MUSING ON THE FIRST QUARTER OF MY LIFE
There’s a classic joke that goes, “A young tourist walking down 5th Ave in New York stops an old man on a street corner and asks, ‘Excuse me sir. Can you tell me how to get to Carnegie Hall?’ The man pauses, reflects, and then answers, ‘Practice … Practice.’”
I was reminded of that old and wise story when my 19 year-old nephew, Keegan Allen, recently asked me, “How did you get your own show?”
Keegan’s question brought back memories of all the different jobs I had in my life starting at 12 with a paper route. During one high school summer break; I worked in a factory operating a punch press. Next, it was a blueprint-making machine in a draftsmen office.
Another summer had me punching out and inspecting automobile door handles at a metal casting company. I delivered mail for the post office during Christmas. My favorite of all vacation jobs was working in the men’s section of LaSalle’s Department Store. I loved demonstrating men’s ties with that wonderful quick trick of wrapping the tie around my hand in such a way as to show how it would look tied. It was like … magic. The ladies loved it.
My last summer job before show biz intervened was at Toledo’s Babcock Dairy picking thousands of milk bottles up off a fast moving conveyor belt and putting them in wooden cases (trying hard not to break them). After this 10-hours-a-day working summer, I still can’t stand picking up a glass milk bottle, let alone drinking from it. I would suspect that my psyche became, “all bottled up.”
It was my Dad who taught me the ethic of work when he bought his skinny little 12 year-old son a newspaper route and a bicycle to make deliveries. My first lesson: Pay him back a little each week until the route and the bike became my very own. “And that, my son, will make you an independent businessman.”
A 12 year-old independent businessman?
The people at the post office DID NOT invent the phrase, “Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds." It was my dad who said that.
The first time I went out to collect for my first week delivering newspapers, this young courier trudged along my appointed rounds through two feet of snow and gloom of night to collect a measly quarter from each of my 60 customers (five days of papers at five cents a day). I even had one of those little metal changers hooked to my belt. I can testify to the fact that they don’t work too well when your fingers are frozen to them.
I don’t know if anyone still does this, but there were many businessmen at the time who would take their first dollar, have it framed and hang it on the wall of their office with the inscription “First Dollar I Ever Made.” Well, when I got home after my first collection night, I went to my Dad and said, “Dad, I want you to have the first QUARTER I ever made.” After I put it in his hand, he slowly closed it and said, “I’ll cherish this forever.”
50 years later, when I took a break from my TV show and was visiting my dad back in Toledo (He was almost 90 then), he asked me, “Son, do you remember when you gave me the first quarter you ever earned? Before I could answer, he reached into his pocket, opened his hand and said, “Well, here it is.”
And there it was. He had been saving my first quarter for all those 50 years. The “teacher” was giving it back to me as a reward for all my hard work.
My dad’s gone now and you can’t possibly imagine how much that quarter is worth to me today. I get a catch in my throat every time I tell this story (and I tell it a lot). Right now that quarter of my life is sitting in a special felt-bottomed box so I can take it out, close my hand, and just … hold it.
I’ve decided that when people today ask me how I got my own show, I’m going to tell them it was my dad, George Tucker Stainback Thaxton’s fault.