By Don Kenton Henry
Now I’m not saying he was fat, but in a day before “morbidly obese became the new slim” … Well … let’s just say “Woody” was chubby. We could also say he never met a piece of apple pie―or any kind of pie for that matter―he didn’t like. And he didn’t get the nickname Woody because of some awkward moment in the school locker room. It was short. For Woodhouse, that is. His last name. His first name was Steve, but Woody just seemed to fit, so that’s what we called him. He had flaming red hair, skin that was tidy bowl white and a face whose chubby cheeks were covered with freckles to match his hair. Picture Alfred E. Neuman on the cover of Mad Magazine (at the age of eleven, our favorite literary indulgence). Except much cuter. Woody was “hamster cute”. You know―like a hamster whose cheeks are stuffed full of seed. Like he’s afraid you’ll steal it from him and thinks you won’t notice he’s hiding it all in his cheeks. He was that kind of cute. And as for us calling him chubby, Woody’s defense was, “I have a glandular problem.” He picked that up from his mother who was always babying him. I got so tired of hearing that, one day I just told him, “Yeah, Woody! You got a glandular problem all right! . . . It’s your saliva gland!” And then those big, brown calf eyes of his started all watering and I quickly added, “Ahh geez … Woody. I bet if you’d just cut down to one or two Baby Ruth’s a day―from that five or six you eat― you’d be as skinny as me in no time!”
Woody’s eyes flashed and dried up almost immediately . He raised his head and answered, “I didn’t say I wanted to look like buck teeth on a beanpole!” He hit my “Achilles heel” with that one and was playing off my dad’s description of me which he had heard while having dinner at my house one evening:
“Why that boy’s teeth are so bucked … he could eat corn off the cob through a picket fence!” my dad said from across the table.
My mother had jumped to my defense and chided him, “Don, Sr.! Don’t tease the boy about his teeth. You know how sensitive he is about them. And Woody knew too. My own eyes were about to start watering when he quickly added, “Hey, Henry! Have you ever noticed, no matter how much you chew a Baby Ruth, it comes out looking just like it did when it went in?!”
“Wow,” I said, perking up. I never thought about that!” And I hadn’t. But, as of that hot summer day in 1965, it was the most profound observation I had ever heard. Kind of like Queen Isabella probably felt when Columbus returned home and told her the world was round. Such were the observations you made and the conversations you had when you were eleven years old. Such were your buddies that you could tease them―and even punch them in the gut or the nose every once in awhile― then five minutes later, you’d be sittin’ side by side on the banks of the Wabash fishin’ for catfish like nothin’ had ever happened. And when they got to the supper table with that shiner, their mother wouldn’t sue your parents over it. And all their dad would say was, “Well . . . (as he turned from the potatoes to look him straight in the eye) did you hit him back?” And heaven help you if you were someone else who picked on our buddy because, if he couldn’t whip you, both of us surely would! “Yes,” that’s how it was that so long ago summer in Finn’s Landing.
Woody and I sat under the shade of a giant Sycamore tree at the corner of the street by the same name where it intersected with Hood. I always thought the latter must be named after the great Civil War general, John Bell Hood. But that’s not very likely seeing as he was a Confederate and we were way up north in Yankee land in a place called, “Indiana”. My house was half a block away at 117 Sycamore Street. The reason we sat where we did instead of under an oak or elm in my own yard was because that great tree provided more shade than any ten oak trees ever could have. And it set on the corner of a lawn that was elevated some five or six feet above the sidewalk, as were all the homes and lawns on that side of the street. This gave us a convenient vantage point from which to watch our friends bicycle by or the occasional 60’s muscle car stop and get it on. It was a T intersection where the teenage gear heads could see there were no cops about as they came to a halt then “burned rubber” down past my house. Woody and I screamed with delight as we watched and dreamed of the day we could cruise the Mr. Weenie in a souped up car impressing the girls.
At the time, however, we were just passing the days trying to fight boredom and stay cool in those dog days of summer before the start of our sixth grade. A dragon fly floated over me as I lay on my back and stared up through the big limbs of the tree. “Hey, Woody, things are getting pretty boring since the Circus City Festival is over, don’t ya think? My mom keeps telling me to ‘go read a book’. How ’bout yours?”
