So today I found out what happened to June, the cashier from whom I’ve bought approximately 12,000 lunches from over the past 25 years.
She didn’t show up a few days before Thanksgiving. It was uncharacteristic since she normally mentioned upcoming absences. Typically it was me who announced absences since I take frequent vacations and she doesn’t get much vacation time. Despite being at least 62 years old and working there for umpteen years.
I first took notice of her when she used to chastise Ham of Bone (of the Bobber beer fame) for his “soups”. In his pre-marital frugality, he’d carefully load up no broth, just the meat. With lots of free packages of crackers, he got a meal for the price of a newspaper.
June was no-nonsense and was so fast at her job that I used to say she must be getting paid by number served. Being a victim of the modern cult of efficiency, naturally I gravitated to her line and I’d do the computations in my head (6 people in line at cashier X, meant if I could be number 9 in June’s line, I’d still come out ahead). Memory like an elephant too - she’d recall trivial things like how much I’d spent the previous day, and in the extremely rare cases of making a cashier mistake in cafeteria’s favor she’d rectify it the next day even though I’d forgotten about it.
There were things I wanted to ask but couldn’t or didn’t. I recall just after the O.J. Simpson trial wondering where she, an African-American, stood on it. It was the most revelatory thing to me ever at the time, to see the disconnect between how white America and black America viewed it. Probably not so surprising to blacks, who likely knows how white culture thinks much better than vice-versa in the same way conservatives know what liberals think better than liberals know how conservatives do, due to the imbalance in media. In hindsight it was probably good not to know.
So because she was fast - and friendly without being chatty which is always a mercy - I ended up buying three lunches a day from her for about 200 days a year times for the past quarter century. (Three lunches a day since I buy one for me, and two more for dinner for my wife and me.) The touching and funny thing was that if I went to another line she saw it (eagle eyes, she has) and would chastise me the next day. One time another cashier tried to woo me to her line and I said, “no thanks” and June grumbled about that gal trying to steal her customers.
She was like ol’ (wo)man river, so much so that though she’s much older than me I’d always expected to retire before her. I’d already planned how when I was in that last week at work, feeling light-hearted at the impending retirement, I’d get her a card and put a $50 in it as a tip for all those years. Make her day for once.
But now, to paraphrase former White Sox announcer Hawk Harrelson, she gone. Just like that. Without a goodbye or a last name. I asked the manager what happened and he said she retired. Said she took a couple days off and he guesses she liked it so much she decided not to come back. It seems an impulsive move for a woman so dependable that if she missed work you thought maybe the Apocalypse was upon us. Nothing on earth lasts forever, a timely message in November.