UNITED STATES—Among the carryovers from the Meyer era of Johnson Drug was Tammy the bookkeeper. She wore a dark sweater and skirt and was Japanese-American. Her lair was the office up on the top of the stairs in back, all glassed in. It had been a record listening room in the prior incarnation of the store at the corner. From here you had a perfect view of the whole store. Everything was tidy and smelled of typewriter ribbons. Then Tammy walked out of our lives, one day in 1967, and my mother took over the bookkeeping. Not having a bookkeeper on the payroll helped with the living expenses. Mom never got paid. She got miffed when at grade school I said she didn’t work and volunteered her to be room mother.
Mom and Dad were definitely a team, she handled the business end while my dad was the personality of the store. She stayed up at night, while we slept, she sitting at the dining room table littered by carbon slips, rubber thimbles, paper clips, and in our bedrooms my sister and I were lullabied by the chunky sound of a Burroughs adding machine as mom repeatedly pulled the crank down, to print the numbers on paper rolls. And she prepared the punch cards, to be sent by Greyhound to a plant in South San Francisco where computers, the size of Volkswagen vans, processed the data and sent out customers’ bills. There were a lot of all nighters. Dr. DuPuy, the guy who actually paid a house call when my mother, sister and I were down with the flu, warned her, “What you are taking off this end will be taken off the other end.”
My mom has defied grim expectation, while Dr. DuPuy lies snugly in his grave. The drug store certainly would not have survived without her. One afternoon she was tooling down Sudden Street around 5 o’clock in the Blue Bomber, the old Oldsmobile Cutlass. She usually went to the bakery after working in her office. Going up the hill by Callahan Park she thought, what’s wrong with the car? She got out of the car, shaky, and wondered if she was alright. Then she got back in the car, and drove down Lincoln. She saw chimneys were up and down the street. When she got home, the whole brick front of the house was down. There was a hole for the fireplace. There was such a silence and then the storm was on to get plywood to board the broken windows. The house would soon be yellow tagged: conditional. It was October 17, 1989, the Tuesday of the World Series earthquake.
Pharmacist Jack Eddy was concerned that my dad had left the drug store. Dogs had run off from the print shop, upset. Dad went to the house; neighbors came over and turned off the gas. My sister was crying, all the books had fallen to the floor and you couldn’t get inside. Downtown, at the drug store, all the plate glass windows were broken. They started sweeping the sidewalk. Looters were already out, going in trying to take things.
Friday, the building, the whole old Jefsen Hotel that housed the drug store was red-tagged. Jack Eddy was ordered out. My mother noticed that with the earthquake people got very authoritative, even despotic. And Jack quietly seethed. He brought a typewriter to the house and did five more prescriptions at the house. People still needed to get their prescriptions and for its finest hour Johnson Drug operated out of our house on Beach Street, and took phone calls.
Then Buck Sweeney had a space in his property. Mom and dad decided it wasn’t right. Then Mom saw Bill Bergstrom on the other side of the parking lot. He offered her the spot on Brennan Street, right across from the clinic where DuPuy had practiced. It was California style with a roof over the walkway and you could park right in front, the new location was tiny compared to the old store, just enough for the pharmacy. They had to decide right away; others were lined up for it. Monday they were open for business.
To be continued…