Saturday, August 31, 2013

The Empty Thermos


One of the highlights of my week when I was very young was peeking inside my father's black metal lunch pail when he returned from working in Minneapolis. Things were tough and our small farm offered only a hardscrabble existence. In order to make ends meet, he went to work as a carpenter in the newly-forming suburbs. He would arrive home every Friday night with a candy bar inside his lunch pail, cut into three sections, one for each of the younger children still at home. I loved going through that pail, removing and then replacing his thermos tucked inside the lid. It seemed like a magical part of my father's life.

We never gave a thought to being "poor," didn't really know what that was. We had parents who loved us and labored hard to improve our lives. And they did, very much so. I will be forever grateful for all they did for us. I'm able to be here at this beautiful place I call Lonewolf today because of their labor, still surrounded by almost an embarrassment of natural riches.


"Labor Day"

Even the bosses are sleeping late
in the dusty light of September.

The parking lot’s empty and no one cares.
No one unloads a ladder, steps on the gas

or starts up the big machines in the shop,
sanding and grinding, cutting and binding.

No one lays a flat bead of flux over a metal seam
or lowers the steel forks from a tailgate.

Shadows gather inside the sleeve
of the empty thermos beside the sink,

the bells go still by the channel buoy,
the wind lies down in the west,

the tuna boats rest on their tie-up lines
turning a little, this way and that.


~Joseph Millar



Joseph Millar is an American poet from North Carolina


40 comments:

  1. Ooh Teresa...that was simply beautiful!

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    1. Thank you, Lynn. So nice to hear from you. I hope you have a great weekend!

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  2. Great story and poem. Your childhood experience is not a lot different from mine if you replace the rural setting with an urban one.

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    1. Thank you, Tony. I like hearing of the similarities between my life and my friends from other parts of the globe. We are all really so very much the same...

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  3. I remember taking a lunch box to school with an old-fashioned glass-lined thermos. By lunch time the mild would always be warm and those glass thermos bottles broke too easily.

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  4. I so very much enjoyed this memory, and this poem. You are a gift to me, Teresa, and I treasure all your little beauties you give to me. :-)

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    1. Thank you so much, Jan. I am very grateful for your friendship.

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  5. In my living room I have an old black lunchbox and thermos that belonged to my dad. One of very few mementos, but so evocative!

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    1. I bet it's like my dad's. I asked my sister today what happened to it, but it's long gone. Dad may have used it to store things in the garage for a while because that's what he did, but no one knows anymore... What a wonderful thing to have, so filled with memories.

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  6. I enjoyed that poem, well,I guess it was a little sad too. There were so many places around this part of the world that used to reverberate with activity, that now are silent.. or have been turned into apartments or places to sit and drink coffee. When I was an art student I enjoyed walking around the old wharf area of Dunedin and I sketched some of the industrial buildings. There were at least two foundries then that were really fascinating places. Their interiors were a bit like a medieval painting of hell, with vats of molten metal, sudden bursts of sparks and flame, and wafts of hot metal fumes blowing out of the doors and windows.

    Thermos flasks remind me of family picnics, of being a student, and also of work! What a lot of memories can be held in something like that!

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    1. Your description of the foundries is very interesting ... Yes, like medieval paintings of hell ... perfect analogy.

      The thermos does hold the potential for a million memories. Thanks so much for your comment, Peter.

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  7. I love a vintage Thermos...and I have started using a newer one lately. When I know I will be gone for the day I bring soup or some hot tea and enjoy it during the day (instead of buying)...

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    1. I once had a turquoise blue vintage thermos, the type that held larger quantities and had a spigot. I loved having picnics with that thing. So good to hear from you!

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  8. I think I was in college before I knew what Labor Day was about, or at least before I appreciated it. Lovely story and poem. I agree with DJan, your stories and ways of seeing enrich my life.

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    1. Thank you so much, Nancy. I'm so grateful for my friends here ... your friendship enriches my life, also.

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  9. I have a twin pack thermos and a tiny 1 liter. We lost these to thermos cups and water bottles.My smaller one hangs inside my coat when walking in the cold.

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    1. I have a to-go cup for my coffee, beautiful cobalt blue and silver, a gift from one of my sons, but so many things have been lost to changes in our "culture."

