The school bus lumbered to a stop at our mailbox. I lightly bounced down the steps and ran toward the house across the small bridge that spanned the ditch. Through the years Daddy had taken my six siblings and me to school every morning and come to pick us up every afternoon. This year, only Betty and I were still going to school so we started taking the bus. I was in sixth grade.
Autumn sunshine was slowly turning the world golden. I raced to change my clothes so I could play outside until supper. When I burst into the living room, I found my brother-in-law Jim plugging in a television set. Shock made me stop and stare. Our neighbors had one, but Mom and Daddy had repeatedly said they didn’t want a television.
Jim looked over his shoulder and said “Hi squirt.” Seeing my surprised expression, he explained, “This is my television set. I’m giving it to your folks because I rejoined the army. Agnes and I are moving.”
I remembered hearing the grown-ups talk about the Berlin Wall and Jim going back into the service, but that was just talk, until now. On the television screen, I saw a fright-wigged Bozo the Clown acting stupidly and giving toys away to children.
At first there was only one station that our television set could pick up, channel 7 from Wausau. Although television shows were generally clean in the 1960’s, Mom was vigilant about the programs we watched and when. I quickly memorized what shows were on each night of the week.
No one watched television during the day. The set was turned on for the six p.m. evening news. When it was time for us to say the family rosary, Mom turned it off again. No arguing. Daddy often watched the ten p.m. weather forecast, but the minute it was over it was lights out and everyone to bed.
One show that I liked and caught my imagination was The Millionaire. An extremely rich man named John Tipton randomly gave away a million dollars to people. His secretary, Michael Anthony was assigned the job of locating the beneficiary and reporting back to Tipton how the money affected that person’s life. To add an element of mysteriousness, John Tipton was never fully seen. All that was shown was the back of Tipton’s chair and his arm as he handed the check to Michael.
When I asked my brothers and sisters, “How much is a million dollars?”
They told me, “It’s a huge amount of money! You could spend one hundred dollars a day for about twenty-five years before you ran out!”
My jaw dropped. I couldn’t even imagine anything a person would need that would cost the princely sum of one hundred dollars a day! Being eleven years old, twenty-five years seemed to be an extremely long time! (In 1961, one million dollars was roughly equal to what nine million dollars would be in 2017.)
The way people reacted to the unexpected gift of one million dollars varied. Few lives were improved by the new wealth. There were many sad stories of greed and careless spending, but that didn’t sour my imagination. Through the years since seeing The Millionaire, I’ve spent many happy hours thinking about what I’d buy if I suddenly found myself to be wealthy.
What I’d do with a huge sum of money changed as the years passed. As a young person, I thought mostly about what I wanted. After becoming a parent, my plan changed to sharing with my children. As the years continue to whiz past, the amount I want to share with my children and others keeps increasing.
The reason I keep expanding who I’d share any unexpected windfall with is because I already feel like a millionaire. My wealth doesn’t consist in cold, hard cash. I don’t have enough money to buy a yacht, fancy cars, fur coats, diamond jewelry or to jaunt about Europe for months on end, but that doesn’t bother me. I don’t want those things anyway.
My riches are home, family, faith and memories. I have a house to live in, 2 grown children, 8 grandchildren, siblings, a car to drive, a church to attend and enough money to buy food.
If this wasn’t enough, I have one more great treasure in my life. For the last 27 years I have been writing a weekly column. Words inspire people, they make people laugh, cry, wish, hope and believe. As of June 2017, I have 1,404 articles to my credit. Each one has been between 650 to 800 words in length, so that is one million words that I have squashed, kicked, pummeled and wrestled down! I am rich beyond any dreams I had as an eleven year old after watching The Millionaire TV show.