Signs of the Times
By Charles P. Pierce
Published by the Boston Globe in 2010

The box is black and squarish and mottled with paint. A dab of blue on the side, a daub of yellow on the lid. It sits on a battered stool in a second-floor bathroom. The stool is similarly flecked and freckled, long tongues of color running down its legs. If you open the box, a little tray extends out toward you, so that the box becomes two boxes. There are paintbrushes in the tray, old and slender and stiff as railroad spikes from the ends of their wooden handles to the tips of their bristles. The brushes have not been disturbed in this tray for a very long time. There is dust on them, and when you pick one up, it leaves its outline in the dust on the tray below.

This was my grandfather’s paint box, the one he took to work every day at the Macey Sign Co., at 149 Commercial Street in the city of Worcester, until his death in 1965. Charles F. Gibbons was a sign painter all his life, beginning in 1910, when he went to work for the Paige Co., which, according to various city directories, was located on Norwich Street. Macey Sign doesn’t appear in listings until 1916. My grandfather and W.E. Sullivan apparently bought out the Paige Co. upon the demise of its owner, J. S. Boyle, who died the day after Christmas in 1914. But my grandfather always dated his work for Macey’s from 1910, which makes this the 100th anniversary of his company. My grandfather worked the rest of his life on Commercial Street. He even died there.

And this office, with the old paint box on the stool in the second-floor bathroom, in what once was a residence on Mason Street in the city’s Main South area, is my grandfather’s company. Still. Today. “You look like him in the eyes,” says George Kachajian, the energetic 77-year-old who bought Macey’s upon my grandfather’s death after having worked there for almost a decade and moved it to this spot shortly thereafter. He takes me around the place, showing me the likeness of Clark Gable that my grandfather painted for the lobby of the old Loews Poli Palace Theater downtown on the occasion of the Worcester premiere of Gone With the Wind. (His Vivien Leigh apparently is lost to history.) But my eye moves to a clock-shaped sign that hangs on the wall above one of the workbenches in the front of the store. “Macey Sign Co.,” it says, “Where excellence is a standard.”

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