The summer of 1973 was going to be huge in my life. I was going to Europe with my friends for three weeks in July. I needed spending money, so I got a part-time job at Belk Department Store in Columbia as a porter. My job description was to carry packages out to customers' cars. Otherwise, I sat in a small office with my co-worker named Al. He had been a porter for a long time. Our focus was the third floor, which had mostly home items like rugs, toys, housewares, bedding, and TV's. Al took a lot of smoke breaks. I didn't smoke at that time, so I did most of the work.
One day, a man bought an oriental rug. Those things were pretty heavy, and usually Al and I would do it together. But, he was on a smoke break, so I had to do it myself. It is amazing what one can do if you put your mind to it. We also sold these artificial trees. There was a metal rod that went up through the trunk, and it came off in sections. There was a small piece of metal exposed at each section. A woman, with a small child, bought one of those trees. I took it down in sections to her car. As I was putting it in the car, one of the metal sections put a hole in the fabric of the inside roof. I saw it happen, but I didn't say anything. Her little boy also saw it and said, "Mommy, he put a hole in your car!" He kept repeating this, as I was going back inside of the store. Well, the store had to repair the woman's car. I never heard the last of that. Another time, a mother was taking her child to the restroom, and the child didn't make it. He put a mess on the carpet outside the 2nd floor restroom. They called Al and me to clean it up. We had maids for that, but they weren't there. We refused to clean it up, so a saleswoman did it.
Belk knew I was going to Europe for three weeks. When I came back, I brought an ashtray from London for Al. I wasn't able to get my porter job back though. I guess they were still reeling about the damaged car, so I got a job in their warehouse, which was several blocks away from the store. Mr. Richie was my supervisor. He had been in the Army, and treated the workers as soldiers. It was hard work. I mostly put price tags on shoes and cosmetics. When I got off, I smelled like perfume.
Despite the hard work, I developed a love for Belk and its people. That would carry on through life.