This is one of my new assemblages. Assemblages are created from objects that trigger stories. The title if The Arts: the Hand, the Eye and the Heart.
This is one of my new assemblages. Assemblages are created from objects that trigger stories. The title if The Arts: the Hand, the Eye and the Heart.
We were taking the street car up to the castle at the top of the hill. Stopped for this view, did a quick sketch, and got back on the street car.
Warren’s 13th year at Sculpture in the Park takes place this weekend!
This sculpture “Pods” is one of nine sculptures being shown. Look at all that “Cullar”!!
CHAPTER FIVE: THE NOTE ON THE TEXAS FLAG
Location: Backroom of a Beauty Shop Slaton, Texas 1960
The loud voices of the beauty operators penetrating the plywood makeshift wall jarred me out of a deep sleep. It was nine a.m. and I had missed my first class. I got up, got mad, pulled on my clothes, and rolled up the vellum-colored door shade. A foot of a late winter snow had turned my car into a giant marshmallow.
After a quick tip toe dance through wet snow to the bathroom, I was back in my room heating a pot of water. I pulled a blanket around my shoulders ripped open a box of tea bags and glared at the bright white landscape. The maze I now found myself in was a schedule of washing dishes and pushing a broom with a full load of college classes I hardly had time to attend much less study for. I was the lab rat scurrying to find his way to the cheese but there was no cheese. The book dad had given me had something about a burning desire. His book was perched on the edge of my drafting table. Flipping through the contents, chapter two “Burning Desire” was found and chapter three “Faith.” Reading the chapters then one more time to make sure I grasped what Napoleon Hill was telling me. As I absorbed the words I breathed more heavily, my forehead creased and my teeth clenched, not in anger, but in determination to get something better, something for me. My symptoms began taking on Hill’s description of burning desire. I wanted to change.
I had to stop the bleeding of my energy. First, drop two of the five classes I was attending; second, find a better job with more money and a better place to live, a warmer place to live.
My architectural note book had three hole lined paper ready for class work. I reached across my desk and tore out a single sheet of notebook paper, took a deep breath and scribbled the following:
“I WILL FIND A NEW PLACE TO LIVE AND
MAKE MORE MONEY. I WILL FIND A NEW
PLACE TO LIVE AND MAKE MORE MONEY. I
WILL FIND A NEW PLACE TO LIVE AND MAKE
As I forced my pen, my message cut into the paper. I could hear my dad’s voice as he had said many times when we were working together, “Son, if you think you can, you can.” I continued to write, like in grade school when the teacher made me write over and over to correct the mistakes I made in class. I was writing my positive statement dozens of times using both sides of the paper. With each repetition I strengthened my confidence to make my decision a reality. Thumb-tacking the page to the wall, I stood back to look at my note in the middle of the Texas flag. I had fashioned my definite plan right out of Hill’s book, not his exact way but it would suffice.
Soon it was spring and I was looking forward to seeing my folks and not-so-little brother over spring break. After work on Friday I drove out of Slaton with the windshield catching a few droplets of a late afternoon shower. My big, blue Chrysler hugged the road as I settled into the 55 mile an hour drive and relaxed.
I drove the five hours home with great excitement at seeing my family. I arrived late in the evening, parked, and went in by way of the little room off the drive. I stood in shock. I was filled with anger. My wonderful mural was gone. I glared at the wall of new green paint. My Mother had painted over my artwork. Again I realized that what I wanted and what was important to me didn’t mean anything to my mother. Dad yelled from the back porch, “That you Warren?” I don’t know who was more excited to see the other. We exchanged good bear hugs and then we settled in for a long talk. Dad said, “You’re doing well. I knew you were man enough to be on your own.” His support meant a lot. We talked about my architectural studies, cleaning the beauty shop, and washing dishes for Harold Medlock, a longtime friend of my mother and father’s. I told Dad about my long hours and how I had reached the end of my rope. I related how I had read Hill’s book and wrote my burning desire statement now thumb tacked to the center of the Texas flag. He applauded my actions. Brother Charles told me about his job at the air conditioner supply company and the newest junker car he was overhauling in the driveway. We laughed about my lack of mechanical ability and how good I was at holding the light as he worked. The two days were filled with home cooked chicken-fried steak, and visiting with family and friends. The weekend was over too soon. Sunday morning we had an early breakfast then attended service at the Vine Street Church of Christ, and lunch at McEplines’ cafeteria.
