Day 1 as a Millionaire (Wednesday, March 10, 2009)
The wipers slashed futilely at the windshield in a vain attempt to clear the slush away allowing me to see but a dozen yards down the highway. The surprise spring storm blew in without a weatherman's peep of warning. It was emblematic of what my life had been over the last few weeks: Surprise, mixed with trouble, mixed with grief, and a little excitement stirred in as well.
It was only three weeks ago tomorrow that I received the call reporting that my wife of twenty one years had been killed when a semi whose brakes had failed coming down a long hill had overrun her from the rear. Sylvia was just returning home from her work a few blocks from the accident.
Now I was returning from Salem where I had to go to redeem a lottery ticket my wife, Sylvia had purchased the day before her death. She liked to dream about what she would do with the money if she were ever to win a large lottery. Since she seldom purchased any tickets, I would frequently deride her probabilities of winning. I was not even aware of this ticket purchase until two weeks after her death. I was going through her belongings sorting out what to throw out, what to give to Goodwill, and what to give to my two remaining daughters. I discovered the lottery ticket in her nightstand and noted the recent date of purchase. It caught my attention because I had just heard a news report about the fact that there was a winner of the drawing a week ago who had not yet stepped forward to identify themselves. It roused my curiosity enough to go into her office, log onto the lottery web site using her computer to check the winning number against her ticket.
What Irony! Her dream finally comes true only to be stymied by her untimely death. She had won an astounding sum of 109 million dollars take-home after taxes. I had spent most of my driving time there, and back, thinking about how this windfall would be handled. I had received scores of calls from friends, relatives, co-workers, acquaintances, and others seeking to aid in that decision. Everyone now had a worthy cause, a sure-fire opportunity, and a chunk of our winnings would get me in on the ground floor.
I had some ideas for the allocation of the windfall but it was going to stay in the money market account until these ideas firmed up into a plan. I had been studying the stock market patterns in light of a one-day training session I had taken a couple years ago. I had come up with a trading program which was pretty consistently profitable on paper trading. I had just never had any money to implement it. One drawback was that it required consistent daily attention to make certain I did not miss any leading indicators. My plan would begin with selling our home and most of our stuff. I wanted to be free to move where opportunity would guide and did not need a fixed home any longer.
Suddenly, through the rain-streaked windshield I see a darkened car at a crazy angle on the edge of the road. Its tail end still sticking into the traffic lane a couple feet with its nose off the road and down into a ditch. As I come to a screeching stop just past the car I see a figure slumped over the steering wheel. I put on my hazard lights and jump out to take a closer look.
As I approach the car, I hear the sound of a women sobbing in despair. I shout through the window "Are you OK?" There is no response but continued sobbing. "Are you injured?" I shout a little louder. The only response is a shaking of her head in the negative. I am quickly becoming soaked by the down pouring rain and ask her if I can help her in any way. She reaches up and presses a button which results in the door locks clicking open.
I take that as an invitation to join her and move around to the passenger side of the car. I see the possible cause of her current situation in the shredded rubber hanging on the front wheel on that side of the car. I hurriedly open the door and slide into the seat to get out of the rain.
After shutting the door, I again ask her if I can help her.
She finally answers with a wail of despair "I don't think anyone can help me. It's hopeless and there's nothing anyone can do. Last month my husband up and left town with a waitress from the bar; my daughter needs an operation to save her eyes; I don't have any money so I can't pay for the operation and we're about to lose our farm, our home, and our horses; We're out of fuel for the tractor to put in the crops; and yesterday the tractor broke down anyway; and now the tire blew out and my husband never repaired the tire in the trunk after our last flat tire".
I placed my hand on her back in sympathy and was surprised when she turned to me and threw herself on my shoulder with renewed sobs of despair.
After about five minutes of comforting, her sobs began to subside. I told her "I'm not sure how to resolve all your problems right now, but if we deal with them one at a time perhaps we can make some sense of them. Maybe in the light of day we can see some hope. Where were you headed? And where is your daughter?"