“Well, I have to be up every morning at five to run my paper route. And somebody’s lawn always needs cutting. So that keeps me pretty busy.”
I wanted to ask him how he stayed so chubby doin’ all that work, but didn’t want to hear any more comments about my buck teeth, giant feet or a head as big as a pumpkin. “Yeah, that’s all good, I suppose,” I answered him. “But do you ever get to buy anything cool with all that money you make?”
“Naw. My dad makes me put it in a savings account at the Wabash Valley Savings and Loan every Friday. He wants me to save it for college or something stupid like that but I want to get one of those big red muscle cars when I turn sixteen!”
“Oh yeah, like a Ford Mustang—that would be really cool!”
“No. Like a Chevelle SS or a Pontiac GTO! Nothing like a ‘goat’!” Woody said wistfully as he too lay back staring into the Sycamore above.
“That sounds great,” I said. You be sure to let me ride shotgun when you get it.” I thought about that then added, “But that’s six years off and in the meantime it would sure be a lot more fun if we had some neat things to kill the time with.”
“Yeah, like what?” asked Woody.
“Like a pellet gun or those walkie-talkies I saw down at the Jupiter 5 and Dime! We could play Man From U.N.C.L.E. all day long with those things. No one would beat us at playin’ army ever again! One of us could scout from the top of my apple tree and, using the walkie-talkie, tell the other where the enemy was and that guy could sneak up behind ’em and shoot ’em in the butt with the pellet gun!”
“You shot me with your BB gun and that was bad enough, but I don’t think you could get away with shootin’ ’em with a pellet gun. Dr. Hill would be diggin’ it out of their butt and you’d be grounded for at least a year!”
“Yeah . . . you’re probably right. But it sure would be cool wouldn’t it!” I said, still staring up through the branches that shaded us from that parching summer sun.
“Well, keep on dreamin’ ’cause my dad ain’t gonna let me get into that college money to buy no walkie-talkies,” he said, all hang dog.
“But wait a minute!” I said. “What if we had our own money? I mean money our parents didn’t know about. Then we could buy whatever we wanted! We could buy those walkie-talkies!”
“Just how are we going to do that, Henry? I can’t mow any more lawns without them noticing.”
I thought about this for awhile. It seems like that’s when trouble always began―when I started thinking about things.
“Woody, my grandpa (who owned a car dealership) says, nothin’ ever happens until someone makes a sale. We just gotta find something to sell.”
“Well, we sure can’t sell cars, Henry. Just what’s it gonna be? And have you ever sold anything before?”
“As a matter of fact, Woody―I have. And I’m a pretty darn good salesman too!”
“Oh, yeah? Just what was it?”
I could see the skepticism in his eyes. “It was a long time ago, when I was nine. It was in Kokomo, where we lived for one year after leaving Rensselaer and before coming here. My best buddy, Scotty Holley and I teamed up to sell tickets to a chili supper to raise money for Gray Y. People just couldn’t say no to us! Scotty is probably the world’s greatest salesman next to me! We sold at least three or four times more than anyone else!”
“Wow!” said Woody. What made you two so good?”
“Well, it didn’t hurt any that when they passed out the tickets Scotty and I started selling as soon as we hit the streets. We were sellin’ to people who were hungry because they hadn’t had their dinner so our chili must’a sounded extra good to them! The rest of the kids went home first, changed clothes and ate their own dinner. We was sellin’ while they were eatin’! ‘The early bird gets the worm!’ my grandpa says, and by the time they came out to sell, we’d already sold tickets to everyone in the neighborhood! The night of the chili supper about everyone in the school cafeteria had got their ticket from us. They even had Scotty and I stand up and they announced it over loud speaker! We was like celebrities!
“Boy, I bet your parent’s were proud!”
“No one was very happy for very long, that’s for sure.”
“Why,” asked Woody.
“Well, about five or ten minutes into everybody eatin’ their chili, my little sister . . . she just up and puked. I mean right there at the cafeteria table with my whole family and another family ― she just puked her guts out! And you know how when somebody pukes, you just want to puke to? Well―that’s what happened! Before you know it, somebody else is puking. Then everybody is puking. Even my mom. Everybody that is except Scotty and I. We are trying to be real brave and keep eatin’ but then we saw pretty Miss Fishberg, our fourth grade teacher, heavin’ and beans were even coming out her nose and with that even Scotty and I started barfing! Everybody started runnin’ for the doors and my mom and dad drug us all out of there fast. And I mean to tell ya, they weren’t very happy and―of course―I got another whippin’!”