The season’s first sand storm hit when I was on the outskirts of Slaton. Spring always blows the sand so fiercely in West Texas you can feel it in your teeth and hear it pealing the paint off your car as you drive. One sand colored day in April, my parents called me at the restaurant. They told me to talk to a Mrs. Wicker of the El Lora Motel in Slaton, a couple of blocks from the beauty shop. I drove over to the motel and introduced myself. Mrs. Wicker was a thin woman, about 60. Her dark hair with wisps of white was gathered in a tight bun. Glasses dangled from a gold chain against a dark flower print dress. Her thin long fingers held a cigarette that seemed to have an inch long ash poised to fall, but never did. We talked. She needed assistance at the motel because her long time employee had moved away to be with her family. Mrs. Wicker was serious, polite and reserved. I’m sure she saw me as a young kid without direction just going wherever the wind blew. She offered me a job if I could meet her needs. The requirements were simple: I would check in guests after 11 p.m., run errands for the guests, be a semi-night guard and do small jobs around the motel. Next to the office living room I would have a quiet bedroom. A maid would clean the room and Mrs. Wicker would prepare my evening meal. I was free to go out nights until 11:00 when she was playing bridge in the large living room. She offered to pay me $50 a month and I accepted with a smile from ear to ear. Now, I was a believer in the power of burning desire. I had put my faith and desire into action, written my affirmation and was now reaping the rewards. I would repeat this burning desire ”goal setting” process throughout my life.
In my old dingy room, I yanked the thumbtacks out of my note and read it out loud for the last time: “I will find a new place to live and make more money!” I yelled at the top of my lungs. Dad’s voice echoed in my head.
The Texas flag was folded into a correct military triangle, a symbolic act that I was leaving the kid in me behind. I would never allow myself to be caught in that kind of depressing situation again in my life. Achieving my goal was a grand experience. I had a new job, a better place to live and more money. Moving was fast with no two week notice. I announced I had a better offer and was taking it. “Thank you” for the room. By late afternoon I was packed, moved, and settled into my new space at the motel. My bedroom had nice drapes, even a carpeted bathroom. I had never seen anything like that before.
Mrs. Wicker and I became acquainted in small conversations over the dinner she prepared. Although the food was good and filling, I was more appreciative than hungry. Since it wasn’t a bridge night we spent the evening reviewing the procedures for checking in guests and where to purchase cigarettes and other items the guests might need.
After we finished, I walked around to the back of the motel down the alley for another couple of blocks. I looked down the depressing empty street, a few dim lights reflected off the brick street where I had lived for many months. It already seemed like a lifetime ago. My self confidence was improving by the minute.
I had a grand comfortable place to live, Mrs. Wicker was pleasant and my salary was much improved.
Mrs. Wicker retired to her bedroom and I stayed up watching the late night news for the first time in months, getting acquainted with my new surroundings. My room was decorated with exquisite antique furniture, and satin-like green drapes. I did a “walk about” on the plush carpet of the enormous motel living room and viewed my surroundings. Finding few books of any interest and none in my room, I unpacked the remainder of my belongings. I slid into a soft arm chair, the bedside table lamp perfect for reading. I opened Hill’s book and retraced my thoughts about the first part of the book and how it was working in my life at that very moment. The entire room lulled me into relaxation.
I placed Mr. Hill’s book carefully on the bedside table and slept well until the office door bell chimed at 12:32 a.m. Duty calls. With my new job and new living situation, my focus was on the remaining classes with more time to study. My hours of washing dishes were cut and didn’t seem so overwhelming. I was smiling much more. Life was becoming exciting and wonderful. I was even spending Friday evenings sitting on a quilt-covered porch swing with a sweet sixteen-year-old, blue-eyed blond talking about my architectural studies and her high school activities.
