Cinderella Prizes - Part I

I like prizes. Always have. It started when I was in 3rd grade. My Sunday school teacher offered a prize if we memorized a Bible verse of our choice for the week. The prize was a multi-colored pen, big as a cigar, with 12 different colors. I chose John 11:35.

In 4th grade, I had a paper route. I delivered 35 Minneapolis Star Tribunes to people in the neighborhood every day after school. Back in those days, we also had to collect payment from all our customers. Every other Saturday, I would knock on 35 doors and launch into my long-winded collection spiel, and by long-winded collection spiel I mean I would stand at the front door of each customer with a hopeful look on my face and say, “Can I collect?”

Most customers were cooperative and would pay their bills right away – with two exceptions. First, there was the Harms brothers who lived at the end of the block. I don’t know how old they were or if they even had parents. They did have a rock band, however, and I remember them practicing in their garage. All day and all night they played In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida by Iron Butterfly. As far as I could tell, it was the only song they knew. When I tried to collect from them, they would tease me by telling me their parents weren’t home or they didn’t have any money. When my lower lip started quivering and they could tell I was about to cry, they’d cough up the $1.50 they owed me.

The second character was an old curmudgeon who lived a couple blocks away. He would answer the door wearing a wife-beater, unshaven and smelling of cigars and bacon grease. Worse, he had a vicious looking German Shepherd that would stand inside the screen door and growl at me while I tried to collect. I was terrified that dog would bust through the screen and rend me limb from limb. The man would grumble about the cost of the newspaper before getting his wallet and paying me. The dog would stand there and stare at me with malevolent eyes, teeth bared, a throaty growl emanating from his jaws.

Our paper route supervisor, Mr. Drury, incentivized his little army of paperboys to sell additional subscriptions by showing us a prize brochure. The more new subscriptions we sold, the bigger the prize we could select. Prize-motivated youngster that I was, I immediately scanned the brochure, found the prize that looked the best and got to work selling new subscriptions. Within four weeks, I had amassed enough points to pick out the prize I was lusting after. It was an olive green army hatchet with a holster I could attach to my belt to carry it.

One Saturday, Mr. Drury met us at the Mobil gas station where we picked up our papers each day. He had a box of prizes to distribute to his team of young entrepreneurs. There it was! The olive green army hatchet! I took my belt off, slipped on the holster and rode back home, proud as a peacock. When I got home, I noticed that my neighbor Mr. Rodman was in his garage working on something. I showed him my new hatchet and he volunteered to hone the edge of it for me on his sharpening wheel. When he finished, the blade was razor sharp, definitely the sort of thing a 4th-grader should be carrying around.

The following Saturday, trusty hatchet holstered at my side and 15 cents in my pocket that I had found in the bottom of my mom’s washing machine, I rode my Schwinn stingray up to Al’s Garage and bought a can of Shasta Cherry Cola. When I got home, I tried to open the can but the tab broke off and I had no way get at the soda inside. Resourceful lad that I was, I unholstered my trusty hatchet, held the soda can in my left and attempted to hack the broken tab open. The only problem was that I missed the top of the can. Instead, I hit my left hand with the bottom edge of my newly sharpened weapon and opened two deep cuts, a large one at the base of my left thumb and a smaller one on the knuckle of my left pointer finger. The wounds immediately started spurting blood and it took a second for my mind to grasp what I had done. I dropped the hatchet and grabbed one of my mom’s white dish towels and held it against the cuts. My mom and dad were both gone, so I ran out the front door of the house calling for help.

Greg Harrelson, my friend across the street, heard me yelling. His mom was a nurse and she came running to help just as my parents pulled up. They saw the bloody towel, piled me in the back seat of the car and headed straight to the emergency room. The doctor looked at my hand and said, “You’re lucky you didn’t lose a thumb!” I took this as a compliment as to the sharpness of my hatchet blade and then watched in fear as he numbed the site and proceeded to sew up the wounds – seven stitches on my thumb and four more on my finger. The scars remain visible to this day.

I never did get to enjoy that frosty cold can of Shasta Cherry Cola, but I learned a couple valuable lessons: sharpened hatchets can be dangerous, it hurts to get stitches and it was doubtful the Harms brothers’ band would amount to anything.

There’s more to the story in Cinderella Prizes - Part II. Stay tuned.

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