SOME careers peak early in life, others come to maturity in later years. My career peaked when I was three years old. When something like this happens it tends to create a dilemma as to what to do with the anticlimactic years thereafter. Everyone keeps expecting you to achieve something, not realizing you have already been at the top. What happened in my case was being discovered in a Chicago grocery store at an early age by a talent scout from an ad agency. It was nothing remarkable that I did, I was just standing there with my mother. Apparently the ad man saw in me the ideal child who, by eating cornflakes for breakfast the rest of his life, would reach a pinnacle of success, such as president of the United States or third baseman for the Chicago Cubs. As it happened I didn't achieve either of these goals. I am - or was - a cornflakes eater who didn't make it.
My wife was unaware of my early fame through much of our married life. It all came to light many years ago while we were visiting Ardie (my mother was always known as Ardie) during the Christmas holidays.
Maxine, my wife (who is known in the family as Lids), is of a curious but enterprising nature and was going through boxes of old photos in a closet under the stairs. Near the bottom she came across a full page ad from a magazine, showing a young child in pajamas clinging to a slightly older, pretty little girl in a nightgown. The girl was carrying a box of cornflakes and a lighted candle. Obviously the two were going bedward.
Puzzled, Lids went to the kitchen where Ardie was placing a pot roast on a platter ringed with spaghetti. It sounds terrible, but it was a favorite and tasty dish at Ardie's house.
``Ardie,'' said Lids, presenting the page from the magazine, ``What in the world is this?''
Ardie, spooning juice from the pot roast over the spaghetti, tilted back her head so she could better see the picture through bifocals. ``Oh, that. That is Guernsey when he was about three years old. He was a model in advertising. He did a series of pictures for cornflakes. He was in magazines from coast to coast. I suppose that's the only picture left.''
My wife was nonplused. She took a long look at the advertisement. ``You mean he hit the big time when he was three years old?''
The news sent her scurrying down the hallway to the rear rooms where I was busy typing. She put the picture in front of my nose.
``You never told me about this,'' she said. ``Explain.''
``I was a cornflakes ad,'' I said.
She rattled the paper a bit. ``Who is the woman?''
Although attractive, the girl referred to as ``the woman'' was only about seven and hardly merited my wife's tone of voice.
``That's Bernice,'' I said.
``Bernice? You remember her name after all these years?''
The name had just popped out. I didn't know I had it in memory.
``Well, she must have been something! I notice you are clinging to her nightgown for dear life,'' Lids continued in mock concern.
After the shock of my early cornflakes career was digested, we took the picture north with us. My wife even went to the city and had it beautifully framed. For years it hung at the top of the stairs, me in my pajamas and Bernice in frilly nightgown. Visitors who got that far into the house always had a comment, such as ``Who'd ever believe Guernsey could have been such a cute baby.''
The story could end there, but it went on into an epilogue when my son Lynn saw further possibilities. He decided to take a photo of our grandson and granddaughter in the same pose (who were then at the approximate relative ages of the original models) and send it to cornflake headquarters with the original ad - conveying the idea of three generations of cornflake eaters.
In the course of time a letter came back. The letter was official in tone, thanking us for letting them see the picture and ending with yours truly.
So my modeling career was definitely over. There was to be no echo from the past. I had hoped, at least, to get a box of cornflakes. In sulky protest the picture came off the wall and a door of history was closed. Still, now and then, there is the faint, wistful memory of Bernice and past glory.