Faith in yourself is the ability to get up one more time and start over. When you find yourself in a position where the status quo is intolerable, draw your line in the sand. Find the faith to step over that line and seize a better life. You have to have Faith in yourself and your decisions to move forward. To build your faith, stop for a couple of moments, remember a time when your faith succeeded and repeat the emotion, the feelings and the accomplishment. Remember the emotion and repeat. The first part of Think and Grow Rich is about determination, burning desire and one’s belief system. As I had skimmed and read the book several times, I was beginning to believe. After the message I had thumb-tacked on top of my Texas flag was engraved on my mind, I discovered the “burning desire.” I hadn’t fully understood the burning desire step until I was so exhausted and depressed that I had to change. When I finally hit the floor and picked myself up, I discovered I had not been in control of myself. I re-committed to earning my college degree and wrote my first goal to find a better place to live and make more money. In a short time I accomplished my goal and became a true believer in the secret found in the book. As my desires expanded I would continue to refer back to Think and Grow Rich for guidance. I had come to believe and think for myself.
Mr. Hill: “Faith is the visualization of and belief in the attainment of Desire. Only those who become money conscious ever accumulate great riches. If you do not see great riches in your imagination, you will never see them in your bank balance. A burning desire is the starting point of all achievement. The method, by which desire for riches can be transmuted into its financial equivalent, consists of six definite, practical steps.
Just have Faith that goal setting works. I proved it then and I have been doing this for fifty years, I am prosperous because of goal setting.
“Faith consists in believing when it is beyond the power of reason to believe.” Voltaire 1694-1777
Word count 2,150
CHAPTER FOUR: WORKING TWO JOBS / COLLEGE
Location: Beauty Shop Slaton, Texas 1960
Restaurant, Lubbock, Texas
Fall semester, I could have been the poster ‘‘green’’ freshman kid. The first day, I got lost looking for the registrar’s office at Texas Tech, in Lubbock, Texas and wound up in their agricultural farms. Eventually, I did find the registrar’s office and entered into the school of architectural engineering, the design option.
My parents helped pave the way for a job, washing dishes for Harold and Francis Medlock, owners of the Top of the Plains Restaurant. The restaurant was not fancy but it was on the top floor. The tallest building within a hundred miles in any direction, square in design had a commanding panorama from the twentieth floor with a landscape view best described as drawn with a ruler. On special events such as graduations, weddings or any occasion for a banquet, everyone headed for the large windows to look out. I learned to wash dishes in the devil’s hot water and was compensated with a late afternoon snack, supper and seventy-five cents an hour. My schedule was to attend classes early morning, architectural labs in the afternoon and drive downtown at three to wash unending stacks of dishes I would never finish.
I got off work from washing dishes at eight pm, drove sixteen miles to Slaton, Texas, where I would wash towels and push a broom at a beauty shop. Cleaning the shop earned me a room in the back. The shop was a house in a residential neighborhood.The accommodation consisted of a nonworking kitchen used for storage of beauty supplies. My room was sealed off with a 4’x 8′ sheet of raw plywood from the front part of the house. The bathroom was inside the beauty shop which required going outside by my side door and around to the front door to use the shower and toilet.
Finishing my first Saturday morning at the restaurant I drove back to my room. I felt moved in after three days. The worn key opened the old lock that must have had a million turnings during its lifetime. Entering the warm somewhat stale room, all was as I had left it. The small half bed made up with a quilt I had brought from home that had been made by a distant aunt was showing signs of many years of use. It was clean, soft and fading with the batting showing like the frayed seats in my dad’s old truck. It was good to stretch out on the bed. Looking up at the ceiling, the once bright colored wallpaper images of small groups of flowers were turning the color of old ivory punctuated with concentric circles of brown lacy water stains. Years of rainwater had made its way from the asphalt shingle roof into rivulets of water on a journey that would eventually bring some of it to the paper ceiling where it would be absorbed adding yet another layer of stains. An ancient oriental carpet with a half dozen worn spots covered the bumpy wooden floor. My room came with a dresser and a vanity, opening the dark well used dresser gave off a distinct smell of old from the twenties.
