The sixties were tumultuous times for many Americans and were especially trying for me. The sixties were filled with protests and demonstrations for “Civil Rights” characterizing the norm for much of the decade.
I graduated high school in 1960 and began attending junior college in Senatobia, Mississippi. After completing two years of college I enrolled at Ole Miss the same year James Meredith decided he wanted to become the first Black student to enroll in The University of Mississippi. A riot ensued.
Disillusioned by the use of U.S. Soldiers, National Guardsmen, and Federal Marshals to break the resistance of citizens and politicians who opposed desegregation of The University of Mississippi, plus the imposition of martial law on campus, and having personally run short of financial aid to continue my college education, I dropped out of school at the end of the first semester of my junior year at Ole Miss.
On a personal level, things could have been gloomier, though at the time I could not have imagined them so. I don’t recall who told me about a supermarket in Tupelo that was soon to open and was in need of meat cutters, but it was probably my dad, and it’s likely he was told this by a salesman visiting Dad’s grocery store.
With a grand opening slated just days away, the new Sunflower Food Store on West Main in Tupelo may have been desperate. I was hired on the spot, without prior supermarket experience. Oh, I knew how to cut meat as well as anyone, but my experience had been behind the service counter of my dad’s store in Pontotoc. Supermarkets and self-service meat departments were just evolving and would soon revolutionize the retail grocery industry.
Bob Jackson was the market manager of the Meat Department. His was a winning personality, and he appeared confident in his managerial position. Our introduction was mostly a “Hi-how-are-you,” and I was soon put to work trimming ham steaks.
The older gentleman that hired me was the store’s meat supervisor. His name was Charlie Muse, and he was Lewis Grocer Company’s expert on self-service meat, having helped inaugurate the concept in Virginia a few years earlier. I must have impressed both Bob and Mr. Charlie.
A few hours after I had been hired, Mr. Charlie pulled Bob and me aside and said to me, “You know what you’re doing, so we’re giving you a 25¢ per hour raise.”
It doesn’t sound like much today, but in 1963, it amounted to a 25% increase in pay from $1.00 per hour to $1.25 per hour.
I only worked one year with Bob Jackson before returning to Ole Miss, but in that time we became good friends. Bob was the bright spot in my otherwise drab year. Bob and his wife Mitzi had me over to their house for supper a few times when Bob and I worked together. It was in their home that I first enjoyed cracker salad, a concoction of fresh tomatoes, salad dressing, and crumbled crackers.
Bob and I kept in touch after I returned to college. I would stop by the Sunflower store to visit him whenever I was in Tupelo. When I asked him to be one of my groomsmen in 1967, he readily accepted. After Barbara and I married, we’d occasionally visit Bob and Mitzi in Tupelo.
As the years flew by, Bob changed jobs, going to work for Frito Lay as a route salesman, and for many years worked the area route that included Pontotoc. I saw Bob more frequently during his Frito Lay years, and while he’d changed jobs he never changed. He remains in my mind one of the most personable individuals I’ve ever known. Oh, it could be he thought I was funny looking, but whenever we ran into each other, he always had a smile and warm greeting for me. But, I saw him being that way with others, so maybe it wasn’t just me.
Bob’s son became a Christian counselor, whose work kept him in Tupelo for a few years but later required him to leave Tupelo and Mississippi altogether. Bob and Mitzi packed up and left with them. They wanted to be with their only child and with their grandchildren, and thought nothing of moving to Minnesota, Washington state, and later Colorado.
Fortunately, by this time in Bob’s life, he’d discovered the Internet, and we were able to stay in touch electronically. Bob and I exchanged a lot of emails through the years. I always enjoyed his perspective on political topics we were interested in, and I loved getting pictures of his family in his emailings.
Bob began having heart troubles, before he turned forty. His heart attacks and surgeries are too numerous for me to recount, and while I never questioned him about his faith, I have the impression that his oft-failing health contributed to him developing a closer walk with our Lord. After moving to Colorado Springs, Colorado, Bob became a volunteer for the Christian ministry, “Focus On The Family,” something he enjoyed immensely.
Bob and Mitzi moved back to Mississippi a few months ago, in part to be closer to other family members and in part because of the medical treatments needed. When I learned a few days ago that Bob was back in the hospital, I presumed he would survive another procedure, as such was his history. But, this time it wasn’t to be. Maybe, he was tired of fighting, or maybe his body simply gave out on him.
One thing I’m sure of is where he is today. And, if I know Bob Jackson, he’s having the time of his life now that the time of his life is over.
I'm a native of Pontotoc, MS, and graduated Pontotoc High School in 1960. I received a BS degree in Mathematics from The University of Mississippi in 1965. My wife Barbara and I have two children and five grandchildren and one great grandchild. We make our home in Pontotoc.