An apology due to a rice bag

Published 12:00 pm Friday, May 27, 2016

By TJ Ray

This column must begin with an apology. To the anonymous person who made the gift to The Pantry: my sincerest apology for not accepting it.

That beginning warrants a short explanation. A week or so back, a package came through the mail addressed to The Pantry. The writing was all in black magic marker, containing both the address and a return address. Also easily visible was the label from the post office, indicating that the package cost $11.35 to mail. Someone in Florida was very intent on the box getting here.

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A nice volunteer opened the box and discovered a two-pound commercial bag of rice. Unsure what to do with it, the person left the box at the Pantry, where it rested for several days. Much discussion went on about what struck us all as a strange event.

For $11.35, a shopper can buy several bags of rice. Had a check been sent instead of the package of one bag, more bags or something else useful to our clients could have been gotten.

It seemed quickly evident that we were not going to put it in a cart of goods for one of our clients. What to do? What to do? Throw it in the trash was the obvious possibility and likelihood. But, oh no, too much has been shouted and written about terrorists and the need for careful response to suspicious happenings. My bet is that had this box been sent to the mayor’s office or a judge’s chambers, the FBI, Homeland Security, the CIA, the Oxford Police, and the Salvation Army would have been called instantly. A bomb-sniffing dog would have sniffed the box. It would have been taken to the hospital for an X-ray. But it came to The Pantry, which is in no way prepared for such threats.

So, without permission or authorization, I took it to the branch post office, where I was politely informed such things had to go to the main branch. Out to the big post office I went. Probably good territory to be in with a highly suspicious package — near the Police Department and next door to the Fire Department.

After standing in line (a longish line as there was only one person serving the public) for a while, I made it to the front of the line and handed it to the young man. His question was what was he supposed to do with it. Now stop and think what I expected: the doors to instantly lock down, a siren or alarm to start clanging, a hazmat crew to appear with a bombproof container to put the box in. At the very least I thought someone might ask my name and address, maybe even take my fingerprints. After all, I could be the mad sender.

None of that happened. The fellow looked at the box and walked away from the counter. As I was going through the front door, I looked back and saw him standing there looking puzzled at the box in his hand.

And so, all I can do is apologize to the sender. And also ponder the question: was the bag of rice injected with a devastating virus that would have killed everyone in Lafayette County had it been exposed?

TJ Ray, a retired professor of English at Ole Miss, can be reached at