From Chicken Soup for the Soul at Work

Tony Trivisonno’s American Dream

Effort only releases its reward after a person refuses to quit.

Napoleon Hill

He came from a rocky farm in Italy, somewhere south of Rome. How or when he got to America, I don’t know. But one evening I found him standing in the driveway behind my garage. He was about five-foot-seven or -eight, and thin.

“I mow your lawn,” he said. It was hard to comprehend his broken English.

I asked him his name. “Tony Trivisonno,” he replied. “I mow your lawn.” I told Tony that I couldn’t afford a gardener.

“I mow your lawn,” he said again, then walked away. I went into my house unhappy. Yes, these Depression days were difficult, but how could I turn away a person who had come to me for help?

When I got home from work the next evening, the lawn had been mowed, the garden weeded and the walks raked. I asked my wife what had happened.

“A man got the lawn mower out of the garage and worked on the yard,” she answered. “I assumed you had hired him.” I told her of my experience the night before. We thought it strange that he had not asked for pay.

The next two days were busy, and I forgot about Tony. We were trying to rebuild our business and bring some of our workers back to the plants. But on Friday, returning home early, I saw Tony again, behind the garage. I complimented him on the work he had done.

“I mow your lawn,” he said. I managed to work out some kind of small weekly pay, and each day Tony cleaned up the yard and took care of the little chores. My wife said he was very helpful whenever there were any heavy objects to lift or things to fix.

Summer passed into fall, and the winds blew cold. “Mr. Craw, snow pretty soon,” Tony told me one evening. “When winter come, you give me job shoveling snow at the factory.”

Well, what do you do with such persistence and hope? Of course, Tony got his job at the factory.

The months passed. I asked the personnel department for a report. They said Tony was a very good worker.

One day I found Tony at our meeting place behind the garage. “I want to be ‘prentice,” he said.

We had a pretty good apprentice school that trained laborers. But I doubted whether Tony had the capacity to read blueprints and micrometers or to do precision work. Still, how could I turn him down?

Tony took a cut in pay to become an apprentice. Months later, I got a report that he had graduated as a skilled grinder. He had learned to read the millionths of an inch on the micrometer and to true the grinding wheel with an instrument set with a diamond. My wife and I were delighted with what we felt was a satisfying end to the story.

A year or two passed, and again I found Tony in his usual waiting place. We talked about his work, and I asked him what he wanted.

“Mr. Craw,” he said, “I like buy a house.” On the edge of town, he had found a house for sale, a complete wreck.

I called on a banker friend. “Do you ever loan money on character?” I asked.

“No,” he said. “We can’t afford to. No sale.”

“Now, wait a minute,” I replied. “Here is a hard-working man, a man of character. I can vouch for that. He’s got a good job. You’re not getting a damn thing from your lot. He will stay there for years. At least he will pay you interest.”

Reluctantly, the banker wrote a mortgage for $2,000 and gave Tony the house with no down payment. Tony was thrilled. From then on, any discarded odds and ends around our place—a broken screen, a bit of hardware, boards from packing—Tony would gather and take home.

After about two years, I found Tony in our familiar meeting spot. He seemed to stand a little straighter. He was heavier. He had a look of confidence.

“Mr. Craw, I sell my house!” he said with pride. “I got $8,000.”

I was amazed. “But Tony, how are you going to live without a house?”

“Mr. Craw, I buy a farm.”

We sat down and talked. Tony told me that to own a farm was his dream. He loved the tomatoes and peppers and all the other vegetables important to his Italian diet. He had sent for his wife and son and daughter back in Italy. He had hunted around the edge of town until he found a small, abandoned piece of property with a house and shed. Now he was moving his family to his farm.

Sometime later, Tony arrived on a Sunday afternoon, neatly dressed. He had another Italian man with him. He told me that he had persuaded his childhood friend to move to America. Tony was sponsoring him. With a twinkle in his eye, he told me that when they approached the little farm he now operated, his friend stood in amazement and said, “Tony, you are a millionaire!”

Then during the war, a message came from my company. Tony had passed away.

I asked our people to check on his family and see that everything was properly handled. They found the farm green with vegetables, the little house livable and homey. There was a tractor and a good car in the yard. The children were educated and working, and Tony didn’t owe one red cent.

After he passed away, I thought more and more about Tony’s career. He grew in stature in my mind. In the end, I think he stood as tall and as proud as the greatest American industrialist.

They had all reached their success by the same route, and by the same values and principles: vision, perseverance, determination, self-control, optimism, self-respect and, above all, integrity.

Tony did not begin on the bottom rung of the ladder. He began in the basement. Tony’s affairs were tiny; the great industrialists’ affairs were giant, but the balance sheets were exactly the same. The only difference was where you put your decimal point.

Tony Trivisonno came to America seeking the American dream. But he didn’t find it—he created it for himself. All he had were 24 precious hours a day, and he wasted none of them.

Frederick C. Crawford

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