"I was headed home from The Dalles where I just left my daughter in the hospital for some further tests. I have to get home to feed the stock in the morning before going back to try somehow to make arrangements for an operation on her eyes. I don't know what I'm going to do but if they can't operate soon to repair her eye muscles she could loose her sight in one or both of her eyes." This was followed by a minute or two of additional sobs.
"You still didn't tell me where home is. How far did you have to go yet?"
"I live just out of Grass Valley. I had about 30 more miles to go when that blame tire blew up and I almost rolled the car into the ditch."
"I didn't have anything pressing to do tomorrow. Would you object to a ride home tonight and a little help with your car tomorrow? Is there a Motel I could stay at in Grass Valley?"
"I don't want to put you out any. I appreciate your taking the time to listen to me but isn't that taking you out of your way?" she replied.
"Like I said, I didn't have any plans for tomorrow anyway, and Grass Valley isn't that far out of my way. Really, no strings! I'll just give you a ride home and help you get your car fixed tomorrow"
"Well, I'll take the ride home anyway. I can't expect you to fix my car though." She cautiously agreed. "I don't think there is any motel in Grass Valley but I have a friend, Emma, who runs a Bed and Breakfast in town.
"Fine, let's get you and anything you need with you into my car then I'll see if I can get your car rearranged so that it is no longer a hazard for passing traffic."
She reached into the back and grabbed a book pack and the purse beside her on the seat and opened her door starting to remove the keys.
"I'll need the keys to move the car" I reminded her as I also opened the other door causing her to leave the keys in the ignition. I opened the passenger door on my old Dodge station wagon for her. She slid her pack over the seat into the back and sat down in the car. After closing the door for her I stepped back to her car.
I was able to start it, back it onto the road again and turn it parallel to the traffic and as close to the side as possible. I opened the glove box and readily found the registration papers to identify the make, model, and so on for her car then used my cell phone to call AAA. I knew they would not make a service call without making me wait till a service vehicle arrived, so I just got them to give me the name and phone number for their authorized tow operator in The Dalles.
Calling the tow operator I explained the situation and he agreed to come out and pick up the car and deliver it to Les Schwab in the morning. I gave him my AAA number as well as my Master Card number to cover any charges that AAA would not cover. I told them the key would be under the passenger side front wheel hidden in the shredded rubber of the blown tire.
Returning to my car and climbing in, I asked her "Do you have any valuables in the car? I just talked to AAA and a tow operator who will bring your car back to The Dalles if I can leave the key with it."
"There are only some dirty clothes and an old horse blanket in the trunk. Won't it cost a lot to have the car towed all the way to The Dalles?" she responded.
"I am a member of AAA and they will take care of your car since I gave them my number." I may have exaggerated a little but she didn't need to know that, and I could certainly afford whatever charges there might be. "We can finish getting it fixed tomorrow when we return. By the way, my name is Leon"
"My name is Melissa Parker, but I told you I couldn't accept your help fixing my car" she insisted.
I responded that we would see what could be worked out in the morning as I pulled out and started down the highway.
"I need to call Emma to make sure she has room for you. May I use your cell phone?" she queried in response.
I handed her the phone and she quickly dialed the number.
"Hello. Emma? This is Missy."
"I know. And I'm sorry for calling you so late. But I need a big favor."
"I had a tire blow out on the way home and this nice man stopped and is giving me a ride home and needs a place to stay the night."
"That wouldn't be right. I'm still married!"
"I know he's a shit, but I can't let that make me change!"
"Don't even go there..."
"Thank-you. I really appreciate it. He'll be there in about 45 minutes."
"Emma ... You don't need to do that!"
"Fine. I'll see you tomorrow." She finished, and handed me the phone back.
"She insists that we both have breakfast with her in the morning." She reported with a smile.
"I guess that's the breakfast part of the Bed and Breakfast. Will you need me to come pick you up from the farm?"
"No. I'll just use the farm truck to come in. It still has enough gas to get around a bit more" she sighed.