My door was open to add fresh air to my well organized space. On Saturday afternoons, the beauty shop was a bee hive of women. Almost every high pitched word spoken on the other side of the plywood wall was audible. I put on one of the seven piano concertos records on my 45 record player to escape the noisy hair dryers and gossipy chatter.
I dozed off for a few brief minutes and woke up thinking about dad and the book he had given me. I decided to sit at my drafting table and read a few pages. I opened the book for the first time and discovered my father had written a few lines on one of the first pages, I smiled as I read. “Warren, I have dated this book March 26th, 1960, not the date I gave you this gift, but the date I told you that your mother and I loved you and you would always be welcomed here. I was breaking your plate. Telling you I was breaking your plate was a rough day for me knowing you needed your wings and it was time. I love you and Charles so very much, both very different, but both good young men. Keep your faith for it will hold you together more than anything else in this world. Live life with courage and conviction and always be true to yourself. I am proud of the man you have become.
Respectfully, your father, Loren Taft Cullar.”
I had a lump in my throat the size of a baseball and all I could do was stare out into the driveway. I was emotionally spent for a few moments. I took a deep breath, stood up and went into the kitchen, poured myself a big glass of water to wash down that lump. Walked out onto the small concrete porch and remembered dad and his brief farewell talk; he really hadn’t finished his thoughts in the broom factory until now. Sitting down on the cement steps, I placed the glass on the second step and opened the book.
What was it about this book that was so special to dad? I opened the book, read the chapter’s long introduction and the table of contents to familiarize myself with the writing. The book was full of quotes, interviews and self-examination. I was impressed by the fact the author had spent 25 years in research interviewing 500 of the wealthiest, looking for answers of how men think and grow rich. Returning to my drafting table the sunlight coming through the old slatted wooden blinds was making sun strips across the Texas flag I had thumb tacked to the east wall. I continued reading and without realizing it, I had started on a journey I am still on today.
One Saturday a month I worked at the restaurant cleaning the wooden slotted boards one stands on to cook and a trip to the roof to clean the grease trap, a most unpleasant job. The metal box that collected cooking grease from vents in the kitchen needed to be scraped clean. My only thought as I cleaned the smelly grease trap, it was not as bad as working in the city dump. Remembering, made the greasy work seem tolerable. Back in the kitchen I tossed my apron in the cleaning basket, walked down the hall and pushed the down button on the elevator.
Under a dim street lamp in the alley I fumbled with my keys and discovered that I never locked my car. I looked into the empty back seat. All my drafting equipment had been stolen. I pulled myself into the back seat and stared out the front windshield under the visor. I realized the thief had missed my drafting compass set lying on the floor. I had no extra time or money. The day I left Abilene for college I had a total amount of two hundred and fifty dollars. My tuition took $50, books, gas and a few things for school took a chunk of my capital. Although I was taking home a whopping $18.75 dollars a week, a pack of Juicy Fruit gum was a luxury.
My freshman first semester was measured in hours of work, study, classes and then more of the same. If I were to add all of those hours for a day, each day would total more than 25 hours. It was during this period I started to slip; my grades were going over a cliff. Often I was so tired I did not study after cleaning the shop around ten o’clock. Life in the hamster wheel was going faster around and around. Weekends were full of things to do, washing clothes, study and architectural projects, odd jobs and church. I was able to manage, but after months of the same thing over and over, I became so tired, lonely and discouraged. One night after cleaning the shop I locked up and slowly trudged around the corner to my room, the cold penetrating my bones. I sat on the edge of my bed my head in my hands, tears and sobs exuded from my body. There was nothing except exhaustion left inside of me. I pulled the covers back, kicked off my shoes and crawled in without taking off my clothes. The next morning I managed to get to class almost in a daze of mental anguish. I put myself on automatic and wash dishes for six hours. After we closed the restaurant, I pulled a small crate from under my sink, quickly stepped up onto the edge of my sink and opened the large sliding window. All I needed to do was to take one step into twenty stories of nothingness. I looked down into the blackness and was mesmerized by the changing tiny street lights. The kitchen door opened and Harold walked in still reading his evening paper. I turned as if I was cleaning the vent hood. Was I going to take that step out? I was scared. Instantly, I made a decision, I was going to improve my life situation and earn a college degree. I drove home on a dark winter road with a couple of inches of blowing snow, back to my room that was cold enough to hang meat in.