“Now why the heck would you get a whippin’?” exclaimed Woody. “How could they blame you!”
“Somebody said it was because Scotty and I talked my little sister into stickin’ her finger down her throat and I reckon there may have been some truth to that. But gosh dern it! How were we supposed to know she’d really do it? We thought a five year old had more sense than that! The rest of the school year, they called us the ‘Tomain Twins’ on account a’ everybody got the poison from all that chili we sold!”
“What a dumb sister, getting’ you in trouble like that! Oh my gosh! I think I’m gonna puke myself, just thinkin’ about it. That’s a real winner of a story, Henry, that’s for sure! You sure do got ’em! But get back to ― what are we gonna sell?”
“Woody, what’s your favorite thing in the whole wide world?”
Putting his hands behind his head and staring up even harder like the answer was somewhere high in the branches of that Sycamore, Woody answered, “You mean like Baby Ruth’s?”
“Uh huh. Exactly! For you it’s candy. And for a lot of people it’s candy. It’s no accident you’re not the only fat, errrrr … I mean chubby kid in the world. I mean there are a lot of fat adults too. And even skinny people like candy. Heck! I like it. My favorite is the O’Henry bar!”
“That’s just because you say it’s named after you!” laughed Woody.
“Yeah, but the point is everybody loves candy.”
“So what? We don’t have any candy to sell. And we don’t have any money to buy any candy to sell. How does this bright idea of yours get us those walkie-talkies?”
“Were you ever a Cub Scout, Woody?” I asked turning my head toward him.
“Yeah, I was. Until I was about eight. What does that have to do with anything?”
“I was a Cub Scout too. When I lived in Rensselaer. And I quit being one when I was about eight too. My dad was the Den Leader and, after a den meeting at my house one Saturday morning, we got into a bunch of Playboy magazine’s he had hidden in his foot locker. We took ’em up in Mark Brand’s tree house and, after that, none of the parent’s would let their kids come back to our meetings anymore.”
“Why would they do that? How did they find out about the magazines?” Woody asked, rolling his head to the side to look me in the eye.
“Well . . . we got up in Mark’s tree house and got to lookin’ at all these pictures of naked women and you could see their boobies and everything!”
Woody’s eyes got about as big as cupcakes when … well―when he saw a cupcake! “Wow . . . did they look like your mom?”
“Heck no! And your mom neither! Anyway, it was pretty exciting at first then Terry Edmonds started to feel guilty about what we was doin’ and threw down his magazine and said so. Then Dicky Beidenbender said what we was doin’ was evil and we were all going to burn in hell then Gary Ford started ripping a big fold-out up in about a million pieces. The next thing I knew, we all started doing the same. We were ripping and tearing and shredding every picture of every naked girl in them magazines like we just knew God was looking down seeing we were sorry and was gonna let us off the hook for being so bad!”
“No! I can’t believe you wasted all those naked ladies! I’ve never seen one before. My dad doesn’t keep any magazines like that! So how’d you get caught anyway?”
“Because the weather changed. God didn’t let us off the hook after all. Like I said, there were about a million pieces of those dirty pictures all over the floor of the tree house when a big wind whipped up out of nowhere! You know―like just before a storm―and started blowing boobies and butts and all other kind of parts of those naked ladies out the door and windows of that tree house and all over Mark’s yard. We jumped up and tried to grab as many as we could but it was too late. Boobies were flying all through the air along with the fall leaves and landin’ everywhere. Some were even blowin’ down the street and into the neighbor’s yards! We were hanging out the windows still grabbin’ when Mark’s parents pulled in the driveway. His mom and dad got out and just stared with their mouths wide open at all them naked lady parts all over their lawn and there we were, just hanging out of that tree house in our Cub Scout uniforms grabbin’ at the air in horror of what was to come.”
“Man o’ man!” said Woody, his mouth agape. “What happened then, Henry?”
“You can bet I got a whippin’ from my dad―we all got a whippin’―and the rest of the guys weren’t allowed to be members of my dad’s den anymore. So my brother Preston and I just kinda dropped out of the Scouts after that.”
