When David Perkins retired from his job at the Publix in Free Home on Sept. 16, it marked the end of a career that had begun and ended in the same way and in almost the exact same location.

A long-time resident of the Free Home area, Perkins grew up working in the old Free Home store and, after some time away from the industry, returned to the field and was employed at Publix, retiring as a member of the store’s meat department.

“I got to end my career the same way I started it, working in the Free Home store,” Perkins said on his last day of work. “I made a nice little circle.”

Just across Georgia Highway 20 from Publix sits a brick building and a wooden structure, each of which served as the old Free Home store. Perkins said his grandfather, Emory West, was involved in starting the brick store and it was in that building Perkins began working in the grocery business, helping customers and learning important tasks like how to properly count out change. Through the work he was doing and the pay he received, not only was he learning important work lessons, but important life lessons as well.

“I was able to buy my own lunches at school,” Perkins said. “I was learning how to be more self-reliant.”

While his time working may not have officially begun until he was in school, Perkins’ connections with groceries goes back to before he could even walk or talk. He said his mother not only taught school in the Free Home community, but also ran the cash register at the old store. He recalls hearing how, when he was an infant, his mother would put him in a bassinet and place it on the store’s counter, allowing her to both do her job and take care of him at the same time.

“That store was like the center of the universe when I was a child,” Perkins said.

The Free Home Publix sits on land that was built by his grandfather and occupied by members of the West family for many years. According to information in the Publix, the bricks used on the store’s façade were chosen specifically to match the ones the house had been built out of, while a photo of Perkins, his cousin and County Commissioner Steve West and other family members in front of the old home hangs on the wall at the front of the store. Perkins said Publix’s having this photo and others related to his family, the old house and the old Free Home store, acknowledging local history and the role his family played in the community meant a great deal to him.

As he wrapped up his career in the grocery store industry, Perkins said he felt both happy and sad to see this chapter in life come to a close. While he may not be working at Publix anymore, he said he would still be involved in taking care of cows that he and others in the family have been raising.

“It was nice here, there are a wonderful bunch of people here,” Perkins said. “It’s time for me to start slowing down. I’m going to miss the good times though.”

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