My first job after turning sixteen was at Fuedo’s, a south Texas family grocer. I worked there part-time during high school as a sacker, checker, and assistant manager. The pay was just above minimum wage yet provided spending money for my teenage years. The experience also taught me life skills in dealing with customers, handling money, and managing a business.
Thanksgiving, Christmas, and the New Year holidays were busy times at our small grocery store. We worked Thanksgiving Day and the store was filled with shoppers buying holiday food. Full shopping carts created long lines at the four cash registers. This was the time before computer scanning. Each purchase had to be hand entered into the cash register. Produce needed to be placed on a scale and priced manually using a price per pound table. I dreaded seeing customers wait in long lines and worked furiously to shorten their shopping time. At 4pm, we locked the doors, cleaned up, and traveled home to our awaiting Thanksgiving meals.
On Christmas Eve, we again closed at 4pm. The same rush for food happened. Customers also bought last minute gifts such as music tapes (pre-CD’s), cosmetics, beer, and candy. The store would fill as closing approached and all employees were at the front helping customers complete their last-minute shopping. After the stored closed, I changed clothes and my parents picked me up to go to our 6pm Christmas Eve service. I was tired from working hard for eight hours but full of the holiday spirit from the buzz that came with holiday shopping. The store closed on Christmas Day, the only day of the year that it was not open. This gave the employees a needed break and family time.
New Year’s Eve and Day brought more customers and even longer lines. We were the only grocery store in town that sold beer. The other grocery store across the highway was owned by a strict Baptist family who shunned alcohol sales. The non-Baptists (and perhaps a few undercover Baptists) flooded our store for beer and food items. To make the day more interesting, the high school employees played a game in which we tried to predict the beer brand a customer would buy when they entered the store. Beer marketing is segmented and with experience, we could guess the brands customers would buy with a high degree of accuracy.
On New Year’s Day morning during my senior year of high school, I was assigned the dreaded task of opening the grocery store at 8am. I crawled out of bed and rode my bike through deserted streets to the store. Before opening the doors, I had to turn on the lights, sweep the floors, and put the money trays in the registers. That morning, as I pulled a large broom out of the back storage area, a mouse jumped out and frightened me. I was alone in the store and half asleep – until this incident. When the doors opened, beer sales during the football bowl games were so strong, that I assigned an employee the job to stock the beer cases full time. He spent all day wearing a refrigerator coat while stocking beer.
After I strted college in another state, I quickly realized that my funds were falling short. When I arrived home for Christmas after my Fall semester, I walked into Fuedo’s, and asked if they needed any holiday help. The store manager quickly said yes, and I was back working my old job. When I arrived for my first shift, he threw me the night manager keys and said, “Lock up.” The work community embraced me again and I felt so validated. I knew how the store functioned and the store employees knew me. I felt the rush again of the holiday shopping, the customers greeted me like I never left, and inquired about my college experiences. We even played the beer brand game. After 20 days of work, I earned enough money to tide me over until I found a part-time job on campus.
Over 40 years has passed since my holiday job at Fuedo’s. But what I fondly remember is the sense of community. Our small grocery store bonded together in a network of interrelated lives that cared for each other. The employees and customers were my family away from home.
As I reflect upon this Advent season, there was another family that needed a home when they arrived in Bethlehem during a busy period. They needed to rest after their long travels, and a young woman needed a place to deliver a baby. Amid the chaos, an employee found them a place to stay. Community gave the Christ child and his family a home, just like the Fuedo’s community helped me upon my return from college. Emmanuel, Christ with us, is lived within community.