I stomped the snow off my shoes, pushed open the door which had collected a drift of snow at the threshold, turned up the gas stove, pulled on long underwear and two pairs of socks and piled on a second blanket. Lying awake for a long time, I watched the shadows dance on the ceiling from the gas stove and could see my breath in the cold room. I was feeling warm under the covers. I wanted better, something better.
I reflected on dad’s words while getting warm remembering the broom factory conversation. Dad told me that my desire to go to college was a good decision and working with my hands was good, but working with my hands and my mind was better. I was only washing dishes and cleaning a beauty shop. I wanted more.
Dad: “We don’t change until the power of changing becomes greater than the power not to change.”
Napoleon Hill: “Tolerance and an open mind are practical necessities of the dreamer today. The dreamers of today with the fire of hope, faith, courage, tolerance, and a burning desire can and will succeed.”
Word Count: 1,796
Foot note: Napoleon Hill and Think and Grow Rich
From a Dime to a Millionaire
Conservative Disciplined Thinking Equals Prosperity
Chapter Three: Leaving Home
Location: Abilene, Texas 1960
The fresh hint of September filled the air replacing the summer heat wave that had lasted four long months. The porch was collecting the autumn leaves now starting their yearly descent from the Sycamore trees lining our street. The wind would swirl the dry brown leaves around and around. My attention was drawn to their raspy scratching sounds as if taken out of a B-rated Halloween movie. The familiar sound was etched in my memory from past autumns. My chrome-loaded Chrysler, which had taken a summer of sweaty work as my dad’s gofer to acquire, sat in the driveway of my parent’s home. The mammoth trunk had swallowed everything I brought out of my closet: Two arm loads of clothes, a box of odds and ins from the kitchen, boots, flashlight, large Texas flag, a compass, a green and red metal first aid kit from my scouting days, a small Brownie camera, a well-worn 33-rpm record player, several records of piano concertos and a sport coat a little too big. The record player, records and coat were given to me from the guy across the street before he joined the Army.
The last load was finished; my side of the closet was empty. I pulled the old shoe lace attached to the light switch in the top of the closet, turned around, looked at the brown plastic square bedroom clock: 1:23 pm. I stopped and sat down on the edge of my bed. I caught myself staring out the window onto the south porch of my parent’s home. The middle window pane had a small round hole in the lower right hand corner where my brother, some years before, had accidentally fired a round from his .22 caliber rifle. Knowing Charles as I did, it probably wasn’t an accident.
Strange what we focus on when we are about to leave. My mind was working to adjust to the uneasy sensation that would take place the moment I put the key into the ignition to drive into an unknown future. I felt like Jell-O, shaking with no direction and no substance.
Everything was packed and ready to leave the only home I had ever known. I sat on the edge of my bed running my fingers over the bedspread, a habit of mine. In my hand I clasped a drafting set of compasses and pens. Each instrument snuggly fit into its assigned green velvet impression. Mr. Goldberg owned the pawn shop on Butternut Street and had charged me a hefty price of $4 for the set, used but not abused. A small borrowed drafting table was the last item packed behind the driver’s seat. My plan was to study architectural engineering. The drafting classes I had taken were to my likening and I had won an award given by the city fathers of Abilene, for a fountain design. My daydreaming ended with a slight jolt bringing me back to reality. With lunch finished I checked for anything I had missed. My car keys jangled as I walked into the room where I had painted a Western landscape on the entire length of the wall. The mural measured four feet by twelve feet and took six weeks to finish between schoolwork and various jobs. I was proud of my largest art project and it incorporated everything I had learned up to that point concerning painting. I didn’t recognize that the wall painting was the start of my life long career.
