On those blustery days the fire in my belly was stronger than the ice in my fingers and toes.
Every afternoon after the school bell rang, I burst out the doors, hustled home, changed my clothes, then rushed to the dump. I spent most of every Saturday there, too.
I probed the piles in search of pearls — discarded treasures that could be repaired, re-sold, and re-used. At the time my sister just thought it was fun, but I was a boy with tunnel vision.
The neighborhood boys always gathered, pointing and laughing as we scrounged like hungry rats. I can’t say it didn’t hurt, but hearing the clang of coins in my secret can always soothed me afterward.
I’d watch them, envy clawing at me, as they spent their fat allowances on candy and ice cream, cheap toys and carnival rides.
There were times when, glaring at my holey jeans and shoes, the jeers ringing in my mind, a feeling so strong would rise up inside me I thought I’d explode.
“Someday,” I’d imagine, “I’m gonna buy leather shoes without even looking at the price tag. I’m gonna swim in ice cream. I’ll be so rich that no one will ever laugh at me again. And I’ll always look out for holey shoes on young boys, pounding the pavement in search of a brighter future. They just need a chance, and I’ll give them their chance.”
27 years later, after I owned half the town and the same boys who used to mock me worked for me, I bought that old dump, just as a souvenir.
After I signed the papers, I drove to the dump and stood staring at it for awhile. As I turned to leave, a movement behind a pile caught my eye. I watched as a young boy emerged, face dirty, clothes tattered, eyes bright and absorbed as he explored.
“Son,” I called, “What are you doing?”
“Just looking for things I can sell, Mister,” he replied defensively.
“Come on over here,” I said. “I’ve got an opportunity for you.”