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A DELI a COFFEE HOUSE Serving Austin’s University & Capitol Communities Monday Friday 7:30 am 7:00 per 105 W. 20th Street 479-6109 behind Perry Caataneda Library .,1*1 and Associates 1117 West 5th Street Austin, Texas 78703 REALTOR Representing all types of properties In Austin and Central Texas Interesting 8 unusual property specialty. 477-3651 I it E co NAMED FOR THE scrubby southwestern tree, Mesquite is a conservative white working-class town of about 90,000 residents known mainly for its rodeo and its Bible Belt values. Flush against the borders of east Dallas, Mesquite did not allow dance halls until 1985; even today the town remains dry and its schools enforce a dress code. Though Bill Mayfield did not particularly ascribe to these sorts of values, they fit James L. White to a T. A deeply religious man, White was perhaps the only Safeway truck driver who didn’t use a citizens band radio. “He didn’t like the filthy talk,” recalled Vernon Waller, a fellow trucker with a sunny disposition and a huge bald head, who is burdened with the inevitable nickname of “Curly.” Waller met White in 1959 when White began driving for Safeway. “Really, though, James didn’t like much of any kind of talk,” Waller added. “I guess that’s why he liked driving a truck so much.” James White had spent half of his 58 years working for Safeway. Although reserved and soft-spoken, like the other nearly 200 drivers in the Dallas division he was proud of his job and proud of his company. “It was a real good feeling pulling one of those rigs up and down the road,” Waller said, pointing to a drawing of a Safeway 18wheeler in an employee training guide, “especially with that name on it.” Observer Bequests Austin attorney Vivian Mahlab has agreed to consult with those interested in including the Observer in their estate planning. For further information, contact Vivian Mahlab, attorneyat-law, P.C., at 1301 Nueces, Austin, Texas 78701, or call 512/477-9400. James White made good money about $38,000 his last year on the job and worked hard for it. He never complained if he was called to work in the middle of the night or assigned a long haul that took him away from home and from his wife, Helen, for a weekend. Besides, his pay depended in part on how many miles he drove. And as one of the trucking department’s more senior employees, White was entitled to bid early on the long runs to West Texas and back. While White was a Teamster, the company paid nearly $65 a week to his pension fund. When he retired in a half-dozen or so years, he would be entitled to $625 a month for life. He also had full health and life insurance policies. On his time off, White enjoyed nothing better than puttering in the backyard garden and maybe picking tomatoes, pinto beans, and lettuce and making a salad to go with Helen’s Swiss steak, his favorite dish. After dinner, he was content to relax in his orange recliner and watch westerns on TV especially Gunsmoke or play with his two young grandchildren, who lived nearby. James White kept most things to himself. But not his reaction to losing his job. In April of 1987, as his layoff date approached, he grew more and more apprehensive. Like many of the truckers, at 58 White was too old to start over and too young to collect Social Security benefits. After he opened the envelope containing the official layoff notice from V V.E. Allen, the trucking department manager, there were tears in his eyes as he told his wife: “Oh my God, there go my 30 years at Safeway.” That night, recalled Helen, “He and I cried over it. It was like our world collapsed.” Overnight, James White’s pride in his company turned to bitterness. “It hit him hard, Helen said, “and he wanted to hit back. He told me not even to buy a loaf of bread there. I had to start shopping at Albertson’s or Minyard’s.” Johnny Griffin, the driver whose truck had run out of fuel on his last day on the job after 35 years, expressed similar sentiments about a store that continues to operate as a Safeway, near his home, in Greenville: “As long as this store’s here, I won’t patronize it. It’s an eyesore to me. It’s just hard feelings. Every time I see it. I get depressed. We shop at the Kingsaver.” White decided to put off looking for work until he had drawn unemployment compensation for as long as possible. “I’ve been working my whole life since I was eight,” he told his wife at the time, recalling the days in his father’s cotton fields near Commerce. “I’m ready for a break. I can’t get another job as good as Safeway.” But he did eventually apply for several jobs, if only half-heartedly. Rejected each time for reasons he linked to his relatively advanced age, he soon gave up the hunt. Instead he took his retirement benefits. In October of 1987, he began drawing his monthly check of $625 from the Teamsters Central States Pension Fund. Pooled with his savings, the money was enough to live on but perhaps not enough to live for. He no longer knew how to fill the time; the long orderly days of rising at 4:30 in the morning, making the 25-minute drive to the warehouse, servicing his tractor, hooking it up to the loaded trailer and heading out on the open road where at every stop he’d see old friends at the roadside cafes and at the loading docks and inside the stores before returning to the stories those days had been replaced by a sedentary emptiness. “He was under my feet constantly,” Helen said. “He’d notice every little thing I did. In October of 1987, White’s mother, who suffered from Alzheimer’s disease, moved in with Helen and him. He loved his mother deeply, but as the months wore on. he grew increasingly frustrated that she no longer recognized him, or appreciated all the effort required to care for her. In the privacy of his home, James White had always had a hair-trigger temper. Something to do with his high blood pressure. Helen thought. He was not a violent man and would no sooner blow up at his wife or mother than he would apologize. But his outbursts began occurring more often and uncharacteristically on at least one occasion, outside his home: he once lashed out at some teenagers next door who were racing their car engines. N SATURDAY, April 23, 1988, a year to the day after James White worked his final day for Safeway, the Junkyard hosted a reunion for Safeway employees. \(A portion of the club had reopened under new management about showed up. Bill Mayfield didn’t make it. He said he had recently voluntarily checked himself into the psychiatric ward of a state mental hospital. James White was not there either. A few minutes before 11 that warm, clear morning, he had walked into the bathroom of his tidy home. As he did so, he told his wife, as he often did, that he loved her. “I know, and I love you too,” Helen White replied from the living room, where she was folding laundry. Then he closed the door. A few moments later, Mrs. White heard a thump; she thought perhaps James’s mother had fallen in her bedroom. She hadn’t. The faint noise came from the bathroom. James White had ended his life as quietly as he lived it: he had shot himself in the head. Told several weeks later about his former fellow Safeway employee’s suicide, Bill Mayfield nodded his head for ten seconds or so before clearing his throat. “I can understand it,” he finally said, his eyes glazed and troubled. “You just sit here and look at the silence, and sometimes it gets the best of you. 10 DECEMBER 23, 1988