Jackie K. Cooper
When I was growing up in Clinton, South Carolina I always knew when I turned fourteen I had to get a part-time job. That was just the way it was in our family. My brother had started working at the Winn-Dixie when he turned fourteen, so I was expected to do the same. To say I wasn’t thrilled at the prospect of going to work was to put it mildly. I did nothing to find a job, but my father announced right after my birthday that I would be working at Johnson Brothers Supermarket.
“Johnson Brothers” was a family tradition in Clinton. It was THE place to buy your groceries and the clientele was totally loyal. Maybe it was because “Johnson Brothers” would deliver your groceries to you if you couldn’t make it to the store, or maybe it was its location on one of the main streets of Clinton, or maybe it was because the Johnson Brothers – Robert and Albert – were two of the nicest men in town.
At the store Robert was in charge of the meat section. He and another guy named Willie ordered the meat, cut the meat, and sold the meat. Albert was in charge of the rest of the store. He ordered all the products and supervised the hired help, which consisted of Robert Lee, who was stocker, deliverer, and jack of all trades. I was Robert Lee’s assistant when I worked there on Friday afternoon and Saturdays. There were also two women who worked the cash register. Shirley worked in the morning and Joanne worked in the afternoon.
My boss was Albert. He was the one I talked with when I needed some time off. He was basically the one who told me what to do. The Johnson Brothers went to the same church as we did so I knew them vaguely before I started working there. I never did get to know Robert that well but Albert became like a second father to me.
Albert was a great guy. He was kind, friendly and one of the shyest men I ever knew in my life. He had never married but I thought he had a crush on Joanne but she was married and so he never said or did anything to indicate his feelings. I guess I picked up on the way he would look at her from time to time, or the way he lit up when she complimented him in any way. I guess it was one of those unrequited loves that just happens.
Albert also lived in a house that looked exactly like the house I lived in when my mother was alive. Obviously whoever built his house used the same plans as the man who built ours. I never went inside Albert’s house but from the outside it was identical to ours.
I worked at Johnson Brothers for four years until I went off to college. When I say worked, well I did put some cans on the shelves and I bagged some groceries. Mostly I just talked. I talked to my friends who came in the store, to the customers who became like extended family, and to Albert. I think I confided in him more than anyone. I told him how miserable I was after my father remarried; I told him how much I missed my mother; I told him how in love I was with the cheerleader I was dating. For four years I told him pretty much everything. He would just listen and let me rant and rave. He never made suggestions, but in listening he did it all.
After I went off to college I would come back and see Albert at the store. I would sit down on top of the bags we used to bag groceries and catch him up to date. But as I got older the visits became fewer and fewer. One time when I came home from law school my father told me Johnson Brothers had been sold and both brothers had retired. It was the end of an era in Clinton.
A few years later I found out Albert had died. I regretted I had not visited him more often. He had been a big part of my life. Good old Albert never shared words of wisdom, never really even offered advice, but he was a great listener. Maybe when you are fourteen or more in those teenage years that is all you want – someone to listen and not laugh. Albert did that for me.
Jackie K. Cooper was born in South Carolina and now lives in Georgia. His short stories have been used as commentary on Georgia Public Radio. He also keeps active appearing as an after dinner speaker for various events. Cooper has authored six books: Journey of a Gentle Southern Man, Chances and Choices, Halfway Home, The Bookbinder, The Sunrise Remembers, and Back to the Garden: The Goal of the Journey.
Visit his website, or email Jackie.
Jackie K. Cooper