“Rich man/Poor Man” contributed by Bill Davis

Bill Davis, one of our original 100 interviewees, founded a successful executive recruitment company that foundered during the Great Recession.  In 2009, he closed his business.  Since that time, he has struggled to find employment and financial stability in the Myrtle Beach/Conway area of South Carolina.  After three difficult years of hardship, Bill has returned to work as a used car salesman and feels a measure of renewed hope about his future.

Bill sent us this post for our site:

Five years ago, in 2007, my business began to decline.  Within two years I had to close it.  Shortly afterward, I learned my house, a beautiful home that I loved,  on the lake, had a defect (synthetic stucco) that suddenly left me with a huge mortgage in a house that was worth about a third of that mortgage.  Bankruptcy.  For the next two years I worked at various sales jobs.  We rented – at first it was ok.  When I say we I mean me and my two young sons, both in high school at the time. I was a single Dad. I kept telling myself, “Turn the page, your life starts now”.  I was never good with money unless you count earning a lot of it.  I figured everything would always go on as it was.  After all, it had been going well for most of my life.

I came to Dayton, Ohio in 1956; I was five years old.  My family of Mom, Dad and five brothers and two sisters all got there somehow from Crossville, Tennessee, where I was born. Sometimes on the trip to Dayton I would lie up on the shelf behind the back seat under the back window of our car. I don’t remember what kind of a car it was but that it was big and had big fins on the back. I liked riding there and looking up at the sky – sometimes the sun would shine through the glass. At first it felt nice and warm but after a while sometimes it got too hot and I would switch.  One of us always had to ride there for there to be enough room.

I came from an affluent enough family in Tennessee.  My grandparents on my dad’s side were land owners and built roads and schoolhouses and such all over that part of the Eastern Tennessee mountains. My dad was a High School Graduate, a pretty big thing in those parts in those times.  The Davis family in Cumberland County and surrounding counties went back to the 1700s.  My dad’s secret marriage to my mother, when discovered by my grandparents created a hullabaloo that went on for some time.  She was a “Bound Girl” at twelve.  The family she was bound to grew to love her and sent her to the same private school that their children went to.  At first there was controversy about her attending.  It wasn’t just that she was a bound girl but also that she didn’t look really “white”.  Mother came from a part of the Cumberland Plateau where Indians and poor white trash lived, called the Flat Corner.

Mother was beautiful.  She had a nearly translucent, olive-colored skin, wide-set deep brown eyes above high,  but soft cheek-bones.  Her hair was as black as a raven’s wing but had curl to it.  Her beauty was as complete as a woman’s can be.  In her dark and deep eyes, a life of truth spoken gave way to a life of wisdom gained from living a long life, viewing the world honestly.  My dad loved her instantly when he met her in town.

She had eight children, me being one.  Every one of us believed that she loved us most.  Every one of knew that to speak ill of one of the others would bring a rebuke from Mother that would cause us to get from Mother what we least wanted, her disappointment.

When we got to Dayton, I was five.  We lived in an old part of town where many families from Tennessee, Kentucky and West Virginia lived.  I remember being in school for the first time and I remember for the first time being embarrassed by how I talked.  The influx of workers from the southern states bordering Ohio in 1956 was not widely welcome by the local population.  A southern accent was not greeted well on the school yard.  I started getting into fist-fights early.

Time went along, I got tough enough in fist-fighting but not tough enough for the rest of it.  My dad was the strangest kind of alcoholic.  He would work as a bricklayer, building houses that he bid on and make a lot of money.  Then he would get drunk – every day, all day.  He literally stayed drunk all his waking hours.

I love some of the things he did with us and places he took us as kids.  But he had problems.  I was never close to him and we only spoke when some kind of communication was necessary. When he was not drunk he was angry – I mean verbally insane at times.

I joined the Marines soon after I turned eighteen in 1970.   I did well in the Corps.  They sent me to college.  I learned the responsibility of managing people and responsibility to an important job.  When I left the Corps I was well prepared for a career in Information Technology.  I worked for a number of fortune companies as a software developer.  I started my first business in my 30s, made it a success, sold it then moved to an island off  Wilmington, NC. Life was good for a long time for me and my boys.

Five years ago, my life began to change, slowly at first then dramatically.  Like I said, I was not good with money.  I never saved much.  I one time put a lot of money  (for me) in the stock market and two weeks later I lost half of what I invested.  So when I got started making good money again I poured it into my house.

When it all crashed down around me I had lost everything. One of the inspectors I hired told me the best way to fix my house was to bulldoze it to the ground and start over. I owned an employment agency placing IT folks.  Business began to fall off and continued to fall of after the .com bubble burst and it just kept going down. I lost my house.  Within two years I had to close my business.  I got a job in staffing with a major company but within a month they started laying off and I was gone – unemployed.  Bills started piling up.  I got a route sales job and managed to make ends meet barely until my car died.  Hearing of my situation my niece in Conway, SC asked me to come down and try to get the business going again.  We tried and almost made it, but not quite.  By then I was broke.  I had to have money fast.  I took a job driving a taxi and spent the next three years doing ok in the tourist season and being evicted every year in the winter.  By then only my youngest son lived with me.  He was seventeen at the time.  I had to pull him out of his high school near the end of his senior year.  For him, his life felt ruined.  But remember I had raised him as a single dad from the time he was two years old.  We were and are close – as close as a father and son can be.  He never spoke of it or blamed me we just went on – together.  We have had our ups and downs during the last three years.  In the summer we both work and we manage to get by. Several times in the winter we sat together in the community center food bank.

I won’t tell you that it wasn’t bad.  It was.  But finally, after three years I have a good job.  I had the great fortune to be hired by a decent family that has the largest and best,  used car lot in Myrtle Beach.   I am knocking it out now and loving it.  I have money enough now that I’m getting my life back.  I got my son a job there as a detailer. We have one car.  What good fortune that was.  I feel happy and blessed.

I am sixty years old.  You can believe me when I tell you I have seen a lot of life.  But the last few years have been different.  I’ve learned hardship, humility and humiliation.  Poverty is a hard thing.  I wonder if it will ever leave me.  Perhaps there is a blessing in that.  W.F. ‘Bill’ Davis