Walking out on the porch, Mother followed me. She put her hand over her eyes to shield the sun light and gave me a big smile. I gave Mother a hug and a kiss on her soft cheek, and said, “I love you.” She hugged my neck, kissed my cheek and handed me a paper bag filled with peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, chocolate chip cookies and fruit. My Mother was conservative to the core and so afraid of life, a true introvert. She was a good mom but a little too much pride and control to allow anything in the family to be different. We did not agree on much, although I obeyed and loved her, we were never in sync. She had reservations concerning my leaving. She believed I should get a job locally, perhaps driving the bread truck for Mrs. Baird’s Bread, anything representing job security. If I had done what she wanted, I would have had a very different life.
I had the desire for something better. As I slowly backed down into the street, we waved goodbye. She stood in the driveway, her hand extended until I lost sight of her in the rearview mirror.
Minutes later, I pulled into a gravel parking lot and saw my father, crowbar in hand, pulling nails from a corrugated metal roof that had lasted a century or more. He had secured a bid to tear down the building, an old broom factory, and sell all the metal and other items. He would get a nice price at the scrap yard.
When he saw me, he waved and started slowly making his way down the rusty roof. At the bottom of the ladder he stepped off the last rung, pulled off his glove and extended his hand. The gesture goes back hundreds of years, when men in battle dress pulled off the glove from their fighting arm and raised the visor on their helmet, hence the salute today. We shook hands, hard. He slapped me on the back and motioned me to follow him into the bowels of the old structure he was slowly bringing down piece by piece.
We sat on a couple of old wooden beer barrels. He told me he was going to make Tillie (my mother) a table out of one of the big fly wheels and one of the barrels. He turned to find his ever present thermos of coffee, unscrewed the small plastic red handled cup and poured the still steaming liquid, not offering any to me. My taste for coffee would not be acquired until I joined the Marine Corps a few years later. Some small talk was exchanged and, as always, he settled back, looked at me, assessed the situation, and spoke, “Son, this is hard work and there is nothing wrong with that. Good honest work never hurt anyone.”
I could tell by his tone, body language and the way he was holding his coffee, he had spent some time thinking and composing his farewell speech. I visualized him on his back porch meditating on this moment, maybe weeks or even months ago. What was it he wanted to say to me? What final farewell words did he choose so well to make us both aware of this transition? Nothing in this world of ours was going to alter what had started with the announcement months earlier of his breaking my plate. When I say good bye to him I would be charting my own path.
He sipped his coffee and I looked past him. The old building was a mixture of stillness and silence with the sunlight shining through the gaps in the board walls catching the floating particles that filled the dust covered interior. I settled onto the top of a barrel and reached out to touch him on his left shoulder. “Dad…” and he stopped me as if he already knew what I was about to say. He said to me, “Warren, this desire of yours to go to college is good. Your studies and experiences will take you much further along the path of life than I have chosen for myself. You will do fine. Remember you can make a living with your hands, but using both your hands and your mind will be the best combination for your work.”
He waited for my response. All I could do was nod my head. I found myself wanting to put on a pair of gloves and start pulling nails, helping him as I had done since I was twelve years old. Guilty feelings took over. In a few minutes I would drive off into a future I knew nothing about, leaving my father alone, working so very hard.
He screwed the plastic cup back onto the thermos, sat it on his metal tool box and stood up. He said he loved me very much, pulled me into his big chest and gave me a bear hug. Under his breath he said, “Son, you best be going if you want to reach Lubbock before nightfall.” I turned around and slowly walked to my car. I resisted opening the heavy door, turned and extended my hand, he returned a slight wave. A lonely sigh escaped from my lungs as I started the car and turned onto the street. My window was rolled down; my shirt sleeve was catching the wind. The radio provided no distraction so I listened to the sizzling sounds the tires made on the hot pavement. I drove without thoughts for hours, I was gone.
