Tradin’ Tom

Part I of II

Painted on the side of the corner building where my father’s furniture and appliance store sat for 37 years was this slogan: ‘Will Trade for Anything.’ Proving that statement true, when I was four, he returned to our nearby house one night pulling a trailer with two horses inside. Seems his customer needed a new bedroom suit and sofa, and didn’t have cash, so ‘Easy Tradin’ Tom’ (as my older brother’s friend referred to him) used the great American tradition of barter.

A few months later, my parents – along with mom’s sister and my uncle – bought 32 acres some 12 miles to the northeast. In 1968, Tom and Billie built their dream home in the country, and their younger three of five kids, me included, grew up without any neighbors; free to hop barbed wire fences and fish in someone’s stock tank or explore… back when you could do those things without having to worry.

Today that area is the heart of DFW, claimed by Colleyville, and to buy land you’d need to add a lot more zeroes to the end of the $1,200 per acre they paid for what my buddies called ‘your farm out in the boonies.’

Fifty years later I understand how dedicated my father was to providing for his family. Born in 1924, he was a Depression-era child whose father died when he was 12, leaving young Tommy as the man of the house with his mother and five sisters. Pearl Harbor occurred during his senior year and every boy in the Menasha (WI) High School Class of ’42 enlisted soon after.

Tom spent four years in the Navy as a pharmacist’s mate… keeping the U.S. safe from threats to the Panama Canal and Galapagos Islands. (In truth, he said, it was mostly gin rummy and golf… and, tongue firmly planted in cheek: “But no enemy got past us.”) He married my mother a month after being honorably discharged, and my oldest brother became one of the first Baby Boomers. By 1950, Tom had two kids, worked full time and attended TCU on the GI Bill.

When the man who owned the small appliance store that employed him said he wasn’t making ends meet and would have to shut the doors, 25-year-old Tom went to a local bank, got approved for a three-year loan and bought out his boss. He quit school 18 hours short of an accounting degree and worked long days – paying off the note in one year.

Tomorrow: How Things Use to Be

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