THE RICHEST MAN IN TOWN
Benjamin about 14 years old
My latest book, HALLEY, awarded 2015 Jefferson Cup Honor for Historical Fiction, awarded the Moonbeam Silver Medal for Young Adult Fiction, and awarded the 2016 Frank Yerby Award for Fiction. Available at: NewSouth Books: www.newsouthbooks.com/halley and Amazon.
My husband, Benjamin, went to work young. He started delivering newspapers at age thirteen. And right from the beginning, he was saving for when he could go to Auburn. His father was a teacher and his mother a stay-at-home mom. He knew at a young age that if he wanted to go to college, he had to save for it. Some days he was out late, pedaling his bike from house to house. In the winter, it was a bone-chilling job. Summers could be bad too, with the heat and the mosquitoes. Then there were those early Sunday morning deliveries, when he had to begin by seven o’clock. Sometimes his father helped him, especially when it was very cold or stormy. Then there was the matter of getting paid. Most, thankfully, paid when due, in full. But some were always in arrears, and a few never paid.
Soon, Benjamin began mowing yards with a push mower—and word spread fast that he did a good job—so he bought a gasoline powered mower and cut lots of yards around Coffeeville. Most were small yards that didn’t require an undue amount of time, or fuel. His savings mounted. Then one day the richest man in town sent word that he wanted his yard mowed. The man had the finest house in Coffeeville, and he had a huge yard. To save money, he didn’t bother to hire a yard man until it resembled a hayfield. The expanse of waving grass was broken by clusters of shrubs and flower beds that required extra attention. Benjamin’s boyish dreams took flight with the amount this job would likely add to his savings.
Bright and early on the appointed Saturday, Benjamin arrived at the house of “Midas.” The old man stressed that he wanted a first class job. He wasn’t going to pay for sloppy work.
As kids would say today, “Duh!” Benjamin was determined to do such a good job that the man would pay him a bonus. Such an excellent job that the man would never want anyone else to cut his grass. Hour after hour, Benjamin ran the mower back and forth across the grass. Hardly breaking for fast gulps of water from the jug he’d brought from home, he pushed and pushed. He filled and refilled the gas tank of the mower, turning it off only to unclog the blades from time to time. He edged around shrubs and flower beds, each and every one,
Finally, late that afternoon, when Benjamin was sweeping the sidewalk and the front steps, the old man came out. “I reckon it’ll do,” he declared. “How much do I owe you?”
Benjamin looked at the huge expanse of grass and replied, “How much do you think it’s worth?”
“How about fifty cents?” the old miser said, holding out two quarters.
When my husband told me this story years ago, I felt like crying at the thought of an adult treating a child that way. At this point in my life I feel sorry for the man. He’s long dead now. If he’d paid a fair amount—or, better—been generous, he would have been remembered forever in a kindly light. Instead, be became a lesson for my husband—a lesson in how to treat others, especially those too young to fight back.
In what matters, the richest man in town might be the poorest.
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