Ed McMahon never made it to our door, not that Dad didn’t try. After Dad retired, he filled out every Publishers Clearinghouse sweepstakes form that arrived in his mailbox. He attached the correct stickers, took a nickel to the scratch cards, enclosed the special envelope and sent his chances off in the mail. Dreaming of winning the sweepstakes was worth the price of a stamp. I had my own apartment after returning from college, but some of my mail would still end up at Mom and Dad’s. Dad called as he filled them out for me.“Do you want $5 million all at once or $5,000 a month forever?” he would ask.I usually chose the monthly payments.
I loved joining Dad for the moments of “maybe it will happen to us” optimism. He also asked if I wanted a car or the cash for the early bird bonus prize. I always picked the cash. We never won the sweepstakes, or a split the pot or a raffle. Well, I take that back. I won a classical guitar from the Anchorage Youth Symphony raffle back in the 70’s and Dad won a sailboat - but that is for another column. My first win happened when I was 16. I kissed a DJ over the phone.
Trying to be the “ninth” caller using our rotary phone was near impossible as more people switched to the newer touchtone phones, but I could talk my way into prizes. I convinced the DJ that my kiss was the most unique kiss compared to the others. Granted, this was all on the phone and over the airwaves. I never met the DJ, nor he me. But anyone who was listening that afternoon heard a long smooch with a double pop at the end. Hey, it was all strategy. To win, I must be memorable. In this contest I won a floral bouquet from a local shop.
The flowers, a medium-sized arrangement, were in plain sight on the stereo console when Mom and Dad came home from work.
“Where did you get the flowers?” Mom asked.
“I won them.”
“I kissed a DJ over the phone and he said my kiss was the best. He said it was double-barreled,” I boasted.
“You’re kidding,” Mom broke the silence. Dad looked down at the floor.
“I didn’t really kiss him. It was over the phone.”
“Did you tell him your name on the air?”
Very long pause.
Dad had this handled. “Stay there,” he said.
He left the room and returned with his Argus camera. I posed with my flowers for several minutes as he got everything in focus. Mom wasn’t mad. She recognized something.
“She’s your daughter, “ she said to Dad.
Dad and I shared a smile. He had done worse for less.
I didn’t know it then, but I later learned that Dad had won a pocketful of quarters when he was in high school because of a kiss. During a pep rally Dad saw a boy walk up to a girl, kiss her in front of everyone, then run back to the bleachers where his buddies threw bits of change to him – he had won a bet. Dad could do better, he told them. For two-bits each, he’d walk across the gym floor and kiss the English teacher.
There was no quick peck on the cheek. No, Dad crossed the gym, took the teacher’s hand and swung her around in a dance move. He leaned her back in a dip and smacked one right on her lips in front of the entire school. Cheers and quarters. There were plenty of both.
Dad was pretty popular for a few minutes. It didn’t last long. Within minutes he was sitting in the principal’s office listening to why what he did was so terrible. After that, he heard it all over again at the dinner table. His Dad, my grandpa, was the principal as well as the school superintendent.
As punishment Dad went on an apology tour. He apologized to the teacher in front of the faculty, in front of the student body and in front of the school board. I asked Dad how much money he made. He didn’t recall. He knew it was more than the other kid had received.
I understood. The money wasn’t important. It was the story. Dad could recite every detail of that day - the bet, the kiss, the cheers, the multiple lectures he earned because he was the principal’s son and the experience of apologizing in public. Then there were the dates he had with the same teacher after the War, (before he met Mom.) He didn’t share much about that. But I’m sure he remembered.