“That’s another great story, Henry, but what does that have to do with candy and us making some money?”
“Well, before all that, my den had to raise money to buy new uniforms for everyone. So the Cub Scouts had a program where each den could buy a bunch of candy by the case and sell it to raise the money. We’d take the candy to our grandparents and cousins then door to door to our friends and neighbors and just go down the street sellin’ it. Once we showed up at the door in our old cruddy uniforms, people just started throwin’ money at us without even tasting the candy!”
“Wow! What kind of candy was it? . . . But, hey! Like I said, we don’t have any candy so what does that have to do with us?”
“Do you still have your Cub Scout uniform, Woody?” I asked.
“Yeah . . . but it doesn’t fit―that’s for sure!”
“Exactly. Well, I’ve got mine too and it sure doesn’t fit either. And what’s even better is we still have a whole case of candy, that we drug with us here from Rensselaer, stored in the coal bin of our house. It’s been sitting there for the last three years or so just gathering dust. I don’t think my parents will ever miss it.”
Woody sat up and was leaning on his elbow staring me in the eye. A little drop of drool had collected in the corner of his open mouth and had started to fall when he felt it and wiped it away with his forearm. “You let it sit there all this time? . . . So what’s the plan, Henry?”
“There are, I think, thirty boxes of candy in that case. We were sellin’ them back then for two bucks a box. Now we want to be real fair about this, so that’s all we’re gonna charge ’em. We’ll both put on our uniforms and go door to door. When we tell people we are members of Den 7, Finn’s Landing, trying to raise money for new uniforms, they’ll take one look at us and we’ll have money for those walkie-talkies in no time!”
Woody stared at me in awe. “Henry, you are a genius!”
“I know. I know―and it’s a lot easier than throwin’ papers or mowin’ lawns!”
“That’s for sure! When do we start?” asked Woody.
“Go home and get into your uniform and meet me at my house,” I said, already rising to my feet and making a beeline home. Woody jumped on his Schwinn Stingray and pedaled off.
By the time Woody made it back, I had already changed into my uniform and was standing in front of the bathroom mirror admiring myself with a giant grin on my face. My parents were at work and my brothers and sister could have cared less what I was up to, so long as I wasn’t picking on them. Woody appeared, seemingly out of nowhere, and stood next to me. His face too broke into a huge grin, then we both began giggling, then outright laughing as we surveyed the spectacle we were. Both our shirt sleeves ended about halfway down our forearms. Our yellow scout kerchiefs tied around our neck concealed there was no way possible we could button our collars. I could button most of the buttons to my shirt, however, there was no way the laws of physics were going to abate themselves, or even bend enough, to allow Woody to button all of his. The ones over his chest he managed to close but the last three buttons above his waist remained estranged from their intended hole like Moses had parted them. And Woody’s alabaster belly, accompanied by its own button, protruded from the gaping chasm of his blue scout shirt. His attempts to zip his pants were so futile he had finally resorted to placing a clothes pin about three quarters of the way up the zipper. This would serve to (just barely) spare Woody exposing himself to anyone soon to answer the door in response to our imminent marketing venture. Both our caps sat perched precariously on our heads and fell off each time we looked down to survey the high water marks where our pant cuffs stopped, leaving at least a couple inches of exposed calves between that and the top of our white socks. Woody wore his Sunday dress shoes which I worried looked way too spiffy but I wore my soiled Converse All Star High Tops.
After we had poked fun at each other just about as much as we could, I led him into the basement and the dark damp coal bin. We were probably in cribs the last time coal had been stored in there but it was still sooty. And very dark. There was one lone light bulb hanging from an oak beam and I pulled a string to illuminate the bin. In the back, against the wall, was a wooden skid with several boxed items my parents had stored on it. Separated off to the edge of the skid was the one remaining box of candy. We bent over it and read the label affixed to the topside. “30 Count Chocolate Coconut Delight”.
“See, Woody! What did I tell ya? All this candy just waiti’ to be sold!”
“Wow, Henry! ‘Chocolate Coconut Delight’!―I just love coconut! Open the box and let’s try some!”
“No way, Woody! We can eat candy anytime! This candy is going to get us those neat things we talked about. You want to eat us out of business before we even get started! C’mon. Let’s take it outside into the garage where we’ll divide it up.”
