Friday, November 20, 2015

Saying Goodbye (PeteSaahgent)

My dad recently left the job he's had since my parents relocated to North Carolina. Leaving a job is difficult; no matter what the circumstances are, you walk away from friends and routine, and that's hard. The older you get, the harder it is.

I know a little something about that.

On the same day that my dad left his job in North Carolina, he found out that the plant he'd worked at for thirty-two years in New Hampshire had been sold off by GE.

It was, and is, really hard to accept.

That building was a fixture in my father's life from when he was eighteen to when he was fifty. Even though he retired, it was the place he identified with. He moved away, but he knew it was there, its old school neon sign rising above the landscape of downtown Somersworth, New Hampshire.

Of course, as I mentioned, my folks don't live here in New England anymore. They'll probably adjust faster than I will because they won't see the plant. It's easier to get used to things when they're not in your face. I'm still not used to driving past the house I grew up in and not being able to pull into the drive and have a cup of tea, and I never got used to the loss of my dad's buddy and supervisor, Pete, who I used to get on the phone when I called the tool room at GE so I could talk to my dad.

Pete was old school New England and he had the accent to prove it. He'd pick up the phone and say his name like it was one word: "PeteSahhgent."

"Um, Mr. Sargeant? This is Dan Hayes's daughter Danielle... Can I talk to him?"

"A'course. One minute." And then you could hear him call out: "Daaaaaannnnnnyyyy!"

It was more awesome if you got his voicemail, because there would be a cool, automated female voice saying: "You have reached the desk of--" and then a recording of Pete, saying slowly, in the exact opposite way of that which he answered the phone: "Petah. Saahgent."

I used to drive past Pete's house on my way to my teaching job. Sometimes I'd see him, walking out to his mailbox. I always waved. He'd always wave back. 

When my mom called to tell me that Pete had died very suddenly, I didn't believe her. "I just SAW him," I said. "He waved to me." As though friendliness pre-empts death. As though by the act of waving to him, I could keep him safe. 

"I know," my mum said. She was crying. I think my dad was too. I just said, "PeteSaahgent" and then I had to hang up.

I still drive by Pete's house sometimes, on my way from here to there. I wave, even though there's no one there to wave back. When I drive past the GE plant in Somersworth, sometimes I say "Petah. Saahgent" even though no one lives here anymore who understands.

I probably still will, when it all boils down to it. Even though it's not GE anymore. Even though nothing remains the same.

But it will make me extra sad.

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