“Be more concerned with your character than your reputation because your character is what you really are, while your reputation is merely that what others think of you. The true test of a man’s character is what he does when no one is watching.” – Coach John Wooden
Is your character worth a penny?
Lake County has been the poorest of Tennessee’s ninety-five counties for a long time. It’s mostly two small towns with thousands of acres of the world’s richest farm land. This Mississippi River twists and turns through its heart, and the land is so flat you can see forever. There aren’t more than eight or ten families who farm all that land now, so the jobs aren’t all that plentiful.
“You don’t just put any yahoo to operating a half-million dollar cotton picker,” as one local resident recently noted.
Jimmy Lee Tucker remembers the late 1950s when his father worked as a commercial fisherman on Reelfoot Lake. “If he had a good week, I got 25 cents on Saturday,” he said. “If it was a bad week I got nothing. The 25 cents would get you a Coke, a big Baby Ruth and enough bubble gum to last for the week.”
But Tucker, now a census worker for the government, remembers an abrupt change that came to his weekend routine one day.
“The Cokes went from a nickel to six cents. You put your nickel in the slot like always, and they attached a tin box to the outside where you placed the extra penny. They called it the honesty box. Paying six cents for a Coke was a big deal.
“Hardly any of the kids did it, and so it wasn’t a year later before they just upped the price from six cents to a dime. That showed us.”
When I was younger it didn’t bother me so much taking a pen from the bank or just accepting the extra french fries when the order got mixed up. And I must have left a hundred shopping carts right there in the parking lot.
That conscience, though.
The older we grow, I think, the more self-aware we are of that person we see in the mirror. I’ve realized that among all things, I have to live with that guy, and I don’t want him feeling guilty about some small, silly thing.
Dana and I once spent a five-month stretch in Ecuador not knowing if we’d ever return to the US. It was on the back side of a tough time, emotionally, economically, and lots of other ways. The thing I realized most from that adventure is that wherever you go, you take yourself with you. There’s really no hiding from yourself.
Everybody has an honesty box.
COMING FRIDAY: Dates for the 2021 Tranquility Base Writers Retreats
Fog lingers across Reelfoot Lake and up to the cypress tree line in Tiptonville, TN on 2/1/20. Reelfoot formed in a series of major earthquakes in 1811-1812 when many locals said the Mississippi River ran backwards for a time. The 15,000-acre lake is known for some of the finest crappie fishing in the world and was the filming site for the movie US Marshals.
TOMORROW: The Top 10 Real Life People Who Shaped My Storytelling, and How.