Closing of IP mill ‘life-changing event’

Published 8:14 am Friday, April 23, 2010

As a young girl, I always pondered what my parents always referred to as “life changing events” — what they could possibly mean. Today I witnessed it first hand.

Today was the end of an era with the permanent shutdown of the last two paper machines at International Paper. This surely qualifies as a so-called “life changing event,” yet one we all would have wished would have never occurred in our lifetimes.

Throughout the day, I found myself drawn to my computer screen as I watched the percentages of No. 4 paper machine continue to drop; I was watching the life seep from it, watching it slowly die.

A cold sickness came over me, as reality crashed on what we all knew was, without a doubt, going to happen and have feared for many long, uneasy months. It had indeed happened as they said it would.

It was done. Shortly after 4 p.m. on April 15, 2010, No. 4 paper machine was the final of the last two to go down. Not only will I now remember April 15 as “tax day” and my youngest daughter’s birthday, but now the day I, as well as many of my esteemed co-workers, will carry with us for a lifetime. The day International Paper machines ceased operation.

As I left my office today, I stepped outside to the eerie silence of the paper machines we all depended on for our livelihood. There was no steam flowing from the towers; a stillness surrounded the entire site as if the life had been drained out of everything in its path.

It was as if I was in slow motion as I walked up the fence, hoping for some sound or glimmer of life, listening intently for the familiar noise of the paper machines so many of us have become accustomed to all these years.

The warmth of the sun beamed in my face, but I felt cold. I stopped, stood alone in silence, wiped a tear of sadness, yet appreciation, for what this mill has stood for all these years.

A feeling of pride came over me as I paused to give my own personal final salute to the machines that have given so many people and their families an appreciated quality of life, allowing us to do the things we enjoyed and to have the conveniences we would otherwise never be able to afford.

I heard someone say once that no matter how grim any situation may seem, we all have to look deep to find a positive in everything. It’s there; we just have to dig for it.

I have chosen to see this “life-changing event” as a positive to force me to pull out every emotion from my inner soul, and to take a hard look at my skills and what I am capable of accomplishing in life. It’s a new ballgame now called survival.

The realization of the fateful announcement made in October 2009 is here. The smell we use to refer to as “making money” will no longer fill our cars, our clothes and our lives.

Our children will no longer be given the privilege of following in our footsteps as employees in our hometown mill, as many of us have followed in our parents’ footsteps. But we can all walk away with pride for all we have done and help accomplished through the years.

We can hold our heads high and know we did all we could do. Generations will some day look back and boast “I was an IP employee.” I too will share in that pride.

Today will be a day we will all set in our own personal history books, a day to remember for a lifetime. Not just for the IP workers and families, but the surrounding communities that have too felt the pain and sorrow with us.

We are a family, and even though she will be silent and still, she will always hold a place in our hearts. Farewell, Franklin paper mill.