“Darn!” mumbled Woody. “It seems like we ought to know what we’re selling.”
I ignored him at that point, picked up the box and started out the coal bin, up the stairs and out the back door of the basement into the alley at the side of our house. Woody followed me into the open door of our detached garage. Once inside we closed it. I set the box down on a counter and found a box cutter.
“We need something to carry the candy but the full box is too heavy to lug around. So we’re gonna empty about half of it. We’ll go together and take turns carrying it.” I took the cutter, opened the box and folded the sides of the lid back to reveal three stacks, ten deep, of shiny cellophane wrapped boxes. Through the cellophane, on each box, were the words, “Chocolate Coconut Delight … A taste of the islands in every bite,” over a picture of a delectable piece of the candy.
“Mmmmm!” moaned Woody. They sure sound good! Why I could eat the picture it looks so good! My mouth is waterin’!”
“Get hold of yourself, Woody,” I scolded him as I began to remove some of the boxes. I took out half, tucked them under the counter against the wall and threw a canvas tarp over them. With that I headed out the door box in hand. Woody followed behind. We went over one street from my own where I was pretty certain the residents wouldn’t know me well enough to know I was not in Scouts.
We started on the corner. “Let me do the talkin’, Woody, until you learn the pitch. That’s what they call your ‘spiel’―you know―what you say to them to make the sale. You ever see the movie, The Music Man?”
“Yeah, I think so,” answered Woody.
“Now that guy in that movie could sell anything! Why if you watched it, you already know everything there is to know about selling. But you just listen to me until you get the pitch down.”
“I know, Henry . . . we just gotta make ’em want to taste this candy!”
“No, Woody. We don’t even have to go that far. We just have to stand there and let them see us in these pathetic uniforms and they’ll want to help us. So I just want you to hold the box and kinda smile while looking sad at the same time. Can you do that?”
“I don’t know. How do I smile and look sad at the same time?”
“Smile just a little, like you’re doing it because you know you have to be brave but I want you thinkin’, I’ve lost my dog and I’m afraid it’s been hit by a car or dog napped or somethin’ terrible like that. Only don’t say that. Just think it. I’ll do all the talkin’.”
“That’s terrible. I’d cry if I lost Duke, my German Shepherd!”
We stood on the steps of the corner house. I rang the doorbell and after a long pause a young woman answered the door. She stood there and immediately began to survey us head to toe. Woody stood next to me doing his best to smile and look sad simultaneously. I, however, smiled a broad smile exposing two rows of shiny braces which appeared barely able to keep what appeared to be so much popcorn from popping right out of my mouth. But, my lips were moving and words came out instead. “Ma’am. We are with Den 7, Finn’s Landing Cub Scouts, and we need new uniforms. Scouts are hard working and industrious so we are selling delicious candy so we can buy them. Would you like to help us get new uniforms and eat some of our really delicious candy?”
The woman stood with her hands on her trim waist which was tied with a red apron. She looked like Donna, straight from The Donna Reed Show or June Cleaver of the Leave It To Beaver television series. She said nothing but her hands dropped slowly as she took stock of the sad, terribly sad, state of our uniforms. “Well, you most certainly do look in need of uniforms, boys. What are your names?”
“I’m Donnie and this here is Woody,” I said, glancing at him. Out of nowhere, Woody had developed a tic. A wicked case of Tourette’s syndrome had seemingly come on him like anaphylactic shock following a bee sting. His face was twitching and vacillating between a smile and breaking into tears. His eyes were rolling back in his head leaving only the whites exposed and the lady immediately addressed the situation.
“Are you all right, Woody?” asked the lady. “You look a little ill.”
The brown part of his eyes rolled back into view and he struggled to focus on her. “Yes, ma’am, it’s just that my German Shepherd . . . errrr, I mean―my pants are a little tight and my feet hurt.”
She cocked her head quizzically then recovered. “Oh my! Well we need to get you boys some new uniforms, don’t we? What kind of candy do you have?”
“It’s Chocolate Coconut Delight, ma’am. And you’re going to feel like you’re on an island when you take a bite. Oh!―and it’s two dollars a box. A real bargain!”
