High School grocery work memories of being held-up, scared and relieved by co-workers bantering and teasing.
Have you ever had a gun pointed at you with the threat of losing your life?
It happened to me at the tender age of 16, a sophomore at De La Salle High School, when I working after school and Saturdays back in 1975.
My part-time employment was at the old Piggly Wiggly Grocery Store on Cherokee and St. Charles Avenue in Uptown New Orleans.
You really learn great slices about life in a grocery store, as I got to do a little bit of everything there: stock boy, check-out person, meat market helper, bicycle delivery boy, produce monitor, and Tulane / Newcomb college girl watcher to boot!
Every Wednesday, I got an extra $ 5 bill by going in early for about an hour and helping to unload the Piggly Wiggly supply truck; how can I forget Ms. Helen's delicious homemade extra buttery Martha White biscuits that we were treated to afterward!
Our butcher, Mr. Willie, had more wit than many “college edu-macated” folks as he would call them or I have known – his 3rd Grade level completion imparted so much wisdom in me and Lee, a fellow coworker.
It was fun how other high school employees and I would line up to bag and take groceries out to those in need at the check-out registers – especially when a cute college gal would be in line or when Ralph, the great tipping disabled dude, was spotted heading that way!
Mr. Joe, our manager, was also so practical and fun, as he would surprise us youngish at times with a tickle but also impart to us great knowledge and practices like saving and keeping track of our money.
So it was an ordinary Saturday afternoon as I was putting up the stock by the front of the store nearby to one of the checkout counters. The item I was marking, with those old-fashioned ink-clicking stampers (long before barcoding!) was stocked on the bottom shelf, so I was kneeling on the ground to put them up.
Next thing you know, an unfamiliar shopper came into the store was heard yelling out the following to Mr. Joe and, Ms. Helen, who were at the check-outs, to store patrons and all of us: “Everyone hit the ground and stay still – this is a stickup!” I froze, as I was tightly holding on to my stock item, and the undisguised thief locked the only entrance to the business!
The burglar then held the gun to Mr. Joe's head and told him to empty out the registers. As Mr. Joe was handing him the money, the robber turned his attention to me, pointed his gun directly at me and repeated his warnings. I was trembling but somehow managed to not move too much, still holding tightly onto my stock item.
That moment seemed like an eternity, but after the crook got his money, he dashed out of the grocery on a bike. What a shock that was to all of us, but at least we were all still alive then!
When the NOPD arrived, they questioned all of us, but I couldn't - for the life of me, remember how to describe the criminal; it was just like a blocked memory. The police even had me accompany them on a drive through the adjacent neighborhood, but I could never identify anyone who may have fit my or the other staff's descriptions of the perpetrator.
The next week, my co-workers helped me deal with the tough situation like they normally did – through fun-hearted bantering and teasing – especially the butchers. They never ceased to remind me of what I happened to have been stocking at the time of the robbery and had been holding onto so dearly for my life in that scary encounter: a purple box of a feminine hygiene product!