A Toast to George
In the north country where I grew up, we celebrated Lincoln's birthday, but my children's eyes light up on the twenty-second of February almost as bright as on October the thirteenth. In those days Washington, D.C. celebrated its founder with such fabulous sales that people literally stood in line all night to be the first in the store when the doors open so they can get the bargains. Through the years we've had weird-o shirts (purchased for five cents), German cameras for which film is not available (purchased for twenty five cents), tape recorders that didn't work (purchased for two dollars), and hats of all shapes and varieties that seem to symbolize the rapture of George Washington's birthday in some bizarre symbolism to my sons.
My first-born son was being permitted to learn from his own mistakes one year as the George Washington Birthday Sale season approached. He had been quite extravagant with his paper route money, and his father and I were totally uncooperative in helping him round up funds for this occasion. In resistance to our resistance, he formed a cooperative arrangement with a neighbor pal, four years younger than he, and they solicited the neighbors for employment. Their enterprise met with success. By dint of hard labor, they had accumulated almost seven dollars apiece as the magic day approached.
Tragedy struck, however, in the form of Chuck's mother. "Indeed, you may not get the Greyhound at two o'clock in the morning," she declared. "Furthermore, you may not go downtown in all those crowds without an adult no matter how you get there!"
My son was stymied for at least one day with this, but he recovered in time for the occasion. He would go alone. They sadly split up their money. He set the alarm, hiked the two miles to the bus stop, and took the Greyhound into town to be the first in line at a television store.
He was a television addict in those days. We had a set, but in a family of five, no one person had complete command. He wanted one of his own.
I thought about him frequently during the day, worrying a little, but not too seriously. In frantic efforts to channel his spirit of adventure into constructive activity, I had encouraged previous expeditions into and around the city. He was well drilled in the importance of keeping a dime at all times so he could call me if he needed help. I stayed within sound of the phone, aware of the intensity of February chill, of how overwhelming a mob of people could look to a growing boy, of how confusing the buses could be when they don't come back the same the same route they go down. But the phone didn't ring. Lunchtime came and went, and the afternoon began to drag.
"What will I do if I don't hear from him?" I wondered. I looked out the window and saw the paper truck draw up in front of the house. It's only two," I thought. "I wonder why the papers are coming so early. What if he doesn't get back in time to serve?"
It wasn't the papers. It was my son. He and his route manager were taking something out of the back of the truck. I could tell it was heavy by the way they handled it, but I could not see what it was until they got almost to the door. Yes it was! It was a television set!
He had been the first in line, gotten to the "best buy" first, which was a secondhand television set for twenty five cents, and purchased it. Then he went over to the building where the papers were distributed, hunted up his route manager, and persuaded him to pick up the set at the store and bring him home with it. My son's eyes danced in excitement as they moved the set into his room and plugged it in. It didn't work.
I found my husband downstairs working on some project of his own. "I'm proud of him." I said. "He's shown great enterprise and this should be a successful experience. Can you help him fix it up?"
He did, of course. They took it that very afternoon to a local repair shop. The owner, capturing the spirit of the situation, fixed it for two dollars.
This time, when my son planted his set in his room and turned it on, it worked. He spent the evening in front of it, reveling in his success. He invited his brothers in to watch his set from time to time, but he always had command of the channel. When the picture tube blew about two months later, we traded the set in on a new one. Because we got twenty-five dollars for the old set, my son took a proprietary attitude toward the new one, too, and most of the time his brothers conceded.
To dream, to dare, to achieve. These are the things that make life worthwhile. A toast to George and to my son. May I always remember the lesson he learned that day. As I recall this incident, I realize how important our neighborhood was to me and to our developing children. I still live in this area, but the few children who are here now do not bring us together as ours did fifty years ago.