But on that day, something in the weekly ad got her attention. Two simple words, “Color Contest” jumped into my grandmother’s line of vision. Her eyes glanced to the subtitle, “Free Bicycle.” Grandma read on with interest.
Color this ad to the best of your ability. To the boy or girl turning in the winning entry, we will give absolutely FREE one FIRESTONE CRUISER BICYCLE. Contest is open to boys and girls 14 years of age and under.
What a generous offer from a little country store!
In 1952, everyone knew my (then) ten-year-old mom’s preferred mode-of-transportation was her beloved pony, Cricket. But when Grandma showed Mom the tempting offer, Mom eagerly agreed. After all, what kid wouldn’t like to win a brand-new bicycle?
Mom arranged the coloring sheets across the kitchen table, while Grandma carefully emptied the contents of the brown paper bag.
One can of grapefruit, one can of tomato juice, one fruit cocktail, a can of peas, one pork-and-beans …
Grandma had purchased one can of every item shown in the ad!
“Now match the colors on the labels as best you can,” she instructed my mom.
Mom spent the next several days laboring over that ad. She experimented with various colors, and attempted to match every item perfectly. She worked hard to stay inside the lines. But each time Mom presented her efforts to Grandma, Grandma shook her head. “I'll bet you can do better than that.” So each time Mom sauntered back to the box of crayons and began once again.
Finally, when Grandma was satisfied, she placed the coloring sheet on her wooden ironing board. Then, covering the ad with a sheet of wax paper, she carefully pressed it with a warm iron, smoothing it out to make the colors shine.
“I heard the phone ring while I was sick in bed with the flu,” she says. “Grandma thought we should go get the bike right away, but I was in no shape to ride a bike that day.”
Mom laughs whenever she tells the story of the coloring contest. I smile too, amused at how a simple coloring contest exposed such grit and determination in my typically gracious and mild-mannered grandmother.
There’s a rugged old barn at my grandparent’s farm filled with seventy years worth of odds and ends. Bits and pieces of leftover remnants from my grandparents’ lifetime together. And every remnant has a story.
Sometimes I wonder if there’s a firestone bicycle somewhere in that barn. I suppose it doesn't matter. That rusted-out bike isn't worth much today. Anyway, it’s the stories I treasure.
My daughters know the story of Grandma and the coloring contest held way back in 1952. They've seen the picture of their ten-year-old grandmother standing proudly with her new bike.
I believe it’s a story worth preserving, because every time I tell it, I am thankful for my determined grandmother, my hard-working mom, and the valuable stories they've passed down to me.