellow sheeters will too be silent and still. It’s as if we are captains of our own sinking ships, going down with our crews, faithful and steadfast.

I am an International Paper employee and will be until my last day when I place my personal belongings in a cardboard box and make my final walk by the cold, silent machines I have listened to hum all these years. I am grateful to have been a part of their past successes.

I am a firm believer that God has a plan for us all. We all have a miracle awaiting us somewhere down the road. To all my fellow IP employees, I wish you and your families all the best and hope for each of you a bright future ahead. May God bless you all today and in the trying days ahead.