The sun hung higher in the sky on that afternoon in March of 1970. The days were longer. Spring was close. Snow banks at the side of the road were melted husks of the piles that once towered over my head. The sand thrown by the highway workers, heated by the sun, warmed, melted into the snow and left an icy crust I loved to kick with my winter boots. It crumbled like broken glass.
I made another kick. The ice crust shattered. There it was. A small sliver of plastic with the red letters of the Farmer’s milk logo on it. I grabbed it up and smiled. I only needed three more to get 15 labels.
In 1970, if I clipped 15 Farmer’s logos from their products and sent them in, they’d send me a packet of 10 5 x 7 inch glossy pictures of NHL hockey players. Hockey was my passion back then. I wanted the pictures of all my heroes on skates, especially the members of the Boston Bruins.
The weather continued to warm as the first day of spring grew closer. The snow slowly melted. I walked along the road that wound through our village and stare into the gutters. Each day the melting snow revealed a few buried wrappers with the red Farmer’s logos. I collected them, took them home, washed the mud and grime off and settled at the kitchen table with a pair of scissors. With the careless grace of a non-artistic child, I cut around the labels and added them to the growing pile on the edge of the table.
“I got 15, Mum!” I called to my mother in the living room.
“Michael! You’re going to put us in the poor house buying stamps and envelopes to send all those labels in.” She mockingly scolded.
“But, Mum! I want to get the complete set, especially all the Boston players. I’m going to put Bobby Orr at the top. He’s my favourite.”
“I know he is, Mike.” Mum said and handed me an envelope. “Print the address neatly, so that it gets to the right place.”
When I was done, the envelope was a misshapen mass filled with weather faded labels. We put it in the mail the next day. Each day after, I’d ask, “Mum, did they come yet?”
“Michael, we just mailed them off. For goodness sake, be patient.”
I sighed and went to my room. Some of my friends already received their photos. Where were mine?
A week later, I walked home from school, opened the door and on the table was a brown envelope addressed to Michael Smith. My heart skipped a beat. It was the first mail I ever received. Inside that bad boy were 10 photos waiting for my eager hands to sort.
I grabbed it up, ran to my room, and opened it with shaking hands. There they were. Oh how beautiful they were. Bobby Orr wasn’t in this packet, but I did get the Bruins’ highest scorer – Phil Esposito.
I ran next door to show Jimmy my haul. He got a packet that day too.
For weeks, we kids cleaned the roadside of discarded Farmer’s wrappers. In the process of collecting them, we were making the village a cleaner place.
A couple times a week, I received another packet of photos. My collection grew. If I received a photo I already had, I’d put it aside to trade with my friends. As the hockey season drew to a close, my collection was complete. Boston was the top team in the book I received to keep them in. I was proud.
I still have those photos more than 40 years later. As I browse through them, I remember those years long ago, when I learned a lesson. I collected labels. I thought the photos were my reward. I had no idea the real reward was learning: if you want something, you have to be dedicated, and you have to work for it.
– Michael T. Smith