Daddy was good with a broom.
Not as good as Mother – she could spot individual dirt atoms. And not as good as the old generation of mountain women who would sweep their barren yards and somehow make that dirt look… clean.
But he was good in the way carpenters have to be good at in clearing sawdust out of worksites. He didn’t so much sweep the sawdust out as hurl it – a flick of the wrist that launched a cloud of debris out of the way.
I thought of that when I was sweeping out our “mud room” a couple of weeks ago. It reminded me of a story a Jackson County native told me some years back. I’m not going to mention the gent’s name as we lost track of each other a few years back and I’m afraid he’s gone on to his eternal reward. But I would hate to declare him gone if that’s not the case.
This fellow told stories about how you need to remove a certain gland from a groundhog before cooking it, was a firm believer that there are mountain lions in the area and was a devotee of old-time gospel singings.
He’d been around a bit in his life, and one of the stories he shared with me was of the most successful sweeper I’ve heard of.
Like many here, this particular Jackson boy went off to seek his fortunes after WWII, when the country’s economy kicked into hyperdrive. He wound up in or near Atlanta, working for a company that churned out Quality Hardwood Flooring.
I gather this was sort of tongue-and-groove flooring, the type that snaps together. As he told it the quality was particularly high and it was in great demand both from contractors and do-it-yourselfers, and the plant was running non-stop.
The trimming process for the flooring was pretty precise, but this was back in the days before computers figured everything out and because of the high volume of production there was a good deal of scrap.
There got to be so much that the firm hired an elderly man to sweep it up for 25 cents an hour. In pre-air conditioning days I suspect it was hard, sweaty work.
At any rate, the man did his duty for a few weeks and then approached the suits who ran the place with a proposal: He’d sweep for free if they let him keep the scrap.
As it was just being hauled off to the landfill or burned, it likely sounded like a great proposal. It’s also likely they questioned the man’s sanity.
Fast forward about a year and the man had his own crew working for him, driving a dump truck to haul off the scrap. The man himself had hung up his broom and was riding around in a suit, driving a Cadillac.
That’s what happens when you corner the market on supplying Quality Hardwood Chips to every barbecue joint in the greater Atlanta area.
Buchanan is special projects editor for the Sylva Herald.