Patrons of Capri IGA in Hillsboro will be dismayed to learn that the smiling face of Maria (Uribe) Grammer will no longer be present as of Saturday, July 6, her retirement date. The ever-upbeat Grammer has been greeting customers as they check out items for 14 years. She began working as a cashier at the grocery store the day after Thanksgiving in 2005.
Grammer officially entered the workforce at 15, when the National Youth Corps came to her junior high school looking for applicants. Her work ethic was ingrained from an early age and as the eldest in a family of nine children she was drawn to help contribute financially. Grammer jumped at the chance to sign up with the National Youth Corps and has been working ever since.
Each of Grammer's eight siblings, four brothers and four sisters, were taught to work hard and to help out in any way that they could.
"We were all expected to help look after each other. The boys learned to cook and clean and the girls learned to put in a full day of manual labor," Grammer proudly stated.
While her large family certainly had an impact on her work ethic, it is hard not to imagine that the qualities of determination and persistence were handed down to her through her genes. Grammer's early childhood was spent in the care of her maternal grandparents, Concha and Jacinto Ornelas in East St. Louis. She relocated to Sorento to live with her mother and stepfather, Beatrice and Vincent Rivera, following her grandmother's death, when she was 15 years old.
"My grandfather came here from Mexico and could not read or write, but he managed to get a job working for the railroad. He was a hard worker and he worked for the railroad until his retirement. They took care of him too. He received a decent pension until he died at 101."
While her determination and grit can be attributed to her grandfather, she attributes her cheerful demeanor and zest for life to her grandmother.
"My grandmother was a woman of leisure," Grammer said fondly. "She was a member of all kinds of organizations, and was in every Mexican organization in the area. I was her baby and she would drag me right along with her to meetings and events. There was a dance hall in Fairmont City that had Mexican folk music on the weekends and she would sing and dance onstage. I loved watching her."
Mrs. Ornelas not only entertained, she taught Mexican folk dancing to those interested, including her granddaughter. In addition to dancing, Grammer's grandmother taught her to speak Spanish, a love of her native country's traditions and even how to make clothing. Mrs. Ornelas made costumes for the folk dancing troupe that she and Grammer were a part of. A picture of Grammer in one of the hand-made costumes is currently on display at Lomas Del Sol in Hillsboro. Grammer later taught the native dances and performed live with dance troupe Bonita Juarez. The group performed at a number of places and even made a television appearance on the "Charlotte Peters Show" to promote the 1959 film The Wonderful Country.
Grammer later took her love of traditions and dancing and implemented it into the Mexican restaurant that she owned in Fredericktown, MO.
"I taught all my waitresses how to dance and we would have floor shows on Friday nights. The customers loved it and the employees did too," said Grammer with a reminiscent smile.
Grammer has had a variety of jobs throughout her life and has brought her natural charisma and love of people to each of them.
"I really enjoy working. I enjoy meeting people and talking to them. In some ways being a cashier is similar to being a hairdresser or bartender, people just feel comfortable and want to share their stories with you, and I love to hear them. I will miss my co-workers and the customers. In a lot of ways I feel like they have become members of my family."
While Grammer may no longer be officially working, it is hard to imagine that she will not be just as busy as she always has been. Grammer is looking forward to having more time to spend on her vast array of hobbies which include gardening, decorating and crafting. She may even write a book about her life and the traditions her grandparents passed down to her - if she can keep herself still long enough.