Dad: “You can make a living with your hands, but using your hands plus your mind will be the best combination.”
Napoleon Hill: “The starting point of all achievements is desire and the influence of that desire on your entire thinking can motivate one to move or change the present moment into something new and exciting.”
Word Count: 1,574
(Next week chapter three: Working Two Jobs and College)
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
From a Dime to a Millionaire
Conservative Disciplined Thinking Equals Prosperity
Chapter One: A Saved Book
Location: Gallery/Studio Bertram, Texas 1976
The asphalt parking lot was sticky hot, causing ones shoes to snap in the soft areas where tar had filled in cracks. August, three p.m. the hottest part of the day, as I rolled a week’s load of groceries to our waiting oven we called a car. In the back of our Pacer I pulled a well used Styrofoam cooler to the edge of the trunk, opened a bag of ice and dumped the contents. A handful of chunky cold on my neck cause a sigh of relief. Donna started the car. All the cold items were carefully packed and a thick blanket was thrown over the remainder of our purchases for the hour long trip home. The humidity was so intent my shirt was sticking to my skin as if a cow had licked me. Donna’s completion glowed, she complained that her bra was soaking wet. Sweat ran into my eyes forcing me to clean my glasses. Our bubble shaped vehicle slowly cooled to a bearable tolerance level and became cooler as a line of clouds rushed to cover the northern sky. Our silver orb hugged the road as the wind grew bolder josh-ling us on our otherwise smooth ride. I rolled down the window; one could feel the cool temperature and smell in the air. I said to Donna “We’re in for a storm.” She nodded in agreement pointing in the direction of our home to a distant white anvil cloud climbing to its leveling off altitude of 40 or 50 thousand feet. My fingers fiddled with the knobs wanting to get an update on the weather. Radio reception was giving us only cursory reports of hail and lighting to our north.
We turned at Seward Junction heading west, only nine miles from home. The storm seemed to be moving away from the direction of our house. We had only moved to the area two months before and had not experienced any storms but we needed an emergency to-do list when we got home. The moment our tires hit the gravel of our drive we would unload the groceries first, grab some snacks, a gallon of water, flashlight, and put on heavy jackets, gloves and boots. The safest place would be the narrow hall of the studio not the house, too many windows. We would take our supplies, blankets/ pillows and make a safe place of the studio where all our furniture was stored during our remodel.
Only three miles to home, the sky was growing darker. Rain drops the size of fried eggs plopped on our windshield as we pulled up close next to the long porch. “You get inside I’ll bring the sacks to the kitchen.” Only a couple of steps from under the raised back of the car to the porch but the rain drops felt like being hit with water balloons. I raced to the kitchen, and then drove the car into the garage. Light hail pelted my steps back to the house. The rain ceased. We covered ourselves with a blanket carrying our emergency supplies to the studio moving like a Chinese dragon. In the hall way between the two restrooms we made our pallet with blankets, pillows and a small mattress that was in the studio. I tested the flashlight, dead batteries. Donna was intently trying to find a weather report but only static filled the air. I looked out the west window and discovered that the anvil cloud had swallowed the entire county under its canopy. Our trees that had been bending and twisting against the approaching storm when we drove up were now only gently swaying in a stiff breeze. We wanted that to be all there was to our storm, a little wind, hail and a welcomed summer shower.
