The school bus would usually get me home just in time to listen to The Lone Ranger or “Sergeant Preston of the Yukon” or “Jack Armstrong, the All-American Boy” on the radio. I always enjoyed those programs while munching graham crackers — the nearest thing my family had to store-bought cookies.
I remember one winter afternoon in the middle of one of these programs when the commercial came on with an announcement that demanded my close attention. The man was advertising vegetable seeds from Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and he spoke to boys and girls who wanted to own a banjo.
Snappy banjo music played in the background as he explained how easily a boy or girl could own one of these wonderful instruments, and how simple it was to learn to play it. You only had to sell one case, only one case of these superior seeds and Lancaster Seed Company would mail your banjo, postpaid!
I wanted to be like Rachael, the young girl who played her banjo on “The Grand Ole Opry,” a program my family enjoyed every Saturday night. I listened carefully to the address the announcer gave and mailed in the penny postcard with my name and address. I was on my way to becoming an entrepreneur, and in due time a radio star.
I trudged around our rural neighborhood in the February mud, urging my prospective customers to get their gardens in early. I knew a patsy when I saw one, and whenever a soft-hearted neighbor would agree to buy a packet of turnip seeds, I’d sell her a packet of sweet pea seeds too. Sometimes it required a second visit and sometimes a little skill at showing a sad face of disappointment, but at last I sold the entire 144 packets of seeds.
I mailed the money order to the seed company and waited. And waited. Every day when I got home from school I expected to see that beautiful banjo.
Sometime late in May, I received the package. I thought it must have been shipped in parts, because it was very small. Imagine my surprise and utter dismay when I opened the package to find a string-less toy banjo, made of tin and painted with red and white stripes.
My mother tried to console me by pointing out what a valuable lesson I had learned. I did learn and to this day, I don’t believe much of anything I hear from a radio or TV announcer.
And that’s why I never learned to play the banjo, and you didn’t get to hear “Nadine and her five-string banjo” on the “Grand Ole Opry.”