Memories are part of who we are

By Robert McGowan

The following memories of a few days many years ago don’t suggest that the remembered events indicate defining moments in my life.

All of us have memories. Perhaps in some small way they become a part of who we are.  Perhaps they have been responsible for molding a bit of our character, our personality. If not, why do we retain these memories with such clarity and feeling?

When the Northern Mockingbird sings outside my window maybe it is telling us a bit of its story, a bit of what it wants others to hear. I really don’t believe that, of course, but sometimes I think that I would like to believe what my brain tells me I can’t — not only about birding, but many other things.

Recently, I was again searching through my file cabinet when I noticed a folder labeled “social security card.” The folder contains only one item, my original social security card and the date of issue. The card is worn with age and use, having been issued 75 years ago.

It brought back memories, one in particular.

I was a sophomore or junior in Jackson High School in Jackson, Tenn.

I was 15-16 years of age, living in my room in the boy’s dormitory at Lambuth College.  My father had died about a year earlier. My mother had gotten a job as house mother at Lambuth. She had a room in the girl’s dormitory.

These months were rather lonely days for me. I had gotten a job working on weekends and holidays at the U-Tote-Em grocery store. A social security card was necessary, but I could have had one already because of my paper route a year earlier.

We began work at the grocery store at 7 a.m. and closed at 10 p.m. For these hours I    received $2. At the end of the day the manager would call out one’s name, and I received $1.98. The two cents from two dollars was the Social Security deduction. One must remember that $1.98 in 1938 was no little sum. My mother’s and my room and board at the college was part of mother’s job compensation.

I will never forget the walk, late at night, from U-Tote-Em to Epworth Hall, the boy’s dormitory, particularly at Christmas time. I was tired, I was lonely, and the boy’s dormitory was empty, the college students having gone home for Christmas. I dreaded going into that empty building to my empty room.

Walking from work, down Lambuth Blvd., past houses alive with Christmas lights and decorations to an empty building and empty room was a lonely feeling and I have never forgotten the feeling, but neither do I dwell on it.

Working at the grocery store in the city of Jackson was an interesting experience. Yes, I learned a few things.

The U-Tote-Em grocery store was a small West Tennessee chain with headquarters in McKenzie, Tenn. They had a rural “flavor.” Farmers brought their products in early Saturday morning. Incidentally, I soon learned that Jackson’s higher income ladies took more time carefully selecting the beans, etc., than the obviously poorer customers.

The store kept chickens in cages. Customers selected one and the clerk would fold the wings, tie the legs, stick the chicken’s head through a hole in the paper bag, and watch the ladies walk down the street with their live chickens.

We sold coffee by the scoop, so much a pound, also sugar by the scoop. Big dill pickles in a big jar.

One last note: Customers would drive their wagons into the alley behind the store and buy sugar by 100-pound sacks. Also, they bought wood barrels, inside coated, leak proof.

I asked a fellow worker why anyone would want that much sugar and leak-proof  wooden barrels.

He explained why to a naïve young boy.