Magic Fingers Ma and the Quest for the Mega Blender

"Was the dark of the moon on the sixth of June in a Kenworth pulling logs... Cab-over Pete with a reefer on, and a Jimmy hauling hogs..."

Ah, the well-metered poetry of "Convoy"! How I remember C.W. McCall singing those words out through my parents' crackling AM radio. Dad was never able to tune in his usual classical music on our vacations, so "Convoy" was a sure sign of summer. A sign of the long, wonderful drive from Northern New Jersey down to Cape May in the white-and-blue Dodge Family Wagon.

The Family Wagon... I did love that vehicle.

Thinking back now, that camper was likely the precursor for the Transformers. Everything in it became something else. The two bench rows of seats flipped and spun to become a dining booth... Add a few pieces stowed inside the seats-- and voila!-- a kitchen table. Curtains snapped into place for privacy. And me-- a five-year-old, more flexible me--well, I stowed myself away in the rafters each night in a loft bed that pulled out to overlook the grandeur that was portable vacation-a-rama.

The camper had gas burners-- nothing like Mom's normal, coffee-toned electric stove back home. A propane smell filled the air, which signaled bacon, fried in an actual pan instead of by that new microwave technology. Real bacon, too, not the assembled bacon wannabe of Sizzlean that Mom often tried to slip by us. It crunched and then melted in the mouth, salty and sweet.

I was also allowed a particular and usually-forbidden delicacy during this time: tiny boxes of sugary cereals. Froot Loops, Coco Krispies and Apple Jacks were my biggest temptations-- ones that every other week of the year-- like Pixie Stix-- meant inevitable death. (And from the way my mother normally spoke about them, that cereal-induced death could be as early as age 10.)

The grocery shopping alone was a week of Camping Nirvana in Kidville.

But Cape May promised so much more than gas-stove bacon and verboten sugar-death cereal. Cape May was the location of forty finely-aligned lanes of home-grown Jersey ski-ball... The very lanes which one particular summer empowered my mom's quest to win the mother of all blenders.

After checking into the campground, finding a suitable spot, and hanging up the handmade sign that staked our claim from future invaders-- one small step for the Thorson clan, one giant step for cheap lodging-- we headed ocean-side, to the Promenade.

The boardwalk there and I, we had a love-hate relationship at this time. I reveled in the chinging bells and music of the arcade... Thrilled to the prospect of getting fresh Archie comics at the newsstand... And savored the rich, heavy aroma that poured from Morrows Nut House...

But I was eternally suspicious of the cracks between the boards that made up the walk itself.

It seemed to me, being able to peer down between my small, flip-flopped feet and through the planks to the waves bursting below, that anyone my size was an absolute goner. Having watched enough Warner Brothers cartoons, I felt I had a sound grasp of physics, and knew deep in my heart I would pour through the boards of the boardwalk into the ocean below. Lost forever.

For the longest time my parents had no idea what the problem was. But to me, every trip to the boardwalk involved elaborate weeping over my impending separation from my family (and my watery grave in Davy Jones' locker), followed by a terror-stricken dash into the safer concrete floor of the arcade.

But oh, the arcade! It was like Dorothy stepping from grim, black-and-white Kansas into glorious technicolor Oz. Shining quarters sat in stacks under great plastic bubbles, just waiting for a single coin to topple them into winnings. Stuffed Snoopys and tiny glass animals hoped to be snatched by skill, luck and silver claws. Pinball games rattled. Lights flashed. Allowances were won and lost.

And there, along the prize counter, up on one of the shelves, that is when my mother laid eyes on it. The high-powered six-speed blender with multiple-chopping blades in Colonial Harvest Orange... A must-have for frothy summer beverages and a wide variety of guest-pleasing dips.

"It's perfect! And it's the same shade of orange as the kitchen!"

I didn't mention it, but it also matched the livingroom, diningroom, den, entryway and upstairs bathroom. Mom was a devout supporter of the Colonial harvest.

"It's 2,000 tickets," my father said reading the sign below it.

I imagine the man could just SEE the quarters from his paycheck rolling away. Dad has never been very fond of spending money on unnecessary things like... say... lunch, even. I mean, this is a man whose motto is, "Seven Ritz crackers and that's all you need." He's very specific about it, too. Not six, not eight. Seven. Unless, of course, someone else is buying.

So, the idea of trying to earn 2,000 tickets for anything he wouldn't directly be using himself had to have almost given him chest pains.

"Don't they have these in the store?"

"Well, not like this," said my mother, eyes aglow. "This one is in Colonial Harvest Orange."

"So you mentioned."

And thus it was determined. Over the course of the week, we would earn enough tickets for Mom to take home that Colonial Harvest Orange beauty. Oh, the dips she envisioned. Oh, the patés, and other French words I couldn't spell because I was hooked on phonics.

So, during the day, we would spend our time in the shining sun of the beach...

Or picking through the Cape May diamonds (these polished quartz stones that washed on the shore because of a quarry all the way in Delaware)...

Or visiting the lighthouse...

Or strolling through antique shops...

Or convincing me that the Day of The Triffids film I saw on television did NOT mean that the trees of the campground were going to uproot themselves and eat us alive...

(Now that I think about it, there seemed to be just peril around every corner to my five-year -old self...)

This is how we spent our days. But our evenings -- oh, our evenings! They were spent on the quest for the Holy Grail of Countertop Appliances. Playing ski-ball.

Mom was a dynamo with a ski-ball. Petite and with a good arm, Mom's underhand throw rivaled the greatest Ski-ball champions of the day. She had a real technique, Mom did. A one-kneed dip timed perfectly with her swing, and a smooth release that let that ball roll straight to that sweet 50-point ring.

