Grocery Stores are a Modern Marvel


I haven’t shopped for household groceries since May of 1971. My wife Marty took me to Publix yesterday and I was observing the tens of thousands of items they offer and was amazed at what a marvel of modern organization it must take to provide us with this amazing bounty of foods and services. Wouldn’t you love to know how all these items are chosen, purchased, ordered, shipped, shelved and sold? Looking around I could not help but think about how blessed we are to have all these choices. Is America a great country or what?

So why haven’t I been doing the family shopping in just over forty years. Glad you asked!

It was early spring in Atlanta in 1971. I returned from Vietnam in 1970 and the only work I could find was as a janitor working for the state of GA Capital Buildings in cleaning supplies at $2.50 an hour – making Marty our main bread winner. Between the heavy drinking, anger, carrying a snub nose .38 everywhere and the occasional fits of violence I was pretty much a poster child of the angry returning Vietnam Veteran. Needless to say it wasn’t exactly a grand time for Marty. She never said anything then but she was rightfully considering calling it quits.

In addition to my rising janitorial career I went to GA State University a few blocks from the State Capital where I completed one and a half academic years of credits in nine months. Having recently had a position killing or being killed going to college didn’t seem too tough. Hanging around the campus with the students protesting the War and mocking the returning troops didn’t exactly endear me to the college experience if you catch my drift.

As an example I signed up for American History. I went to one class which had a window out on the quad where I could see the kids protesting. I never went back to the class. The teacher, who seemed like a nice person saw me in the hallway one day and told me she had read my file and was very sorry for everything. She said that if I would just come to class she would give me a passing grade and I didn’t have to complete any work.

For no good reason that I can tell you now or then I opened my little green canvas satchel – pulled out my nickel plated .38 and said “no – if you don’t pass me you won’t live.”  Man it’s hard for me to write this down. I’ve paused at this point for several minutes reflecting on that moment. Who can know what it says about me then or now but I can remember saying the words like it was yesterday. You know what’s worse? It worked and I got away with it so I did it again once or twice. Looking back at it now they couldn’t have been that stupid. I haven’t thought on it much over the years but they may have all had my file and just decided the better choice was to keep me moving on and out of GSU.

What does any of this have to do with our local Publix – I’m getting to that.

Obviously I needed a change of pace – a break – a fresh start – a new outlook on life. I didn’t know anything about the Mercy of God or His having his hand of silent protection on me but I can see it now.

The phone rang one day and it was the three guys I had worked for in Chicago before Vietnam – Bob, Tony and Clayton. They knew I was graduating and asked if I would be willing to come back to Chicago and work for them again. They offered me a guaranteed salary of $20,000 plus all the commissions I could earn. I figured maybe I could make another fifty percent in commissions and looking at my $2.5 an hour janitorial job that seemed like more money than I could ever hope to earn.

Marty was born in South Carolina, had lived in Georgia and had no intentions of moving up north and living in the cold surrounded by Yankees and who knows what other types of low lives in Chicago. Actually I think she wasn’t as concerned about the low lives as she was the dreaded Yankees. As a Southern Belle who grew up with her vision of the South – shaped I’m sure by Gone With The Wind – she knew Yankees were not to be trusted.

So what was her answer? You guessed it – NO! I could see she was going need some coaxing and two things happened to get her to change her mind.

The first, and most important was a talk she had with her sister Nancy. Marty was always close to Nancy and saw her as her as a mother figure and valued her input. I’ll never forget the two things Nancy told her: (1) You should follow your husband and give him the opportunity to succeed in life. (2) And this is the closer – “that boy has potential.”

With Nancy endorsement here’s the second thing that got Marty over the edge and into the cold. She had worked every day all her life just to make ends meet. I promised Marty that if she agreed to move to Chicago she would never have to work again another day in her life.

I told her that if we moved up north we would have a simple division of labor in our family. I would make the money and be responsible for things outside the home and she would spend the money and be totally responsible for everything inside the home.

We have kept that simple division of labor for forty years now – which is why I don’t go to Publix.

Did I mention to you what a modern marvel grocery stores are?

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