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 Texas : Features : Columns : "Cannonball's Tales"

Mill manager paid big price by dismissing 'untouchable'

By W. T. Block

NEDERLAND - In 1902 Kirby Lumber Co. transferred Joseph Marriott from Silsbee to Bessmay, when the latter sawmill site consisted only of piles of lumber, stacked out in the forest. Joe was to retain his title of carpenter foreman at Bessmay for nearly 40 years - that is, except for the two weeks that the mill manager fired him.

Within 18 months, Joe and his carpenter crews had built an entire town, all mill buildings, office, commissary, hotel, boarding house, post office, and 200 tenant houses. When a small storage warehouse was emptied, Joe asked Mr. Preston, the mill manager, if he could use it for a carpenter shop. Joe, being unmarried, walled off a small room in the rear for his living quarters, where he kept only a bed, a wood stove, and some cooking utensils.

Joe quickly ingratiated himself with all the children in town, who adored him. Every night or weekend, Joe worked in the shop, making toy locomotives, baseball bats, and every conceivable plaything a little tot might enjoy. Since his earthly needs were so few, he spent each extra dime for dolls and other childhood trinkets, which he delivered door to door to every child in town on Christmas Eve.

Joe's other method of "socializing" was to build a set of end tables or a rocking chair for each new family in town. And all the pay he ever expected was a woman's surprise or a child's radiant smile, when he knocked on the front door.

About 1910 an infectious disease left Joe deaf in his right ear, and greatly impaired hearing in his left ear. As a result, he requested that the assistant mill manager write out the carpenter instructions daily for him. He would then relay them to his work crews - a new roof, door or window on a tenant house, or repair a table in the filing room.

Many mill managers came and left while Joe was there, and in 1928 the last mill manager was promoted to superintendent of sawmills at Kirby's Houston office. As a result, a Mr. "Williams" (fictitious) was transferred from Roganville to Bessmay to replace him.

Mr. "Williams" was known as a no-nonsense supervisor, who would rather "fire than hire." Each morning Dave Bird, the assistant mill manager, was still writing out the daily carpenter instructions for Joe. And whenever Mr. "Williams" found out about the written instructions to compensate for Joe's deafness, he was furious.

He called Joe into his office and fired him, then told Joe to pack his bags and leave the mill property at once. And Joe, not having understood a single word, nodded his head, returned to the carpenter shop and went back to work. For the next two weeks, Joe kept busy in the carpenter shop, luckily without the mill manager knowing he was still there.

When the next week's time vouchers were mailed to Houston, the payroll office noted there was nothing for the carpenter foreman. And when the carpenter foreman was omitted from the following week's vouchers, "Williams" was called to the Houston office to explain.

When "Williams" stated that he had fired Joe Marriott because he was deaf, the superintendent of sawmills fired "Williams," and promoted Dave Bird to take his place. The superintendent observed that everyone else at Bessmay, including the mill manager, was expendable, but that Joe Marriott, the "father of Bessmay," was "untouchable," - that even if he approved it, the residents of Bessmay would not tolerate Joe's dismissal.

The last the writer ever heard about Joe, he was still living in the back of the carpenter shop in 1940, even though he was officially retired. And if there is a carpenter shop in heaven, Joe is probably still chiseling out toys for all the tiny tots up there.

W. T. Block, Jr.
"Cannonball's Tales" >

May 14, 2006 column

Reprinted from Beaumont Enterprise, Saturday February 12, 2000.

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