Frank Weigle came into my office one morning back in 1985 and asked me to create a report for him that he could use to demonstrate how the mill had gone down the tubes in just two months. Frank, the superintendent of the former Armco Steel Corporation rolling mill in Sand Springs, Oklahoma knew I kept detailed maintenance and production records and didn’t doubt I could do that for him. But what you’ve asked me to do, what the Will Rogers Toastmaster Club has asked me to do, is another matter. Building the profile of an individual is no easy task; much more so that the biography is of your self, and five to seven minutes is not that much time. But still there are some options.
First I could tell you that I was born on a dirt street in Waldron, Arkansas and that my parents were divorced before I was ten years old. That the Department of Human Services placed my younger brother, two sisters and I in the Bottoms Baptist Orphanage, located a 150 miles to the south in Monticello, Arkansas and that I spent the next eight years of my life down there. Or I could tell you I played right end on the Monticello Hillbillies football team and was voted the most courteous person in the tenth grade, that I was the class reporter in the eleventh grade and attended Boys State during the summer between my junior and senior years. That I left the home at the end of the summer and returned to Waldron to live with my dad and if you opened a 1962 Waldron Bulldog annual and thumbed through the pages to the Who’s Who section, you would see that the one hundred kids in my senior class selected me as ‘The One Most Likely To Succeed’.
That I spent four years in the Navy during the Viet Nam War and attended college on the GI Bill. That I graduated from the University of Tulsa with an Electrical Engineering degree and made the National Honor Society, Zeta Nu Chapter of Etta Kappa Nu. That I spent most of the next thirty years automating production systems in Oklahoma, one of them the steel mill in Sand Springs, where some of the men there referred to me as The Body Snatcher because my work eliminated so many jobs. That I’ve been writing poems and short stories for thirty years and recently completed my first novel and that I retired this past January.
I could elaborate on any number of these and some would say my life has been a success. But I didn’t come here to do that. What I did come here to do is to share with you one short story; a tiny segment of my life.
After graduating from high school, I had no thoughts of higher education. My only goal was to find a job and start making money, and I did that. I white washed trees, helped a man underpin an old house, helped build a large concrete block commercial garage and even entertained the thought of painting for a living. But that thought quickly went awry when I ran out of paint on one of my first jobs and had to get another batch mixed. That night I dreamed about the difficulties matching the color of one batch of paint with another and I’ve hated painting ever since.
Finally one evening I approached my dad to get his take on my situation. Dad never got past the second grade and had to teach himself to read and write but that didn’t bother me because he was my dad. I remember that day very well. Dad was sitting in his favorite chair with the Bible open on his lap studying one of the gospels. He placed a finger on the text to mark his place and stared up at me over a pair of old reading glasses.
“Well if I was hunting for a job; I would find a place I liked, locate the boss and ask him for a job. ” He said. I knew my sister worked at the local furniture factory and said she liked it so I got up early the next morning and drove up there and asked some of the men standing around if anyone had seen the foreman. One of them pointed across the room to the time clock, “he’s over there but I don’t know what you would want to see him. ” He said.
I followed his line of sight to a man who weighed 250 pounds if he weighed an ounce and stood at least six-foot-four. Seeing his size I did a double take and wondered if the worker knew something I needed to know, but went over there anyway and asked the big man for a job. That evening I explained to Dad that the foreman said he didn’t have an opening and asked Dad what to do next. And just as before Dad marked his place and stared up at me. “Well, ” he said, “I wouldn’t let that bother me. They all say that. But if you want that job, I would go back up there tomorrow and ask him again, show him you really want to work!” So the next day I approached the man of a mountain and was met with more of the same. But this time I didn’t have to ask.
He told me that he didn’t have a job for me. “I told you yesterday I didn’t have an opening, ” he said. “Now go on. Get out of here. I’m busy!” That evening dad and I discussed my job-hunting futures again but this time he told me something that literally blew me out of the water. He said, “Ben, if you really want that job, go back up there again tomorrow and I bet he’ll hire you. ” Well dad was right. The foreman placed his hands on his hips and looked me up and down and said, “you want to work, huh?” And I said, “Yeah. ” “Ok, you be up here tomorrow morning and I’ll have something for you. ” The next day the foreman pointed to a large push broom and for the next month I spent eight hours a day sweeping the floors and emptying large trash boxes; picking up everything from clumps of cotton, sawdust, scraps of wood, fragments of cloth, all mixed with slimy tobacco juice or just plain spit. I was the janitor. Now, looking around this room, I’m sure there are those of you that would say, “wow! That’s a pretty good speech. But why would he go and ruin it by ending it on a negative note?” Well let me see if I can dispel some of your concerns.
I learned a lot those three days and the weeks that followed. First of all, I learned that being a janitor wasn’t what I wanted to do and secondly but more important I learned that determination and persistence pays!
Benjamin J Cox is an author, novelist, poet, speaker, writer and humorist. He has written a book, Insider Dreams, a 911 Novel. He was born on a dirt street in a Waldron, Arkansas, in 1943. He graduated from the University of Tulsa with a degree in Electrical Engineering. He is married with three children, five grandchildren. He is the President of Mayes County Writers Club, the Treasurer of Pryor Creek Investment Club and a member of Will Rogers Toastmasters Club. He is retired and lives with his wife in Pryor, Oklahoma. He like to run, enjoys big band dancing, Speaking before groups, and writes every day.