This is a true story.
When I was ten (1961) my mother got me a subscription to Popular Mechanics magazine which I poured through looking at the pictures and diagrams. In the back, mixed in with all the other small advertisements for army surplus weather balloons tanks, and bazookas was one for a "free" Audubon Bird Call.
I’m really not sure why I thought I had to have one of these, we lived in New York in an apartment building and I rarely noticed birds. I think it was the way it looked and the fact that it was painted red and of course it was free, all I had to do was ask and it was mine.
Not being one to read the fine print on things (or read much at all, being dyslexic) I put together my request and sent it off.
Weeks went by and I forgot about the bird call or having sent away for it. Then, a month later, a very large and heavy box arrived addressed to me. I opened the box with both of my parents looking on (none of us had a clue) and inside we found:
1. The above Audubon Bird Call and a small tin of resin to make it squeak.
2. 200 tins of some kind of salve for curing muscle aches that I was supposed to sell, sending all proceeds to the company that had given me my "free" Audubon Bird Call.
Initially my father went ballistic thinking that some collection agency would come after us as I’d never sell this stuff, but then he figured he could use this as an "educational moment" and teach me something (I’m not quite sure what he thought the lesson was to this day). He said "well, better get selling" and that was that. He walked away grinning.
My poor father. All of his later "lessons" on things like smoking, drinking, stealing, and gambling backfired on him. For example, when I was 13 and we were living in LA, we went to Las Vegas, he gave me $5 and told me to get lost in the casino. He thought I’d lose it all in a minute and come back crying for more, then he could sit me down and teach me the lesson. I turned the $5 into $50 in a few pulls on a slot machine, went back to him and gave him back the $5 and I’ve never gambled again. Some lesson.
I dragged the box of salve into my room and after worrying for a while, decided to write the company a letter, admit that I’d made a mistake and ask them what to do. I wrote the letter, sent it, and put bird call and salve in their box under my bed.
Another month went by and I finally heard from them:
"Dear Mr. Wanderman, we appreciate your honesty, please keep the Audubon Bird Call as our gift to you and give the salve away to people you think might be able to use it."
I gave the entire box of 200 tins of salve to the janitor in our apartment building who was delighted and from then on never yelled at me again. And, I kept the Audubon Bird Call although used it less and less over time because when I brought it out my father got irritated because I had sabotaged his lesson, the first of many such lessons lost.