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Come for pancakes, leave with furniture

Published: Sunday, March 31, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT

Look, I like breakfast as much as the next guy, but that’s the last time I spend a hundred bucks on a stack of flapjacks.

My wife’s brother Jeff had flown in with his wife, Susan, to spend a few days with us, and because they had been traveling since 5 a.m. on nothing but a cup of coffee, we offered to stop for a bite on the way home. It was near lunchtime, but we figured we would stop someplace where the menu might accommodate refugees from any time zone.

Cracker Barrel was on the way, and because my wife loves their any-time buttermilk pancakes, we pulled in and bellied up to a table.

We spent a pleasant hour or so catching up over breakfast because we hadn’t seen each other in several months, and when it came time to pay the bill, I thought it was time to get them home and start planning the rest of their visit.

But those clever devils at Cracker Barrel have found a way to make you navigate your entrance and exit through their oh-so-tempting gift shop. Children ambled wide-eyed through the aisles, their arms stuffed with toy Yoda dolls, chocolate bunnies and battery-operated dancing weasels. I smiled at the distressed looks on the faces of their grandparents as they tallied the damage to their credit cards.

But as I turned from the cash register and tucked my credit card back into my wallet, my wife appeared behind me holding a cute green shirt with sea-shell sequins embroidered onto the front. It was the perfect color to make her stunning green eyes even more beautiful (if that is even possible), so I slipped the credit card out of my wallet again and got back into line.

As I paid for the shirt – $30 – the nice lady behind the counter smiled and told me about the Cracker Barrel guarantee to gift wrap any purchase. I told her, no, thank you very much, as I slipped my credit card back into its holster.

But before I could get out the door with the shirt, my wife was making moon eyes at a lamp that stood in a display near the window. She was right – it would be a perfect match for the sea-grass planter that stood in our living room – but did we really need another lamp? After all, how much light can our ageing eyes stand?

But the heart wants what the heart wants, so I asked if they had any of those lamps in stock. Another lady went to check, and I searched for ways to keep my wife from doing any more free-range grazing through the gift shop.

The lady returned with a lamp in a box. I checked the label – $70 – and I carried it to the back of the checkout line.

I tried to catch my brother-in-law’s attention to find a way to distract his sister outside, but they were engaged in loving declarations of how good it was to see each other after so long apart. Well, that was the text of what he was saying. Meanwhile, my wife nodded as she examined the stitching on a quilt, puzzled over how long it had been since she tasted salt-water taffy and tried to decide whether a little dress with ladybugs or butterflies would look better on a granddaughter.

And so now, for the third time, I stood in the checkout line with my credit card in hand, chanting to myself, “I will never – ever – eat at a Cracker Barrel again. I will never – ever – eat at a Cracker Barrel again.”

When I got to the register, the lady was clever enough not to say, “You again?” It was probably part of their training not to remind paying customers they were caught in an ever-expanding loop of diminishing credit.

As she rang up the lamp, she reminded me of the Cracker Barrel guarantee to gift wrap any purchase, but I figured any additional minute of delay might end up costing me a mortgage-worthy sum, so I told her, “No, thank you very much,” and I tucked my credit card back into my wallet, silently repeating my mantra, “I will never – ever – eat at a Cracker Barrel again.”

But then, as I signed the credit slip and handed it over to her, she glanced at my signature, looked me in the eye, and said with a smile, “You know, I never miss your column in the paper. I love it. Thanks for coming to Cracker Barrel. Have a nice day.”

And even though my arms were burdened with packages and my belly was stuffed with food, I thought, “They really do have great flapjacks here. I don’t know why we don’t come here more often.”

• Tom “T. R.” Kerth is a Sun City resident and retired English teacher from Park Ridge. He can be reached at trkerth@yahoo.com.

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