Holophane had been in my life since I was 3-years-old. I was that age when mom accepted a job there. It was a factory that made high-end light fixtures and it paid well. She was happy to have it, despite the fact that my dad thought it was unnecessary for her to take it. “I provide 3 squares,” he’d said. But when he became explosive over my brother leaving on the bathroom light, and the significance that action could have on the electric bill, mom told him, “that’s why I’m taking the job.” She didn’t like that things were so financially tight that he would get angry over something as innocent as a little kid forgetting to turn off a light in the house.
She kept that job until the factory closed in early 2009–over 30 years. Toward the end, as the number of employees dwindled from week to week, it felt like watching a family member die. Every week there was cake to say goodbye to the most recent group of people who were being let go. My mom was among the last to leave since she had so much seniority.
One summer, when I was 18 or 19, I worked in the office at Holophane. While I was there, I met my first outspoken atheist. His name was Glen, and he was charismatic, sarcastic, and quick-witted. Even though Glen was older than my parents, I developed a bit of a crush on him (I’ve always had a thing for older guys). I would hang out with him and his girlfriend during lunch and we’d go on walks, or just hang out and talk. I don’t remember why we were talking about death and religion, except that I’ve always been rather interested in the subjects, but during our conversation he told me he didn’t believe in god. “What do you think happens when you die?” I asked. “Nothing,” he said. I started crying. Not weeping or anything like that, but I was so flabbergasted and frightened by the idea of nothing that I couldn’t hardly keep my shit together. I excused myself and went back to my office. He felt bad and told my mom that he had upset me. Twelve years later, when I had come to understand my own religious leanings better (or lack of religious leanings) I told my mom to tell him I get it now…that I’m not afraid of “nothing” anymore.
My first experience with sexual harassment happened at Holophane, too, when a young guy, about 12 years older than me, was standing in front of my desk at the office. He was having an informal meeting with a couple of other office workers and I was sorting through paperwork. When it was over, he leaned down to me and said “I know you were checking out my ass. I could feel your eyes,” or something equally absurd. My face flushed; I’ve always been rather naive and awkward and I was so mortified by such an accusation that I’m surprised I could respond at all. “Don’t flatter yourself,” was all I managed, and he smiled and walked away. What a creep.
(This reminds me of another situation when I first moved to Florida. I was assigned to take a portrait of this oh-so-important guy at this oh-so-fancy boat club. He was an older guy, in his early 70s I think, and carried himself with great sophistication and class. He spoke with beautiful precision and seemed like a gentleman. I moved him this way and that, and at one point I kneeled down to take some pictures from a lower angle. While I was in this position he said, “It’s been many years since I’ve had a young woman get on her knees in front of me.” WTF.)
One of the first memories I have of Holophane is calling to make sure I wasn’t the only person left on earth. I guess I was around 9 or so. Mom would wake me up to comb my hair, then she and dad would leave for work, and my brother’s junior high bus would pick him up. My elementary school bus came last. With everyone out of the house, it was just me and the trees that surrounded my house. It was quiet, and there was very little traffic where we lived. It would still be dark outside that early in the morning and I felt terribly alone. Maybe I was the only person left on earth? I thought to myself. Maybe everyone has been swallowed up by some unknown force and there’s no one left but me? The idea scared me and the only thing I could think to do was to call someone. Don’t ask me why I didn’t call my great-grandmother next door, or my grandmother down the street. Instead I called mom’s factory. “Holophane,” the guy said, his voice rough and catching me off guard. I quickly hung up the phone. Yep, there were still people out there.
So when Holophane closed it was painful. It was a constant in my life for 30 years. And it was weird having this definitive ending to a thing that had gone on for over 100 years. That it had entered my mom’s life in her late 20’s and ceased to exist when she turned 60. Here was this block of 34 years that she had spent working in one place. That place is gone, and so are those 34 years. How the time just goes and goes.