It was suggested that a blog (the cardinal blag) would be an interesting endeavor to elaborate on how special Cardinal Bag Company really is, on how it is a true small family business. It is steeped in history (and not a little lore). It's my aim to expand on the people places and things that comprise our operation and give it a personal touch. This company has been a huge part of my whole life! And I'd like to share some of the stories that surround the place. Cardinal Bag today employs about 25 workers, including both my parents, my brother, my husband, my brother-in-law, and my cousin - indeed it iS a family affair. The suggestion to write something more than just "comments" came months ago. I volunteered. Hasn't anyone heard said that the hardest thing is getting started, especially if it is something new, and one is not sure how to do it, or what to say, or if a thousand little excuses just get in the way? Time is a funny thing. But about beginnings....
Tomorrow I'll be 50! My birthday was in June 1968. That's fifty years folks. By then the two Georges who incorporated Cardinal Bag Company had already been in business for 13 years. I did the math already: that was sixty-three years ago. And for perspective and inspiration, I reckon the big oak that inspired the name for Majestic Oak Winery was working on its second century (yea, 200 years)....please see the most recent Cardinal Bag post for that beautiful image.!
I'm a third generation bag lady, removed. One of those two Georges was my great uncle, and the partners set up the giant bag folding and printing machines in a large warehouse and office space in Zuckerberg's industrial Park in Saddle Brook, New Jersey in 1955. They sold envelopes too, back then. The site was former abattoir at a crossroads of many major vehicular arteries: Route 4, route 80, the NJ turnpike, the Garden state parkway - you savvy - it was a very busy, typically Jersey kind of place......and the building was a sort of duplex sharing space with a Party supply shop. Old uncle George was old school: grumpy, brash and miserly... except when it came to his natty wardrobe, the NY Jets, his yearly brand-new Cadillacs, and his beloved cigarillos. I should probably also mention lots of scotch. But the man really loved to smoke, and did so all day in his office. The shiny leather tufted sofas and turquoise-painted walls smelled overwhelmingly of tobacco.
Childless; I don't imagine George suffered my younger brother and I too gladly. In the summers we were underfoot the most. We were forewarned about touching things in his office like it was a museum exhibit. But Uncle George's man space was the only air-conditioned place in the building and we crept in there on his days off and slid around on the leather sofas, rearranged his huge cut-glass ashtrays, ogled his trophy fish on the wall and played with the funny old monk statue on his desk - when you pushed down on its head, he sprung a boner from under his robe.... none of this could have happened when George was crabbing about. On those days when the boss was in-house we were intimidated and cowed and excited of course in that particular way children get when they fear being punished and don't want to be caught... lots of hushed laughter.... We could hear him growling and barking and coughing into the phone behind his closed door. George probably sensed this and in an effort to be rid of us would pass along with a smoky flourish the hard clear plastic cases of his precious cigarillos to Andrew and me, which we found fascinating; and if we were super lucky, we'd also get a quarter! Then he would tell us to get lost.
In the back, where the machines would noisily hum and clack clack clack, we could buy cold cokes from the vending machine for that quarter. This was also awesome, from the machine it tasted different. Cold and sweet and slightly illicit - we seldom had cokes at home! Everyone in the back yelled to be heard, but in my mind it was more eloquent without the attempts to talk. They would smile at us, or roll their eyes, and communicate in that way what kind of day they were having. All the machinists were like mimes or choreographed dancers, moving in slower time than the machines' circling parts. From one end of the mechanized process to the other they'd pace, checking gauges and twisting knobs, making small calibrations. They tamed the massive stained hulks of iron and steel and rollers with delicate efficiency. In the early days my father wore the blue uniform too and it all was breathtaking for me. The large reams of white paper endlessly unfurled through the various shoots and dark places inside the works and then magically were folded and printed again and again and again: mortar and pestle, the snake of Hippocrates, simply RX - and "thanks for shopping with us: quality you can trust!" In rainbow colors, in every conceivable font style (laid by hand in the plate room, from hundreds of stamped metal bits in wooden drawers in a typesetter's case) from blocky to fancy script and in all sizes. All of these new brightly colored bags were churned out by the thousands daily, packed away in cardboard boxes then whisked off the line to Shipping. But how can I describe for you the peculiar, distinctive smell back there in the shop? One that is slightly medicinal and partly clear alcohol, the odor of the inks and the glues? It may be that Andrew and I - well, that we were a little high. But it was the smell of my dad, too, soaked into his skin, and for this reason it smells like home to me, and I love it.