Me, well, it wasn't more than a round or so into our endeavor that it became clear I was a serious liability for my team. It was another case of misunderstood physics for me, and no amount of instruction was going to turn me into a big ticket-winner.

Quarters went through me like Yoo-hoo.

So this newbie ski-baller was reassigned to the spectator spot, gnawing on red licorice whips from the Nut House and cheering them on from the peanut gallery.

Night after night, my parents worked to rack up the tickets. They tried some other games there-- catapulting coins to shower other coins off ledges-- but after some experimentation, Dad proclaimed the games were rigged.

So back to the Ski-Ball they went, deft... devoted... determined.

After a few days, my mother was developing ski-ballers wrist and knee, probably some little-discussed version of carpal tunnel. I admit, I was starting to lose both my appreciation for the sport myself, and I'd already re-read Veronica's shameless ploys for Archie's attention a hundred times as I waited.

But as with all vacation, the days dissolved like Pop Rocks... Sweet, surprising, and gone too soon. My mind was already focused on the drive home and the possibility of a once-a-year hot-dog from Stewart's Root Beer Stand. I could taste that roasted, garlicy hot dog, and the smooth creamy root beer-- a delicious combination destined to make me good and queasy about five miles on down the road.

And Mom began the final count of the tickets. She had a system, counting in twos for speed. "488, 490, 492..." Five-hundred. She'd made about 500 tickets, not enough to take home that shining orange facilitator of avant-garde cuisine.

How could you work so hard for something, and not get even close, we wondered? Perhaps Dad was right. Perhaps it was rigged.

So my parents let me choose some little glass poodles from the display case... A mother poodle with two poodle puppies on a chain. Then they gave the rest of their tickets to some other family.

The wife had a certain look in her eye that was familiar. On the top shelf, there was this Crock-Pot in California Avocado that she just couldn't live without.

I walked the planks a final time, and we made our way back to the Family Wagon. I wondered vaguely whether those French poodles knew anything about paté.

Humor-bloggers get all 100s in ski-ball. Where were they when we needed them?


Greg said...

What a wonderful memoir essay this was!! You're clearly in touch with your inner Jean Shepherd (still getting those enhancement emails, huh?).

"The days dissolved like Pop Rocks..." You know, old Three Blogs, this is really some great writing!! Thanks for taking us along with you!

Jenn Thorson said...

Hey, thank you, Greg! It's much easier to write memoirs when you're finally old enough to be able to look back on things. :)

The Offended Blogger said...

Wow! I am so glad your mother didn't develop ski-ball carpatunnel, but I was really rooting for her to win that blender!! :)

Drowsey Monkey said...

Oh the memories! That was amazing :)

I too remember camping as a kid, in a trailer ... I lover your analogy of the transformers, lol...I never thought of that but it's so true!

And the game rigged? Naw. I think I have a similar toy you mentioned, only mine is a glass deer, with 2 fawns attached.

Great post, loved it :)

Jenn Thorson said...

Thanks, Chelle-- Mom would have been grateful for your kind support! :)

Drowsey- Oh, you still have the glass deer? I think my poodles either broke along the way or got sold. But I'm glad to know SOMEONE still has one of these things. VERY cool.

Thanks to both of you for popping by!

Alice said...

What a great story! I felt like I was there. You should hunt down a Colonial harvest blender for your mom on EBay!! Do you think she'd remember?

Da Old Man said...

What a terrific story. Our summer in Cape May was similar, but my Mom was more a Pokerino afficiando. She wasn't an athlete as much as the gambler.

Sujatha said...

Fantastic post, Jen. Colonial Harvest Orange is truly going to make a comeback as the color must-have in the 2009-2010- didgaknowzat? (I have a team of robotic fleas listening in on discussions at Givenchy, Dior and Prada)

You're tagged, by the way ;)

Jenn Thorson said...

Alice- My mom isn't living any longer, but she certainly would have still been on-board with the harvest orange appliances. During the mid to late 80s and early 90s, when these colors were no longer in fashion, she suffered many pains trying to find replacement items that worked. I have little doubt the Harvest would have continued on well throughout the 90s into the 00's :)

Da Old Man- Ah, yes, I vaguely remember things like Pokerino. I think to my dad's mind, this would have been too risky to attempt with the stash of quarters. Dad's looking for more of a sure thing when it comes to his ticket earnings. :)

Sujatha- thanks for the inside scoop courtesy of your robotic flea pals! I rather suspected soon Orange would be the new Pink. :)

I will go check out the tag.

chyna said...

Hey when did the photo show up? I was here yesterday and I saw no dark haired girls. What a cutie!

Oh tell me that orange is not coming back. I've not quite gotten over the 70's decor yet. shudder, I don't think I ever will.

ThriftShopRomantic said...

Heya, Chyna- The photo showed up last evening, actually. I just hadn't gotten a chance to scan it until then. :)

That was me, aged about 3 or 4, I think, in my "John-Boy pants" (aka- overalls-- we watched a lot of the Waltons), in front of the Family Wagon. My hair looked darker there, but was actually a light brown.

~Static~ said...

Mmmmmm! Bacon.

Jenn Thorson said...

Static- ain't it the truth! :)

Ann's Rants said...

You're such a wonderful, descriptive writer. You should submit this to

That Poprocks line stood out to me, too.

Also, I was so desperate for mini-sugar cereals that I actually asked for them for Hanukkah one year as a child. I vividly remember receiving them, but not eating them...

Jenn Thorson said...

Ann- I don't know but thank you for the information-- I will absolutely look at it. But most of all, thanks for sharing your desire for those mini-sugar cereals, too. The detail of asking for them for Hanukkah is so... true... somehow. Sometimes I think the having but not eating almost seems the poetic conclusion to the time period.

Nothing was quite as good as those things in the 70s we had to really work for.