His dad was skeptical, but he was determined to sell enough cards to earn a new radio.
- Posted on Dec 9, 2013
In the late 1950s there was nothing an 11-year-old boy wanted more than a transistor radio. With four kids to support on the salary from Dad’s factory job, my parents didn’t have the money to buy one for me. What could a kid do in such a tough spot?
An ad in the latest issue of Boys’ Life magazine seemed to hold the answer: If I could sell 15 boxes of Christmas cards, I could earn a radio all by myself!
As I pored over the rules, I could already see myself, the proud owner of my very own transistor radio: holding it in my hand as I walked through the neighborhood, tying it to the handlebars of my bike, tucking it under my pillow to listen to rock and roll before I went to sleep.
How hard could it be to sell 15 boxes of cards? Just watch me! I thought, shutting the magazine.
First thing I had to do was get a parent’s permission. “I know it sounds like a good deal, but it’s a waste of time,” my dad insisted when I showed him the ad after dinner. “Nobody buys those things.”
Dad obviously didn’t see how important this was to me, so I went straight to Mom in the kitchen. “Please!” I said. “I’ll do it all myself. I’ll sell every box. You’ll see.”
Mom gave in and signed the consent form. The next day, my application was in the mail. I would show my father it wasn’t a waste of time when I had that shiny new transistor radio!
The cards arrived a few weeks later. They were just your standard cards–a Christmas tree and an angel on front, “Merry Christmas” written inside–but to me they were a gold mine. Early Saturday morning I climbed on my bicycle and hit the neighborhood. My goal was to have every box sold by lunch.
“Hello!” I greeted the first lady who answered her door. “I’ve got the best Christmas cards ever. Want to buy a box?”
“No, thank you, young man,” she said. “I’ve already got more than enough for this year.”
Oh, well, I thought as I got back on my bike. She’ll be the only person on the block who misses out.
Actually, she would have a lot of company in the missing-out department. House after house I got the same answer: No, thank you. Lunch came and went and I’d only sold one box.
I pressed on, riding farther than I ever expected, and didn’t get back home until almost dinnertime. All I had to show for it was a grand total of three boxes sold.
I flopped down onto the living room couch, exhausted. “How are the sales going?” Dad asked from behind his newspaper.
“Slow,” I admitted. “But I’ve got all day tomorrow after church.”
“Mmm-hmm,” said Dad.
When the service ended the next morning, I was the first person out the door. That way I could talk to everyone as they left. “Get beautiful cards to send to your friends and family,” I said, showing off my wares. “Only a few more weeks till Christmas!”
“Sorry, I already bought my cards,” I heard again and again. It seemed I wasn’t the only kid trying to earn that radio. Soon the church parking lot was empty and I hadn’t sold anything. I got on my bike and rode off. Once again I didn’t get home until it was nearly time for dinner.
“Sell anything?” Dad asked.
“One box,” I said. “Maybe people like to buy things during the week.”
“Mmm-hmm,” said Dad.
I’ll show him! I thought. But weekday sales were worse. Each day I went out after school, arriving home just in time to have dinner and do my homework. But I only managed to sell one more box. Come the weekend I didn’t manage to sell one.
“Ten boxes,” I said after dinner Sunday night. “I can’t believe I have to sell ten more boxes.”
“You’ve worked very hard,” my mom said. “I’m proud of you. There’s just a lot of people selling Christmas cards this time of year.”
In my mind I could hear my dad’s warning: “It’s a waste of time. Nobody buys those things.” Dad was probably happy I was proving him right. But I couldn’t give up. If only a Christmas angel would fly down and tell people to buy my cards.
“I’m going to take them to school tomorrow,” I said. “Maybe some of the teachers will want to buy some.”
The next morning I awoke with new determination. I would show my cards to every teacher in the school. Surely somebody would want them! But when I looked for my cards, they were gone. “Where did my cards go? I left them right here so I wouldn’t forget them,” I said.
“Your father took them to work,” Mom said. “He thought he’d see if anyone at the factory wanted a box.”
I was crushed. I knew just how little Dad thought of my card-selling scheme. Mom had probably convinced him to help me out. Now the cards were out of my reach. None of Dad’s friends at work would buy anything. He probably wouldn’t even ask them.
My dream of getting a transistor radio–all by myself–was completely dashed.
Dad worked overtime all week so I never even saw him long enough to ask for the cards back. On Friday morning, Mom handed me an envelope. “Here’s the money from those last ten boxes of cards,” she said. “I guess the men at the factory really needed them.”
I’d done it! All 15 boxes, sold! My hand shook with excitement as I filled out the form to send back with the money. A week later a brown-paper package arrived in the mail. I had my transistor radio.
It was the coolest radio in town, because I’d earned it all myself! Sure, my dad had brought the cards to the factory, but he would never have put that much effort into getting people to buy them. Factory men just knew quality cards when they saw them.
That radio saw me through many Christmases. Christmases when our family sent out the same cards–a Christmas tree with an angel on front and “Merry Christmas” written inside. Not that I noticed.
It wasn’t until I was a father myself, watching my own kids struggle, that I realized my dad hadn’t sold those 10 boxes of cards–at least not all of them. He’d bought them himself, even though money was tight.
What’s more, he’d let me believe that I’d won the contest all by myself because he knew that was more important than any radio could be. My dad didn’t look much like a Christmas angel, but when I needed one, that’s just what he was.
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