The Prize


The teacher's voice echoed faintly in the boy's thoughts as his mind drifted to the filtered music of the carnival five blocks away. The ten-year-old fingered the coins in his pants pocket. He counted and added each nickel in his head: his version of a daily math assigment.

"Remember to bring in your English papers tomorrow," the teacher said as the children shoved themselves through the door. The boy never turned to take notice of the teacher's reminder; his trifling interest in school stolen by the calling of the distant carny workers.

The boy slapped his tam on his head and ran out the schoolhouse door as he raced to make it to the fair before it closed. It took months working at Ol' Mr. Tankersly's grocery store to earn enough extra change to play the carny games.

"Spend your money on new boots," the boy's mother reminded him as he stared at the County Fair advertisement in the local newspaper earlier that summer.

The boy obeyed his mother and he happily purchased new lace-up boots with his earned cash. But now, the leftover change clanking in his pants sang a song of excitement for the autumn fair.

"Come on in boy and see what you can win," the lanky mustached man said through his open grin. The boy entered the carnival, his eyes wide and smiling. He heard about carnivals from the other children but could never afford them in previous years. His sudden wealth of nickles gave way to feelings bursting of boldness as he scanned his eyes across rows of alluring carnival games.

"Step up over here boy and win ya' a new BB gun," the carny man said as he gestured to the boy.

The boy stared at the shooting game behind the carny man's stand. He was a good shot--"A perfect shot"--his dad always said as the two squirrel hunted in the Oklahoma hills. With unexpected confidence, he puffed out his chest and moved forward to slap his nickel on the table of the carny man's stand.

Pulling the gun toward his face, the boy steadied his finger on the trigger. The man pointed to the target on the wall behind him. "All ya' need to do is hit the bull's eye boy," he said as he winked.

The boy closed his left eye and sucked in a deep breath. Pop...pop...pop...He lowered the gun and stared at the target. "I did it," he said. "I hit the center of the target."

"So ya' did. Pick out your prize."

The boy scanned his eyes across the shelves of prizes: a cooned skin cap, a box of magician's cards and a swell-looking shiny BB gun. But just as he turned toward the toothy carnival worker, the boy's attention was grabbed by another shelf of prizes: fancy electrical kitchen gadgets.

"Can I take something from that shelf?" the boy asked.

"These are for the older folks," the man answered back, his forehead wrinkled with puzzlement.

 The boy stared at each kitchen gadget, especially enamored with the electrical ones. The sparkling fold-up toaster and its electrical cord fascinated him and he felt hypnotized by its mechanical beauty.

"I want that," the boy said as he pointed his finger toward the toaster.

The carnival man shrugged as he pulled the toaster from the shelf. "Here it is boy. It's all yours," shaking his head.

The boy tucked his prize under his jacket and quickly walked toward his home. I spent my nickels wisely, he thought. Mom will love this new toaster.

Swinging open the front door to his house, the boy ran into their kitchen. "Look what I won at the County Fair, mom," he said to his mother. "Your gonna' love this...a new-fangled fold-up toaster."

The boy's mother took the toaster in hand as he raised it toward her. She stared at her wavy reflection on the toaster's side and inspected the prize with a look of intensity. Smiling toward her son, the woman slowly placed the electrical prize on the kitchen table.

"It's a beautiful toaster, son...but we don't have electricity."

The boy's face dropped. He stared at the toaster sitting next to his mother's freshly canned green beans. The boy sank into a chair, feeling his body would melt around him; his youthful innocence denied by the reality of the Oklahoma depression.


Happy Father's Day dad. I imagine your mechanical brilliance has been refreshed and rejuvenated in Heaven.

With love,

*This story was adapted from one told to me by my father year's ago. Real stories told from the heart, are meant to be repeated.

(All rights reserved. Reprinting of this story is strickly prohibited.)


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