When I was 12, I did the things most 12 year old boys do. One day strange things started happening to me. Hair grew in odd places, smells rose from odd places and I started growing taller.
The same thing happened to all the boys in my posse; a bunch of 12 year olds all going through puberty together. We spent hours together. We would ride our bikes around the neighborhood until it was too dark to see and had great fun.
Because we were all starting to grow taller…fast, all of the boys asked their parents for adult sized bikes. Until then we were riding short, squatty bikes, but it was time to make the change to a 26 inch adult bike. We were probably a tad too short for adult bikes, but a few more months growth would fix that. Soon everyone had a new 26″ bike…except me. My family couldn’t afford a new bike, and I knew it. I asked anyway but was not surprised by the answer.
This was all happening as spring was starting to burst in the Philadelphia area. In those years I would often watch a TV show on the ABC affiliate, channel 6. It was called The Sally Starr Show. Aunt Sally was a woman in her late 60’s dressed as a cowgirl with a big cowgirl hat and 6-shooters on each hip. She was the host of the show and would announce which Popeye cartoon or 3 Stooges rerun we would see next. I loved the show.
One day she opened the show by saying “Now boys and girls, you’ll want to hang around until the end of the show and Aunt Sally (she referred to herself in the 3rd person) will show you how you can win a brand new, beautiful 26 inch Columbia bicycle.” She had me. At the end of the show she stood behind this beautiful red bike and reviewed the rules of the contest. We had to send a wrapper from Double Bubble bubble gum in an envelope addressed to Aunt Sally. Starting in a few weeks, she would pick an entry every night for a month and call the contestant up and ask a nursery rhyme question. If they got it right, they won the bike.
I practically broke my leg running out the door and down the street and through the vacant lot to get to Angies, our local grocery store, to buy 2 pieces of Double Bubble bubble gum. They were only a penny a piece, but I only had two postage stamps so that’s all the gum I needed.
On the way home I froze in panic. It was Passover and we were a religious family. Food that wasn’t “blessed” for Passover was not permitted in the house. My mother was very strict about that law. Although I didn’t check, I was pretty sure Double Bubble bubble gum was not approved for Passover by the rabbis. I was petrified that my mother would find me with the offending gum and strip me of my Jewish heritage. So, I removed the pink Double Bubble bubble gum cubes from the wrappers and put them in my pocket. When I got back to the house I could hear my mother upstairs. The coast was clear. I quickly hid the Double Bubble gum in the very rear of an end table drawer. I put each wrapper into the mailing envelopes, licked the stamps, and ran back out to find a mailbox.
And that was it. I forgot all about the contest until a few weeks later when the phone rang. We were part of a party line which meant we shared the phone line with two other families. The phone would ring each time any of the families received a call, but we each had a different ring pattern. Ours was two long rings. In our house there was never a question of who would answer the phone. It was always my 21 year old sister hoping that it was a social call of some kind for her. She answered. I happened to be sitting in the living room and watched her as she turned pale, then said “yes” and then another “yes” and then turned to me as she covered the phone’s mouthpiece. “It’s Aunt Sally” she screamed, “and she wants to talk to you!!”
I got on the phone and typical of a 12 year old boy had nothing to say. Aunt Sally did all the talking. She asked my age, where I live, where I go to school. She said the reason she was calling was because they were going to go on the air in 15 minutes and during the show she was going to pick an entry for the bike contest, and that she was going to pick mine. I didn’t understand how she knew she was going to pick my entry before the show even went on the air, but I said something witty like “OK”. She said “I’m going to call you and ask you a nursery rhyme question. I’m going to ask the following question: Jack and Jill went up the hill to fetch a pail of what?” Before I can even answer she said “Water. Water. Jack and Jill went up the hill to fetch a pail of water. Let’s practice. Jack and Jill went upon the hill to fetch a pail of what?” She waited. I said “water” and she said great and said she would call me live when she is was on the air and ask me that question.
In about 15 minutes The Sally Starr Show came on live on channel 6. Aunt Sally greeted everyone standing behind a red 26″ bike and said “We’re going to try to give this away tonight, but first, let’s watch a Popeye cartoon.
Anxiety overtook the Rossin residence. As the cartoon was ending my sister had a scare. She realized that at some point in all of this the phone rang but it wasn’t our 2 long rings, so we ignored it. She ran to the phone. Sure enough, others from our party line were on the phone, so Aunt Sally would get a busy signal when she called. My sister pleaded with them to hang up and turn on channel 6 to watch. They did and a few minutes later Aunt Sally called.
I answered with a dull “hello”.
“Hi, is this little Jackie Rossin from Chester, PA”
Little Jackie Rossin. This is Aunt Sally.
Little Jackie Rossin, we just picked your envelope from all of the entries in the bike giveaway, so I’m calling to ask you a nursery rhyme question. If you get it right, you win a 26″ Columbia bike.
Alright. Here’s today’s nursery rhyme question.
Before she even asked the question my sister was standing behind me whispering “water. water. water.”
Jack and Jill walked up the hill to fetch a pail of what?
Yes. Congratulations little Jackie Rossin you just won a 26″ Columbia bike, and a carton of Double Bubble bubble gum.
The next day I was the BMOC at my elementary school. The principal took me to every class so I can tell them how I won the bike.
One post script to the story. It was no longer Passover when I remembered about the 2 pink cubes of Double Bubble bubble gum in the drawer. By this point they were stale and hard as a rock but I still chewed them with great joy and think of Double Bubble bubble gum every year when I host our family’s Seder.