Johnson offers service with a smile

Published 6:08 pm Tuesday, September 26, 2017

She started working at the Greenville Walmart when she was still a  student at Greenville High. Fourteen years and two separate store locations later, Jessica Johnson is a familiar face to many of the regular patrons of the local super store.

And if you’ve ever called the store, there’s a good chance it’s Jessica’s voice on the other end of the line.

“I do answer the phones a lot, that’s my main job,” Johnson says. “But I do a little bit of everything—from monitoring the fitting rooms, to working on the floor, to helping check in freight. Basically, whatever they ask me to do, that they know I can do—I am ready for it.”

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Johnson was born with what is known as tethered spinal cord, a condition in which the cord does not hang loose and able to freely move up and down as the child grows. A growth spurt at age 10 caused mobility issues and frequent falls for the little girl. 

“My spinal cord was like this really tightly stretched rubber band that had to be cut,” Johnson explains.

Even after the corrective surgery, the child found herself constantly falling. Additional tests showed that cysts were pressing against her spinal cord. After their removal, things finally improved.

“I got better for a couple of years and had relearned how to walk. I was just getting really good at walking, when the falling started all over again.”

The cysts had returned. And this time, their removal did not bring improvement.

“I started losing feeling in my legs and feet after the second cyst removal surgery . . . we went to Children’s Hospital in Birmingham. They found the nerves to my spinal cord had been cut. I was paralyzed. Basically, doctor’s neglect.”

It would have been easy to become depressed, discouraged and embittered after all she had been through, and at such a young age.

But with the help of her family and friends, Johnson has chosen to maintain a positive attitude and focus on what she can do from the confines of her wheelchair.

And her job at Walmart offers something new every day, she says.

Not only does Johnson never quite know what she might be called upon to do, she also never knows what to expect when customers walk through those front doors.

“You know, you see a little bit of everything  . . . sometimes I do get amazed at just what I do see,” she admits with a bemused shrug.

The best thing about her job?

“Working with my fellow Walmart employees. They are my people.”

And the most difficult part?

“Holidays. And . . . back to school. But mainly, holidays. It can get pretty stressful. And being open now on Thanksgiving Day and then Black Friday,” Johnson says with a small sigh. “I do miss getting to go shopping on Black Friday.”

And what about the customer who calls or comes in looking clearly spoiling for a fight?

“I do my best to maintain a professional composure,” Johnson explains. “If there is any way I can help them, I will try. If I can’t help them, I will look for somebody who can. And I just do my best to remain calm.” She smiles. “You just have to take it all in stride.”

Asked what she believed the qualities of a good employee to be, Johnson pauses to reflect on the question before responding.

“Well, I would say—someone who is hard working, friendly, helpful and has a positive attitude.”

When told she had been described by her fellow employees and store patrons as possessing just such qualities, Johnson smiles, blushing a little.

“I try,” she says.

When she isn’t working, Johnson enjoys crafting, and has her own page on Facebook, Jessica’s Wreathspiration, where she promotes her customized wreaths for homes, dorm rooms and businesses.

“I love making wreaths and I do all kinds— everyday, seasonal, holiday and collegiate designs. Auburn and Alabama are pretty popular, especially this time of year,” she explains.

A staunch lifelong Auburn fan, in recent years Johnson has become a  University of South Alabama supporter, too, due to the little brother she helped care for in his childhood days. “Jacob goes to school at USA, so we enjoy traveling down to Mobile to see him. I really enjoy our road trips!”

The Johnsons share their home with Rocky, the German Shepherd and little Scrappy, the chihuahua.  “Rocky stays outside and Scrappy stays inside. He’s kind of a grumpy, lazy old dog, so it works best that way,” Johnson explains.

Grumpy—or lazy—are not words anyone uses to describe Jessica Johnson.

“I just want to do a good job and I appreciate that my co-workers are so helpful to me. If they can do something to help me do my job better, they do.”