“Well, to get out of here and go to an island for two dollars really is a bargain! Would that be the Hawaiian islands?”
I just shrugged and looked at Woody who had managed to regain his composure but seemed stumped himself. Then he cocked his own head and asked, “What other islands are there ma’am?”
She opened her mouth as if to answer then simply smiled and said, “Well, I’ll have two boxes. Now wait right here while I get your money.”
Woody and I looked at each other with wide eyes. We’d made our first sale. We were officially business men! The woman returned with the money. “Now boys, good luck with those uniforms. You be sure to come by and show them off when you get them, you promise me?”
“Yes, ma’am. We sure will. And you enjoy the Chocolate Coconut Delights, ok?”
“I’m going to my island right now and taking my husband with me,” she smiled as she closed the door. I turned to Woody as we hit the sidewalk.
“Your pants are too tight and your feet hurt! Man, she could see that! That’s what they call ‘over-selling’. You were supposed to keep quiet!”
“We got the sale, didn’t we? Four bucks! We can already buy about a ton of 12 cent comic books with that!”
“Don’t start counting our money yet,” I said. “We’ve got a lot of boxes. It’s time to go to the next house.”
And so it went on down the street. Except for the houses where no one was home we didn’t miss a sale. Some seemed to stifle tears as they took in our deplorable uniforms. Others stifled laughter. Some seemed to stifle both simultaneously. A few just laughed out right but they all reached for their wallet or a purse. The pockets of our already tight pants were stuffed with one dollar bills. We were rolling in the dough!
“Why I so admire young people who are willing to work for what they need,” said one old man. “I was one of the first Boy Scouts in America! We did many good deeds as I’m sure you boys do. That was way back when Woodrow Wilson was president. You reckon they called him, “Woody’, Woody?”
“I reckon they called him Mr. President, sir.”
“Yes, sir! I reckon they did, Woody. Smart boy you are. I’ll take three boxes. I’m a widower. My wife died a long time ago. Back when Roosevelt was in office. The second one. Not the first. I’m not that old. But my grandkids are going to love going to this island of yours. You boys be good and always remember, the Cub Scout motto, ‘Do Your Best’.”
“Yes, sir. We will, sir!” I said, as we turned and left his porch.
We sold candy at the next two houses and, at the third, were greeted by a very elderly lady. After I gave my sales pitch, she asked, “do you know what they call me, boys?” We nodded that we did not. “They call me, ‘Old Maid, Mildred’ on account I’ve never been married. Do you know why I’ve never been married, boys?” Again, we nodded, no. “I’ve never married because the only man I ever loved was killed in the first big war. When you’ve had a love like the one we had, nothing else seems to do. You favor him somewhat, young man. What is your name?” she said, looking at me.
“Donnie, ma’am. Did he have braces?”
“No. No, he did not. But he a beautiful smile like you’re going to have someday when those braces have done their job. In the meantime, you don’t need to ruin it eating candy. Let this old woman do that for you. How much do you want for your candy?”
I told her and she walked into the house and came back. “I’ll take five boxes.”
“Five boxes! Wow, that’s very generous of you! Thank you, ma’am!” I said, as I gave them to her. And ma’am, did you know the gentleman three houses down doesn’t have a wife? He seems like a real nice guy.”
She smiled broadly. “Yes, yes. I know Mr. Fullmore. He’s been chasing me ever since his wife passed away during the Roosevelt administration.”
“Yes, ma’am. The second Roosevelt. Not the first. He ain’t that old!”
“No. No, he’s not. And, yes, he’s a very nice man. But he isn’t my ‘Johnny Boy’ either, young man. But thanks for thinking of me. Now I am going to enjoy this candy. You certainly do favor him, Donnie,” . . . she said, her voice trailing off but her eyes fixed on mine as her door closed shut.
That left us down to one last box when we came to the house at the end of the second block. One more sale and we would head home for the day. Our jaws dropped as the door opened and a giant of a policeman stared down at us. At least six feet four or five, patrolman Wheeler, in all his Irish red hair, was standing there. (I didn’t know his name at the time but became intimately acquainted with him in years to come.) I think both Woody and I gulped. I know I did. I couldn’t manage a word. He was probably used to this being so big and all. He looked at Woody.
“You Irish, kid?” he asked.
“No, sir. I’m American.”
