Publix on Wednesday with snow in the forecast is no place for the young

It’s no secret that I hate going to the grocery store. I’m like the guy that worked at McDonalds in high school and now won’t eat a Big Mac for supper.

In high school and for a couple of years in college, I worked as a bag boy at grocery stores. Sometimes I stocked shelves, sometimes I cleaned floors, sometimes I bagged groceries, sometimes I ran the register.

Once, when the boxes of baby food jars stacked from floor to ceiling toppled over in the stock room, I spent an eight hour shift separating whole jars from broken jars, cleaning off the mashed peas and prunes and little broken shards of glass so that the store could salvage the whole jars. That was a traumatic day in my life, and it’s why I never fed my children when they were infants. Sometimes even today – 24 years later – I will wake up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat with the putrid aroma of baby food haunting my dreams.

So I just don’t like going to the grocery store. My wife knows this, and almost the only time Jean ever asks me to go to the grocery store is when she’s going and she offers for me to go with her, because it’s a fact that if Jean is going somewhere – even somewhere I hate going – I always enjoy going with her. But even then, she only ever invites me if it’s just a “basket trip” to the grocery store. If it’s a full-fledged “cart trip,” Jean doesn’t bother to ask.

Wednesday was our middle son’s birthday. Poor Nathan, who turned 17 on Wednesday, doesn’t know what birthdays are supposed to be like. He was born a little more than a week after Christmas, so the present-budget is always spent before Nate’s birthday comes along, and he’s a middle child, so no one pays any attention anyway.

And this year we were even more unprepared than usual for Nate’s birthday, because Jean was sick. On Tuesday she said, “If I feel better tomorrow, I’ll go to the grocery store and get what I need to make Nathan a birthday cake that we can have when he gets home from school.”

When Wednesday arrived, Jean felt better, but she still didn’t feel great. Well enough to bake a cake, but not so well that she wanted to go to the store to get the ingredients.

“Do you want me to go for you?” I asked, certain she would say that I didn’t have to and she would go.

“Would you?” she said.

I groaned. I’d made the offer. There was no getting out of it now.

I stalled and delayed every way I knew how, but finally Jean said, “If I’m going to make Nathan a birthday cake, you should probably go sooner rather than later.” That’s her way of saying, “Go now.”

It was everything I feared it would be. The parking lot was slap full. I had to park way out in the middle of nowhere and hike in. After walking for what seemed like hours, I finally made it into the store, and there must have been ten thousand people in Publix.

As I maneuvered down aisles crowded with carts, I realized that other than the employees of the store, I was a good 40 years younger than everyone else in Publix. I was surrounded by little gray-haired women and grouchy old men who didn’t care one bit for young whippersnappers weaving in and out between their carts.

I kept looking around for signs with the Publix logo to be sure I was at the grocery store and hadn’t accidentally stopped at a nursing home.

“It’s Senior Citizen Discount Day at Publix,” I said to myself.

As realization dawned on me, another young whippersnapper came down the aisle where I was trying to find chocolate cake mix. All I could find was triple chocolate cake and double chocolate cake and fudge cake. The woman, who appeared to be about my age, looked at the crowded aisle and said to me, “You would think there was snow in the forecast.”

“Oh yeah,” I said. “They are talking about snow, aren’t they?”

And then I realized what Jean had done to me. She had gone through an elaborate ruse – feigning illness for days! – to avoid having to go to the grocery store on Senior Citizen Discount Day with snow in the forecast. It was an evil plot conceived and carried out by a woman who two decades ago vowed to be nice to me.

I finally just decided to go with the double chocolate cake mix because double chocolate sounded twice as good, and triple chocolate sounded like it would be too much. I grabbed the frosting and some dog food, and then I pushed my way past grouchy old women and little old men and went through the 10-items or less checkout with everyone else under 60.

When I got to the car, I sent Jean a text. “Dude,” I said, because I always call her “dude” when text her. “You are seriously testing the bonds of matrimony sending me to Publix on old folks day with a snow storm lurking.”

Jean promptly replied, “Oops” was all she had to say. I took that as confirmation that she’d done this to me on purpose.

That was Wednesday.

On Thursday I ended up working late at my office, a rare event since I usually work out of the house. But I had a project I needed to finish, so it was around 8:30 Thursday evening when I left the office. Just as I was leaving, Jean called me.

“Can you run by Publix and get bread so I can make sandwiches for the boys’ lunches tomorrow?” Jean asked.

“It’s only the fifth day of the year, and I will have been to the grocery story twice already,” I said. “Two more trips and my quota of running to the grocery store for you will be met for 2017.”

“If you really don’t want to go, I’ll go when you get home,” Jean offered. Then she coughed a little fake cough. “I still don’t feel real great, though.”

I groaned. “I’ll get your bread,” I said.

But that snow storm that was in the forecast on Wednesday was still in the forecast on Thursday, and they’re talking about Oconee County getting several feet of snow. Maybe it’s a couple of inches they’re talking about, but anyone who’s ever been in the South during a dusting of snow knows that a couple of inches will be treated by the natives like it’s several feet.

When I got to Publix the bread aisle didn’t have a crumb, much less a loaf. There were a few loaves – mostly wheat bread that my sons won’t eat. Even the hamburger buns were gone. I’m left to conclude that if the snow storm hits this weekend, a lot of people are going to be out on the back deck grilling hamburgers in the snow.

I did find that nearly all the loaves of “Premium Potato Bread” were still available, so I got one of those even though it was 50 cents more expensive than regular bread. My sons will eat like Irish kings at lunch tomorrow with their premium potato bread.

And the next time one of my children has a birthday on a Wednesday with snow in the forecast, I’ll check with Jean on Tuesday to see if she needs anything to bake a cake.

Rob Peecher is author of “Four Things My Wife Hates About Mornings” and he even though he’ll sometimes go to the grocery store for his wife, he’ll never walk down the baby food aisle.