Here in New England
Shortly before noon, the machines slowed and stopped. Everyone gathered around the packing belt. The last 130 cans to be produced in Maine, in the United States, were taken off the belt and put aside for the employees. Colson told Lela that she would pack the last one. She picked three small fillets and arranged them perfectly.
“That was a bad day,” Lela says, shaking her head just a bit. “A sad day. The head guy from California came and talked to us about our severance pay. Then we cleaned our lockers out and lined up to get our papers signed. Peter stood up in front of the line, and we went out saying our goodbyes. You couldn’t help crying. You couldn’t help it. You knew you couldn’t be with your friends. Then we walked out.”
She was driven home, and she put her final can of sardines in a glass display case in her dining room. Then she walked to the wharf, where her son was tending his traps.
“I had an operation last year,” Lela says, “and Peter had me doing quality control–repacking all the cans that weren’t done right. ‘Whenever you’re ready,’ he told me, ‘your table is waiting for you.’ I was going back on the line this summer.”
She looks right at me. “It got harder as you got older,” she says. “But I could go with the best of them. I’m a packer. I will always be a packer.”