My father and his older brother started a business called the “Claremont Waste Manufacturing Company.” I remember thinking as a kid, “What an odd thing to do, to make waste.” The plant was on the Sugar River, and people in town called it the “shoddy mill.” I never knew what that meant, but it didn’t sound very nice. I recently looked it up and learned that “shoddy” is a term for waste from loosely woven fabrics, so I guess the company name made some sense.
They made flock, which is hard to define but you know it when you see it. It’s the fuzzy stuff on greeting cards, or wallpaper, sort of an imitation velvet. Not the world’s most important product, but they knew a man who had a machine that could produce it from rags. I think at one time the company did 100% of the world’s flock business, which is pretty good when you think about it.
My father’s work life was interrupted by World War I, although he never got farther than North Carolina. He came back to the town and the mill and eventually met my mother, whose family had moved down from Berlin. The business did well enough that my mother had a new car every two years, which used to be the way. My father could probably have done the same, but he drove a Chevvie or a used car. He was not the least bit materialistic.
He did have one indulgence – his family – perhaps due to the fact that he didn’t marry until age 40 and became a father when other men his age were becoming grandfathers. He also had a great sadness, his relationship with his partner brother. For many years they did not speak. I do not know what caused the rift.
After years of tension, the brothers finally decided that they would end their unhappy partnership – one would sell his piece of the company to the other. My father, in ailing health with heart disease, asked if I would like him to buy the business. “I’m only 16,” I reminded him. He offered to hire someone to run the company until I grew up. “Sell it,” I said. And he did.
My father had an excellent lawyer from Concord and, for the last two days of negotiations, a prominent Boston lawyer as well. When the Boston lawyer’s bill came, I thought my father would have a heart attack on the spot. He showed it to me – “For Services Rendered” followed by a hefty number. He asked what I thought. “I think you should pay it,” I said. And he did.
About fifteen years later, I was a lawyer myself and had a case for a schoolteacher that got some attention in the newspapers (I think it was because the Boston Herald reporter, if you can believe it, was from Claremont). One day the telephone rang, and it was the Boston lawyer who had helped my father. He told me he had read about the teacher case, his son was a teacher with a similar problem, and he would like to consult with me. I told him that I knew who he was, and I reminded him that he had helped my father many years before (I didn’t mention his bill or my father’s reaction to it). He remembered the case very well, we reminisced a bit, and then we talked about his son’s situation. After an hour or so on the phone he thanked me and told me to be sure and send him a bill. I never did.