September 4, 2010 8:27:00 PM
Later this week, Sept. 10, Maxine Mason will retire from the Sunflower Store on Military Road. She has worked there for 31 years, 28 of them as manager. Now she says she and her husband, Bill, want to do some traveling, "while we still can." They will soon go to New England to see the colorful leaves, and plan to take a Mediterranean cruise later.
As much as they look forward to such pleasures, Maxine can look back at things that happened at Sunflower during those 31 years. Some of her favorite incidents are predictably those that make her laugh.
One young bag boy, Chavis Jones, apparently appointed himself as her "bodyguard." One day he accompanied her to the back room where she had to do reports. Before the lights were turned on, the room was extremely dark. Maxine couldn''t resist playing a little trick on her bodyguard. Before she flipped the switch to light the room, she yelled in apparent fear. "He took off running," she said. "All I could see of him were elbows and the bottoms of his tennis shoes!"
That was about 25 years ago, and there were no hard feelings. He still comes to the store.
Armstrong Walters was also a prankster when he worked there as a youth. One time he put a paper sack on her desk. When she looked in the sack, she found it held a little garden snake. She screamed. Alan Holliday was sitting nearby, but he never lost his cool. He just said, "What''s going on there?" and kept on working.
Such pranks abounded. Every new employee was "initiated" by sending him to nearby Williams Drug Store to ask Howard Williams if he could borrow a "shelf-stretcher." Everyone fell for it.
Juanita Simmons was an elderly woman who had had to give up driving her car to get her groceries. Maxine offered to take her home one day. After that she frequently called asking if Maxine would bring her some little something she needed, like a thimble or a kitchen gadget. Once she called and asked Maxine if, when she left the store, she would drop some matches off at her house so that she could light her gas stove.
Later when Maxine arrived with the matches, she was nearly knocked out by the smell of gas. She covered her face, managed to turn the stove off, got Mrs. Simmons outside, and opened windows to air out the house. Mrs. Simmons was not disturbed. She said, "Guess I''m lucky I didn''t strike a match. I''d have gone out with a bang!"
One day two elderly couples came in the store arguing. As their voices rose, one of the men grabbed a loaf of bread from the shelf and hit the other fellow on the head with it. The package split open, and bread went everywhere. For days they found bits of bread and crumbs all over the shelves on that aisle.
The cause of the great white bread fight? The couples were next door neighbors. One kept a meticulously manicured yard. The other was not so tidy. One day the neatnik trimmed the grass around a bush on the property line and cut a spot of his neighbor''s yard. The trespassing did not sit well, implying criticism as it did. Tempers flared and became physical at the grocery store.
Of course, life is never all laughs. About 20 years ago Maxine had a heart attack and was off work about three months. During that time people were so thoughtful that she was deeply touched. Many of her customers left food at the store for her. She particularly remembers Mike Smith''s apple cobbler and turnip soup. She especially appreciates the family of her employer, Steve Townsend, who were unstintingly supportive.
"They are really, really good people," she says. Now their son, Clint Townsend, is taking over.
It is usually bittersweet to leave the people one works with and admires. Maxine has all those feelings, but is nevertheless happy to anticipate more leisure and travel. It won''t seem right not to see her at Sunflower, but we wish her all the best.
Betty Boyls Stone is a freelance writer, who grew up in Columbus.
2. Former U.S. poet laureate to give reading Wednesday ENTERTAINMENT
3. Hot Mississippi blues will honor late Willie King ENTERTAINMENT
4. Thursday talk features Southern Gardening's Bachman ENTERTAINMENT
5. MUW festival puts spotlight on music by women ENTERTAINMENT