Mr. Barry and My Very First Job

Earlier this week I learned that Mr. Barry Brown passed away. I read that he died at his home in Hope, Arkansas, at the age of 89.

Mr. Brown was my very first employer. When I was in the tenth grade, I got a job - with the help of the music director at our church - at Barry's Grocery. I wasn't quite sixteen, but Mr. Veatch told me it'd be okay, so I started working. At first, I was a bag boy and stocker. I did mostly grunt work, and I was happy to do it. I was making my own money that I could use toward buying a car, buying cheeseburgers at The Bobcat Drive-In, and all kinds of cool things.

Barry's Grocery was a great way to be introduced to the world of work. Previously, my only interactions with people had been through family, school, and church. Work was something altogether different. Though I was the new kid, and quite naive, I was treated kindly and with respect by all the people I worked with at Barry's. I have nothing but great memories of that experience. I worked at Barry's Grocery in the afternoons and on Saturdays (and full time during summer) all through high school.

Over the years that I was there, I graduated from bag boy, and eventually got to cashier some, and was delivery boy in the Barry's Grocery red pickup truck. Delivering groceries to various homes in Hope, Arkansas, was a treat and an education. I learned about our town and its neighborhoods and its shortcuts and its tree-lined streets and those streets' potholes. I learned about the people who have their groceries delivered. And at that time, in Hope, they seemed to fall into two categories: the very well-to-do and the very poor. The well-to-do would phone in an order to be delivered, a breathy voice distractedly dictating a particular size and brand of cream cheese that was required for a cheese ball recipe. Such customers could not possibly be expected to drive the Lincoln into town and fill their own grocery lists. The other delivery customers, the poor ones, would come to Barry's Grocery and do their own grocery shopping, usually with an entourage of assorted children and grandchildren. At the end of the shopping process they would be rung up, and when it came time to pay they would use their government issued food stamps, or if it was toward the end of the month, they might put their grocery bill on a house charge until they would get enough money to come back to Barry's and pay. They would ask that their groceries be delivered, as they had no vehicle of their own. When the weather was nice, they'd walk back home and wait for the delivery. In bad weather, they'd somehow find money for a cab. Once in a while, they'd ride along in the delivery truck. Deliveries to these two different types of homes was a rich study in contrasts.

But I digress. Mr. Barry Brown died this week. It is my understanding that his sons are continuing to operate Barry's Grocery in Hope, Arkansas. I feel quite confident that Mike and Duane will honor their dad by continuing to offer something special to their customers. Mr. Brown created a culture of kindness and respect at Barry's. I will always remember him fondly.


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