With my father’s encouragement and my mother’s doubts, I started at age nine delivering the Chattanooga Times and the Knoxville News-Sentinel to a modest number of subscribers scattered throughout my hometown. Each morning, I would leave home before daybreak and ride my bicycle across town to pick up newspapers at the bus station and deliver them to homes. The daily task consumed about two hours and netted an income of less than ten dollars a week. I supplemented my meager income by selling the local weekly newspaper at the shirt factory each Thursday afternoon as the day-shift workers departed for home.
A few years later, upon graduation from high school, I became a summertime employee of that shirt factory, working a double shift – 80 hours a week for four summers – to earn money to pay for my college education. It was a tiring but rewarding experience, one that gave me a strong sense of the difference between working with the hands and working with the mind.
Most of my co-workers were career employees of the shirt factory. They continually counseled me about the importance of getting a college degree. The advice was consistently couched in language that made clear that the alternative was a life trapped in a factory environment earning a minimum wage.
I did not learn until years later that Dave Evans, the general manager of the factory, had singled out my brother and me for financial assistance in gaining a college education. The manager had observed me selling newspapers at the factory when I was much younger, and at the time of the manager’s death, my dad said, “Dave called me into his office one day and told me: Cecil, I want you to know that I want to do all I can to see that your boys get a college education.”
Dave Evans made good on that promise. Had it not been for the summer work he provided, I would not have been able to earn a degree at the University of Tennessee. My only regret is that I did not know of his conscious decision to help my brother and me until after his death. However, knowing my dad as I did, I have no doubt that he thanked Dave Evans many times over the years.
-adapted from Journal of a Fast Track Life © 2018 Charles E. Smith. All rights reserved. Top photo courtesy of Pexels.com