Jul 28, 2022

Mega Dreams


The first time my Mom almost won the lottery was in the late 70s. Coming that close was enough to reel her in - she played for the rest of her life, certain that she would hit it big. 

She was still living in Connecticut in the late 70s and the way the lottery worked back then in that state was that each ticket was either red, blue, or green. If you didn't win the lottery that week, you signed the back of your losing ticket and put your phone number on it and threw the ticket in big red, blue, or green collection barrels that were all over the State. 

One week my Mom's losing ticket was blue so she put it in a blue barrel. At the end of the week, the lottery folks chose a color. That week it was blue. So they picked 5 tickets from all the blue barrels full of losing blue tickets all over the State (really), and one of the tickets they chose was my Mom's. 

That meant that she got to drive up to Hartford and be on a televised game show called Double Play (really) to compete for the big consolation prize, which was $200K. She got my uncle to take her, since she wouldn't drive on a highway. Each contestant had a 20% chance of winning $200K, but was guaranteed at least $2K. She played the game, where the results were by chance, and came in last. But the fact that she got that far convinced her that she would eventually win millions of dollars. 

The second time she almost won was when we were living in Northern Virginia. At some point, she couldn't buy a Power Ball ticket in Virginia, but could buy a ticket in suburban Maryland, about a 25 minute drive on the Beltway. So, since she wouldn't drive, every week, she would get dressed up and take the bus to the Pentagon, switch to the subway, and then take a couple of subway rides up to Bethesda, Maryland to buy her tickets. There was a Hot Shoppes Restaurant (long gone, since that is now an incredibly expensive piece of real estate) next to the store that sold the lottery tickets. My mom bought her tickets, then went to the Hot Shoppes, ate her Chicken Croquettes or Hot Roast Turkey Sandwich, and took the trip home. The trip took about 6 hours. 

Then she would wait for the numbers to be picked. The newspaper would come on Saturday morning and she'd grab it and check the numbers. One day I thought I heard her choking and ran downstairs. She wasn't choking. She was half screeching/half crying as she read each number and realized that she was about to be a millionaire. Until she realized that she wasn't. 

It turned out that she got all 5 numbers of the Power Ball, but not the last number - the Power Ball itself. All that, and she only won $500. But it was another "sign" that she was destined to win. So she bought tickets the rest of her life, but never won anything more than a dollar or two. 

There is no doubt that, had she won, she would have given most of the money to my brothers, who were addicted to drugs and excelled at getting money from her. This was hard to watch and impossible to stop. 

Eventually, Mike and I supported my Mom. She couldn't take the trip to Bethesda anymore. By then she was pretty frail and sick. I would think about all the tickets, all the bingo games, all the drug money, and would grow crazy at the money she had thrown away. I even started to resent the Chicken Croquettes. Saint Mike would just tell me we were doing the right thing and "let it go." LET IT GO?   

It's been over 9 years since my Mom died and I've had plenty of time to look back. Of course, giving money to my brothers was a spectacularly bad move. But the other stuff? She was buying a dream - she needed a respite from the pain of having 2 sons with severe addictions. So she bought her lottery tickets and dreamt of something magical. I'm not sure what that was, but maybe that somehow the money would buy them a cure? Would it buy her peace? 

The passage of time has made it easier for me to let it go. It's a waste to spend time resenting a mother's desperate choices. I'm lucky I haven't been in her place.

Today, after hearing about how the Mega Millions had reached a billion dollar payout, I thought about my Mom and realized that she would have been beside herself with excitement at the thought of such a big prize. So, I decided to do something out of character for me. I wasted $6 buying a ticket. I'm not a fan of lotteries - we know they prey on the dreams of people who have the least. And, honestly, until the news started talking about the big payout, I forgot there even was a lottery. 

I have no plan for my fictional winnings. I spent more time walking to the shop to buy the ticket than I have dreaming about what I would do if I won. I don't need that dream. Yes, I've had my share of life's tough times, but, I also have a husband who told me to let it go. I'll take that win to the bank. 