"Did Tom work off the farm?" I questioned after several minutes of silence but for the clapping of the window wipers.
"How did you know his name?" she snapped with a startled look.
"It was on the vehicle registration I used to identify your car for the tow operator."
"Oh!" she responded with relief. "He worked for Willamette Industries negotiating logging contracts; when he wasn't flirting with waitresses and secretaries. He hardly helped with the farm at all and was often gone for days at a time. The only thing different about this time he left, was he took all his clothes and left a note saying he wouldn't be coming back and that his paycheck would no longer be deposited in our joint account. If there had been any money in the account, he would probably have taken that too. I had a thousand dollars left of an inheritance from my parents in a savings account he did not know about. But, that's all been spent on feed for the stock and living expenses. I don't know what we'll do now."
"I'm sorry about your parents. Has it been long since you lost them?"
"It's been a year and three months now. They were both killed on the way to visit us for Christmas when another driver lost control of his car on the ice and ran head-on into them." She sniffed.
"That must have made for a very rough Christmas."
"If it wasn't for Trudy, I would never have made it. Trudy is my thirteen year old daughter by the way. I love her dearly and she has been my only reason for living for the past five years since Tom took this job that has him on the road so much of the time. For all the interaction Tom and I have had I could just as well simply be his housekeeper to clean his clothes when he stops by every week or so. Except if I was his housekeeper, he'd probably take the time to take me to bed during his visits. As it is, I only hear him complain about how much money it takes to run this farm and feed Trudy and I.
"Tell me about Trudy." I suggested, thinking to change the train of her thought.
"Trudy is my Angel! She turned thirteen last month. She has always seemed mature for her age. Although she does have some streaks of independence, she is so cooperative and easy going it is almost beyond belief. She is smart too. She started first grade when she was five and had already picked up how to read from the time I spent reading to her from when she was a baby. She could pick out the entire alphabet from cereal boxes when she was three. When we moved to Grass Valley three years ago they tested her and recommended she skip a grade. Since she had to make all new friends anyway, I agreed. So now she has just begun high school. She seems to get along well with her classmates even though most of them are at least two years older than her.
"She has golden blond hair and has been maturing as a woman this summer. She was really worried about that last spring not wanting to start high school as a flat chested little girl. She's also very athletic. She loves to ride. She won a second place ribbon in junior barrel racing last fall. She plays basketball and pitches softball. There aren't enough hours in the day for her to do everything she would like and still keep her straight-A grades.
If it weren't for the problem with her eyes, I would have no concern about her future. She has been dealing with 'lazy-eye' syndrome ever since she was about three years old. Apparently the muscles on one side of her eyeball which help it move are under developed. We have been able to offset that with special eyeglasses. But, now her eyes are changing so that she needs lenses to correct for near-sightedness. That correction counteracts what the other lenses do for her. They now have an operation whereby they remove and reattach the muscle to correct for the improper muscle development. But the operation, hospital stay, and other expenses are over ten thousand dollars.
They say that without correction her brain will begin to block input from the bad eye and she will, in effect, go blind in that eye. So, somehow, we have to come up with the money for the operation; even if we have to sell all our horses." As she talked her stress level was obviously rapidly growing out of control again. Time for another change in topic.
"Tell me about your farm and your horses.'
Tom and I purchased the farm from Tom's parents three years ago. His father, Steve, injured his back when thrown from a horse he was breaking and was no longer able to operate the farm. Although Tom didn't really have any interest in the farm he felt obligated to take over the farm from his parents. Actually, his parent's still have title to most of the farm. We were able to get a mortgage to purchase the quarter section containing the home place except for the 5 acres his parent's were able to subdivide off and placed a new Mobile Home on for their continued use. They still own three remaining quarter sections which adjoin ours and are leasing it to us. They still don't know that Tom skipped out on us. I don't know what I'll do if they will no longer lease the land to me; or even worse, if I cannot continue to make the payments on the home place.
