Smile-O-Gram 2.0

It was my own darn fault. I had moved a cumbersome desktop organizer to the basement–it took up way too much room in my office, though I still appreciated its features for collecting workshop materials and props. Well, I’m guessing I forgot to put it back on the storage room’s shelf one day, leaving it a bit too close to our rummage-sale/donation pile. There’s no other explanation for its disappearance–we must have carted my special file thingie to the thrift store over the winter.

A proud Smile-O-Gram recipient (1978)

If memory serves me right, it held an old edition of Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style. No biggie. It also contained a copy of On Writing by Stephen King and a spiral-bound notebook, both filled with copious notes. That’s a bit of a bummer. But here’s the real heartbreaker. In one of the side slots was a framed “Smile-O-Gram” from my elementary-school principal. When I was in second grade, I had written about Ruffy, our family’s chihuahua/poodle mix, and Mr. Stouten thought my story was worth a note of praise and encouragement.

As far as I know, that wrinkly green Smile-O-Gram was the earliest existing evidence of my writing life. I confess there was a moment when I collapsed to the floor with regret and grief over the loss of the certificate. But I eventually recovered my bearings and prayed for a miracle. Despite the time that had passed (we made the delivery in December), perhaps the items were still for sale at the thrift store.

I scoured their shelves, I dug in bins, but none of my items turned up. Then my eyes landed on the writers’ classic Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg. It just so happened that my next stop was the bookstore for that very book! In turn, I was heartened that my trip to the thrift store wasn’t totally fruitless. I made my way to the checkout.

The cashier–an older woman with close-cropped hair, simple wire-rimmed glasses, and a pleasant expression–searched for a price tag on the book. No luck. I expected the next step to be one of those obnoxious price-check-over-intercom moments, and I prepared for the glares of my fellow shoppers. However, the cashier just looked at me with a wink and said, “Forty-two cents, please.”

“Really? Just 42 cents?” I replied.

“Yes, 42 cents. Would you like a bag?”

I paid up and left the store–admittedly with a tear in my eye. Here I had been gloomy and downcast by what I had lost earlier that morning, but a nice cashier with no clue of my recent events changed all that. Call it “Smile-O-Gram 2.0”–compared to the first version, its features were quite different, but the experience gave me a lift I’ll always remember.


WRITING PROMPT 1: Think about something you’ve lost. Imagine the life it lives now, and write about it.

WRITING PROMPT 2: Create a story or poem about someone who has encouraged you somehow, perhaps in your writing.

WRITING PROMPT 3: Recall a time when you received a much-needed smile. Write about that experience.

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2 thoughts on “Smile-O-Gram 2.0

  1. Joe Pineda says:

    It was around February of last year that my boss lost my proof copy of MUTEKI. Obviously, she only told me after she went through hell just to get it back.

    To make a long story short, she took the book with her when she was hospitalized. After she was finally cleared to leave, the nurses, the janitors, SOMEBODY, got to her stuff and stole her laptop, some money and the book I lent her.

    She told me she never cared about the laptop, figuring the one who stole it needed it more than her. But she looked under every rock and every rug just to get MUTEKI back.

    She told me, “I can buy a laptop any other time, Pineda. But your book is different. It’s your baby and the only copy that exists.” And having said that she returned it. Weeks later, I was using that same dummy/proof copy to finally land a publishing deal for the novel.

    It’s something I’ll carry with me the rest of my life. I’ll probably write in my blog about it soon.

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