I received my first up-close experience with the grocery business when my Mom and her sister Aunt Tooky (Thelma) bought the Quality Grocery Store in El Dorado in 1948. Aunt Tooky was a very special aunt from St. Louis, Missouri, and at that time was the wealthiest person I had ever met. Her husband, Uncle Max Manne owned the Artistic Furniture Company and had made his fortune building moderately priced furniture. He once told me that he had invented the sofa hide-a-bed concept, but the Simmons Company had stolen the idea from him and had made millions with that product. Aunt Tooky was the one who personally introduced me to 2 of my heroes at that time; Stan Musial and Roy Rogers.
Neither Mom nor Aunt Tooky had any interest in groceries other than personally buying them, but their brothers, Ed and Paul West had just returned from serving in the U.S. Army in World War II and needed jobs, so this seemed like a good option for them. After the purchase was finalized and the store was operational, Aunt Tooky decided to live with us for several months to help Mom with the management of the store while Uncle Paul and Uncle Ed handled the meat market and the produce portion of the business. They had one other employee; a delivery man named Clarence who was probably in his early 20’s in age. As a young black man, he became the brunt of many pranks of my uncles who were masters at that sort of thing. They were always telling Clarence he needed to “find a good woman to marry,” and they were going to help him find just the right one. Clarence would usually tell “Mr. Paul” and “Mr. Ed” that he wasn’t ready to “take that step just right now.” Because the store was not making much profit, they were not able to purchase Clarence either a truck or a motor scooter to make deliveries, so he had a bicycle with a basket on front which was large enough to hold most orders. The majority of his deliveries were within a 2 mile radius, so bicycle deliveries were manageable. Needless to say, Clarence had very little time to spend at the store which prevented him from suffering too many jokes and pranks.
At that time Bobbie Fike was working as a maid in our home, and her service was invaluable to us since Mom spent most of her days in the grocery store. Sister Bobbie not only kept the house spotless, but her noon lunches were so delicious my sister Marilyn and I still reminisce about them whenever we are together. Mom had known Sister Bobbie for several years before she and Pops married because Sister Bobbie had done domestic work for her back in the early 1940’s. Both Uncle Ed and Uncle Paul had known her since those days, and she also became the object of a few of their practical jokes.
Mom’s personal grocery shopping became much easier while managing the store because she could call Sister Bobbie for the things needed at home, and then have Clarence deliver them to her on his bicycle. Our home was about a mile away and usually there was another order close-by which would make his deliveries more efficient. By the time Clarence had made 4 or 5 deliveries to our home, he commented to Uncle Paul that Sister Bobbie had not been very friendly to him. Uncle Paul teasingly said to him, “You had better be careful how you treat Bobbie Fike. She is one of the meanest women I have ever known.” Clarence responded, “She don’t look all that mean to me, and I ain’t gona’ try to make her mad anyhow.” Uncle Paul said, “If you don’t believe me, ask Mr. Ed just how mean she is. He has known her a long time and remembers one of her former husbands.” When Clarence got Uncle Ed alone, he asked him about Sister Bobbie and told him what Uncle Paul had said. He picked up on the joke and began laying the ground work for another prank. He told Clarence, “Bobbie Fike has a terrible temper and once when she got into a fight with one of her husbands, she stabbed him with a butcher knife. He was lucky to live, and he got a divorce from her the next week.” He expanded on the story, “Another time, a delivery man knocked on the back door and when she didn’t hear, he knocked so hard on the door, it made the door rattle. She came to the door with a pan of boiling water and threw it in his face through the screen door telling him he shouldn’t make so much racket. It caused all the skin to peel off his face and he was in the hospital for 2 weeks before he could even eat.” Clarence said, “You and Mr. Paul are telling a big story on that woman, and I don’t think she could be that mean.” But the seeds of doubt had been planted.
About a week later, Sister Bobbie called Mom and told her she needed a large number of groceries and in particular, some items she needed that morning to prepare lunch. Mom gathered the 2 sacks of groceries and asked Clarence to deliver them to the house. Uncle Paul overheard and decided to spring the trap on Clarence. Mom didn’t know anything about the tale that her two brothers had told him. Uncle Paul then called Sister Bobbie and said they wanted to pull a joke on Clarence. He told her this; “When Clarence knocks on the back door, wait an extra minute or two to make him knock louder and longer than usual. Get a small pan of cool water, and when you go to the door, throw it through the screen door and tell him he is making too much racket.” In about 30 minutes when Clarence arrived, he found Sister Bobbie was not in the kitchen as usual, so he began knocking louder, and at the same time calling out her name. When she finally arrived he noticed the small pan in her hand and he began backing up, remembering what Mr. Ed had told him. When Sister Bobbie shouted the he shouldn’t make so much noise and threw the cold water through the screen, he was so far back that very little of the water got to him. Both sacks of groceries were thrown in the air and he made a scramble to get to his bike and away to safety. Sister Bobbie called Mom and told her that Clarence had dropped both sacks on the back steps and had made a big mess! The only loss was the quart of milk which was in a glass bottle. When Clarence got back to the store, he told Mr. Paul and Mr. Ed that she really was the meanest woman he ever met. As the two jokers laughed about the incident, they told Clarence that they had put her up to it and she was not really a mean woman. In fact they told him that Sister Bobbie was such a good cook, she might make him a good wife. Clarence dismissed the idea completely by saying, “she is way too old for me.”
Over the next year or so that the Quality Grocery was in our family, Clarence continued delivering groceries in the neighborhood and also to our home. He knew that he had been the object of a prank that day and understood that Sister Bobbie did not intend to harm him; however when he arrived at our home, he would set the groceries on the back steps, knock on the door and by the time Sister Bobbie arrived to open the door, he was already on his bike headed up the driveway.