We have 26 horses and 50 head of Hereford cows. Last year, we had some extra hay we were able to sell for some additional cash. If it were not for Tom's job, we would not have been able to survive on just what the farm provided. It would need to grow considerably to become self-supporting. For years, Steve and his wife, Xenia, were just barely able to survive. Since they inherited the farm from Steve's parents, they owned it free and clear and did not have to make any payments on it. Steve has never been able to support over a hundred head of stock on those 640 acres.
Last fall, I was able to get signed up for a grazing lease on forest service land a couple miles south of the farm. I was hoping to be able to increase our stock with that potential feed source. In order to finalize it for this summer's use, I need a lease payment of $10,000. I guess I'll have to let that lease go now, since I don't know where I'd come up with that money before the fifteenth of April, which is the deadline.
I'm sorry if I seem like I'm complaining. It has just become so overwhelming to me, and that tire blowout just sent me over the top. It feels good to be able to vent my feelings with someone. I've always been proud of how I can look out for myself, and I'm sure I'll figure something out, even if it means I have to go back to work as a waitress."
"Well, we're almost to Grass Valley. Make sure you keep your eyes open because if you blink at the wrong time, you're liable to miss it. Emma Nevada House is on the main drag through town so you can see it and find your way back after taking me home."
We soon came to the 40 m/h warning sign, then the sign welcoming us to Grass Valley, Oregon.
"There! On the right. That's Emma's place." She called out.
"I won't have any trouble finding it again when I return." I replied
"The next street to the left goes out of town to my place."
We took the next turn and after driving a couple miles on a lightly potholed, but still paved road we came to a driveway Missy pointed out as hers. We drove up a gravel lane of about a quarter mile in length. It appeared to be well maintained with a peak in the middle and gentle slopes to each side. In spite of the pouring rain, there were no mud puddles, and the ditches on either side were draining away well. My headlights just barely revealed a barbed wire fence on each side just beyond the ditches.
We came to an older farm house with a two car garage beside it. There was a driveway from the lane to the garage but the lane continued on past the house where I could dimly see the shapes of some outbuildings with a couple yard lights strategically placed.
"Here's my home." She said, "I'd invite you in, but its so late, and I left the house in a mess this morning when we left to take Trudy to the doctor." She opened the door as she lifted her pack from the back seat after I pulled up to the garage in the driveway.
"That's quite Okay! I'm kind of tired myself and looking forward to finding a bed at Emma's and sacking out. I'll see you at breakfast in the morning."
"Yes, you will. And thank-you for being so kind to give me a ride and to listen to my tale of woe. Good night."
I backed out of the driveway and onto the lane. I was soon back at Emma Nevada House. I opened the trunk, removed my camera case, and my suitcase. As I stepped up the front stairs to the stately colonial front porch the front door opened.
"Come on in out of the rain" came the friendly greeting from a women appearing to be in her early thirties. Her long fuzzy purple robe revealed little of her body's shape. Her height of about 5 feet 6 inches left her 4 inches shorter than me. Her jet black hair fell with curls just to her shoulders.
"If you'd leave your shoes by the door, you would save us from having to clean up. My daughter would really appreciate that, as she generally takes care of the housekeeping for me every morning."
She paused at the base of the flowing staircase to the second floor while I sat on the bench by the door and removed my shoes.
"No problem. I'm sure this rainy weather would really make housekeeping difficult if you do not take a few precautions"
As I stood up, she began the climb up the staircase. The large entry foyer was lit by a huge crystal chandelier which was right at eye level by the time we reached the balcony which turned into a hallway both to the right and the left.
"Your suite is this way" she stated as she started down the hall to the left. After passing a couple doorways she stopped and opened a door on the left. "Please make yourself at home. The bathroom is just through that door" She said, pointing to another door on the right hand side of the room. "If you need anything, pick up the phone and dial zero. During the night the phone system will automatically forward your call to my suite."
The door slowly swung closed and clicked shut as she left. I was too tired to do more than go to the commode, drain my bladder, remove my clothes, and crawl into bed. As I was falling asleep my body was telling me this was one of the most comfortable beds I'd ever slept on.