Altar Call – Opelika-Auburn News

Walter Albritton

For Sunday, December 7, 2003



Mailing a cake to a soldier is not an easy task


            The scene is a room at the front, inside the most successful retail store in the United States.

            The room is the “Personal Business Center,” where the sign says, in bold letters, “Box it, Ship it.”

            There is one clerk on duty. The other, I would learn later, was on her lunch break at 3:00 o’clock in the afternoon.

            I get in line, with only one person ahead of me. She wants to cash a check, which is another service offered by this Center. I waited patiently, thankful that I would be next.

            Soon the kind lady asked if she could help me. Putting my cake on the counter in front of her, I said, “Yes, I want to mail this chocolate cake to my grandson.”

            With my wife’s assistance, I had purchased the cake a few minutes earlier in this same store, where they sell everything but axle grease.

            A gracious clerk in the bakery had helped us select a cake that, she felt, could survive a couple of days being shipped to another state. She assured us that this cake would arrive in good shape.

            This purchase made, I left my wife to shop for groceries. I would go nearby to a store that would wrap and mail the cake for me.  Then I would return to help her load our groceries.

            As I was leaving the store, I saw the sign: “Box it, Ship it.” Immediately it occurred to me that I could save some time by having this very store box and ship the cake. That is when the unbelievable happened.

            When I told the clerk I wanted her to box and ship the cake, she looked at me as though I was crazy. Perplexed and obviously tired from working long hours, she said, “You cannot ship food.”

            “Why not?” I asked.

            “Well, I have never had anyone else ship food. Nobody mails food in a box,” she insisted.

            “Perhaps, then,” I said calmly, “I can be the first to do it.”

            Now more bewildered than ever, she raised her voice and said, “I will have to call management and see if they will approve shipping food.”

            “Please do,” I replied. She called; the manager was away from the phone.

            By now at least six other people were in line behind me, most of them wanting merely to have a check cashed. To the clerk’s credit, instead of asking me to step aside so she could wait on others, she said, “Someone will call me back in a few minutes.”

            I felt uneasy as all of us waited for the phone to ring. Finally it did. The clerk listened, put the phone down, and said to me, “Management said it is alright to ship food, but I still do not think you want to do this; it will cost too much.”

            Trying hard not to be ugly, I said, “Lady, the sign says you will box and ship stuff; I am willing to pay what it costs, so what is your problem?”

            Yielding at last, she began to hunt a cardboard box large enough for the cake. The box she wanted to use was still bound up with others and she could not free it. I took my pocketknife and freed up a box for her.

            Taking at least ten minutes, she tested the cake to make sure it would fit in the box. It would. As she began to seal the bottom and the top of the box, I said, “You are going to put my packing material in the box to keep the cake from bouncing around in the box, aren’t you?”

            “Of course I am,” she said, tearing off a big piece of brown paper. First, she tried to crush the whole piece of paper and force it into the box around the cake. That seemed not to work, so she tore the paper into two pieces and put some on either side of the cake.

Then she got more packing on top and finally sealed the cake inside.

            By now I have been standing there 45 minutes. I give her the address of our grandson, and she begins “hunting and pecking” away on a key board. “Oh no,” I am thinking; “this will take an hour!”

            Fifteen minutes later she asks me to proof the address on the computer screen. Somehow she had Garrett’s battalion number typed on the same line with his street address at the Army base in Oklahoma. I really hated to point this out to her, for fear she would collapse in tears, but I was sure it had to be changed.

            At this time the other clerk returned. Realizing that her friend was distressed, she took over. The dear lady who had been helping me said, “It is past time for me to go home, so I am leaving.”

            Then she realized that all but one of the people who had been in line behind me had left in disgust. This alarmed her almost into a frenzy. By now I was calling her by name, since she wore a nametag.

            “Susan (not her real name),” I said, “There is no need to fret about things you have no control over.” She agreed and soon left to punch the clock and go home, exhausted I am sure. I truly felt sorry for her.

            The new clerk quickly finished the task of boxing my cake. I paid the cost of shipping and made my way to car, only to find that my wife had been waiting for half an hour, and wondering what in the world had happened to me.

            I collapsed in the car from an ordeal that had lasted 92 minutes. I wanted someone to drive me home and put me to bed. However, my wife said, “Big boy, you are the designated driver, so put your foot to the metal and take me home!” I still am not sure she believed my story!

            By now surely you are tired of reading this long story about a man trying to have a cake boxed and shipped to his grandson. However, as weary as you may be, you are not half as tired as I was after this nightmarish attempt to mail a cake to a fine young soldier at Ft. Sill, Ok.

            Next time I am driving to Oklahoma, or North Carolina, or wherever, to deliver the cake in person! + + + +