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The Stupidest Prize

My pal Stephanie wants to know how my brother set the woods on the fire and how I managed to choose the stupidest prize on the local kiddie show.

I live to serve.

I really don't remember all that much about my brother and the woods -- but I do know that he and his buddy Michael Feeney were playing with matches in the woods, with predictable results. It wasn't a huge fire, but the fire department got called to the fire and my brother got called on the carpet.

I can, however, tell you all about the time I picked the stupidest prize.

DC had a pretty rich selection of kiddie shows back in the 50s and 60s, from the network offerings of Howdy Doody and Captain Kangaroo to shows produced and broadcast from the local stations. I loved Ranger Hal. Ranger Hal played a park ranger, so the show was oriented to nature. His main sidekick was a big floppy rabbit named Oswald Rabbit, but the puppet menagerie also included Eager Beaver, Dr. Fox, and Marvin Monkey. The show featured cartoons, skits, and educational lessons on nature.

And a contest.

Which, when I was nine, I entered. I don't remember the contest; I only remember having to send in a postcard with the answer to a question on it. Winners were chosen at random from the correct entries.

I was getting ready for school one morning when my brother came running out of the living room to say that my entry had won! I would get to appear on the Ranger Hal show and pick out my prize!

I almost wet my pants, I was so excited. I could hardly wait for the show.

See, on Saturdays, Ranger Hal hosted a lot of kids live on TV -- a birthday party group or two and that week's contest winners. Each prize winner got to sit right beside Ranger Hal and select a prize from the amazing treasure trove of toys surrounding the kindly Ranger.

The event is kind of a blur. I only remember sitting at a table as Ranger Hal spun the magic wheel to see which winner got to go up and pick out a toy. I watched as every prize I craved got selected: the beautiful Madame Alexander doll, the collection of sparkly rocks and minerals, the dinosaur model kit. Of course, there were amazing prices that went unpicked, like a full-size swing set (complete with teeter-totter!) and a polished wooden tobaggan.

Anyway, Ranger Hal almost forgot about me. I even had to remind his assistant. When I realized that Hal was about to stop the prize giving, I very shyly said, "I'm supposed to get a prize."

So up I went, sitting beside Ranger Hal, so nervous I could barely see straight. All the best prizes were gone! What could I choose? The swing set would be great, but I couldn't figure out how we would get it in the car to take it home. Of course, it didn't occur to me that it would come unassembled. And the toboggan -- I couldn't think how that worked, and it was awfully big, and I already had a good sled.

Ranger Hal gently hurried me along. I panicked and quickly pointed to the toy he was holding -- a big, metal child's adding machine. It was a weird contraption -- I don't remember exactly how it worked -- but it wasn't at all cool.

In fact, it broke in about a week.

I tried to make the best of it. I told my brother and sister that it was what I wanted. I didn't want the swing set or the toboggan or the Monopoly game or the set of picture books. My brother, as older brothers are required to do, teased me unmercifully about it.

He still does.

At least I get to tease him about setting the woods on fire.