June 9th...”WHAT WAS YOUR FIRST STEADY JOB?
Quaking like a leaf in my teenage shoes, I stepped through the front doors of Al & Ernie’s Foodliner and into the new chapter of my very first real employment…….I was to be a grocery store “Box Boy”. It was the Summer of 1970 and I had just finished my 10th Grade (Sophomore) year at Battle Ground High School in Battle Ground, Washington. Up to this point in life, I had generated sporadic income, in meager amounts, by odd jobs like helping farmers bale hay, trapping animals for their bounty or fur, mowing lawns, etc.. But THIS, this was to be a bona-fide, get paid, show up on time JOB! My young Norwegian head was spinning from being shown all there was to know about the grocery business by the owner of the store, Alvie Dunning, and his Assistant Manager, Ron Lahmann.
Handsome Ron Lahmann had also started out as a Box Boy for Alvie Dunning (the owner of Al & Ernie’s) during his high school years in the late 1950’s. After his high school days were completed, Ron continued to work for and stayed by Alvie over the many years and had worked his way up in the business to being Butcher for the store and Assistant Manager (eventually becoming the store owner). In my era of this new generation, it was now MY turn to learn the ropes in the ways of running at least some of the aspects of a grocery business……from the perspective of a teenager, at least.
As a Box Boy, I had to learn to grab boxes (or paper bags) and fill them properly with groceries and then to carry those groceries out to cars for the customers and, of course, thank them for their business. Ron (and other employees) taught me how to properly stock shelves and always rotate fresh items to the rear of the shelf with the older items to the front to be sold first. The next phase of learning scared me to death, since I’ve always been poor at mathematics. My BIG scare was to begin training in how to run the old-fashioned cash register and return proper change to the customers. I struggled so miserably in those early money matters until sweet Marian Gans (Head Cashier) said, “Here, let me show you a trick. Elliott, don’t try to do subtraction, just start with the amount of the sale and then add money up to the amount that the customer gave you.” THAT made my money-changing nightmare ease up considerably.
I received many a call, over those next two years, to clean up a customer’s spills and even MY OWN spills around the store. Many products were still housed in glass containers, instead of plastics like today, and would slip out of someone’s hands and CRASH all over the floor. My marvelous mentor, Marian Gans, came to my rescue again with tips of how to make floor mopping faster and get things back to safety for our customers.
Alvie Dunning’s eldest daughter had found love and marriage. She, and her tall handsome husband, had just returned from their honeymoon and were about to set up their first home together. Those two lovebirds went up and down the aisles of her daddy’s grocery store and filled up at least FIVE shopping carts to overflowing with everything you could imagine to start their new home. The price? About $75.00!!!! At the time, I was shocked, as I packed all the boxes and paper bags full of everything from A to Z. But, nowadays? You can carry just ONE bag out of a grocery store and still see $75.00 fly out of your wallet. Wow, how times have changed!!!
Not only was it nice to get a whole $1.60 an hour, while working at Al & Ernie’s Foodliner, but I also got the pleasure of numerous adventures in the everyday life of that place of business. The store was located across the street from one of the town’s taverns, there on East Main Street in Battle Ground, Washington. Sometimes, especially on Friday and Saturday nights, rather colorful characters from the tavern would stagger, stupefied, into the store to grab a few groceries before “pouring themselves” into their car for a precarious drive home. One “pickled personality” stood out on an evening when this toothless, short, fat old man tripped and wobbled through the two glass doors of our grocery store. With wayyyy too many beers “under his belt”, his sights were not set on just the tomatoes on the Produce Display; his sights were set on his version of a “hot tomato” and that was our pleasantly plump Cashier lady, Marian Gans.
The scene that transpired before me was absolutely comical as he sloshed his beer-soaked, bib-overalled body behind the cashier’s counter and began “pitching the woo” to our beloved and portly Marian. “Awww, come on, Marian, howsh about a kisshy poo?, Hmmm?” Not seeing any imminent danger from this old guy, who was a regular customer, I had left the front of the store to head to the back room for my nightly chores and sweeping. Being the only customer in the store, the drunk old man stepped up his amorous attraction to Marian, and the next thing you know, he began to pursue our Marian up and down the aisles of the store to get his “kish” from her. “Elliott!! Help!!”, Marian called, as her fluffy body wiggled n jiggled with every flopping trot she’d make as she’d try to make her getaway from this old, ugly, alcoholic admirer. Standing behind the meat counter in the Butcher Shop, I’d respond with a giggle, “Awwww, Marian, you don’t need ME! Besides, he’s too drunk to catch ya anyway!!” Sure enough, pretty soon I heard the inebriated old codger stammer in a huffing and puffing voice, “Awwww phooooey!! Yer no fun, Marian, I’m gonna go home!!” Out those glass double doors he spilled into the night and he was gone.
From its inception in the late 1940’s, to my era, and to even having our son work for Ron Lahmann at Al & Ernie’s Foodliner, that dear grocery store was not only a resource for family food needs in our town, but was also a social hub where friends could meet and enjoy each other’s company as they’d “shoot the breeze” with Ron, Marian, Margie and others that made this whole grocery store experience a golden one for this Norwegian Farmer’s Son.