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A little kindness pays off for grocery clerks

It might be a good idea for the tale of the late James Glenn Dudley to be tacked behind the counters of every supermarket, convenience store, gas station, drugstore and anywhere else where paying customers are regularly acknowledged by grunts, mumbles, yawns or a half-hearted "have a nice day."

Dudley, 85, was a retired podiatrist who lived in Marietta, Ga. Every morning, he would go to a nearby Kroger supermarket to have breakfast with other retired geezers and maybe do some grocery shopping.

The clerks who worked in the store said he could be a grumpy and bossy old fellow. Which is understandable. At 85, a guy usually has a lot of aches and pains to be grumpy about.

And after a lifetime of messing with the feet of other people _ trimming corns and bunions and curing the dreaded black toe _ most of us would not be stand-up comics.

But some of the clerks in the supermarket kind of enjoyed Dudley's irascible ways.

"To me," said Jeannette Peeks, "he was sort of a mean old man, but I liked him for it. Like he told me I was too fat. He'd say things like that. He was kind of bossy and very particular about things."

So when he frowned, grumbled or commented on their weight, they smiled. When he came in shoeless or without a shirt on hot days, they just joked with him.

Loretta Griggs, 54, has worked in the deli section of the store for seven years.

"He was a regular customer. He came in every morning for breakfast. It's self-service, but when we'd see him coming, we would hand him a plate. We would carry his coffee to the table for him because he'd always forget it. But I try to be nice to all my customers.

"When he came in, I used to say, "Why, here's Glenn, he's my boyfriend,' and another woman would say, "I want to take Glenn away from you.' We just kidded with him."

Early in the year, Dudley, a widower, was diagnosed as having cancer.

"I think that was why he could be mean, sometimes, because he was sick," Griggs said.

"But he could be so nice. When I mentioned once that I had high blood pressure, he came back the next day with some pills and said, "Here, take two every day.' Another time, I said I had a taste for watermelon. He went right over and bought me some."

When Dudley's health began slipping and he was hospitalized, Griggs and three other clerks visited him. They just thought it was a neighborly thing to do. It's kind of a Southern thing.

Then in June, they got word that he had died.

A few weeks later, Griggs was at work when a man came in, told her that he had been Dudley's financial adviser and wanted to talk to her when she finished her shift.

She met him outside at his car.

"He told me: "Loretta, Glenn left a little piece of money for you.'

"I said: "He did?' And he said, "Just sign right here and I'll give you his check for $10,000.'

"I said, "Oh, my God, I can't believe it.' Ten thousand dollars. I had to go back in the store and sit down for an hour. I was shocked. Ten thousand dollars when I'm saving what I can to buy my own little house."

There also were $10,000 checks for Peeks and two other co-workers, including a clerk named Sherry.

"When he told Sherry, they had to hold her up to keep her from falling down," Griggs said.

And there was $30,000 for Jesse Gray, a middle-aged clerk.

"Jesse was flabbergasted," Griggs said. "He got $30,000 because he really did more for Glenn than the rest of us. Jesse used to go to Glenn's house and unload his groceries for him."

Frank Cairns, Dudley's financial adviser who handed out the checks, said: "He got to know those ladies pretty well. They treated him well, and he liked them a lot. And he thought they could probably use the money."

In a way, it was like winning the lottery.

Except better, because they truly earned it.

Chicago Tribune