an excerpt from The 28 Inch Mill by Robert D. Frantz
Sometimes we’d hafta cover for some of the old guys, you know, who didn’t want to go to the wash house.
In them days when you became too old and didn’t have the time in or the inclination to take your pension they’d give you a job as janitor in the wash house, but some guys were just too proud. So that made the job even tougher, but you knew some day you were gonna get old too and need help.
I seen a lotta guys start out as young tigers and end up hardly able to get through the turn. You could tell when a guy was hurtin’ and pushin’ himself and pretty soon he wouldn’t be around. Then you’d hear he was in St. Luke’s. Next thing you know he’d be gone.
Happened to a lotta guys, even in their thirties and forties.
You know, I lost a couple of good buddies to alcoholism, too. They were just normal drinkers, then all of sudden when they were 45 or 50 they started to drink like hell. Drank themselves to death in a couple of years. It’s almost like they were tryin’ to commit suicide.
I always thought it was kinda nice that the undertaker would open the funeral home after 11 p.m. so’s the guys workin’ 3–11 could pay their respects.
The first viewing I ever went to was for Askar Kraszewski. He was only 34. They said it was his lungs. The old guys told me it had happened before. Some guys just can’t take the smoke and fumes.
Anyways, it was a bitter cold winter’s night. We got to the undertakers about 11:30. Leo Dabrowska, the mortician’s waitin’ at the door.
“We come to pay our respects to Askar.”
“First room on the left.”
We file past the casket. He looked so young. Hell, I was only about 25 myself. I’m standin’ there lookin’ at him, thinkin’:
“Hey Askar, remember the time we drove up to Hazelton for that wedding and picked up those two girls…”
We all sit down. Most of us are whisperin’, you know, talkin’ about Askar. Father Kerensky walks up by the casket.
“O.K. boys, we’re gonna say the Rosary.”
First he says something in Polish then he starts in on the Rosary. Myself, I’m not Catholic, but I’ve been to a lot of Catholic funerals. Most of these priests, when they say the Rosary, go real fast, like they can’t wait for it to be over. Not Father Kerensky.
“Hail Mary, full of grace. The Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now, and at the hour of our death. Amen.”