Every Saturday, my daddy would give mom a break from her expected role, and he’d go out to the Airline Hwy/Labarre Rd. Schwegmann’s Supermarket to “make groceries,” as us Y’at’s (New Orleans natives) called the weekly shopping ritual. Occasionally, I would go along with dad and “Tita” (a short Spanish version of Abuelita), my grandmother on dad’s side, who lived in the basement apartment of our Uptown home.
“Here,” Tita said with her coy and shy disposition and a smile - a widow with a small frame – as she handed to me a little piece of smoked sausage on a tooth pick that a Schwegmann’s deli worker had handed out to grocery patrons.
These Schwegmann’s stores were the first Giant Supermarkets in New Orleans that had “one-stop” shopping and touted having “enough room for two grocery carts to make it through the isle!” You could take care of your groceries, get your haircut, have your shoes repaired, buy jewelry, make a bank deposit (long before ATMs) and many other tasks under one roof.
“Don’t worry,” said Daddy to me, “as I’ll be getting Mercy (my late mother), Tita, you, David and Helen (my siblings) some of dose gravy drippin good roast beef poboys from Schwegmann’s deli – some of da best in town, and even better dan ‘Mother’s on Poydras!”
John Schwegmann was an even better entrepreneur than Sam Walton. He knew that if you stopped by his in-store deli to get some of his famous gravy dripping roast beef poboys, as well as drink the draft beer while shopping, you would probably be more inclined to buy more groceries – the casinos have certainly learned this from him!
“Yeah,” I said, “and daddy don’t forget to get me a King Cake from McKenzie’s!”
My favorite job in helping dad on these outings was getting the McKenzie’s Glazed Donuts (precursors to and better than Krispy Crème’s!), as they had a store on the premises; another choice treat there was their Pride Coffee Cakes!
“Are you going to get the baby next?” Daddy asked me as I was pushing da grocery cart for him.
“I hope not, Dad,” I said, then I’ll have to get da next one using my allowance and grass cutting dough!!!”
“And Daddy, I can’t wait to see da Mid-City Parade again this weekend near Uncle Junior’s house at our family Kleinpeter Grocery (formerly @ Bienville and S. Jefferson Davis Pkwy – catacorner to then Mercy Hospital where I was born!) with all da bands that play,” I noted!
“Sure, son, we look forward to dat!” Daddy said with his effervescent optimistic Tulane Greenie alumni smile!
But one of the most important lessons I learned from my dad on those shopping excursions was tipping those who helped us in any way. He always impressed upon me to give due to those folks who helped you.
Later, in my high school years, when I worked part-time at a Piggly Wiggly that was located on St. Charles Ave. and Chrokee St, I certainly appreciated getting tipped likewise for taking groceries out to a shopper’s car or making a home delivery using those old fashioned bikes.
Like dad told me, you can learn Customer Service 101 by working at a grocery store that you can apply to all areas of your life. No matter how high falutin they may try to make it (Total Quality Management, Continuous Quality Improvement, etc.), it’s all about listening to God and helping people.
Another critical virtue about being a parent that I learned from my dad was fairness – if he treated me to some kind of goodie on these outings, he would be sure to do something similar later that day for my brother and sister.
Thanks, dad, for all that you taught me and how to apply those “makin groceries” experiences to everyday life. And with Marchbeing dedicated as Social Work Month, I can truly say that you taught me great communication skills through all the encounters we would experience out shopping and through other venues – the most important, of course, and the hardest to implement: listening.