Dream in Jeopardy

Dream in Jeopardy

From Chicken Soup for the Soul Celebrating People Who Make a Difference

Dream in Jeopardy

Hope is like a road in the country; there wasn’t ever a road, but when many people walk on it, the road comes into existence.

Lin Yutang

Hurrying to meet Mama’s bus, I could hardly contain my joy—my three-year plan had worked—my dream of entering nursing school was actually going to happen! Daddy had declined attending, but Mama was coming to share my big weekend, starting at my Friday night high school graduation and staying through my entry into St. John’s Hospital’s School of Nursing in Tulsa at noon on Monday.

For the past three years I had worked as a waitress during summers and weekends, mostly in Lester’s Café, a little “mom and pop” place, to pay for my schoolbooks, clothing, and to put money into a savings account toward the five-hundred-dollar tuition to St. John’s. After the first semester, no more tuition was charged at the three-year school, because students worked their way through at the hospital.

My high school graduation went off without a hitch, and the next morning, Mama walked proudly beside me to the bank to withdraw my savings for St. John’s tuition. I’ll never forget walking up to that tall mahogany counter and handing the teller my passbook. When I told the middle-aged woman I wanted to withdraw my savings, she looked at my passbook and then at me, puzzled. “I’m sorry,” she said, “but your money has all been withdrawn—only yesterday, in fact.”

My heart stood still, and I couldn’t get my breath. Finally, I gasped, “There must be some mistake.”

“I’m afraid not,” the teller said, her voice kind, as she showed me a paper. “Right here it shows that you and your father came in three years ago and opened the account with both of your names on it. Yesterday, he came in and withdrew the money. Here’s his signature.”

I looked at Daddy’s signature and my heart broke. But I was too stunned to cry. I was so stunned that Mama had to lead me away from the counter to a chair. Mama and Daddy had separated six months before and each had moved away. That’s why I was staying with a girlfriend to finish my last semester of high school. But why would he withdraw the money when he knew it would end my hopes for nursing school?

As Mama and I walked away from the bank, she patted my hand. “Honey, your Dad must have done this awful thing to get back at me. You and he have always gotten along all right. If you call him, I’m sure he’ll give you the money.”

But he wouldn’t. I pleaded with him but his only answer was a cold, “It’s mine now, and if you’re so smart, you get your precious tuition elsewhere!”

There wasn’t an elsewhere. No bank was going to loan money to an eighteen-year-old without any hope of payback for three years, and none of my friends had that much money. What could I do? I thought about Lester, but he always put profits back into the café.

Five hundred dollars was a lot of money in 1948. No one in the whole world that I knew had that much money to lend . . . except maybe one of our customers at Lester’s who always said I was a good worker—Mr. Smith of Jay Smith Plumbing

Mr. Smith was the only person who ever tipped me in that little café. Wearing a straw hat and clean, pressed cottons, he came into Lester’s early every morning for breakfast. I’d hardly had time to exchange more than pleasantries with him while waiting on the brisk breakfast trade. I hadn’t worked the breakfast shift since last summer. Would he even remember me? And wouldn’t Lester be upset if I asked his customer for a loan? It was a crazy, embarrassing idea!

Saturday afternoon I called Lester anyway because it was my only hope for realizing my dream. When I told him my problem I figured he had every right to shut me down. Instead, he was understanding. “Mr. Smith still eats here every morning. Matter of fact, he asked about you recently. Come in Monday before seven and you’re welcome to ask him. And good luck, Jeanne. I know that’s playing it close to your noon deadline.”

Monday morning I rode two buses to get there, but I walked into Lester’s Café at ten minutes until seven. To my amazement, I’d visited with Mr. Smith only a few minutes when—not even waiting for me to ask—Mr. Smith said, “Lester told me your problem, Jeanne, and I’m happy to help.” With those words, he handed me a check—already written to my name for five hundred dollars!

I was so stunned I just kept staring at the check and thanking him while he and Lester talked. They decided Mr. Smith would drive me to his bank to cash it because I didn’t have a driver’s license or other valid identification. As Mr. Smith drove, he told me why he wanted to help. He understood my predicament, because as a youngster he had run away from his very difficult family and made his own way by hard work.

“You’re a hard worker, too, so I know you’ll make it!” he said. As we left the bank, he smiled at me and shook my hand and wished me good luck.

Because of his help, I did have good luck—the best. Upon graduation from St. John’s, I was asked to join their staff to teach Nursing Arts. The day I graduated, Mama proudly brought me a money order for the amount I owed Mr. Smith, and we took it to him. He shook my hand and thanked me. “No, Mr. Smith,” I said, “thank you for saving my dream. You’ll always be my hero.”

Jeanne Hill

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