Shortly before my good friend, State Representative and former Athens Mayor, Dan Williams passed away, I visited him at his home. We reminisced about yesteryear. We first met at Athens High School in the 11th grade and became good buddies and remained so for 58 years. I miss his chuckle and good humor.
Our friendship was cemented while sacking groceries at A & P. Mr. Alfred London was manager and carried out his responsibilities like Moses leading the children of Israel out of bondage. He perched in his front office like a hawk, watching for any sign of indolence. One goof-up and I’d be back chopping cotton for $3.00 a day.
Dan and I worked Saturdays from 7a.m. til 9p.m. and earned about $9.00; big money for me! We wore black pants, white shirts and black bow ties. Our job was to remove the groceries from the shopping cart and place them on the check-out counter in categories – cans, produce, meats, etc. Placing them in the incorrect order brought a rebuke from the check-out ladies who punched in the price of each item individually; scanners hadn’t been invented yet. The ladies were usually tired and grouchy by mid-afternoon. We sacked the groceries in brown paper bags and carried them to the customer’s car. I preferred working for Elizabeth “Liz” Bryant, whose daughter, Brenda was a classmate. If I mistakenly placed eggs with a can of soup while scoping out a pretty woman, Liz would react. “Wake up Barksdale!”
Smoking and accepting tips was a fireable offense. We hid a lit cigarette around the corner of the building and took a puff on the way out and on the return trip. A lady handed me a quarter. “Ma’am, I can’t take it,” I said, eyeing enough money to purchase a pack of cigarettes.
“Why not?” she asked. “Mr. London will fire me,” I replied. “I’ll take care of Alfred London,” she said and placed the quarter in my palm. A quarter was a lot of money back in 1957. Gas was 31? a gallon, bread was 19? a loaf and a postage stamp was 3?.
Red McCormick managed the meat market. Most Saturday afternoons, Judge David L. Rosenau, a tight-fisted shopper, came in looking for a cheap cut of meat. He lived nearby and sometimes entered the store from the rear. He would inspect each cut of meat and ponder at length before making a decision to purchase. One Saturday he bought several cheap pork chops for supper. Dan was in the rear of the store when the back door swung open. A black skillet, still smoking and attached to the end of an arm poked through. “RED! WHERE IS RED?” It was Judge Rosenau and his dander was up.
“The pork chops had shrunk to the size of quarters and were floating in a puddle of grease,” said Dan. Red came running. “What’s wrong Judge?” “Look at these pork chops, Red. They shrunk!” “Well Judge that’s what happens when you buy cheap cuts of meat that’s mostly fat,” replied Red.
Dan and I were famished by the time the store closed at 9:00 p.m. We swept the aisles, and after being satisfied they were clean, Mr. London paid us. We struck out walking to Sue-Wil Grill on Clinton Street and ordered hamburger steak, greasy fries, brown rolls and sweet tea. We sopped every puddle of grease on the plate. Our next stop was C.M. Officers Pool Hall on East Washington Street near the railroad where we cracked a few balls.
“George the Greek,” who lived at the Ross Hotel across the street, was always present. He sat in one of the elevated chairs that could have been a shoe shine stand at one time, dressed in an old suit and bowler hat. A walking cane was between his knees. Dan and I liked to hear George’s accent.
“Hey George, loan me a nickel,” one of us would say. “Broke – sick – hungry,” he would reply in broken English and tap the floor with his cane. Someone told me later that George once operated a hamburger joint nearby and loved to gamble.
Later, I landed a part time job at McConnell’s Funeral Home through the Diversified Occupation Program at Athens High School. I worked over 70 hours a week – if you can call that part time – and was paid $28.00; I was in high cotton. I left school at noon, worked the rest of the day, all night and was off on alternating nights.
Dan often came by to visit me at night. He was present when I received a call that a man had shot himself. “Come on,” I said. We jumped in the old 1952 Cadillac hearse, turned on the siren and roared through the night. When we rolled the cot into the kitchen, a body was sitting in a straight-back chair, slumped forward, scalp hanging over the face. A shotgun was propped against the chair. The poor soul had blown his head nearly off. After loading him in the hearse, I got a bedpan and filled it with fragments of remaining skull, hair and brains and placed it on the floorboard on the passenger side. Dan sat silent with both feet hiked up in the seat. “I ain’t never seen anything like that,” he finally said. “In the movies all you see is a chalk outline of the body.”
Dan was elected President of our Senior Class. We graduated in May, 1960 and enrolled at Athens College. I was in love with Carol O’Connell, a skinny 17 year old brunette with big brown eyes from Coleman Hill. “Jerry, she is so skinny she don’t’ even cast a shadow,” Dan said.
Her father had emphysema and was moving to Arizona as soon as Carol graduated. She didn’t want to go. “What the heck?” I thought. I made a deal with Mrs. Cluxton to purchase an engagement ring on installments, and proposed to Carol. Our wedding date was set for August 30, 1961 at Market Street Church of Christ. I asked Dan to be my best man. I rented a small apartment on the ground floor from Mrs. Ben Peck on South Beaty Street. All my little love nest needed was a thorough scrubbing. I recruited Dan and our buddy, Brown (not real name) to help.
“We’ll make it a fun party,” I promised.
TO BE CONTINUED…
By: Jerry Barksdale