One late Friday afternoon in 1951, I found myself in Eunice, LA., visiting Peggy Proctor and her family for the weekend. It was raining when a buddy dropped me off on his way to somewhere else. Peggy and I had been dating since our early grades in high school and everyone considered me part of her clan.
At the time, I was a PFC in the Air Force making $95 a month, and attending Radar Mechanics School in Biloxi, MS. I was on the red-eye shift, 1800 to midnight.
Sunday evening came too early and I had to be in school the next afternoon or really bad things would happen to me. The Korean War was new and the military was unreasonable about discipline. PFCs were easy targets.
I told Peggy to not worry about me and when I heard her front door reluctantly close behind me, it was dark and Biloxi was more than 200 miles away.
After walking a couple of blocks while holding my little suitcase over my head against the irrational moisture, I heard voices coming from a little church just ahead. The front doors were open and the warm incandescent lights were compelling. When two ladies saw me dripping in the vestibule they rushed over, and with typical Cajun hospitality, pulled me inside for coffee.
The congregation was playing Bingo. All of a sudden I was in a completely different world.
I didn’t have enough coins to jingle, but I did have a quarter, just one quarter, and the sign on the wall said “Cards – 25 Cents.” What the heck, I thought, and I invested all of my cash. There were three winners in the first game and I was one of them. Now I had $3.75, and hope was flickering.
The bus station was three blocks away and I started running. The drizzle stopped bothering me. When the ticket man told me the fare to Biloxi was $3.95, I felt numb. I spread all of my money on the counter and asked if I could please buy a ticket with that amount?
His finger started counting and with each word he spoke my pulse rate increased. Our eyes locked for an eternity and then he said, “No you can’t buy a ticket with that amount,” still looking at me hard, “but I’ll give you 20 cents.”
I waved to my friend behind the counter as I climbed into the bus. He was smiling, and I knew everything would be alright.
I came away from that experience with some thoughts to live by.
- There is no such thing as a self-made man.
- Give it your best shot and see what happens.
- Never underestimate the power of a quarter.
- Give some of it back when it is needed.