UNITED STATES—A lot of the drug store operation and staff was inherited from Mr. Meyer when Johnson Drug changed hands, in 1962. That inheritance included Alberta Johnson. Yes, she was related to Johnson, the Johnson whose surname the store bore. Alberta was his widow. He must have died early, leaving her with a daughter to raise. So even though she had a house on Cutter Drive and drove a T-bird, here was this woman, widow of the former owner, working for years as one of the shopgirls.
Dad told me about what a stink there was one day when an elegant looking woman came in the store for a prescription and met with Alberta. Out came the claws. Either Glady or Betty laughingly (always laughingly with Betty) clued my dad in that Alberta bristled because the other woman and her late husband had had something going on.
Alberta had a gravelly voice, perfected by smoking, and a face like W.H. Auden. She always wore a white uniform, so did dad and the relief pharmacists in the early era, when the store stayed open daily till 10 p.m. One night a man with a gun entered; he entered the world of pipe racks, Russell Stover candies, a spinning rack with all sorts of pocket books, a magazine rack with hot rods and hot chicks and a scales where for a dime you could get your weight and a rolled up horoscope.
Alberta looked dead ahead at the man pointing the gun. She said in her gravelly voice, “Put that thing away and get out of here.” He did. Alberta was tough.
During the year back in Watsonville after college, while writing A Winter in Hell, one foggy night I walked down from Freedom, where I was living, to the store. It was already closed. Dad opened the side door to the pharmacy for me. I told him I was going to the library. I couldn’t wait to look up some new words for the book I was composing in Spanish.
I ran across East Lake and through the alley by the shoe store. The relief pharmacist Jack Eddy had already left the pharmacy and gone to his car. A white man in drab clothes came up to the side door, dramatically knocked on the glass. When my dad opened a crack, the man said, “Your son’s been hit by a car.”
When I got back from the library, twenty minutes later, there were police cars parked outside the drug store. The side door was open. The store had been robbed. All the lights were on and the store was alive. Not in a good way. I didn’t know what to expect and feared the worst. The police were asking questions; a pale man with latex gloves was dusting the place for prints.
The man who’d said I had been hit by a car, took advantage of my dad’s momentary shock and stuck his foot in the door and got inside the closed store. He made Dad crawl to the back of the pharmacy and tied him up with phone cord in the back of the pharmacy. He got away with my dad’s wallet and that was about all. Hundreds of dollars from the sale of money orders had earlier had been providentially placed in a paper bag, and the money remained safe in the nondescript bag.
Jack Eddy had a good description of the robber. My dad’s wallet was later found in a dumpster near the Santa Cruz bus station. I still feel bad about my part in this crime and bad for my dad who had suffered a lot, and suffered it in silence.
To be continued…