From a Dime to a Millionaire
Conservative Disciplined Thinking Equals Prosperity
Location: The City Dump Abilene, Texas 1960
My nostrils flared as I tried not to breathe the acrid stench of the smoldering heaps of garbage. I turned into the wind to catch my breath and shake off the smell that was surging through my lungs. My hammer clawed at another nail and the sound of rust scraping against dry wood screamed for a quick moment. The nail free wood was tossed onto the pile. My gloves smelled of rotten garbage. Removing my gloves, I looked at my fingers; one was blooded where a nail had caught me. My finger throbbed to the touch but I could work one more hour, the last hour. Each added 75 cents to my meager bank account, all I would have when I left home in three months.
Bending down, to re-tied my bootlace holding my hurt finger out of the way, I noticed the ground: no soil, only garbage being ground into gray ooze, the vomit of civilization, thrown away dregs of life. Coffee grounds and a half-eaten slice of pizza were crushed into the blades of an electric fan; the heaps of garbage were belching traces of smoke. The stench sometimes churned my stomach. My back ached as I bent down and pulled out another scrap board and extracted the rusty nails. I was eighteen.
The boss’s would send the battered truck at 4:30 pm. I would then load the used lumber from my day of pulling nails and follow the truck out the dump gate. Day three ended and I had finished cleaning a mountain of old lumber to be used in the construction of new homes.
Washing up for supper literally meant taking a hot bath to wash away the foul, disgusting odor. With clean clothes and the day’s work bathed from my body, I devoured with canine savagery Mother’s tenderized beef cutlet, mashed potatoes and canned green beans. After supper I went to the bedroom my brother and I shared. I lay down on my half-bed, feeling the knobby green bedspread as my body relaxed into the softness of the mattress. My thoughts drifted to the late winter day when Dad announced a decision that changed my life.
That morning the left hand bottom compartment door of the old stove banged loudly when opened, but the aroma of cinnamon toast on a cold morning from the bottom broiler made that sound seem heavenly. Our family’s kitchen was right out of a 1950 Sears and Roebuck catalog. The wall color was a pale green with a white refrigerator and a big old white porcelain four burner gas stove. The centerpiece of this room featured the yellow glass topped table with curved chrome legs that matched the four chairs with upholstery of abstract patterns in green plastic. The family’s gathering place also had a Formica cabinet counter and a linoleum floor pattern of squiggles and confetti. Two ceramic wall lamps of painted fruit hung on opposite sides of the kitchen, one a foot above my head, and they were always on including the large ceiling light. The kitchen was as bright as an operating room and as clean.
Each family member sat at the table in their place. Since I was five years old my younger brother Charles and I sat opposite of each other and I was to my father’s right. My mother sat to my right. When dad wanted the attention of Charles or me, he would reach across the table and grasp our forearm and look us straight in the eye and tell us what he wanted us to hear. Dad was a man of honest means who lived life by the golden rule. He provided for his family while believing in spiritual service to humanity. His hard work and conservative life style created a family of two devoted parents and two sons. Love was dished out like ice cream and looking back I want to lick the spoon of those memories. His pleasant nature, strong work ethic and spiritual values created in me a desire to be like him. His action that morning was no different except dad grasped my left forearm more strongly than ever before, his look burned right through me and what he said took my breath away.
”Son, your mother and I love you very much and after you graduate this spring from high school, you are always welcome here. I am breaking your plate at my table”
I didn’t have to ask what that meant, I knew, I felt the blood rush to my head and somewhere inside a little voice screamed in panic, what am I going to do? I was in a tidal wave of thoughts rolling over me and I was in the undertow. I remembered from dad’s stories about the use of the term ”breaking your plate”, it simply meant, I did not have a place at the family table as it had been, I was loved but I was now considered a man and it was up to me to make my way in the world; I was on my own.
Dad told me to finish up and we would discuss my options as we started our work day. Breakfast was over, chores were done and I was working with my dad as was the routine every Saturday in our seasonal evaporative air conditioner business. If my memory serves me right, somewhere between the kitchen talk to the shop talk, the conversation focused on finding a college, perhaps Texas Tech in Lubbock, Texas, where I was born. Maybe I could find a job washing dishes at a restaurant owned by the Medlock’s. The reality of dad’s announcement was dramatically starting to take effect. I felt like a jackrabbit scared up by a dog, running in any direction, confused and alone.
