Rust: A Memoir of Steel and Grit (Eliese Colette Goldbach)

I admit that I got more than I bargained for here. I thought his was a memoir about how one woman had demonstrated grit in order survive in a Cleveland steel mill. And don’t get me wrong, it is that. And the word ‘survive’ is the right one. The stories that Goldbach passes on about accidents and deaths at the mill, stories she comes to value as an effort at a kind of collective mourning, are harrowing. I could not do any of the jobs she describes. I don’t think I would have survived orientation much less the probationary “orange hat” period. And there are some men at the mill who question her ability to survive as well. At times, she wants to prove to them that she can do the work, but mostly she wants to prove it to herself.

This is not only a story about her survival. It is also a story about Cleveland’s survival, particularly the mill, as the global economy changes and as the process for making steel evolves. In this respect, it is a kind of love letter to Cleveland. Read the last beautiful paragraph of the book – which focuses on the ever present flames from the mill – to see how Goldbach pulls it all together. It is a tremendous ending to a tremendous book.

But these are the public aspects of grit that I expected to find in the book. Goldbach also discusses her personal demons, the Christian Republican upbringing she had to – overcome is not the right word – to make peace with, her mental health struggles, an extremely traumatic experience at college – both in terms of what happened to her and how it was handled by the college, at the same time as trying to be in a serious relationship and handle the stress of the hectic and grueling demands of the steel mill. Her resiliency is amazing.

She portrays her resiliency in a raw and honest manner. She’s not aiming for a made-for-TV movie. She also recognizes that she did not do everything alone. She has a well-meaning boyfriend, a flawed father, a determined mother, and some mentors at the mill (both male and female). This support work, taken together with her amazing determination, make for an important and compelling account of just how hard it is to be content with being just your average “Joe Schmo.”

This book came out just before many of us were sent home and told to stay there. I had plans to go see Goldbach do a reading at a local library, but that event, like so many others, was canceled. I hate to think of this book getting lost among the tsunami of current events. If you are not going to get it and read it now, please make sure it goes on your list – near the top of your list – for later.

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