A clap of distant, rolling thunder announced the summer season of tornado-making thunderstorms. We were just now getting ready for the storm. I remembered from my past when folks stood in their front yards pointing at the boiling clouds before scurrying like mice to hide. The wind had stopped suddenly, my view was obstructed by the giant tree on the west side of the studio and I couldn’t see to the north at all. I needed a look. The afternoon sky filled with even darker cloud cover creating the feeling of sundown. Walking briskly behind the studio toward the north I wanted to check on the approaching weather. Our two hundred year old guardian live oaks blocked my view until I had walked into a clearing that allowed me to see through the trees. The sky looked like globs of gray green boiling clouds hanging dangerously low, starting to swirl in a wide slow circle. I realized I was in the eye of the storm. Boom an explosion so powerful I jumped straight up clawing at the air quickly turning toward the violent sound in time to see a shower of Fourth of July sparklers descending from the transformer at the highway. The wind carried the smell of burning electrical rubber. Our lights went out. Immediately the swirling wind with millions of pieces of hay and handfuls of gravel were being thrown at me. I squinted at the ground. I was scared. I could hear the flopping sheet metal being torn from the roof of our house sounding like a continuous car crash. I headed for the back of the studio that offered some shelter. My hands covered my eyes looking out between my fingers; I used my left elbow to feel the wall on my way around to the front. I groped for the door handle as my life depended upon finding safety instantly. The screen door whipped into the side of my head as I pushed opened the jammed wooden door. The next blast of the storm sent me head first, sprawling across the linoleum floor to the sound of breaking glass. The explosion of glass fell like tinkling wind chimes, descending with musical consistency, as the glass and I hit the floor simultaneously. I was stunned for a long minute, then yelling to my wonderful wife of 4 years. “Donna, are you alright?” She screamed, “I’m ok!”
I looked to see where the window had been. The instant cold wind from the hailstorm made me shiver like a wet cold dog. Now the hail was coming down exploding onto the metal roof like dozens of shotguns going off in the attic. The flimsy curtains were blowing almost horizontally. I was petrified with fear. Something inside of me took over. Jumping to my feet, stumbling across the maze of chairs and tables, I rushed to push a bookcase in front of the blown out window to block the wind and rain. I needed to move the heavy bookcase only four or five feet. It would give protection. I gave it a push, nothing. I put my shoulder to the end of the book case, position my leg against the wall and pushed with all of my strength. Finally the bookcase was in place. The soggy curtains hung limp as the rain ran down the back and sides of the antique bookcase, my precious books soaking up the storm. The light outside was inky blue, pierced by lightning strikes that illuminated the pitch black interior of the surrealistic scene.
My heart was beating wildly, my breath was short. My temple was hurt and oozing. I felt my neck. Thick and sticky blood was trickling down my T-shirt. I tasted the end of my finger, blood. The next lightning burst illuminated the floor. I bent down to pick up a hand full of melting hail stones holding the ice to my throbbing temple. When the next flash came, I saw my books and reached out to pull one off the middle shelf. Quickly it went under my shirt protectively. Donna was screaming for me. I quickly answered her and slowly started moving in her direction. Working through the tangle of furniture and debris was awkward, slowly moving in the blackness toward the hall where we had made our barricade. Donna grabbed for me in the dark she was in hysterics, screaming in my ear, “I don’t want to die, I don’t want to die.” I pulled my head around so her screaming was not so violent in my ear drum. The pounding of the hail storm was deaf ting, I pulled her to the floor onto the mattress and hugged her tightly until she relaxed and quit screaming.
The grinding storm raged on above us. We prayed for our lives. After an hour the storm silently ceased and the rumble of storm moved away growing more faint. What remained was only a light rain pelting the metal roof. We felt as if we had awakened from a nightmare. We held each other and whispered like kids playing “fort” under the dining room table. We exchanged words of love and thanked God we were alive. The whispering continued until exhaustion and warmth took over. My temple had quit bleeding but I had a mountain of a headache.
The cocoon of blankets and mattress in the narrow hallway became cramped. When I turned over, Donna asked me what was sharp. I said, “It’s my book, the only one I saved last night.” I pulled it from under my T-shirt and laid it next to the dead flashlight. I heard her sleepily mumble something about, “Really, must have been special, to have saved that book….” I whispered, “That book changed my life.”
Dad: “Son, if you study this book and learn the secret, you will have a successful life.”
Napoleon Hill: “This book contains the secret, after having been put to a practical test by thousands of people, in almost every walk of life.”
Word count 1,704
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