“Good for you, son. Do I know you boys? No . . . you’re too young. Well, I’m glad you’re staying busy with Scouts. That’ll keep you out of trouble. Now let me guess ― you’re selling candy to raise money for new uniforms?”
Woody and I looked at each other in astonishment. A regular ‘Joe Friday’ from Dragnet, he was! What else did he know? He probably knew we were cons, I thought! But he just peered into our box.
“One box of candy is all you have left. I’ll take it. A man’s uniform should look like this one,” he said, pulling himself up and running his hand down his crisp, pressed blues. It tells the world you’re proud of who you serve and proud of what the uniform represents. “And the next time you come by here, I want your new uniforms to be as regulation and proper as the one I wear. You hear me, boys?”
“Yes, sir,” we said simultaneously, almost snapping to attention.
“No, how much for that last box?” he asked.
We were back at my house by dusk and, in my bedroom, spread our revenue out on my Gunsmoke bed spread. Wads of one’s covered Marshall Dillon’s image as he drew his six shooter. We must have counted the thirty dollars, plus seven more in tips, three or four times.
“Thirty-seven dollars. Eighteen dollars and fifty cents each! We’re rich, Woody! And we’ve only sold half the box.”
Woody was quiet. And he wasn’t looking up for the longest time. “Hey, Henry, do you think it’s really bad what we’re doing?”
I thought about it for awhile then said, “Woody. Candy is your favorite thing, right? And we’re selling these people delicious Chocolate―melt in your mouth―Coconut Delights. You’ve seen the picture of that candy. These people are getting a bargain at two dollars a box and it makes them feel really good to be helping us. So it’s good for them and it’s good for us. And that’s what my grandpa says every good sale should be. Both sides get what they want.”
“Yeah . . . yeah. I guess you’re right. You keep the money here tonight. I’m going home to get some supper.”
“Ok, Woody. But be back here tomorrow around three p.m. People will begin getting’ home from work but won’t have had dinner yet and we’ll sell the rest of that candy in time to be home for ours. Then, the next day, we can get those walkie-talkies and that pellet gun and who knows what else!”
“Night, Henry,” said Woody and trudged out the door. I heard the kickstand go up on his Stingray and he rode off into the night.
The next day at three, as agreed, we started out again from my garage with the rest of the candy. This time we started on the other side of main street which pretty well divides the town in half. Things went just as the day before. It was a Friday, pay day, and many factory workers were getting home from the their first shift after just having cashed their checks. They were flush with cash and in a happy and generous mood. They saw the candy as a nice treat to themselves and their families after a hard work week. And the fact that they were helping two seemingly sweet boys in such desperate need of uniforms made them all the more generous. Shortly after five that afternoon we had sold all but one box of candy.
“One more box and we’ll be out of inventory, Woody,” I said, looking from the box to his eyes. He was staring into the larger box which carried the one remaining box of candy. He said nothing, but I could see his mind was turning and I a saw another drop of drool collecting in the corner of his slightly gaping mouth. I knew what he was thinking. “Woody . . . do you think maybe we deserve a reward for working so hard selling all this candy? We’ve been real good and haven’t touched a bite so far. What ‘a ya think?”
You know how your dog acts when you wave a really tasty treat in his face but make him wait for it? You know how he starts to shaking and wagging his rear end and lifting his front legs while drooling on your kitchen floor? Well, that’s how Woody started acting. I thought he was going to pee his scout pants.
“Oh, heck yeah, Henry! We deserve it―that’s for sure! I thought you’d never ask. Let’s get into it right here!”
We were standing on a corner of Main Street, busy with afternoon traffic, so I said, “No, Woody. This is a special occasion. We really need to savor it so let’s go back to Sycamore and Hood and open it under the shade of the tree.” And with that we headed there.
We climbed up the lawn and leaned our backs against the mighty Sycamore. Woody seemed beside himself to get into the candy so I handed him the box. His hands shook as he tore away at the cellophane wrapper. “Slow down, Woody … slow down. Savor the moment!” I told him. He did and, after discarding the wrapper, he carefully opened one end of the box of Chocolate Coconut Delights. Immediately, the scent of the tropics filled the warm summer air of Indiana. I have to admit my own mouth was watering in anticipation. He reached a finger under the brown plastic tray containing the candy and slowly slid it out. We both caught our breath.
