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I Won Ten Cases of Tastykakes

July 12, 2014

imageAh, yes.  The very blissful memory that still warms my heart after all these years. 

I can still hear the doorbell ring and the deliveryman bringing the cases into our front room.

Oh, it wasn’t a chance drawing; I had earned this prize, brother.  As a paperboy, I had won a contest in getting the most subscriptions for the upstate newspaper, the Wilmington News Journal. Our rural burg had a population of only about nine hundred people, and even though I worked overtime to win this contest, I was just as surprised as anyone that I had emerged victorious.  For some reason, our little town of Delmar had a good number of people who wanted to read of the happenings of the more urbane folk in upstate Delaware.  Either that, or a lot of my hometown neighbors had pity on a junior high kid with hand-me-down pants, a dusty ten-speed bike, and a desperate look.

Whatever the case, I eked out a win over a slew of paperboys from the lower part of the state, including the metropolises of Laurel, Smyrna, and even Gumboro.  In winning, I was handed a list of prizes.  I could take my choice:

Two tickets to a Philadelphia 76ers NBA game.

A pocket calculator.

Two tickets to a North American Soccer League Philadelphia Atoms match.

Ten cases of Tastycakes.

There was no question about it, I was going for the food.  If you knew our circumstances, you’d agree.  I was living in a household of twelve, and with ten children, food was a constant concern.  We were on a steady diet of macaroni and peanut butter sandwiches, and a dessert was an occasional happening.  No question I was going for the grub.

My mother had re-married and her new husband brought four girls into our household, so we were squeezing twelve of us into a clapboard house on the far end of town.  My stepfather’s paid jobs as a self-employed welder were scarce at best, and money was virtually non-existent.  Three of us brothers slept in an unfinished attic; you could see the street through the eaves.   No heat in the winter, no cooling in the summer.  Life was so financially destitute that I swung between uncontrollable depression and simmering anger. So I went into a defensive mode; take care of myself.  What was mine, was mine.  I became almost violent in my self-preservation:  don’t touch my stuff.  Just leave me alone.  It was a way of survival.  I made my own money and I spent it on food at Safeway or clothes at K-Mart or whatever else I could obtain to get by.

I hauled my winnings into the house in front of my stunned siblings.  One by one, I took the cases into our cellar with a warning to the rest of the clan:  “If anyone touches my Tastykakes, I’ll kill you.”  Stacking the cases in a far corner of the cellar, I gleefully bounced up the stairs, excited to dig into my stash right after dinner.  I had won them, fair and square, and they would be my after-meal delicacy for weeks – and maybe months – to come.

Immediately after the dinner, I bounded down the stairs, ripped open the cardboard and dug out the first three-pack of cupcakes.  I practically swallowed the first one whole.  I slowed down for the second one, chewing it meditatively while sitting on the cellar steps.  All mine!  Ha ha ha ha!

Then I heard a noise at the top of the steps.  I turned to look.

There stood two of my younger step-sisters.

Tammi was in pre-school, holding a stuffed lion.  Kandy was in kindergarten, clutching a crayon and a coloring book  Both had the widest, most doleful eyes you’d ever see.

Kandy’s voice was small.  “Are you really gonna eat all those Tastykakes yourself?”

I stopped my ravenous eating and looked up at them.  There had been no dessert that night.  Both little blonde-haired girls stood quietly and looked at me.

I swallowed.  Hard.

And I knew.

“No,” I said slowly.  “Why don’t you climb up to the kitchen table and have a seat?  I was just coming up to bring you a surprise.”

They dashed toward the table, screaming and whooping.  I gathered up my case and marched up the stairs with a lingering longing to keep these all to myself… but no.  This was the right thing to do.  Besides, it would be fun.

I wasn’t surprised when I saw the table filled with other siblings grinning ear to ear.  Well, let’s just enjoy this to the hilt... I went into my best dramatic role.  Just like a master chef about to portion out his greatest culinary masterpiece, I doled out my gorgeous packages of chocolate Tastykakes with the cream-filled centers to everyone around the table.  We stuffed our faces and started laughing.  For the first time in many a week, there was genuine laughter in our household.

I started sharing those Tastykakes with my brothers and sisters.

Oh, don’t make me out to be noble; I shamefully admit that I used the Tastykakes as bribery and currency as the occasion warranted; many was the time I paid my way out of a chore or obligation.  One package got the garbage taken out for me.  Two packages got the side lawn mowed.  You get the idea.

But in truth, the Tastykake episode opened my eyes to my family.  I stopped calling the girls my step-sisters.  They were my sisters.  We’re all family.

Little by little, through the hard times we endured, God stripped away my selfish, defensive shell and let His light in.  No matter what the circumstance, we could all be together and watch out for one another.  We needed to care for each other.  I was learning compassion, and in doing so, I could start to see who Jesus really was.  I would slowly see the clear plan of salvation; within two years I would become a Christian.

I found out the Father.  I realized that Heaven will be the reunion of all Christians as family.  I started learning about care and compassion to my brothers and sisters in Christ everywhere.  I learned to share.

And in giving away what I had been greedily grasping, I started finding out that others wanted to share as well, reaching out in love. I saw a whole new view on life.   I started learning about joy.  I began to relax. I began to learn to laugh.

And I smile when I realize that the lesson really began when I won ten cases of Tastykakes.

Wow.  The Lord can use some really odd teaching tools, can’t He?


The two beautiful young ladies seated are my sisters in a photo taken about two years ago.  Tammi is on the left.  Kandy is on the right. 


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