The ad on the back cover of the Captain Marvel comic
Book said "Win Valuable Prizes!," an irresistible invitation
To one with aspirations like mine, to make a quick buck,
Beat all comers, and wind up wearing the Spring Shoes
I could see propelling me up and down Alameda Drive.
Up and down Alameda Drive I trudged with my packets
Of flower seeds tucked tightly into slots in the cardboard
Box I could barely carry. Everybody bought one or two,
Praising my enterprise. At a penny a packet, not exactly
A fortune. I never won the shoes. Probably nobody did.
Undaunted, I clipped another coupon and found myself
Back on the beat, this time with little tins of burn salve
In a more manageable box. Sales were few and I earned
More blisters than bucks. But I learned to rattle off facts
Machine-gun fashion: "Most accidents happen at home!"
From there it was a short hop to Christmas cards, where
All I carried was a sample book, a pencil, a pad of order
Forms. Until the morning I woke to find huge cardboard
Boxes stacked on the porch of my Hamblet Street home.
The driver tapped his foot while I labored over my name.
The folks were amazed. Three hundred orders to deliver,
And Thanksgiving a few days away. Bundled up in jacket,
Hat, and mittens, clutching the handle of my Radio Flyer
Wagon, I labored up and down Alameda Drive, stopping
At every second or third home, then back for another load.
Every time I pulled away from the steps, Mom drew aside
The drape and peeked from hiding. Or so she thought, my
Keen eyes tuned to the slightest movement. It never dawned
On me to ask for help. I had a daring scheme up my sleeve
Nobody knew what I intended, and only I could pull it off.
For over a year, I ate nothing for breakfast but Wheat Chex
When I had a choice, and urged brothers Joe and Cap to do
The same. At the mention of Wheaties, Cheerios, Shredded
Wheat, I beat the drum for Wheat Chex and drowned it out,
Citing first-hand knowledge of "the many uses Wheat Chex
Have, from after-school snacks to party mixes where they're
Baked with pretzel sticks and nuts." I promoted the stuff right
And left. I fed it to the birds. The blue jays bit. I tried the cat.
No way. The next-door-neighbor's Irish setter ate his share.
I saved just enough box tops to make my dream come true.
The agony came when I sent the box tops off, along with my
Hard-earned bucks, to the Ralston-Purina Company. I waited
And waited as Christmas drew closer and closer. When Mom
Asked me why I no longer ate Wheat Chex, I lied and said I'd
Developed a taste for Kix. Soon the big day was a week away.
Christmas Eve morning found me hanging out by the window
In the living room, trying to keep suspicions down by telling
Everybody Gene might drop over, so nobody would pay a mind
When I bolted from the front door to greet the parcel post truck
The same driver tapped his foot while I labored over my name.
The folks were amazed. Always before, they'd turned us kids
Loose in the five-and-dime on Northeast Broadway with a few
Bucks to spend on everybody. We would agonize for hours on
End over our limited choices before plunking our money down,
Relieved. This time, not even Joe and Cap knew what was up.
"Such an enormous box," said Mom. "And so heavy," said Dad
"It's from the three of us," said I, while Joe and Cap gawked.
They knew I'd bought the present for the folks, and they'd
Kicked in the couple of bucks they'd have spent, but I hadn't
Spilled the beans. The glitter knocked everybody for a loop.
A set of silver-plated dinnerware, complete with butter knives
And gravy ladle. Everything but napkin rings and oyster forks,
Since we had Grandma's sterling silver napkin rings and never
Ate oysters except in stew. Besides, I'd have needed more box
Tops than I could eat Wheat Chex if I'd counted on the works.
Everybody laughed around the tree. Colored lights sparkled
In eyes overflowing with oceans of love, a payoff worthy of
My monumental effort. There was no settling for second best,
No getting by half-baked. I wanted this more than a real bike.
As Nana liked to say, "The more you give, the more you get."
I got my bike and took right off, wobbling on training wheels
Up and down Alameda Drive like a young Lawrence of Arabia
On his stallion, waving to everybody I knew, which was every
Last living soul. Whole families stepped outside and wished me
"Merry Christmas!," having seen me struggle past the other way.
I learned I had a firm client base. Scores of Wheat Chex eaters
Up and down Alameda Drive told me they'd have doubled their
Consumption to speed me toward my goal, if only they'd known
In time. Those who welcomed my face at their doors said they'd
Buy a bridge from me because, by George, my word was good.
Like a self-fulfilling prophesy, time and again an entity perches
On my shoulder when I fudge the truth or take it through a taffy
Pull. Nothing so dramatic as an angel in a white robe and shiny
Halo debating a devil in red tights with horns and pitchfork, like
In the movies, but a face that keeps me honest without speaking.
The Watchbird watching me bears features of all the faces known
From my treks up and down Alameda Drive, going door to door.
Call it what you will, a built-in support group, fans in the stands,
An extended family, the village they say it takes to raise a child, 1
Was sheltered from storms of my own devising, and from outside.
When I was eleven and we moved to the country, Hamblet Street
And Alameda Drive went along, tucked away like Nana's old lace
Handkerchiefs, weightless, more precious than gold. Sometimes I
Bring them out for no reason. Other times, beckoning with a soft
Voice, they invite the light of day. Always I handle them with care.