Woody gasped, “Henry! The coconut is moving! I didn’t know coconut could move!”
“That ain’t coconut, Woody. Them is worms!”
“Oh, gross! Double gross!,” he exclaimed, flipping the tray over on the ground as we both jumped to our feet. We stared at the lily white worms still clinging to the spewed candy and writhing like punk rockers in a mosh pit.
Back in my bedroom, we divided the proceeds up on Marshall Dillon’s face. The take came to seventy-eight dollars, including tips―a split of thirty-nine each. We agreed the next morning, Saturday morning, would be a good time to meet, walk uptown to the stores on the courthouse square, and begin our shopping spree. “I can hear my voice comin’ in on those walkie-talkies now, Woody!”
My favorite television show that summer, was Branded, starring Chuck Connors as Jason McCord, a United States Army Cavalry captain who had been drummed out of the service following an unjust accusation of cowardice. That night, in a deep sleep, I dreamed, I was Jason McCord. Only instead of the United States Cavalry, I was charged with betraying the law of the Cub Scout Pack. In the words of my father, I had disgraced my Cub Scout uniform. As was McCord’s in the opening scene of episode one, in my dream―while standing at attention in front of my scout pack― my cap is pulled off and my badges are torn from my uniform as were his epaulets. My buttons are ripped off, as were his, and―as his saber is broken in half and thrown through the doors of the fort―my Cub Scout knife is broken and pitched out the door of the First Presbyterian church, the official meeting place of Den 7, Finn’s Landing, Indiana. I am booted from the church and the Cub Scouts of America. All while a Cavalry snare drum plays a mournful staccato beat. I awakened in a soaking sweat.
The next morning, I lay in bed picturing their faces and thinking of all the words of the kind people to whom we sold that rotten candy. They hadn’t gotten what they bargained for, not even close, I thought. What’s more, we had conned them into buying it in the first place. Apparently, Woody had a bad dream himself the night before. His involved prison and a chain gang like the one straight out of Cool Hand Luke. He arrived at my house taking “hang dog” to a whole new low. He didn’t have to say a thing. The look on his face said it all.
Instead of the Jupiter Five and Dime, we went door to door once more that Saturday. Only now we weren’t wearing our Cub Scout uniforms. We returned every dollar anyone would accept. Some told us to keep the money but mow their lawns until the fall leaves fell. “Then come back and rake them.” Others told us to donate their share to the real scouts and rejoin the pack at the earliest possible opportunity. Patrolman Wheeler didn’t say a word, but walked us to his patrol car and opened the door to the back seat. At the Killarney County jail he gave us a tour. I didn’t flinch. (He didn’t know I had already been up the river and done hard time at the age of four in Jasper County.) Woody, however, darn near peed his pants again when Wheeler took us down the row of jail cells.
Our refund campaign continued Sunday noon just as the three churches, all within a block of each other, let out. The words to “Sweet Redeemer” wafted softly from behind the stained glass windows of The Methodist church as we passed by on our pilgrimage to those not home the day before. Sunday seemed a good day for penance and at each house we made our confession. I don’t know if we knew the meaning of redemption or absolution. And I don’t know that we found either. But I do know we came to know the feeling of contrition.
He stood there stoic and firm as General Patton surveying two infantrymen. His eyes were narrowed and went back and forth between ours. “Aw . . . weren’t so bad. I ate worse than that in the trenches of the Western Front during WW One, boys,” said Mr. Fullmore. Though I could tell he was fighting it, half of his mouth slowly broke into a grin and he added, “Then again, them ‘Chocolate Dee-Lights’ weren’t very good, neither. Never saw coconut move like that . . . not even in K rations.”
I was clutching ten one dollar bills in my hand as the door opened at Old Maid Mildred’s. “Ma’am about those five boxes of candy . . .”
She cut me off before I could continue any further. “Why come in. I’ve been expecting you,” she said, stepping to the side and motioning us with a low wave of her hand. “You two look like you could use some lemonade.” Her gaze was fixed on me. “And Donnie . . . did I tell you, you so . . . so look like my ‘Johnny Boy’?”
The Cub Scout Promise
I promise to do my best To do my duty to God and my country, To help other people, and To obey the Law of the Pack.