MOOD WHEN DONE: Solid. It was scary seeing Mike get so sick. I think I'm still processing!! 


MyLittleBlueDog said...

Oh Joan, I love your writing. Your stories are always so interesting and always touch my heart. I bet your mum had fun buying a lottery ticket. I guess a trip for six hours was also a fun outing and it's nice to have something to look forward too, although I agree with you that it is a waste of money but occasionally about once every year or three I do buy one. I figure I am contributing to the prize of some one who hopefully really needs it. In Sydney our marvellous Sydney Opera House was mostly funded by the state lottery, however it also was cloaked in tragedy as a couple who won the lottery had their child kidnapped and murdered. If I won the lottery I would give the money to Bob Brown former Australian Greens senator and all round great guy, he is getting my entire estate when I go, sadly not soon enough for his charity ;o). I am so happy to hear that your lovely husband is on the mend. You have had a really rough few years and I hope this is the corner turned and it is all happiness, sunshine and smooth sailing from here. Do please keep blogging you save my sanity and really if you get time you should write a book! Very best wishes to you.

Vicki Dutcher said...

You do excel in capturing the reader! Interesting story about your mom. Even almost ‘winning’ twice is amazing. TFS

Michele Hetland said...

You are such a great writer. You need to write a book of short essays or something.

Karen Daley said...

I love your writing too. It reminds me a bit of David Sedaris in the way you look at the ordinary specialness of life and the importance of family and how much we love them even though they drive us around the bend from time to time. Or maybe I like David Sedaris because he reminds me of Dear Paperlicious. Either way, reading good writing makes for a good day.

Angela S said...

I loved reading this story, Joan, and agree with the others that you're an excellent writer! I'm also glad that your husband is feeling better and that you are too. Sending big hugs!

SmilynStef said...

Mike is a wise man (I am lucky to have my own wise man who reminds me of similar things). Hugs.

Meg M. said...

Oh Joan. I am grateful for each opportunity I have to sit and read one of your stories. You are such a great storyteller and I love the tales of your mother chasing her lottery dreams intertwined with your very real and very tender thoughts about your family.

It's very understandable for it to feel scary seeing Mike so sick. From what you describe, Mike is solid and consistently caring for himself. I continue to send you love. If you are interested in processing through an art class . . . I'd gladly take an art your grief class with you. They are really helping me process/let go .

Leslie Miller said...

You drew me right in, Joan. Your Mom stories are fascinating to me. It's a whole other life you lived on the east coast, and it shaped you the same as my upbringing in the west shaped me. My brother... the same. He was the needy one, the first born, and she loved him in a special way that I would never know. I didn't realize it when I was a kid, but thinking back... Funny how I don't feel jealousy. Rather it touches my heart in a painfully sweet way how she would sing "Mighty Like a Rose" to him at bedtime. She never sang to me, but did other sweet things that stick in my memory. I have always sung "Mighty Like a Rose" to Wally and I think about the precious little boy who was my brother. I sang different songs to my own son. By the way, I've never played the lottery either. I put my business card in a fish bowl once and when they did the drawing I won a free lunch. And they say there's no free lunch... sheesh! Thanks for the memories, Joan.

kramomma said...

Joan...I spent $6 at a Taco Food Truck instead of buying a lottery ticket...I scraped off all that I didn't like and ate just the meat!!! How time flies, I remember reading your blog before your mom died. Glad Mike is encouraging you to let it go...yet there needs to be healing in order to let it go. Faye

Vikki H said...

I thought that I had read all of your posts (it kept me busy one weekend three years ago) but I didn't remember your brothers and mom's stories. Your Mike sounds like my guy. My oldest brother used to write us every 5-6 years asking for $ and Jim always said send it. He wouldn't stay in contact between so we couldn't send birthday or Christmas presents and Jim thought this made up for it. Now my brother is stable and we have a good relationship. In Oregon we have many casinos and lottery games that I don't support but several friends who do. Good for them. Glad to hear that Mike is recovering.