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Perspective | What comes next? The child of a mill worker in Canton asks the question

My dad is one of the many people employed by the Pactiv Evergreen paper mill in Canton.

The news of the closure of the mill has taken a heavy toll not only Canton but western North Carolina.

Many times I have found myself comparing the mill to the sun, which is to say something that no matter the circumstance, it would always be there — through the floods, blizzards, droughts, economic crashes, and all.

It always seemed that the mill would be there as sure as the sun would always rise.

The closing of the mill is shaping my personal and social point of view as it reshapes the world as I know it.

With this change comes a scary and confusing question, and I’m not sure how it will be answered.

“What comes next?”

— Mason Keener, an 11th grader at Haywood Early College on the closing of the mill that employs his dad

I never could have imagined this kind of thing happening here in our community of a few small towns. It feels more like something out of fiction than reality.

The mill closing leaves so many questions for the future.

There is a hole in the community. A huge part of our employment, our history, and our community spirit will die with the mill.

Personally, this has been a huge stressor and a source of pain for my family. I don’t think I’m alone when I say that I am scared for what the future holds and what this might do to the people and places that I love so much.

Every time I drive past the mill, I can’t help but stare and think about what we are losing.

I imagine what the mill will look like without steam coming out of the pipes.

From the road, as you drive by the mill, you can see tiny dots crawling over the boilers making  sure everything is running smoothly. Those tiny dots are mill workers, and I imagine what it will be like when they are gone.

I also wonder what will happen to Pisgah, Canton’s resident high school, when all is said and done. Pisgah has always been part of one of the bigger high school rivalries around: Tuscola vs. Pisgah, the hill vs. the mill.

Canton and Pisgah are losing their claims to fame, and I wonder if they will also lose the spirit of the rivalry with it, a rivalry between Waynesville and Canton that has always brought us closer as communities. It has created a sense of brotherly bickering between friends and families, bringing all other sorts of people together for the games.

I am highly worried about my, and my family’s, future. I am the oldest of three siblings, and I know they are going to have to go through more of this while I am at college and work. My parents deserve to retire someday, but that is looking like a rocky bet at best now.

I hope the future holds something hopeful. That’s hard to imagine right now.

Mason Keener

Mason Keener is an 11th grader at Haywood Early College.