I don’t ever seem to be able to get away from groceries

Posted by | December 10, 2013

“So you wonder why I have spent the last ten years of my life behind this meat counter,” said Jack Gallup. “You think I ought to be doin’ something better, do you? Well, I’ll tell you. For one thing, I never would study in school and I dropped out at the end of the fifth grade; and another thing is, I have never been able to get any money ahead because I spent it on gasoline and liquor.

“I am not much over thirty, but I might have saved up enough money by now to start a small business of my own. I know the grocery business and I know the meat business from top to bottom. My uncle’s store has a good trade and I do all the buying for the meat counter and stand behind the counter to cut it and weigh it. Particular people come in here and it’s my business to please them.

“In the course of time, you know, a man can learn anything if he puts his mind on it. I could have learned something out of books when I was in school, but I wasn’t willin’ to put my mind on it. I was interested in marbles and baseball and in playing pranks on the other boys and in deviling the teachers. A good lawyer here in Tucony once told my mother I’d make a good lawyer if I’d only study, but I wouldn’t.

Ice box in grocery store in West Asheville, NC“What little I know I’ve learned right here in this store. In sellin’ meat I learned some arithmetic because I had to, and I’ve learned to speak fairly good English from educated people who came in here to trade. I’ve always kept my ears open, and that’s easier than studyin’ books and worth more; I never could see much in books.

“I remember at least one thing I heard a teacher say. It was somethin’ about paying too dear for your whistle. These people who get a book education have to pay too much for it. I may not be right but that’s my way of thinkin’. Anyhow I wasn’t willin’ to pay the price. It may be worth it to some people but not to me.

“Have I always lived in Tucony? Most of my life. I was born out in the country six miles from town on a farm my granddaddy bought when this was a wild country, and I had my fun fishin’ and huntin’ and trappin’. I went to school when I had to, and I worked in the cornfield when I had to, but my daddy had to lick me sometimes to make me do it. I reckon the way I lived out in the country is what makes me so strong and healthy.

“When my daddy moved into town so my sisters could go to high school, I got a job as an errand boy in a grocery store, and I don’t ever seem to be able to get away from groceries. When I was growin’ up I got several other small jobs, but I didn’t keep any of ‘em long. I got to runnin’ round nights with the boys and we used to drink and prowl about, and sometimes times we got into fights and landed in the cooler. It cost my daddy a lot of money to get me out of trouble, and it was at a time when he had mighty little money. I don’t know why it is but when I get liquor in me I want to fight. I’m just a plain fool.

“Finally my uncle took me into his grocery and put me behind the meat counter. I got drunk once in a great while and he always threatened to fire me but he never did. He’s a queer old duck, but he’s good-hearted. He hates to see money go out of his hands but he’ll give a bunch of ripening bananas to some of his kin to help feed the chillun. Some people would rather give things to strangers than to their kin. Not my uncle. He abuses everybody who works for him, but he is good to them in many ways. He’ll do anything for them except raise their wages; some of them have been with him a long time.

“He and his wife work hard – she with her butter-making and he behind his counter or an the road looking after his branch stores in neighboring towns. He drives his own automobile and he goes like the devil was after him. He says time’s money, and money is what he wants. Two or three times he has run his car off the mountainside and rolled over and over, but he’s so tough he was back at work in a day or so. He growls and says he’s nearly dead but he goes on. I once told him he wasn’t fit to die. I expected he’d beat me over the head with a stick, but he only laughed.”

Spencer Mull,
Brevard, N.C.
interviewed August 7, 1939 by A.W. Long
Folklore Project of the Federal Writers’ Project
for the U.S. Works Progress (later Work Projects) Administration (WPA)
online at http://lcweb2.loc.gov/wpa/27060407.html

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