Years ago, when I was working full time, a colleague and I went to grab lunch at a local fast food establishment. We sat down with our sandwiches, fries, and sodas, and as we chewed over the latest problem at work, we also chewed the tasty fare. Midway through our meal, we both realized that we had ordered French fries, but had received packages of half fries, half onion rings.
Our initial annoyance gave way to delight, as we realized that this was actually quite tasty. We talked about it for the rest of the meal, and even the next few days. I was compelled to write a letter to the corporation headquarters, suggesting that they put this “half and half” idea on their menu. It tasted good, and I thought it would be a great seller for the company.
I don’t know what I was thinking. Well, yes I do, because I was raised in the 1950s and 60s, the era of (among other things), contests! My mom, and thousands like her, entered all kinds of contests to write jingles, slogans, poems, and suggest names for products. Winners of these contests received amazing prizes — cash, of course, but also household appliances, bicycles, toys, trips, and even cars!
If you’ve never read Terry Ryan’s book, “The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio,” it’s good. Published in 2001, it’s likely easily available at the library. Ms. Ryan’s mother kept their 15-member family afloat during the 1950’s and 1960’s by entering every contest she could. Sometimes she won nothing, but over the years she won two cars, a washer/dryer, a refrigerator, a shopping spree at a local supermarket, three bicycles, and enough cash to keep her large family in a home for 30 years!
My mom didn’t win that much, for sure. But I remember her sending in a jingle or a poem to try to win a new toaster or new iron. Back in those days, companies rewarded skill and creativity. Perhaps it wasn’t such a litigious environment then, because no one seemed concerned about trademarks or copyrights. Maybe I was too young to realize that there were legal safeguards in play.
In any event, I sent off my letter about the half fries/half onion rings with no expectation of reward or acknowledgment. I merely hoped that they would put this on their menu, at least in our region.
What I received back was a terse, rather snippy letter. It stated “thank you,” but then went on to say that the company had a full staff of public relations people and basically didn’t need suggestions from some poor cluck who simply ate at their restaurant. They even returned my original letter in the envelope, I guess to be sure I couldn’t claim I had given them the idea.
I wasn’t expecting a toaster or a bicycle, but I sure wasn’t expecting a form letter rejection either. I guess the contest era isn’t the only thing that we left in the 60s!
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Sue is a retired public servant who volunteers at the Hospice store (For All Seasons) in Troy and teaches part-time at Urbana University. She keeps busy taking care of husband, house, and pets. She and her husband have an adult son who lives in Troy.