The first thing that doesn’t look right at Jackson’s is the front door.
In an era of crime and violence, nobody makes glass doors for businesses anymore. Now it’s steel mesh gates that lock tight.
The gas pumps and sandwich board displays have no prices on them.
There is no old man wearing his trademark green work clothes and his perpetual smile shuffling out to one of the few full-service gas pumps left in all of York County.
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The old black cable that sounds a bell inside the old service station makes no noise. The cash box has been ripped out of the soda machine out front.
There are real estate signs all around the property, advertising that the buildings – in a very busy convergence of Main Street and Anderson Road on Rock Hill’s southeastern edge, a natural for business – are for sale.
It is as if Rock Hill’s history and soul are for sale.
Jackson’s Exxon, Jackson’s Servicecenter, just plain old Jackson’s, call it what you will, has a sign on the window. Hand-lettered.
The little sign breaks a heart.
Before February, except Thanksgiving and Christmas and Sundays, Jackson’s never closed. It opened through sleet and snow and rain and drought and oil embargoes.
The station had been open since at least 1945 in the same glass-front building designed so customers could see everything inside. That was before drugs and stealing and crime became the norm, and a business wanted to show everything inside to the whole world.
February was when Carl Jackson, the 80-year-old man whose whole life has been about service, was robbed at his nearby home after a long day at work at the station.
That beating and robbery at the hands of young punks came five months after another robbery and assault. Jackson was victimized just twice after working at the same place for 66 years.
The latest assault put Jackson in the hospital. Congestive heart failure plus the rigors of the beating hurt this tough old man who has never been anything but nice to anybody.
York County sheriff’s deputies have two investigations open, but have arrested nobody.
Behind the glass bay doors, where a million oil changes have been done, a shadow moves near the oil jugs and oil pans and all those funnels and spouts and hoses and wrenches. Carl Jackson appears, wearing those green work clothes of a lifetime.
He walks toward the front door and pulls keys from a ring. For 66 years, that front door was never locked during the day. Now crime has an old man locked inside his past, his present – and maybe his future.
He unlocks the door.
“Help ya?” Jackson asks in a raspy voice, almost unhearable because it is so low and scratchy.
He has asked a million customers the same thing, then filled the gas tank and thanked them.
Jackson then talks some about feeling better.
“Doing good,” he said.
This is not a man given to idle chatter.
He talks some of how he plans to re-open sometime in the coming weeks to take advantage of the warm weather.
“I plan to open again,” he said. “Soon. Sometime soon.”
Jackson’s father built the station and opened it during World War II. Carl Jackson worked there since he was old enough to hold a wrench and pump gas and clean windshields. All the Jackson boys worked there.
Odell Jackson, a brother, repaired televisions in the building out back for decades.
Into the parking lot comes Robert Jackson, Carl’s younger brother.
“I started washing windshields here when I was so small I couldn’t reach the top of the glass,” Robert Jackson said. “This place was where we all started and worked. Carl stayed here his whole life.”
The gas station always had full-service gas pumps. Jackson never figured out – or cared to figure out – self-service, although one set of pumps is supposedly self-service.
Besides, the full-service price was about the same as self-service anywhere else. The service, the appreciation for the customer, the hope to keep that person and maybe change some oil or do a brake job, came from Jackson as part of the deal.
Jackson extended so much credit to the broke that it is likely uncountable how much he never collected.
He kept working and helping until thieves hurt him, twice.
“This Rock Hill, this country, is not what it used to be,” Robert Jackson said. “People are different now. God has gone from their lives.”
People rob an old man who has spent a lifetime helping others.
Robert Jackson said his brother is determined to re-open the station, although some in the family have concerns after the February assault, and the real estate signs popped up.
“He wants to come back to work,” Robert Jackson said.
Carl Jackson unlocks the glass door again, and lets his brother inside.
The “Closed Today” sign remains.
When Carl Jackson goes back inside, he locks that door that had been unlocked during business hours since Americans defeated the Nazis and Japanese. But crime right here in Rock Hill caused that door to be locked at noontime on a warm sunny day, when business should have been brisk.
Inside the door, though, Carl Jackson smiles. He waves goodbye.
Crime might be able to diminish a lifetime of trust in an unlocked door, but it can’t take away a lifetime of being a decent man – or the hope that his last wave won’t be his last goodbye.