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Robbin Bruce: You can call me Cha-lee

  • Thursday, September 26, 2013

  • Updated Saturday, September 28, 2013 10:30 pm

Through my life, I've got to admit, I've meant some interesting characters. We all have if we admit it. They touch our lives, even if over the span of a lifetime it only seems a few minutes. I've told you of a few over the years, but this one's a little different. He didn't change my life or anything over the short few years I knew him, but I can't help my self, every time I think of him, I have to smile. He was just that kind of person.
I met him the first day I started at the sawmill, the HR man told me I would be working at the stacker, and he wanted to introduce me to my new supervisor, his name was Charlie Pierce. He was a short guy, maybe five-4 or 5, maybe a hundred pounds, if you put a couple bricks in his pockets. His clothes looked like he slept in them, and his hair looked like his wife had cut it using a mixing bowl that fell below his ears. His voice had that sound of a man that loved cigarettes, but he had a twinkle in his eye, like you knew he was always up to something. As we walked out the HR office I found out my first impression of him was right. I introduced myself to him as all Southern boys are taught from birth to do, “Hello Mr. Pierce, my name is Robbin Bruce.” And then he stopped me. “Let's get something straight to start with, you can call me Charles, you can call me Cha-lee, you can call me Pierce, you can call me a” lets just say it was a bad name, “But don't call me Mr. Pierce.” And that's how it began.
Most foremen at the mill had an office, Charlie had a station wagon. And that's where he stayed at most of the day, unless something went wrong, then he would crawl out of the car, throw his hard hat about thirty feet, go pick it up, then go see what went wrong. If you had to ask him something, first his hand would come out the window, to tell you to stop, he would then grab the Excedrin bottle off the dash, pop a couple, then you could tell him your problem.
Every now and then, he'd get tired of sitting in the car, so he would sit on the hood. But his Excedrin bottle was close by. And with each pill he took, came his standard answer to every question, “I don't know why, it's company policy.” One time I saw a sign that said that and bought it for him, from that moment on, he just stuck the sign out the window.
Joe Tisdale, who was a good friend of mine, run the kilns, and Joe loved cigars. And I admit, back then I did too. So me and him came up with a great idea, we'd buy us a box, but knowing Charlie, we figured we better hide them, what a waste of time. There I would be up there on the stacker, and there would be Charlie, smoking on a stogie, just a-grinning, waving at me and Joe. After four or five times of hiding them, we just gave up.
The one thing that sticks out to me more than anything was he never called me Robbin, just Roger. My little brother had played on his son's team, and the name stuck. Once a bunch of us went out to supper, I was dating Mel then, and she heard him. After a five-minute talking-to, he finally agreed my name was Robbin not Roger, he looked at me and said, 'Roger, pass the salt.”
I have hundreds of Charlie-isms, like the time his car broke down, and I had to carry him to work, but then I had to wake him up. After I beat on the door for five minutes, he opened the door in his drawers and asked me what I wanted at five in the morning. Or the time he took the rain coats back to the supply room we had just got because it was raining, “ Y'all are young, be tough.” But a few minutes later he had one on, “I'm old'.
But time rolls on, within a few years he had moved on to a new job and a new state, and I never saw him again. I asked about him from different folks through the years, and I finally heard he passed away a few years ago. Years later, I was running crews, and as I was walking some new guys in, they called me Mr. Bruce…
And I couldn't help myself.

You can reach Robbin Bruce by e-mail at robbinbruce@yahoo.com.

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