THE TRUE MEANING OF BREAKING BREAD?

I was working as a checker on the loading dock of Grant Tire and Rubber Company in the fall around 1979.   The Grant plant manufactured tires for the cars and trucks of America.  All of the laborers, like me, were members of the United Rubber Workers Union (URW).  Checkers were responsible for delivering skids full of automobile tires to the chocked,  tire pile end located in an eighteen wheeler trailer.  If the trailer was just started in the loading process, then the checker would drive his or her forklift  into the trailer, upto the front of the trailer and drop the skid full of tires for unloading. If the trailer was already in the process of being loaded, the checker would drive the forklift upto the pile of tires and drop the skid of tires at the front of the pile for unloading.  The checker was also responsible for keeping tabs on what tires (number and size) were loaded in the trailer so a proper invoice could be prepared. The checker had a partner, the loader.  The loader would do the physical job of unloading the tires from the skids and throwing the tires onto the pile in the truck.  The standard method for loading tires on the truck was called “lacing.”  Checkers and loaders had different jobs and pursuant to the Union contract a union worker could do one job or the other on a shift, but not both.

On this second shift, sweatshirt evening, I had been paired with my nemesis in the plant, the General, a black male in his mid-thirties, who followed me home every night at 11:00 p.m. He packed a pistol of some type which after hours he tucked into the front of his pants.  He explained to me quite simply that one evening, I wouldn’t know when, he was going to put a “cap in my honkey ass.”  I told him I wasn’t worried about it and that I wasn’t changing my path home for him.  He knew where he could find me walking after 11:00 p.m. every night.

It was stressful; I must admit.  The General was never alone, and he followed me night after night and threatened me everyday. I was offered rides by friends, advised to complain to management, advised to complain to my shop steward, advised to call the cops, none of which I did.  I simply punched the time clock at 11:00 p.m. at the end of the shift and made the long walk home wondering if I would see tomorrow.

In the fall of 1980, I was scheduled to enter the Lutheran Theological Seminary as a first year student. The men in the plant nicknamed me Preacher.  I was always fascinated by religion and God.  I began life as a Roman Catholic, tried Daoism as a “stoner” in high school, informed a hospital that I was a Druid when I hurt myself landscaping, but then converted to Lutheranism after I observed a shimmering silver object on the lawn beside the library at my college.  I was strolling down the path between classes contemplating the direction of my life. “Should I become Lutheran” I was asking myself.  I saw the shimmering metal object in the grass, walked over and picked it up.  It was a religious medal.  It read: “I am a Lutheran.”  And I decided I was.

I tell you this, because although I was stressed on my walk home, I was not afraid.  I believed that God would look after me.  Thus, my normal survival sense of paranoia was either not as sharp as it always had been, or I believed that I did not have to fear the General.  I believed then that ultimately I did not have to fear the General.  I believe he hated me and meant me harm; I just believed it wouldn’t happen.

The General had hated me from the first day we had met. I was a suburban, college educated, white boy entering a theological seminary working in the plant. The plant was his dirty, physically demanding stopping point in life.  It was not a transition point for the General, as it was for me.  Open hostility erupted  between us when I refused to do his work on the loading dock.  That evening we were both working as checkers.  The checker from first shift left his dock area, at the change of shift the General’s dock area, a mess, broken skids everywhere.  The General ordered me to clean his work area.  I told him, “No” and informed him he was not the dock supervisor.

The Union rules nor the protocol of long time survival in the plant allowed me to respond to his order with a “Yes” (if he had only asked). He called me biased and reported me  as a racist to the the second shift shop steward, Lonnie, and warehouse management.  Lonnie was a “brother” so when I was dragged into the warehouse supervisor’s office for being a bigot, I was alone defending my self against management and the allegations that I was a racist.

Any past I had apart from the plant didn’t matter.  Any black friends I had didn’t matter.  When I left that meeting with my shop steward and management and returned to work on the floor, I was a confirmed racist in the eyes of every man in the plant; it was a  basic “black and white” world.  Of course, these allegations made me popular with some whites whose I assistance I refused.

“You know, white boy, we gonna fuck you up.”  “You  best watch where you be walking, you honkey- assed Preacher mother fucker; you gonna get your ass kicked.”  “The word is you hate niggers, Preacher; maybe this nigger will beat your white ass.”  “You think because you went to college, you better than us; ain’t no dead Preacher man better than any live man.”    Words of hatred, scowls and sneers day in day out, punch in, punch out, walk to work, walk home.  This was my plant life.

