Writer’s Workshop: The Lock

Today’s prompt: Write a blog post inspired by your childhood neighborhood.

Source: MasterLock.com

When I was about twelve, I found a combination lock in the alley behind our house. It was the kind they issue in school, that had a keyhole on the back, so that the dean can go in someone’s locker and see what contraband is in there. It was locked, but I thought that I could figure out what the combination was by trial and error. This is not the easiest way to figure out a combination, and pretty soon I got frustrated. Just as I was about to throw the lock away, I realized I could write to the manufacturer and ask them for the combination. I wrote to them in my best penmanship, gave them the serial number to the lock, and asked them to please send me the combination. A couple of weeks later, they wrote back and said that they would be happy to provide me with the combination if I sent them the lock.

Simple enough, right? I just put it in a box, wrap the box, bring it to the post office, and send it off. Easier said than done. For one thing, we never kept the materials needed to wrap a package for mailing at home. This was in the days before Express Mail, so there were no supplies at the post office (or so I thought). I scrounged up a box, put the lock in it along with a note of explanation, cut up a paper bag, and, with all the manual dexterity of a gorilla peeling a grape, wrapped the box and taped it shut with half a roll of Scotch Magic Tape.

I looked up the address of the nearest post office, and realized I would have to cross both Devon Avenue and Clark Street to get there. I had never done this, and was sure that, if I told my mother I was off to the post office at Devon and Hermitage, she would flat out tell me, “no way, Jose.” I would have to wait for a day when she had school and we didn’t and go after she left for work.

Finally the day came to put my plan into action. It was overcast and drizzling, and Ray Rayner (who had a kids’ show in the morning) said the high temperature for the day would be forty-seven and five-twelfths (the Weather Bureau, as we called it then, said that the high temperature would be in the upper forties, but Ray liked to put an actual number on it). I put all of my money (one dollar and seventy-three cents in loose change, whatever I could gather from chair and couch cushions) into the pocket of my jeans, put on my winter jacket, took my package, and set off for the post office.

This would be an adventure for me. I had never been on the south side of Devon Avenue or the west side of Clark Street by myself. It was like Field of Dreams, where the players stayed between the base lines because, if they didn’t, they would transform into an older version of themselves, or like the maps they drew in the fifteenth century, with dragons and other terrifying sea creatures waiting for unsuspecting sailors to cross into uncharted waters. As I walked down Devon, I looked across at the familiar storefronts as though I was on a ship watching familiar territory fade from view. At Clark, I waited for the light and crossed the street, realizing that what I was doing was actually no big deal. I got to the post office and left the lock and seventy-five cents (the price of sending it parcel post) with them and walked home, stopping at the drug store for a Zagnut and a Coke on the way.

A few weeks later, at the beginning of summer vacation, what should arrive in the mail but my lock, with a tag through the shackle with the combination on it. I tried the combination, and the lock opened successfully. And I was happy. Of course, I had nothing to lock with it, so I relocked it and put it and the combination into my desk drawer, where it stayed until a couple of years later. With nothing else to do one afternoon, I fastened it around the valve of the radiator in my room. I put the combination back in my desk drawer, certain if, should the opportunity to use the lock present itself, I could take it off of the radiator.

Before we moved from our apartment to the suburbs I realized that the lock was still there, and I should probably take it off of the radiator and take it with me. So I opened the drawer, and looked for the combination. It wasn’t there. At some point during a pre-move cleaning frenzy, I must have either misplaced or, more likely, thrown out the combination, and I couldn’t remember what it was. Thus, the lock stayed behind when we left for our new home.

Sometimes I wonder if someone else was able to remove the lock and put it to good use, or if it’s still attached to the radiator almost fifty years later. Thinking about it, if you removed the knob from the valve, you could lift it off without incident. Not that it matters now.

Author: John Holton

I'm a writer and blogger who writes and blogs about things that interest me.

28 thoughts on “Writer’s Workshop: The Lock”

  1. Great memory! I can picture a young John walking with purpose down Devon. If you did that walk today, you’d have enough material for several future entries!

    Although I think that lock is long gone, I’m sure it’s no surprise to you that the post office is still there.


    1. I’m not surprised about the post office, though I’m kind of surprised they haven’t rebuilt it to be more “green.” As for the lock, someone might have taken a hacksaw to it…


  2. John, are you writing a book with all of these wonderful childhood stories? You really should!

    Your Ray Rayner reference brought a smile to my face. Slippery Rock, Chelveston, cartoons, zoo animal visits, going all Tim Taylor on some craft project … now that was kids’ TV! 🙂


    1. Don’t forget Cuddly Dudley. Were you in Chicago when the Tribune was giving him away as a promotion?

      I don’t quite have enough for a book yet, but that’s definitely in the works.


      1. I definitely remember Cuddly Dudley, and have some memory of the Trib promotion. I think I ended up with a Dudley…I’ll have to rummage through the old Christmas photos now. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

        1. I used to work at Harris Bank, and a couple of times a year they’d run a stuffed “Hubert, the Harris Lion” promotion. Employees could get them cheap, but I never bought one…


    1. A number of years ago, I found myself back in the old neighborhood and was sorely tempted to knock on the door and ask them if it was still there. I don’t know how they would have managed to take it off, so you’re right, it probably is still there…

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Wonderful story. Got to thinking, after I read this and remembered that I have a lock at home, tucked in a desk drawer in my office. Now, once I leave work today, I will make it a point to see if, like you, I’ve managed to misplace the combination. If not, maybe I’ll just hook it onto something, somewhere, and leave someone wondering.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Very funny tale. Seems like with all the time, effort, and money you put into cracking the code you could maybe have just bought a new lock. It was pretty ingenious for you as a kid to obtain the combination like you did.

    Arlee Bird
    Tossing It Out


  5. John, too bad you couldn’t take that lock with you in your move after all the trouble you went through to get the combination to it and all. At least you have the story to share and an adventure you won’t forget. 🙂


  6. I love how you stumbled upon that lock and got wrapped up in the desire to unlock before leaving it for someone else who most certainly also got wrapped up in the desire to unlock it. It’s like a lifelong puzzle that just keeps moving into different hands. Great story!


    1. I’ve provided entertainment for generations of stubborn twelve-year-old boys, haven’t I? Don’t get me started on the safe built into the closet of my parents’ room…


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