Monday, December 25, 2006

An Old-World Toy Maker

His name is Floyd Elfendien and he is an employee of S. Claus and Company, the largest toy manufacturer and distributor in the world. He is not a very tall man, only about five feet, gruff and balding with a long gray beard that rests atop his bulging middle. His face reads like graffiti on a subway wall; he has seen much in his 80-some years as anyone can tell by merely looking at him. He puffs slowly at a pipe clenched between his teeth and reclines leisurely in one of the many wooden chairs that fill the cozy kitchen in which we sit. He puffs intently on the pipe as we slowly regard each other before he starts to tell me about himself.

* * * * *

Been with the company 68 years, I have. Was apprenticed at 15 and worked hard. Worked my way up, I did. Wasn’t easy, you know. It’s difficult work. Took me years to master my trade. Shame there isn’t much call for it these days. Been in “W” department for over 60 years now. That’s wood work. Every department here is different. Some people think we’re all in just one great big room sitting at a long table, each elf—they call us elves down there in the lower part of the world. Elves!—working on a different toy. Well, maybe it was like that back in the olden days, when the company was just getting’ started. Not any more. Ain’t been like that for at least a century.

Any way, there are several different departments. Most go by what letter they start with. There’s “G”—games, “M”—meteorology, “S”—sweets, “T”—tailor. T department is where they make the doll clothes, stuffed animals and the like. Each department’s divided into sub-departments, too. Take “W,” for example. Me, I carve the toys. When I finish shaping a toy it goes over to finishing for paint and detailing. From there it’ll be inventoried, until it’s pulled and tagged. We’re very organized here, you see.

“W” is probably the most difficult department to get started in. It takes patience, dedication—these youngsters today, they don’t know what that is. No work ethic at all. No idea what it means to be in “W.” I started here as an apprentice and worked hard every day. We had longer hours then, and no labor laws or union. That was before the machines were installed. They don’t start until 18 or 19 now and they think they know what work is. They stand in front of their machines and press a button here or a button there and watch a toy roll out the other end, and they think they know what work is. Bah! Ain’t been the same since the boss mechanized the place fifty-sixty years ago. “W” department’s ‘bout the only one not mechanized yet. Be a shame if they ever did. No, the younger ones just don’t know the value of good hard work, and the pride that goes with it.

I’ve been in “W” 68 years now. Never wanted to work any other department. My father and his father before him—and his father before him—they all worked in “W” department. Everything there is handmade. No machines at all. Oh, sure we have some of the newer tools…a large sander and power drills…but that’s mostly for the bigger items. The smaller toys…the trucks, the blocks, the wooden dolls —we still get orders for a few of ‘em, though not as many these days. It’s all Barbies and plastic baby dolls now. People have no concern for value any more—the little hobby horses and the like…we sand all those by hand. Nothing more gratifying than to turn a chunk of wood into a fine toy for some little girl or boy. Yes, it’s downright fulfilling, it is, knowing that some child somewhere in the world’s going to take pleasure in your creation. Makes you want to turn out a high-quality toy. No one cares for quality anymore. The youngsters they got working here now, they don’t care about the product. There’s no pride, no concern for lasting value any more. They’re all for mechanizing the department. Boss is still against it, but who knows what’ll happen when his son takes over the company.

That’s another thing people got wrong. They think the same person’s been running the company since it opened a few centuries ago. Ha! They don’t realize we’re all mortal here, same as they are. Ain’t no one who can live that long, not even Santa Claus. Look at me. I may be going fine now, but I know my time’s comin’. Can feel it already. I been here 68 years already and don’t plan on too many more. Could’ve retired eight years ago, but what the heck would I do with my time, ‘cept what I’m already doin’? I figure I’m still able to get around okay, arthritis ain’t too bad most days and I love my job, why not work? The boss—he’s getting ready to retire himself. Plans to hand the company over to his son in a coupla years. I figure I’ll retire when he does. Don’t have no mind to bend to no whippersnapper. Bah! Who knows what plans that one has in store for this place.

Don’t get me wrong—he’s a bright boy, but just like all the rest of ‘em his age he wants to change and “renovate” the whole company. Wants it all computerized. They already got computers in Intelligence (that’s the department in charge of keepin’ tabs on all the kids in the world. So many little ones in the world today we had to go to computers; it was tough keeping track through the old bookkeeping system). My wife works up in Intelligence. The stories she tells me! You wouldn’t believe some of the things these children do nowadays…unbelievable. The things they’ll try to get away with! Eunice’s only been there 30 years. She was in “S” department when we met. Such a cute little thing…

All our children work for the company, ‘cept Mort. Always did have to be different, that one. Wanted to be a performer so he headed south. Haven’t seen him in years. Says he doesn’t like the cold weather up here. We still get a letter from him now and then. Everyone else, they work for S. Claus. Even my brothers and sisters all work here. ‘Course, there isn’t much other employment up here.

Oh sure, there’s the reindeer breeding and training. They’re not used for sleigh pulling, though. They don’t fly and the Boss don’t use sleighs. Oh, they used to back in the old days. Use the sleigh, that is. That was before the company is what it is today. The first Claus didn’t deliver all over the world, either; it was very local. Didn’t even go national for a number of decades, and then international—well, that just sort of happened. That’s when he started to use sleighs. Weren’t any trucks then, and if you’ve ever tried to drive a wagon through ten feet of snow you’d understand why he used the sleigh. Generations of Clauses used them, and they were drawn by horses, not some magic reindeer. Boss just likes reindeer. That’s why he breeds ‘em. Kind of a family thing. Them Clauses have been breeding reindeer for centuries—kind of how some people breed horses. Whether they work in the stables or the factory, they’re still working for S. Claus. Me, I couldn’t go in for a sissy job like that.

Sure my job is harder, but you don’t get the satisfaction in breeding reindeer like when you hold a finished toy in your hand. So the work is a little harder. So you have to sweat now and then. So what? It’s the satisfaction you get from your work. It’s knowing how much some kid is going to like your work. Sure, the kids aren’t as appreciative these days, but if you could just imagine how it feels, knowing some kid’s face is going to light up Christmas morning when he sees your toy under the tree….

No…I don’t think I could ever work any place else, do any other kind of work. There’s too much of me up here; I could never leave it all behind. It’d be like losing a part of myself. Yes, it’ll be hard when it comes time to retire, but I’m getting’ old, you know. Guess we all have to leave sometime. It’ll be hard, though. This place is as much a part of me as I am it. These youngsters they got working her now…they don’t understand how a man my age can keep working this long; they don’t understand how a man can work almost 70 years. It’s loving what you do, that’s all, and I love what I do. That’s the problem with the world these days. People just don’t like their work anymore. No one loves what they do. I guess I’m just getting’ old. No matter what anyone says, you have to love what you do. That’s the only way to make it as long as I have.

The above interview was written by H.L. Lester in November 2001, for a college English course. The assignment was to do an interview, and the interviewee could be real or fictitious, dead or alive—or completely made up. Out of twenty-some students I was the only one to make up an interview subject (after the original interview fell through), and I still remember my professor chuckling as he reread it during one of our semester meetings (there were three, for which we would submit a portfolio of class writings up to that point for grading). I have to admit—even I was laughing a bit as I re-typed and edited this. I hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I did writing it all those years ago. ~Heather


Latesha said...

LOL If I didn't know better, I would have said that was a real person you were interviewing. Can't say I blame him for being disappointed in today's youth. They need a grip on reality and a kick in the pants.

Babe King said...

Hahaha- you really are a trick, Trix
Merry Christmas

Heather said...

Merry Christmas Babe and Latesha -- and thank you for your comments and support! ;)