As I pulled into the trailer and dropped a skid of tires at the pile for the General to unload, he paused and stared at me. He said, “Preacher, do you like roast beef?” I looked at him quizzically, skeptically, amazed.  Our eyes met. I answered, “Yep, I like roast beef.”  He said, “My wife makes a great roast beef.  Want some?”   He extended his hand in my direction.   His dirty hand held a half eaten, mangled half a roast beef sandwich.  I wasn’t hungry and was about to answer “no” when I received a divine spark, “Oh, my God.  If I turn the sandwich down, it’s because I won’t bite from the same sandwich as a black man.  He is expecting that, but if I bite into and eat the sandwich and share it; then what?”

I slowly reached over and took the half sandwich from his hand.  I bit directly into where his teeth marks were and chewed on a piece of the sandwich.  He looked at me amazed.  I said, “You’re right your wife does make a good roast beef.”  And she did; the sandwich was delicious.  I went to hand the sandwich back to him.  He said, “Finish it.” And I did, the sandwich was delicious.

The General and I became friends from that day forward, and my plant life quickly changed.  I wondered then and wonder now if that night on that loading dock, I had learned the true meaning of “breaking bread.”

 

 

 

2 Comments

  1. Let me share a story which shares some similar features. A 5 year old boy under our care in Kabul Afghanistan for severe scalding burns died one night. The story was that a member of his family had intentionally dropped the little boy into a scalding bath. When he came to our hospital, he was barely alive. We worked on him day and night for two days, which in and of itself clearly demonstrated a standard of care far beyond what this family could have expected anywhere else in Afghanistan. Excelling in healthcare in Afghanistan then and now, in many ways was not really that difficult. Our team of foreign aid workers had a long term vision to build the capacity of the local healthcare workforce and one big step to accomplishing that was simply showing up to work every day. Our staff and the population we were treating saw our obvious concern and appreciated our efforts, even though our organization clearly professed Christian values in that strictly Islamic culture. But there are always a few bad actors as the blog post shows so when the child died of his burns everything changed for one of his family members. This uncle started ranting and making threats of violence to our nurses and other staff and broke several windows in the hospital among other things. I was asleep across town at 11 pm when word of the situation came to me. I immediately called our driver and headed to the hospital to deal with the situation. I had only been in Kabul a few months so I didn’t have much in the way of local language skills and I certainly didn’t know too much about local customs. But having worked among death and having consoled many grieving and angry family members, I had some experience in the situation I was going to confront. None the less, I had my driver call the local police on the way in because from the report I had received, it sounded like a possible riot was developing. When we arrived, we passed by the local police and found several other American’s huddled inside the hospital while this raving uncle carried on outside. The police were simply standing there, appearing unsure of what to do. I confirmed the boys death and gazed out at the uncle and a few other family members grieving and wailing loudly. Then a strange thing happened. An elderly Afghan woman, probably no more than 4 1/2 feet tall looked right at me and ran her hand across her throat with a defiant look in essence saying, “We are going to slit your American throat.” At that point, I said to my American and Afghan friends, “I am going out there.” “You can’t do that they insisted.” My Afghan friends were even more urgent saying, “You don’t understand how crazy this man is. He will try to hurt you” I looked at him and saw a small man who would have hard time getting the best of me unless he was carrying a concealed weapon and figured that was unlikely.” So I simply opened the door that separated us, moved past the policemen that were guarding it and went over to the man and put my hand on his shoulder. I asked my driver who timidly walked behind me to tell the man how sorry I was for his loss.” After hearing this, the crazed man’s shoulder’s slumped and he simply started to cry and so I continued consoling him. The old woman came over to me and smiled and through my translator informed me that this man was crazy. I didn’t bother to ask her about her threat. We grieved the loss together and went our separate ways. There is a universal language that overcomes all fear and anger. I think it is called love.

    Reply
    • Thanks for the always welcome comment, Sometimes a surgeon. Great story by the way. I spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about “love.” When love does “triumph” over all, it appears to me life does have a way of working out in the best manner possible. Why this doesn’t occur more often, I don’t know. Sometimes I think that it’s simply because I don’t recognize the “big picture.” If I did, perhaps I would understand that life is always working out in the best manner possible. Sometimes I chalk the failure of love to “triumph” to what it means for us to be human. But I figure a person just has to get up everyday and keep on “plugging away” and somedays love will triumph and somedays love will not and big picture you might never understand why it did or didn’t in a given situation. But in those moments you realize that love does triumph, when you feel yourself and the love of those with you all functioning in harmony, the true beauty and wonder of life becomes present. Those times are amazing. The Accidental Lawyer

      Reply

Have Something to Say?

Share This

Share this post with your friends!