Cracker Jack Special

Not Smart Enough for College (47)

It was 1969, and I rushed home with four newly purchased boxes of Cracker Jack. Back then the infamous caramel coated popcorn and peanuts still came packaged with a prize, and I had a plan. I figured I needed four boxes to find just the right prize to pull off my plan without a hitch. 


Arriving home, I shared my plan with my family and Dad got caught up in the excitement of the moment. It was very rare for Dad to get excited about anything, but he helped me get the surprise ready. In fact, he took charge. We very carefully opened the bottom of each box, emptied the contents, and looked for a prize we could use without drawing suspicion.


In one box we found just the thing, a miniature book in a little package. We carefully opened it and inserted the special surprise between the pages. Then we used Scotch tape to seal it back up. We were a little worried that the tape would give it away but decided to take the chance.


The next day, my girlfriend, Carol, came over, as planned, for Sunday dinner. The stage was set. After dinner, one of the longest in history, I went out on the front porch, ostensibly to work on a talk I was giving later that evening. Carol helped Mom and my sisters with the dishes and then they handed her the box of Cracker Jack and suggested she go out to see how I was doing. In reality, I was a nervous wreck and could not concentrate on much of anything, let alone my talk.


Carol opened the box and offered me some Cracker Jack, but when I suggested that she have some, she declined. So, we sat quietly for a few minutes while I pretended to be busy with my talk.


Finally, Carol said, “I wonder what the prize is?” She started digging around, looking for it in the box. My hands started shaking so badly I thought I would ruin the surprise.


At last, she found the little prize envelope and ripped it open in such a way that the special prize, hidden inside, shot four or five feet straight up in the air. Quickly calculating the trajectory, I realized it was headed straight for a three-inch diameter hole in the floor of my parent’s old wooden porch. I leapt from my chair and dove for the prize, catching it just before it went down the hole.


Carol wondered why I was making such a fuss over a silly Cracker Jack prize, but after catching it, I paused, caught my breath, and put it on her finger. When she finally noticed it was a real diamond ring, she screamed (and embarrassed the heck out of me) and then gave me a kiss and a hug. As I hoped, with a sense of excitement and humor, she accepted my invitation to marry me.


My mom and three sisters had their noses against the front room window watching the action. They screamed and came running out to give us a hug and welcome Carol into the family. From that point on, my family accepted Carol not as an in law, but as a daughter and a sister, as they did with each and every other new family member who joined through marriage.


Families grow and change over time. Whenever we add a new family member, through birth, adoption, or marriage, we set in motion a series of events that will alter some of our habits, traditions, and ways of doing things. How we welcome and include them sets the stage for how safe, accepted, and connected everyone in the family will feel.


Happy Failing Forward,


Anne and Cal

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