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It is one of the best and most memorable prizes I have ever won.  Find yourself a comfortable chair and grab a cup or glass of your beverage of choice (I’ve got a delicious glass of chocoloate wine – truly the best of both worlds!).  Settle down now, and take a little trip down my memory lane. . .

During my teen years, I lived in a unique community in Connecticut known as Westport and later on, in her neighboring sister-town of Weston. In addition to a couple of neighborhood “Mom & Pop” grocery stores in those towns, Westport also had two or three of the larger national chain groceries.  I’m not sure they are still in business, but back in the day, one of those chains was known as “Finast,” (First National Stores).   In much the same way then as now, grocery stores offered the occasional contest or game in order to stimulate business.  Finast’s most popular perennial game was modeled after “B-I-N-G-O.”  Each time you purchased items there, you were given a few stickers with numbers printed on them, to uncover and try to match with the numbers on a Bingo-type card. The prizes won depended on which line you were able to fill, and ranged from “cents-off” coupons for favorite products all the way up to the “Grand Prize” of $1,000.  Not much today perhaps, but 45 or so years ago, that was a handsome prize!  Since I frequently went grocery shopping with my Mom, she would generally put me in charge of the prize-card stickers we brought home after shopping at Finast.  Neither of us ever really entertained the thought that we would win.  It was just a little game, and we sometimes dreamed about what we would do with the money “when we won.”  I remember that on several occasions we were within one sticker of winning one of the more lucrative prizes, but the game would be over for the year before we could win.

I was home from school one day when I was in high school, nursing a cold or some such.  In any event, I remember that I was not with my Mom that day when she went grocery shopping.  More importantly, I remember being at home, watching TV, when I heard her return from the store.  After putting away the groceries, she went through the game pieces, and on doing so, she shouted out, “PAULA!  Come here!” I didn’t know what she was excited about, but I hurried to her to find out. She was actually jumping up and down in excitement as she quickly pushed the game card and stickers into my hands.

“We’ve won!  Paula, we’ve won!”

“Sure, Mom.  Of course we have!  What is it this time? A 10¢-off coupon on a 5 lb. bag of flour?”

It never occurred to me that she might have meant one of the larger prizes. But something in her eyes made me realize that this time she was talking about the BIG ONE! $1000.00!

“You’ve got to check these numbers for me!  I’ve already gone over them four or five times, and I’m almost positive that we have won the Grand Prize!”

“OK, I’ll go over them.  But I’m sure you have made a mistake,” I said as I laid out the numbered stickers and the card beneath a light suitable for making close inspection.

I began the process methodically.  Carefully examining the pieces, I went through each one individually, as it compared to its space on the card.  I did this five times.  Mom was right.  WE HAD WON THE GRAND PRIZE!   O-N-E    T-H-O-U-S-A-N-D    D-O-L-L-A-R-S !!  Now, you will have to understand:  we were not poor.  We weren’t rich either, by Westport-Weston standards anyway, but we were not by any means destitute.  On the other hand, a huge chunk of change had just dropped out of the sky to our feet, and we were very excited at the prospect of having such a generous amount of disposable income available to us.  What fun!  We started making plans for how the money would be spent.  Some sort of family vacation was high on our list; perhaps a big dinner party, or some other way we could “spread it around.”

Initially, we thought that we would wait until the next day to go back to the store and claim the prize.  We wanted to wait until Daddy got home from work so we could tell him all about it.  The more we talked about it, though, the more we realized that we couldn’t wait.  Once we decided not to postpone our gratification I told my mom to go get dressed up, and to rearrange her hair.  I knew that they always took a picture of their big-prize winners, and Mom should look her best.  That picture would be in the newspaper!  Mom ran upstairs to do the primping, and while waiting for her, I busied myself getting the winning game card in order.

Mom came downstairs at last, and looked radiant.  Still not completely well, I elected to stay home and be the bearer of glad tidings should Dad get home before she returned.  One last check in the mirror, then she put on her coat and walked (skipped!) outside to the car.  I stood at the door to see her off.  I was about to close the door when I saw that she was getting back out of the car instead of driving away.  Still smiling, she headed back up into the house.  Once in, she looked at me and said,

“Paula, something tells me we should check it just one more time.”

My mother always had good instincts.  Though I was still confident – after all, I had already checked the game pieces myself five times – I agreed to go through them once more.  Just to be on the safe side. Back under the good light they went.  Mom read the numbers on the card aloud, as I confirmed the number on each corresponding sticker.

Not only were we NOT money-winners, we weren’t even close!  Three of the five stickers were not matches.  To the day she died, Mom and I were never able to come up with a definitive explanation for our twin delusions.  But inside we both knew.  Those delusions were a gift. A sweet gift that would always be treasured and would last far longer than anything money could ever buy.  We had fun.  As much as we would have had by really winning.  And there was also the undeniable gift of relief that comes from hearing that “still, small voice” and obeying.  Mom heard the voice, we checked again, and were saved the embarrassment of public discovery of our error.  And, as she said whenever we remembered that momentous “winning” day, “There were no taxes we had to pay on our fun. We got our full $1,000-worth!  No deductions!”

Do you know what our first reaction was when we discovered our error?  We laughed.  As a matter of fact, we guffawed. In today’s parlance, we “ROFLOAO!”  Just like our “bubbling bath salts” adventure, whenever we recalled the event, we would both dissolve into helpless spasms of laughter.  I will add that neither of us ever felt one single moment’s disappointment at not winning the cash.  We had won far more.  My Mom had a beautiful gift. She loved to laugh, and she knew how and when to do it.  She bestowed upon me her gifts of love, her faith, and her joy – all of them were evident in her life in any and all circumstances.  She showed me how to be happy.  She taught me how to be a winner. You might wonder why I didn’t title this post “Almost Winning the Grand Prize,” or “Not Winning the Grand Prize,” or even perhaps “Losing the Grand Prize.”  But the truth of the matter is, we did win.  And every time I think of this story, I can still see the fun, and the joy of living gleaming in her eyes, and I still hear my Mom’s glorious laughter as she shouts, “We’ve won, Paula!  We’ve won!”

She was so right.  And knowing that will always be, wonderfully, enough. . .