Long before the lure and dreams of the Arkansas Scholarship Lottery, there was the Saturday punch-card drawing at the Mad Butcher.
Now that was a prize everyone wanted their mom, dad, grandmother or granddad to win.
Cash, when you are a kid, cash was some great prize.
On top of winning the cash prize, the lucky winner had their name called out on the KWRF radio (live on Saturday afternoon) and the name would be printed in the grocery ad in next week’s Eagle.
Local fame and a cash prize for simply shopping and getting your small, white plastic-coated loyalty card “punched” with a simple looking hole-punch that made a tiny “T” or “check mark” punch in a tiny numbered square on the card.
And everyone, I mean EVERYONE, would know your name was drawn to win this cash prize.
But not everyone knew if you had your card “punched,’ to win the grand prize.
That was the great suspense in a small town with red-brick streets. Did they get their card “punched” and would they win the prize?
For only the country kids like me, getting to the Mad Butcher, managed by Roger Burks back in the day, to buy groceries and get the family’s card “punched” in advance of the drawing was a weekly must do event.
I never knew why my grandparents were in such a hurry on most Saturdays to get their weekly grocery shopping done by 1 or 2 p.m. and hurry home.
The weekly punch card drawing wasn’t until 4 or 5 p.m. each Saturday.
All the Mad Butcher’s faithful shoppers, way back at some point in time, had filled out a small note card sized form – you know – with name, address, and telephone number if you had one. We had no telephone at my grandparents’ house. I worried how they would know they won.
These forms were all placed in a giant wire cage barrel which sat at the front of the store. This barrel-like contraption was spun, as best it could be spun with thousands of paper forms inside it each week, when the drawing was held.
As the grocery checking line was slow and long – back in the days before “electronic scanning devices,” every item was punched into their cash registers where a paper tale of the tape was produced.
I would sneak off and gaze through the wire walls at all the names inside the barrel.
I was, like every kid, hoping I could spot my grandmother’s name and will her card up to the top of the pile to be chosen for that Saturday’s winner – especially as the tally for the prize eclipsed $500 or more.
Best I can recall the prize once started at a simple $25 in cash.
Of course, if the name called did not have their card punched in the appropriate square on the little card, they did not win. And another small cash stipend was added to next week’s total.
If the shopper did not, for some unknown reason, venture by the Mad Butcher the previous week, well they would not be eligible to win as well.
Or if they had moved off from the area, they would not win. I do recall this happening one time as a family we knew had left for greener pastures in East Texas – thus not eligible for the weekly drawing.
But of the excitement of that weekly drawing.
Most activity around the farm was stopped so one of the two grandparents could dial up KWRF right at 5 p.m. for the drawing. The name was drawn before the on-the-hour-newscast. If you got in a little bit late, the name would also be repeated at the end of the news, usually after the sports scores from Fayetteville, Little Rock or St. Louis – the only three teams we knew anything about – the Razorbacks, Travelers or Cardinals.
Mostly the drawing was done via a phone call from Mad Butcher folks to the radio station.
Always a shopper or the newest employee of the Mad Butcher (again always someone local) was asked to reach in that wire cage barrel and draw out the winner’s registration card.
The person drawing the winner’s name was aired in the call.
“Here we have one of the Mad Butcher’s new customer service boys – Jerry Ashcraft, drawing today’s winner,” the announcer would say.
And then a tape-recorded snare drum roll was played with the announced breaking in to say the winner’s name and the exact amount of the jackpot said over and over with this little caveat at the commercial’s end.
“Remember, if the card was not punched, another $5 would be added and next week’s drawing would be $110 – so tune in next Saturday right here on KWRK for the drawing and here’s the Mad Butcher (cue the very unique and scarily maniacal laugh Wwwhooo hawwww hawwww track).”
But the suspense was only paused, but not over.
As the cash prize headed above $200 – the newspaper ad appearing on Wednesday’s became a must to see if the award was claimed and the prize dropped back to $25.
Later, if I remember correctly, the prize was elevated to a smooth $100 to start with $10 added each week the prize went unclaimed.
None of my kin ever won. Oh, we knew folks who did.
And we knew some folks who for some reason didn’t get their “card punched,” and forfeited the prize.
There is no more Mad Butcher and no more weekly cash drawings in these modern times today.
But this was indeed a Pastime to win some – and lose some – to remember.