My best friend, Merilyn, was always trying to get something for free. She was heavy into "refunding," cutting the UPC labels off household products and mailing them in for prizes. And when she brought her coupons to the grocery store, the cashiers practically had to pay her.

Merilyn loved to enter radio contests, and she'd share the free dinners and movie tickets she won. But one competition topped them all. Merilyn had written a poem about why she would like to have had Thanksgiving dinner on the Mayflower. Naturally, she won.

Who knew, though, that the prize would be dinner aboard a Mayflower moving van?

So it was that on Thanksgiving Day 1981 our two families gathered around a table inside a cavernous moving van parked in Merilyn's driveway. The only decorations were the white tablecloth and the feast upon it -- turkey with all the trimmings and pumpkin pie for dessert. I held my baby on my lap, and we all chatted with the radio station's disc jockey.

It seemed unbelievable then and still does. In fact, my children never have believed it -- until I recently unearthed the photos. There Merilyn and I were, laughing away -- not exactly a Norman Rockwell scene, though perhaps one of his wildest dreams.

Margaret McMullen

Broad Run, Va.

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