I remember, it was the summer of 1944, I was almost 10. Wheaties was offering two WW-2 war plane models for two box tops and a nickel. An offer I couldn't resist, [but should have]. The first offered was the P-40 Flying Tiger, my favorite fighter. The other was a Japanese Zero, not a favorite! I really had to stuff down the first box of Wheaties. My dog Skippy never let on that there was more in that bowl than leftover milk and sugar.
Then there was a delay for the second box of Wheaties. Mom said I had Cheerioats to finish before they get stale! Oh no, another setback!
I finally got the second box of Wheaties, a nickel, and three pennies for a stamp.
Now, a three to four week wait for them to arrive -- eternity for a 10 year old! The rest of school vacation passed, school started and no model planes!
The school bus let me off a few steps from our mailbox. I would run over, wing the lid down and only find no mail for me. More days passed, still an empty mailbox. Now I was pretty mad at Jack Armstrong! In fact, I was so mad I could have kicked the cat, only we didn't have a cat!
Into the kitchen I went. I threw my lunch box onto the table, scattering the mail my Mom brought in earlier. There it was, a manila envelope with my name and address, and most important, P-40 and Zero stamped on front. A few seconds later, the contents were spread out in front of me. Where to start? Reading instructions was not something I was good at.
Mom convinced me to wait for Dad to help. After supper, Dad and I spread newspapers and an old sheet on the dining table. There would be hell-to-pay should anything spoil that table. Out came the two cardboard sheets. Each plane was printed in color. Dad picked up the instruction sheet and started reading. I had the P-40 sheet in my hands.
“Come-on Dad,” I urged, “Let’s cut 'em out!”
Finally we got cutting. I was having a hard time cutting that cardboard. Oops, I cut a tab right off! Every tab was important to hold the parts together. We worked on those two models until past my bedtime.
The next night was glue together time.
The only glue we had was a bell shaped bottle with a rubber, pig-looking nose, with a slot for applying the glue [Le Pages glue]. A dab on this tab, then on that one, then a glob spurts all over the place! Glue all over my fingers. What a mess!
The instructions said to place a penny in the nose and glue it to the tabs. Well this smart kid of 10 thought two pennies would work better. Dad glued the recommended one penny in the Zero. What I thought was going to take a few hours took a week!
The next Saturday came. I was right on time having breakfast with the two finished planes sitting in front of me. My mind was flying with my P-40 Flying Tiger. I was going to dogfight with that Zero and blow him to smithereens!
“Come-on-Dad, lets go and dog fight.”
We went out front where there were no trees. I faced into the wind as the instructions said, and threw my P-40 as hard as I could.
Up, up, up it went. It nearly stopped, then nosed straight down, crashing into the wet grass.
I ran to it, picked it up, shook it off, and set it on the front step. Now Dad's trial flight.
Up, up, up the Zero went, nosed over, and glided softly down into the grass.
I was not happy. I went and picked up my P-40. It was soggy and soft! Dad said the Zero was getting soft too. The water from the wet grass had softened the cardboard and melted the glue!
Into the house I ran. I set my P-40 on the table, and Dad set the Zero down beside it. I looked up at Dad, my eyes full of tears. I broke into a cry as he held me. My dreams shattered -- no dogfights, no blasting that Zero out of the sky!
Well, in a few days, I got over that disaster. I will never forget the sight of those two limp planes sitting on the kitchen table! Never again did I mail away for any other box top offer!
W. Ray Freden Seaview/ Marshfield