David Freeze: My first real job
Awhile back, I mentioned my years of working at Pattersonís Tomato Farm and all the lessons learned there. I have been reminded since that my first real job was working at Johnsonís Superette. Johnsonís was a fixture grocery store between China Grove and Landis for many years. Iím not sure exactly how I got the job, but here is my recollection. I think my mother, who always shopped there, had talked to Mrs. Myrtis Johnson about a job for me. But if she did, I never really found out for sure. I was 14, and was driven there specifically to go inside and ask for a job. I will admit it was just a little scary. Mrs. Johnson seemed like a grandmotherly type to me, but she was a tough woman. I mustered up the courage to ask her to be considered for work, and she sent me to her son Donnie, the store manager. Donnie gave me a job right away, and I really appreciated him for this. There wasnít a drug test, background check, or a written job description. What I clearly understood is that I was expected to work certain hours, be on time, and take direction from Donnie or Mrs. Johnson who clearly ran the front of the store. I was a bagboy!!
This was all happening back in the late 60ís. 14 year olds who came from a farm background knew how to work , but it was a different kind of work. I had to be driven to Johnsonís, and my mother made sure I was always early. We got to punch a timeclock, and I had not seen one before. In those days, Johnsonís ran one checkout line, two when things got busy. I canít remember the checkout ladiesí names, but do remember that one was young and pretty. It was a big deal for me to get to bag her line. I probably would have done it for free, but of course I never mentioned that. All groceries were bagged in good quality paper bags, and we had these huge carts to put them on. It was a double decker cart, with stout wheels. We could put a lot of bags on a cart, heavier stuff always going on the bottom. Gallons of milk, soft drinks and watermelons always rode better down there.
Now back to Mrs. Johnson, I skipped over the part about learning how to actually ëbagí the groceries. There were strict rules about where and with what the groceries could be ëbaggedí. Nothing light on the bottom, heavier and more boxy type things went on the bottom. Lots of rules applied, but eggs and bread had to be treated especially well. I probably got in trouble a time or two about this, because broken eggs and mashed bread were certainly frowned on. Bagboys had to do it right. More than once, I saw the eggs and bread replaced for customers who didnít like how they made it to the car.
Now speaking of the cars, less than half of the customers carried out their own groceries. Most of the customers, particularly the women expected the bagboys to carry or roll the groceries to the car in those big carts. We always struck up a conversation as we walked. The back door or the trunk would be opened for us, and then the bagboy placed every bag ëjust rightí in the car. It would be our fault if those bags fell over, and we took pride in that. If we did a good job, a few of the customers would offer a tip. I didnít know about tipping before working at Johnsonís, but soon realized the thrill of getting one. I once got a dollar, which was a lot to a guy who wasnít quite paid a dollar an hour. It also didnít take long to realize that the bagboys remembered who the good tippers were, and that jockeying took place to get to bag their groceries. Another lesson was that the best tippers were not always those that appeared the wealthiest.
A few more special memories still linger. Once in a while, a ëcustomerí might damage a bag of candy. Damaged bags were brought to the checkout area for the employees to eat. My own favorite were circus peanuts, the marshmallow textured big orange peanut. To this day, I think the stockers might actually have damaged the bags so we could all eat the candy. Biggest treat for me was lunch time on Saturdays. I would get a half hour off, and I went to the cafČ across Mt. Moriah Road. Feeling like somebody special, I went in like an adult and ordered my usual hamburger, fries, and coke. It costs a little more than I made in an hour, but that didnít matter. On some special days, I ordered a cheeseburger. 10 cents more, but worth it.
Best memory of all, after all this hard work and close to the end of the evening, slow times at the checkout allowed us to sit on the big carts and relax. It was amazing how comfortable that thing felt, especially if Mrs. Johnson wasnít around. I didnít have the guts to sit on it if she was.
But the biggest thing I learned from Mrs. Johnson, her husband Worth and Ford (I called him Cadillac) the meat cutter, was customer service. They all spoke to every customer, went out of their way to make them feel special, and genuinely cared about them. I learned that most of the customers spoke back in the same friendly manner.
Remembering my time at Johnsonís, I realized that I liked to work there and looked forward to it. It didnít hurt to have a pretty checker and an occasional bag of circus peanuts!