Tom’s Winning Stories

First place Winner

Jeff Reichenberger, Oshkosh, WI


The time was 10:30 am, December 24th, 2010. Christmas Eve morning. Preparations were underway for our annual get together with family at our house. Party food was being chopped, sliced, rolled, and sauced. Everyone was participating and anticipating the joyous Christmas Eve party. But this year there was a rumbling of discontent, a smattering of angst, an underpinning of dread. The darkness had been building for years, and had finally released its fury like a deadly thunderstorm…

My lovely wife of many years, wonderful mother of our three children, had gone to the dark side. I saw the shadow cover her face, her eyes went black, her face went red, her energy level spiked, her voice dropped two octaves…she bellowed; “We must clean the house! Don’t eat or drink anything! Don’t sit on the furniture! Take off your shoes! Don’t touch the floor! Don’t use the bathroom! Don’t walk near the Christmas tree! Don’t move! Don’t talk! Stop BREATHING!”

The kids and I were dumfounded, we were shocked, we were afraid. Our party guests were to be eight or ten of our closest family members. Why must we clean the house as if Queen Elizabeth was joining us!? This was absurd. I tried to reason with her. Tensions were high. It didn’t go well.

It was decided for all involved that it would be best if the kids and I left for a few hours, so we hopped in the car on the blustery, snow flurried day and drove away not knowing where we were going or when we would return – we all just needed to breathe.

We headed north. It was near the noon hour. We thought finding some place to stop for lunch would be a good option – feed our faces, cool down, kill some time. Not everywhere is open on Christmas Eve, so we drove for a while unfulfilled. We wandered into Neenah, and there, like a shimmering oasis, we saw the sign; TOM’S DRIVE IN! I swear, the clouds opened up, the snow parted, and the sun burst through to illuminate Tom’s just for us!

The kids screamed, YEAH! I said, “Let’s do it”! We pull in, ran to the door, Alleluia! They’re open! I think we ordered just about everything on the menu that day – cleared out my wallet and enjoyed an hour and a half of Christmas Eve family time -BEFORE the party that was yet to come. We were happy, but the trip back home was apprehensive. Would our good mood be smothered when we got there, or had the elapsed time soothed the house cleaning beast?

To our delight, the Christmas spirit had returned. Our loving wife and mother was back to her old self. She greeted us with open arms. We didn’t have to take off our shoes. She asked where we’d been. She wondered why we didn’t bring her a “Tominator – hold the tomato”. We laughed, we hugged, we had a great family party. CHRISTMAS WAS SAVED!

This has become our yearly tradition – she cleans the house, we go to Tom’s,and Christmas is wonderful. Thanks Tom’s!!

Second place winner

Lisa Hansen, Appleton, WI

My favorite Tom’s story happened when I was 8 years old, the summer of 1976. I remember the year because my friend and I had our bikes decked out for the Bicentennial 4th of July parade – my Schwinn Stingray was complete with shimmery red-white-and-blue handle bar streamers and I had crepe paper strung around the spokes of my wheels. We thought we were mighty cool.

So cool, in fact, that we decided we deserved a special treat, and after some long, hard scheming, we decided we’d ride our bikes to the Tom’s Drive-In on Walter Avenue, which was 3-4 miles from our Darboy neighborhood. Boy, did we love Tom’s! Of course we’d never ridden our bikes that far before, and we weren’t entirely clear on how to get there, but it seemed like such a great idea!

But because we knew our parents would never allow us to bike all the way there alone, we decided this would be a secret mission: the “Tom’s Expedition”. We pooled our money and discovered we had almost three dollars – enough to get a 6-pack of burgers, a box of fries, and even some ice cream! We could hardly wait! We spent the rest of the day planning, preparing, anticipating.

Little did we know that my dad was wise to our plan. I’m still not sure to this day how he figured out what we were up to, but he did. So, the next day when we set out on our Tom’s Expedition, he was ready and secretly followed us in his Buick. It’s really a testament to a time when kids could be truly oblivious to their surroundings, because we never noticed that big Buick behind us, and we fully believed we were getting away with something, which made the Tom’s Expedition extra-cool.

That feeling lasted right up until we came out of Tom’s with our much-anticipated reward. There he was, my dad, with his stern face on and his arms crossed, standing in front of his big Buick. I nearly peed my pants. Dang! He confiscated our burgers-and-fries treasure, made us get back on our bikes without even a bite of our food, and made us ride all the way back home as he followed us. I was grounded for three days, and my friend was sent home with a promise that my mom would be calling her mom to let her know what we’d done.

The most memorable part of this story is what happened the next day. As part of my penance for sneaking away on my bike without permission, I was assigned extra chores, including emptying the garbage. It was then that I discovered that my dad had eaten ALL of our burgers and ALL of our fries (he apparently also loved Tom’s) and had discarded the wrappers in the garbage. My heart dropped. I’m not sure why my 8-year-old mind thought that I’d somehow still be getting those Tom’s burgers and fries, but finding those discarded wrappers was by FAR the worst punishment I received.

Both my parents have passed now, and I never did ask my dad how he knew about our Tom’s Expedition. But to this day, when I drive through a Tom’s, I feel like I’ve gotten away with something special.

Our Other 8 Winners

  • Brittany R. – Menasha, WI
  • Sara P. – Neenah, WI
  • Joan H. – Oconto Falls, WI
  • Matt S. – Sheboygan, WI
  • Kevin G. – Menasha, WI
  • Leah B. – Menasha, WI
  • Josh M. – Appleton, WI
  • Lisa H. – Appleton, WI