Sunday, December 24, 2017

Christmas fire

In my daily slog through Facebook to find out what my friends are eating, or what restaurant they're going to eat in, or whose birthday it is and what they're going to eat to celebrate, I came across this interesting picture:

It's a photo of Dixie furniture company employees, taken in 1910. The picture is in the storefront window of the Lexington Home Brands Furniture Outlet store on Main Street and it offers a simple, understated tribute to the industry that was the heartbeat of Lexington for generations. Lexington Home Brands, of course, can trace its genealogy directly to Dixie. In the aftermath of Tuesday night's devastating inferno that brought down the 100-plus-year-old walls of the now vacant Plant No. 1, I found the historic picture to be particularly moving.

The iconic smokestack and dust collectors still stand near the main office.
 And it got me to thinking: Who would ever think the workplace could evoke such emotions? Don't we usually go around complaining about our jobs? Don't we always have better ideas about how to run the joint than management does? Aren't we always underpaid and underappreciated?

And yet...

Even while the debris was still smoldering, stories from former employees were rising out of the ashes. Some people spent nearly their entire adult lives with the company, becoming not only artisans in a world-class industry, but the flexible backbone of the local economy.

The plant — the building — was their world. It wasn't only their livelihood, but the center of their society. It's where people and friends gathered to labor over a common conception. When the walls collapsed it released not only long forgotten ghosts, but lingering memories as well. The hard work, the sweat, the routine of it all evolved into a source of pride. It was sad, they said, to see it burn up.

The destruction of Plant No. 1 was astounding.
 I never worked at the Dixie, but when I moved to Lexington in 1976, I lived in its shadow. I caught the tail end of the ride. I remember the iconic smokestack chugging dark clouds into the sky; the whistles that signaled shift changes and a brief spurt of traffic congestion as workers came and went; just the bustle of it all.

The fire that brought the building down is said to be one of the largest ever in Lexington, with flames leaping hundreds of feet into the night sky in front of thousands of spectators.

Nothing lasts forever. That lesson is brought to us every day. An era can go up in smoke, but a legacy is the thing that remains.

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