Friday, January 8, 2016

Remembering Aunt Rita

There was a message on my answering machine from my good friend Janey. Soon as I heard her voice I knew Aunt Rita had died. I’ll get more details today, but Janey said how Rita had provisions for no announcements of her death or any kind of funeral or memorial services. I can totally relate to Aunt Rita feeling this way.
For the record, Aunt Rita was not my biological aunt. My co workers in Department 862 at the GM Plant and I took to calling her “Aunt Rita” because her true nephew Terry, who also worked with us, was forbidden to address her as “Aunt Rita”!
That old department 862 was a special place. I probably spent ½ of my GM career working in that department. That area had a low turnover in workers. We became family over the years. Being on my own I realized early on the importance of cultivating an extended family. Aunt Rita was an important part of that family.
It was in the late summer of 1976 I was transferred to Department 862 from the “brown lines” in Building 9, because I had job rights to the open clincher job. I had trained and ran a clincher in another department where I worked off skids. In 862 I had to pull parts off a moving conveyer line. Some of those parts looked so alike, I was always mixing them up which resulted in panic for me as I would attempt to get my clincher unjammed, cleaned out, and not lose rate. Watching me run my clincher in those early days was a great source of amusement for the “clincher boys”.
That summer of 1976 found me in my first apartment on my own. It was like a rite of passage as I went through my “back to earth” phase. I had a pair of real Kelso “earth shoes” and bought food at the health food store. I made homemade Granola, which baffled my co-workers. Aunt Rita swore I was eating bird seed!
I could write a book on what transpired in 862. Aunt Rita was a great enabler. It was back in the mid 1980’s. Our foreman Lou pretty much left us alone as he knew we would always give him his numbers and quality. It was a win-win situation all around. One day Lou was particularly exasperated, and he told my clincher partner Mel and I to “Go fly a kite.”
The following day Aunt Rita showed up with a kite for me and Mel to launch. It was summer; we would take our last break outside behind the plant at some picnic tables. We got a ball of string from Bud, who ran the tool crib. My old 862 foreman Charlie encountered us as we headed out the back door of the plant. He saw the kite and took a “I see nothing” attitude.
We got that kite way up in the air behind the plant, but we ran into trouble when it nearly crashed into a taxi driving up the side road. The kite got away from us and landed up on the roof. We lost it just in time as plant security soon showed up asking who was flying a kite. Mel just answered back, “What the Hell? Who would be stupid enough to fly a kite back here?” We were guilty as Hell. We knew it, plant security knew it, but they could not prove anything.
Word quickly spread. Aunt Rita told Bud, security had found the kite and string and they were trying to trace the string back to the tool crib! Bud was a nervous wreck over that one!
Another adventure happened when we got sent home early before lunch on the day shift. I suggested to the crew we all stop by Mary Sharky’s in Lowertown. Sharkys was an institution, it was a “beer and shot” bar located in the mist of the old paper mill complex on the corner of Mill and Center St. Mary was a legend in my hometown. She told us stories of getting bootleg booze in North Tonawanda during prohibition and adding caramel colouring to it.
We all had the best time. Aunt Rita never got over the huge dog turd she spied on top of a flat rock in front of the place!
Some of my work crew outside Mary Sharkey’s.

Nick and Aunt Rita:

I’ll be reliving a lot of Aunt Rita stories in my head today.
Aunt Rita was such a vibrant, down to earth person. She lived a good life and will be sorely missed. Her health had deteriorated so, I’m thankful she passed peacefully.
I’ve been thinking too much about mortality lately. It is pretty much a given that after a generation or two families pretty much forget about their ancestors. Names are forgotten and faces in photos are unknown. This quote from the book, “Let Us Build Us A City. Eleven Lost Towns of Arkansas” by Donald Harington pretty much sums up the best we can hope for. An elderly woman ended an interview with one of the most insightful lines I have ever read. She simply said, “I want to believe that years later on you’ll still think about me.”
This is a person I have never met, but I have used her insight more times than I can remember. With my journals I often wonder if such will be the case for me. Decades from now will these musings still be read? I like to think so and that somehow my writing here can give a perspective to a life in constant transition.


About Me

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Tuscaloosa, Alabama, United States
Retired auto worker who can now spend too much time restoring his 1922 Bungalow Home. I'm involved in a number of varied activities from collecting bricks to rowing with a masters rowing group. This blog is to share different aspects of my life on my Facebook page. I've kept an on-line journal for eight years.