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Johnny had been the owner of the local general store for over sixty years. His business was built on trust. As the economy got worse Johnny could only trust that his customers would pay their bill when they had the money, and if they didn’t, Johnny knew there was a good reason, after all, his customers were also his friends.
Everybody loved Johnny. He was one of the kindest people you would ever want to meet in your life. He and his wife, Bessie, started the store together, but she passed away not long after launching the business. Johnny never remarried; he simply focused on the vision that Bessie had for their store. Originally, it was going to be Johnny’s General Store and Bessie’s Café would have been right next door, but Bessie suffered a stroke and passed away a week before they were supposed to break ground for the café.
Johnny spent his life doing things the way that he thought Bessie would approve of. Bessie lived by the belief that a poor man should not be treated with any less dignity than a wealthy man. If you handed a poor man a broom, he would happily sweep your floor, but if you handed a broom to a wealthy man he would be offended at the thought of you wasting his valuable time. Therefore, if a poor man comes in and asks for food to feed his family don’t hand him a broom, just give him what he needs, and tell him, “I’ll put that on your tab Sir.” Johnny always conducted the business by giving kindness to others, and never taking someone’s self respect or dignity.
After Johnny’s beloved Bessie died, he devoted a portion of the store to her memory. Bess had already purchased a few tables and settees for her café, so Johnny arranged them in the front of the shop, and called it Bessie’s Corner. He had checkers set up on one of the tables and cards on the other for anyone who wanted to come in and sit and/or play games. It became a very popular place to gather.
Johnny figured out that if he added a few more tables then he could serve food and fulfill Bessie’s dream of having a cafe. So he had a little kitchen built on to the back of the store and began serving homemade chili and cornbread or beef stew and biscuits; depending on which day of the week you came is what you were going to be served. But every Friday Johnny baked bread and served it with his homemade potato soup. Johnny’s bread was so delicious that people wanted to buy it by the loaf. Bessie’s Corner became Bessie’s Corner Café. Johnny thought that she would be pleased.
Johnny never became a wealthy man, as a matter of fact, when he had the kitchen built on to the store he also had a little bedroom built for himself, because he had to sell his home in order to pay for the kitchen addition and the taxes on his properties. Johnny’s whole life was built around fulfilling what Bessie envisioned for their life together, and that’s what made him happy; the thought that he would be making Bessie happy.
If ever anyone needed help around their home, they knew that they could depend on Johnny. A lot of the time people would ask Johnny to come over to help do something, just so they could invite him to stay for dinner. He was so busy with the store and cafe, that rarely would he accept a dinner invitation, but he was never to busy to help someone.
One day the inevitable happened, a representative from a large chain store paid Johnny a visit. He told Johnny that his company was looking in to building a store there in the same area where Johnny’s General Store sits. Johnny knew this day was coming, but none the less it was hard for him to face that his life’s work was all about to come to an end. Johnny told a few customers about the visitor that he'd had, but that he understood that everything is susceptible to change; that’s how life is. Within days, those customers, with whom Johnny shared what had taken place, came back with a petition bearing one thousand ninety-seven names of people who were willing to fight big business and keep Johnny’s General Store opened. Johnny was overwhelmed, to say the least, at the response of the community. He said that it would mean a great deal to him if he could be the one to turn the petition in to City Counsel. Johnny called every family on that petition and thanked them personally, and invited them to come to a town meeting about the matter, which would be held in a few weeks.
Business at the general store carried on as usual; though it did seem to get a lot busier because of people dropping by to lend their support to Johnny. When the day came for the meeting, the Town Hall was overflowing with people; they had to set chairs up in the foyer. The Mayer welcomed everyone and the topic of discussion was announced. Johnny was then called up to speak. He first thanked everyone for coming, and expressed how much it meant to him to see all of his friends there on his behalf. He went on to say, that just a few days before his Bessie died, she told him something that he has never forgotten. Bessie said that Johnny should be as a pane in God’s Window of Opportunity to help others; that our journey in life is not just to attain a better life for our self, but to help others along the way to have a better life as well. It was as if Bessie knew she was going to die soon and she was leaving Johnny one final instruction.
Johnny went on to say that he never felt like a wealthier man, than when he looked at that petition with all the names of people who were willing to fight to keep him in business. Almost half of the names were of people who had lost their jobs because of business closures, and now they were trying to help him keep his business opened. Johnny said that it would be selfish for him to fight to stay in business and keep this large company from building, when they would be able to provide hundreds of jobs for the community. Therefore he has sold his store and property to the company, with the agreement that every person on that petition who is unemployed will be secured a job in the new store, and that included using local help to build the facility. Johnny knew that Bessie would be in agreement with this decision.
Johnny didn’t live to see the new store open for business; he died halfway through the building process. He had fulfilled all that his Bess had envisioned for their lives, and now he was able to be reunited with his beloved wife. The company wanted to make a memorial to Johnny because he was such a special man to the community, so they dedicated a room, on the same corner of the property as where Johnny’s General Store sat, and they replicated the store with original memorabilia and furnishings. When the room was completed they glassed it in, and etched a two-word tribute in the very center of the glass; as you look through to see the display it simply reads., “Johnny’s Pane”
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