When I was 15 I got a work permit so I could get a job at Ogletree’s IGA.

IGA stands for Independent Grocers Alliance. You find IGA’s in mostly smaller towns, and unlike the big grocery chains they are almost all locally-owned.

Mr. Ogletree owned the grocery store in Sandy Springs where I went to high school. Neither my high school nor Mr. Ogletree’s store is still there.

When I started putting together a resume before college, I always included IGA and the years I worked there. I didn’t say it was a grocery store, I just put down the initials.

IGA, 1965 – 1967.

My logic? America’s biggest companies didn’t screw around with names. IMB. AT&T. GM. Their initials said it all.

Now compare “IGA” with my only other employment opportunity in town.

Piggly Wiggly, 1965 – 1967.

Future prospective employer: “So, Mr. Bassett, tell me about this a…Pigg-illy Wigg-illy. Exactly what were your responsibilities there?”

I got the job at IGA because my mom and my grandmother shopped there every Saturday. It was a Saturday family ritual. First, IGA. Second, the beauty shop next door where my grandmother got her hair done for church on Sunday.

My title at IGA was Bag Boy, and that’s mostly what I did. I worked on weekdays after school and all day Saturday.

Back then, there were no options of paper, plastic. or recycled bamboo.

There were brown paper bags.

The bags measured 12″ x 7″ x 17″, and I became quite an expert at maximizing their allotted space. I made sure at least one corner of each bag was well-defined by two cereal boxes. I then filled out the rest of the bag with mid-weight essentials. A space near the top was always reserved for eggs and bread.

If there were three or more canned goods, I always double-bagged them. (Don’t quote me on this, but in some states, just one 28-ounce can of Hunt’s Diced Tomatoes is considered a lethal weapon.)

When I wasn’t bagging groceries, I was re-stocking shelves, straightening shelves, dusting shelves, turning cans so they all faced the same way, and mopping floors. Mr. Ogletree didn’t believe that idle hands were the devil’s workshop. He believed that idle hands were costing him money.

I learned a lot of other things working at IGA.

“Clean up on Aisle 3” meant broken jars, usually mayonnaise, jelly, or pickles.

“Clean up on Aisle 8” meant a large bag of dog food had split open.

I learned that Thursday was Soda Bottle Recycling Day. That was my day to put all of the empty, returned glass bottles into wooden crates. (Plastic soda bottles wouldn’t be introduced until 1975.)

Coke bottles were easy. They were all the same size so they fit neatly into the rectangular wooden crates. Odder shapes like RC Cola and Nehi Orange were like playing Tetris. Make solid rectangles out of shapes that weren’t.

I learned that shelf space was very competitive. Bread trucks stocked their own shelves. One of the bread guys would lick his thumb before touching the competitor’s bread bags so they would develop mold spots.

At IGA, I also got my first exposure to same-sex discrimination. The two older women who ran the produce department were seen holding hands behind the closed swinging doors of cold storage. They were fired. I held my girlfriend’s hand everywhere we went. What was the big deal? Even my not-yet-fully-developed-male-brain understood that.

Lastly, I learned that if the economy goes to hell, I still have employable skills. As they say, once a Bag Boy, always a Bag Boy.

“Paper, plastic, or recycled bamboo? Oh, you brought your own bags? Even better.”

Published by bassetts49

50 years in advertising, 20 years as the creative lead on Geico. A life in creative thinking.

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