In late May I graduated from high school and worked for my Father. Other part time jobs were made available to me. My goal was to make as much money as possible before the fateful day when I would leave. I felt as if I had always worked, it was what one did. At twelve I was doing jobs like mowing the grass with a push mower that would rattle and grind the grass in the whirling blades. By my thirteenth birthday I had a job sweeping up the shop, stocking the shelves, and pulling the bales of shredded Aspen apart for my mother to make evaporative air conditioner pads. That Christmas vacation Mother and I got jobs scraping windows in an old warehouse in the numbing cold. I was dressed with one of my mother’s scarfs wrapped around my head, my red fuzzy ear muffs on top, a couple of sweaters and my old coat, not my school coat. A wealthy looking older man dressed in a dark blue suit carrying a cardboard box and a paper sack opened the door to his newly purchased warehouse. I followed my mother and the owner inside to the small office. He shut the door, turned on the florescent light that hung from the ceiling at a slant and made an electrical buzzing sound. He placed his arm load on an old kitchen table that had been used for mixing paint. A quick slit from a yellow handle pocket knife cut the tape on the box of a new electric heater. He plugged it in. From the paper sack he produced two new paint scrapers and a box of one hundred single edge razor blades. He and mother talked.
I decided to explore the place; I found a couple of rickety wooden chairs that I pushed under the paint splattered table. Now we had a place to take a break and eat our lunch. Hopefully the heater would warm the dingy tiny office by the time we needed to warm up and eat our sandwiches. I walked into the warehouse where we were going to scrape windows. The building reeked of loneliness, a foreboding big empty place. The eerie light penetrating the dust and paint splattered windows was dull and lifeless. There were three rows of windows, dozens upon dozens resting on red brick colored blocks. The floor was cracked and broken concrete from fifty years of use. Cold and mostly silent except for the low cooing of a scattering of pigeons roosting on the high dust covered metal beams. Nothing was in the warehouse except empty cardboard boxes in a jumbled pile with a thick coating of fine powered dust looking like cinnamon. The truck size sliding metal door at the back had an invasion of Greenbrier vines that had found an opening, grown in and died in a dull brown thorny tangle. The man in the suit left. Mother showed me how to thread a razor blade into my scraper. We started in the corner. I used a two step ladder to reach the bottom windows. Mother would scrape the top two rows. I asked my mother how much we were going to make. I can still remember her voice as she said loudly, “One thin dime a window.” I was proud to work, I felt grown up. Those dimes we earned afforded us Christmas that year. When I was growing up, we weren’t poor. We just didn’t have anything extra. We made do. I remember wearing “hand-me-down” clothes and talking about how much things cost.
As I grew I was given more responsibility and I was allowed to open my first bank account. Up until that time I worked for an allowance now I would have a paycheck earning seventy-five cents an hour. I wanted a car when I turned sixteen. By my fifteenth summer I was doing “man’s work” such as air conditioning service, odd jobs. Two workers, my Dad and I were building our new shop across the alley from our home. Dad put me to work shoveling concrete and sand into a cement mixer. The mixer’s gears gnawed at the cogs as the rotating bucket swallowed every shovel full. I kept the cement rotating drum going all day into the night. We had to finish the I-beam before the cement set up. I helped put the roof on after school the next week. I was proud of my Dad and his ability to work so strongly.
At eighteen I had calloused hands, lying on my bed staring at the ceiling, weary from my days of pulling nails at the dump. I heard my father call me from the living room. My father was a fair man and must have recognized my anxiety about being on my own. Even before I entered the room, he said, “Son, I have a book for you.” He handed me a brick colored book with embossed lettering. Before I could read the title, he looked me straight in the eye and said. “Warren, if you study this book, and learn the secret within until it becomes a part of your life, you will be successful.” With that he turned the book around so I could read the cover in gold letters, Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill. I appreciated the gift and his enthusiasm, but I didn’t open the book until much later when I was on the ledge of despair hanging on with my fingernails.
Word count 1,896