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  10. I had forgotten about the thermos that was tucked in the lid.

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    1. It all came back to me as I wrote, even the feel of the metal handle ... :)

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  11. that was stunning. It brought tears to my eyes even before I had read the poem. What a beautiful and heartfelt tribute to your parents.

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    1. Welcome to my blog! I'm so glad you stopped by. Thank you for those kind words.

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  12. Teresa -- I am always amazed at the range of blog subjects I am missing out on while trying to move through this passage of my life. Which is my "moving" experience. When I opened up your post today I was overcome with nostalgia as I looked at the thermos line. My father had a black metal lunch box with a thermos that he took to work every day -- just like you described as your father's box. How all of our standards of living have changed since that time. I can't wait until I get back to regular blogging. I miss it! -- barbara

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    1. And I miss you! Looking forward to your return, whenever this life passage allows. :)

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  13. Beautifully written, as always. A fine tribute to your father's labor. I treasure the memories of my father coming home after long hot days of laying asphalt. It is fitting that we stop and honor our parents' labor sometimes. Thanks for the reminder.

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    1. Thank you so much, Bill. I hope your weekend was a good one.

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  14. Deeply rich memories here! I also came from a working poor family. Like you, we were mainly poor in the economic sense. My mother, especially, brought love, huge gardens, and a fair amount of fun. My mother worked her fingers to the bone so we could have the little that life gave us. It was more than enough. To this day I cherish those that work hard.

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    1. Yes, yes, yes. When we think of the early years of the last century, it's very clear it was built on the very hard labor of people like our parents and grandparents.

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  15. Hej Teresa you talk so warm and loving about your parents. You have had a childhood with so much love. Every child should have that. I enjoyed the poem very much and the photo of the old thermos. I remmber my father's thermo, it was striped, must have been some aluminium or something, don't know - and his food box. You have reminded me of something nice from my childhood.
    (Thank you for using my photo. I like it too because of the curve of the buddleia and the look of the backside of the wings. )

    Chhers to you and Buddy!
    Grethe ´)

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    1. I have some wonderful memories. Living that hardscrabble existence was the perfect way to grow up. It's those little things that are so filled with memory, like the dipper from the pail filled with water from the well.

      It's a beautiful photo. Thank you so much for letting me use it!
      Buddy says hi!

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  16. I still have my father's thermos - it's the second from the left, the green Stanley. He didn't take it to work, but it always was with him fishing, working in the yard, or on trips. When I was ready for school, I wanted a thermos, too. So, I had a Roy Rogers lunchbox with a Dale Evans thermos. Such memories! Now, my lunchbox and thermos are gone, but my dad's is still in its appointed place. When the winter comes, I'll take it to work myself.

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    1. What a wonderful thing to have. I have my dad's hammer from his days as a carpenter, along with a few other personal items that mean so much to me. They are imbued with meaning and love. I love that you are using it!

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  17. I am somewhat amazed that I am unable to remember my father's thermos, but I remember my grandfather's. He died in 1964. You should not be embarrassed by your riches, because you put them to good use.

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    1. Greg! What a nice surprise! Thank you so much ... good to hear from you. I hope all is well...

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  18. Dear Teresa, like you, I never thought our family was poor. Everyone seemed in the same boat. And like your father, mine would leave something in his lunch pail each day for my brother and myself. I've wondered in years since if Mom packed extra so Dad could leave us a cookie. The other memory I have of his coming home from being a steamfitter is that he'd sit down and pick up the newspaper and then he'd say, "Dolores, would you please take off my shoes?" And I'd unlace his shoes and take them off and then I'd tug at the end of his stockings, by his toes and pull the stockings loose. He'd wiggled his toes and say, "Ahhhhh. Thank you." And I was content. Peace.

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    1. Wonderful memories ... I'm so glad you commented.

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  19. What a wonderful poem -- and what a lovely memory, yours of your father's lunch pail.

    I think there's beauty in work, in the dedication and love put into doing something well and without fanfare. We need far more of this in our lives.

    Pearl

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    1. Hey there, Pearl Girl, so good to see you ... I absolutely agree with your thoughts about the beauty in work ... without fanfare ... perfectly said.

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