Look sharp, men! The cat’s away.

The following is a description of the break room at the military museum where I worked as a carpenter’s assistant in 1987.


Part of the farewell card I made for my colleagues  when I left.


By far the best thing about the job was the break room, where about a dozen of us from different departments gathered each morning around half-past 10, then for lunch at one, and again, later on, for tea. An industrial-size kettle sat on the stove; a roster indicated who would be in charge of making tea before the others arrived. On my first day, George told me how much tea to throw in the pot and how high to pour the water when the kettle boiled. There was always a bottle of milk in the fridge and a bowl of sugar nearby.

The men would stroll in, pour themselves a cup of tea, and take their customary places. Aside from two younger fellows, most of them appeared to be in their 50s or 60s and coasting toward retirement. The break room sped them on their way like one of those moving sidewalks at the airport.

Most of them were married. Their wives packed their lunches, wrapping sandwiches in neat paper or plastic bags, tucking in a packet of crisps alongside some radishes or carrots from the garden. They’d pop in some other little treat — a couple of chocolate digestives, a small container of fruit cocktail, a slice of leftover Madeira cake from a picnic with the grandkids. It seemed clear that most of these men were well cared for and well trained. And because they were expected to behave themselves at home, they leapt at the chance to have some fun with the 27-year-old temp.–Excerpted from Making Things Work

About nrhiller

cabinetmaker and author
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