June 21, 2012 | By: Daniel Pryfogle
Summer has arrived: a season of adventure for kids and a wellspring of adventure stories for adults who look back with wonder and wistfulness. No summer looms larger in my memory than the summer of 1976.
It was our nation's bicentennial, a coast-to-coast extravaganza marking the signing of the Declaration of Independence. On top of that, the 21st Olympic Games were held in Montreal featuring such athletes as Bruce Jenner, Sugar Ray Leonard and Nadia Comaneci. In my home state of California, the season's significance was underscored by the worst drought in the state's history. Everything about the summer was big. The Big Red Machine, the Cincinnati Reds, raced toward the baseball title. And then there was the Big Mac.
As a promotion for the 1976 Olympics, McDonald's gave away scratch-off cards that revealed an event. If the U.S. won gold in that event, you got a free Big Mac; if silver, fries; if bronze, a soda. And if the U.S. swept the event, you got all three, a full meal for free.
That summer the Pryfogle's, a poor yet resourceful family, lived in student housing at Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary, where my dad studied to be a pastor while my three brothers and I came up with all kinds of adventures that didn't cost a dime. We built forts out of cardboard, and we launched a raft Huckleberry Finn-like into the San Francisco Bay on top of a huge piece of Styrofoam. From the seminary dump we dragged out an old mattress that served as the landing pad for our own Olympic high jump.
When we needed another diversion, Andrew and I – he was nearly 7, I was 8 – walked down to the McDonald's just outside the entrance to the seminary. Back then, McDonald's placed its promotional game cards next to the cash registers just like straws, napkins and ketchup packets. So Andrew and I helped ourselves to a stack of cards. Several times.
As the Olympic athletes headed north to Montreal, the Pryfogle's loaded up the station wagon and pushed south to New Mexico for a week at a Baptist conference center. They say the destination is not as important as the journey, and that was certainly true this summer.
On the way to New Mexico and back, we must have stopped at nearly every McDonald's. Inside was a scoreboard that tracked the Olympic results. Bruce Jenner won the decathlon – Big Mac! The Americans won the men's 4x100 relay – another Big Mac! Edwin Moses and Michael Shine grabbed gold and silver in the 400 meter hurdles – Big Mac and fries! For free!
We were so proud of our country, and so grateful! The American boxers took their punches – for us: Five gold medals for Sugar Ray and company meant five Big Macs! In the men's swimming events, the results were extraordinary. The American men (and thus the Pryfogle boys) swept the 200 meter freestyle, 200 meter backstroke, 100 meter butterfly, and 200 meter butterfly – each event yielding a Big Mac, fries and soda! You can imagine our joy. We had hit the jackpot!
All the way down the Golden State, through towns of the Wild West, across the Painted Desert to the Grand Canyon, we witnessed the splendor of America, and we ate our fill. It was a monumental adventure that I will always remember.
I have told that summer story many times, especially to those who love me, and therefore bear with me. But the story, like the season, is always worth repeating.