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    The Pig

    by | 11, Add your Comment | Jun 17, 2009

    Piggly WigglyMy first job was as a bagboy at the Piggly Wiggly in Raleigh, NC. I was 16 and needed money for my new hobbies: drinking and driving. The job was perfectly suited to my talents, placing a variety of different shaped objects into a paper bag and lugging them out to cars. For this, I was paid $1.25 an hour plus tips, which were generally a quarter.

    I loved the people working there, with one exception: the produce manager was to this day the worst letch I have ever met. When an attractive woman was checking out, he would pretend to drop a pen so he could bend down and look up her dress. Class act. Even as a sixteen-year old with a budding interest in the subject, I found his hobby repugnant.

    I witnessed the end of his avocation when the cashier motioned to a young customer to look down beside her. Caught in the act, an embarrassed, and deflated, if you know what I mean, red-faced produce clerk took up other interests, probably stamp collecting or torturing cats.

    There was a Coke machine which dispensed the only Coke worthy of drinking: the 8 oz. bottles. On breaks we would put our quarters in, grab our bottles and look on the bottoms where the bottling plant was listed. The one whose Coke came from the plant farthest away would be reimbursed for the drink, my earliest foray into gambling.

    I was generally considered the best bagboy the Pig had ever had, a title I was assured was intact years later when I would visit the store. But there were, as with even the greatest athletes, fumbles.

    One day I was carrying groceries along with a one-gallon bottle of vinegar with a jug-handle out to a customer’s car. I slung the bottle into the bottom of the back seat and the entire bottle made it into the car, with the exception of the bottom, which hit the running board and sliced clean off. The entire gallon of vinegar was thus freed from captivity and saturated the back of her car.

    Months later she would come into the store and complain that her car smelled like an Easter egg. But there is beauty to being a teenager with a low-wage, low-skilled job: the ability not to care.

    Another customer was an older Italian woman who lived in an apartment above a near-by store. She always wore black, in mourning for a long lost husband from another time and place. I would bag her groceries, walk her home, up the stairs to her apartment and then perform whatever small tasks she needed: changing light bulbs and putting up the groceries I had so neatly packed. For this service she always tipped a dime.

    brandMy friend Bill Moore worked down the street at the Winn-Dixie. This was the early seventies and provincial, ie: racists, attitudes abounded. Two of Bill’s co-workers and friends were African-Americans, Harvey and Freddy. A genteel, and I use the term loosely, woman in a low voice asked Bill, who was working the produce section: “Do those darkies actually touch the food?” Without missing a beat, he yelled across the aisle: “Hey Harvey, Fred, this lady wants to know if you darkies actually touch the food?” They played it up magnificently and the little lady was so humiliated, she ran out without a word.

    They laughed over the incident forever, a friendship bonded by a mutual distain for ignorance.

    Hometowns change and the Piggly Wiggly was too small to compete against the larger chain groceries. Eventually it closed and a trendy cafe and gift shop has replaced it. In homage to its predecessor, which was beloved for its friendly people, minus a produce manager, it is named “the Pig.”




    ###
    Billy Howard

    Billy Howard

    Billy Howard is a commercial and documentary photographer with an emphasis on education and global health.

     

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    • C Smith

      Been there-done that. But there again so have many young highschool boys in many small southern towns. I believe there were Piggly Wigglys in every Georgia town that had more than one red light. Like you I do remember those days as fond learning times. My like expieriance started in the late ’50s so as you can imagine not exactally the same. Thanks——

    • John

      Great memories working the Pantry Pride in the 1970s. We were located in the Southside DuPont section of town, so our clientele was mainly Jewish. We were all young outsiders on our own, so we bonded within this strange outpost. I will defer on my stories in recognition of Billy’s excellent piece.

    • Lindy Lou

      Great piece Billy. My mom would always say “I’m going to the Pig, be back soon.” Where else but in the south?

    • http://www.botsfordgroup.com David Botsford

      Boy, did I need laugh this morning, and Billy delivered in spades (with no reference to the “darkies” intended).

    • AnneB

      What a wonderful way to start the day! Just looking at that little piggy makes me smile, and you, Billy boy, always touch my heart with your unique combination of wit, humor, and tenderness. Thanks.

    • http://marykayandrews.com Kathy Trocheck

      Billy, I’ve done a book signing at that former Pig--now called NoFo at the Pig in Raleigh’s delightful Five Points. Like you, my first job was at a grocery store--the A&P in St. Petersburg, FL., where the store manager sold beer out the back door to the under-aged employees on Friday nights at closing time--but only the boys, not the girls. To punish said boys for infractions, he’d sentence them to stocking the Kotex aisle. Ah, the good old days.

    • http://www.jeanielbaum.com Jeani

      I laughed so hard my eyes watered. The vinegar incident was just too good. I’m still smiling….

    • http://www.jaddams.com Jeannine Addams

      Billy, I love the vinegar story. I have a comparable one involving the Big Star, (remember that one?) me, my own car (by then, bag boys were long gone) and a jug of milk. There’s nothing like a half gallon of piping hot milk curdling in the unseeable crevices of a trunk in a hot southern summer. Weeks later, I almost had to set the car on fire just for olfactory relief.

    • Cliff Green

      You guys are all so young. Do any of you remember a grocery chain named Jitney Jungle?

    • Susan Miles

      Billy, my husband’s first job was as a bagboy at a grocery store in Atlanta in the 60’s. To this day, he prefers to bag our groceries, and he complains that today’s bagboys just aren’t properly trained.

    • kirby

      I too, started my “professional” career (first job indoors with a clip on neck tie) when a new Piggly Wiggly came to Douglas, GA. As an original employee, I helped stocked the shelves for grand opening and took great pride in being selected a bag boy. We could not solicit tips, but would accept them when offered. Our produce manager knew more dirty jokes and used more cuss words than any adult I had ever met. My biggest thrill was taking our District Manager on a tour of the stock room, then he bought me lunch (meat & 3, including dessert), and shared wise lessons from grocery life. Piggly Wiggly Southern, Vidalia, GA, helped shape the lives of many young men like me.

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