Mention “sample” to anyone who grew up in Grand Falls during the time of the paper mill operations and  you can be assured that there will be only one object that will come to mind.  And it will not be a miniature container of hand cream, shampoo, or detergent. No, indeed.  A “sample” is one thing only and that is “paper”.  Every household in Grand Falls, from the time when the mill opened to the years just before the town became more cosmopolitan, used “samples”.

These samples were made by the paper makers who worked in the machine room where huge volumes of paper were rolled off  each day.  The rolls were massive and occasionally one would be defective . Some of this paper would be cut up into samples.

The men took  a sheet of paper and  cut it into pieces about 2 ½ ft x 4 ft .  Then they spread it out on a table and placed three  more pieces the same size on top of it.  They folded  the four layers to make a sample as you see in the picture above.  The folds were very precise and all “samples” were the same. When twenty to twenty-five  samples were done, the men made a bundle , wrapped it  with a sheet of paper and taped the wrapping. They brought it  home  at the end of the shift to be used in numerous ways .

In our house my mother used most of them.  After she scrubbed the kitchen  linoleum, applied the Johnson’s paste wax and shined it with the electric floor polisher she covered it with samples to allow the finish to set and also to keep the freshness for a little longer.  We dared not disturb these coverings till we were given the okay to do so.

She used samples when she skinned rabbits also.  She piled five of six sheets in the middle of the kitchen floor obviously not on the day she cleaned the floors.  Then she took several braces of rabbits and set to removing the skins.  She threw the skins on the papers.  Then she got down  to eviscerating the creatures.  The entrails were tossed in with the skins as were the paws .  The carcass and head were kept for cooking later. The first few times we witnessed this we found the process slightly nauseating but over the years we became used to it.  Once Mom finished  she rolled up the papers taking care to keep the detritus contained.  The whole works was discarded except for the bodies.  Those that were not immediately cooked were  bottled or frozen for future meals.

“Samples” often covered meals that were packed in Dad’s lunch basket.  The purpose was two fold.  They insulated the food and served as padding to keep things from spilling.

And frequently a sample or two was used as a table cloth but never when there was company.

We never bought  sticky notes or memo boards as is so fashionable today. For one thing they hadn’t yet been invented and also there was no need because  we had plenty of paper for writing notes to each other .  If I had some problems with my math homework I would write a note on a sample and leave it  on the kitchen table for my dad so that when he got off his night shift he could write an explanation there for me.  Usually it would be a math problem.  And I could depend on his attention to it when he came home.  In the morning I’d go fetch the “sample” and there would be the help I needed.

I loved samples for another totally different reason.  At a very young age I must have had some premonition that I would be a teacher because I loved to play at teaching.  We had a small room at the back of our house that was supposed to have been a nursery, I suspect.  But it was never used as such.  We called it the “small room”.  Mostly we used it for storage though at times it became an extra  bedroom .  I used this room as a school room.  My blackboard was a sample taped on one of the walls.  And my chalk was a crayon.  I’d place my dolls, or stuffed toys on the floor in front of me.  I would have used my friends but they resented my wanting to be the teacher.  So my inanimate friends sufficed.  Then using my “sample “blackboard I would teach the latest math problems I had learned in school.  The swirls , equations, pictures , and printing  were a work of art.  If I only had a sample , excuse the pun , of that today.

And samples were used in the garage.  If Dad had a moose quarter hung up out there , he would cover the cement underneath until the meat was cut up and stored.  If there was any work to be done on the car, a sample came in handy also.

Today whenever I paint a wall in my house, ‘samples’ come to my mind. How useful they would be for covering the floors!  Alas they are not available any more so I use anything I can find_ tarps, old blankets, sheets of plastic or newspapers.  And I wonder how we took our ‘samples’ so much for granted .  Now I would pay to have a sample just as a piece of nostalgia.

(Thank you to Ed Thorne for his pictures.)

opened sample

opened sample


4 responses »

  1. What an amazing story about samples from the paper mill! HOw many stories are out there like this one and never see the light of day? Glad you wrote it, Judith. Lots of things that are gone that could be useful if they were around today. Perhaps the wringer washer would be better for washing handmade quilts than the newer washers today. The clip has been around a long time. We can still use them often when our hair is unruly. The turbans we thought were stylish many years ago are used by cancer patients when they are losing their hair.

  2. Samples! I remember samples that my dad would bring home from the mill for us kids to use. Often we asked for them for school for our arts projects and other times just to have at home to scribble our crayola messes. I also remember the numerous packages of paper my dad used to bring home. Great memories!

  3. I still have a couple of sheets of a sample left. They were given to me by a long lost cousin who I play lexulous with. Gosh, it was nice having them around and I even used them after I cleaned the floors in the house in Cupids. As I left two days before hubby, I warned him to keep the floors clean for the new owners and to make sure the samples stayed on the floor until all the furniture was out. Hm, I wonder did he listen to me!

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