Thursday, January 12, 2012
Remembering our first home purchase
My wife and I were talking about old times the other day , one of the first things to come up was how we saved to purchase our first home. She remembered more than I did of course because I don't remember eating sardines and crackers. She also confessed to overstating our grocery bills, so she could buy some essentials. She said my envelope budget would have never worked, so she had to improvise.
I took on a second job that started at 5:15PM and ended at 10:30PM. It was a two-man operation, the owner of the old Handcock service station, Mr. Tate, was getting along in age, so he didn't mind showing me the ins and outs of the service station business. I guess fatigue is a state of mind because time flew by. I enjoyed talking to the customers and between times I had to give directions to the lost, charge batteries, fix flats, and pump gas, so I really didn't have time to be tired. I was also young and foolish. Mr. Tate didn't pay me very much, but he gave me a lot of responsibility, so I felt like I was a manager rather than an employee. I guess our relationship was like that of the old Freddie Prinze TV show called “Chico and the Man." The old man started getting lazy, forgetful, and grouchy on his shift, so the regular customers waited until after 5:15PM to get their automotive needs. The service station was located off the Houston highway next door to the old Jet drive Inn, so the day shift was busy regardless but due to the old man's recent change in temperament, both shifts became busy and our sales increased. Our jobber, Tolson Oil Company of Austin, noticed our increase in sales, so he left two tickets to the Cotton Bowl on the desk. I went home that night to tell my wife about the tickets and that the old man would probably ask me to go with him. The next day, I overheard him tell a customer that he and a friend were going to the Cotton Bowl. My feelings were hurt, and that's the reason I never hesitated when Tolson Oil Company asked me to manage the service station because the home office was getting too many complaints about the irritable Mr. Tate.
I kept my day job, but I had to take a couple of days off to train one of my nephews on how to run the day shift. In the meantime, I suspected this was going to be a high turnover operation, so I started training my wife on the basics, just in case an employee didn't show up. My suspicions turned true so my wife became an asset. That's one of those job descriptions that don't show up on a marriage license. I didn't make a lot of money because I got a 4% margin no matter what the price of gas, and the Fiska on Navarro kicked my butt so much that my wife started filling up there. They remained at 19. 9¢ for hours before I was allowed to lower my 31.9¢ price. It got so lonely that I would talk my customer ear, off so I wouldn't be left alone with the crickets.
Looking back on those days I now realize that experience, and luck were just as significant as wages, in saving for our first home. I didn't realize how influential a credit history was because credit wasn't easy to get back then. I became an unofficial overseer for the hancock/ Billups stations in Edna and Victoria. I decided to manage the Handcock across from the Rio Grande Firestone, but it was in spitting distance of a Texaco next door. The challenge of turning that station around inspired me. See, I told you I was young and foolish because I already had a high-volume station, but I wanted the challenge. One day I was talking to the Tolson Oil representative about expanding the services of the low volume station. I told him I wanted to sell beer, but I couldn't afford a cooler. To my surprise, he picked up a phone and asked to speak to the bank manager at the old First National Bank. When he hung up, he said, "I'm going back to office, and I will mail you a letter of credit to get whatever you need. That was my first credit transaction. Paying off that note, the G.I bill, luck and a little having a good job, all contributed to us owning our original home. Where would I be without a trusting wife, employers, friends and customers?No one does it all by themselves,there is the spouse,luck,family,friends,employer, and a banker who took a chance on you.
This not a story of me sacrificing because I did the easy part, a few of my coworkers operated a ranch/farm full time and I failed to mention that my wife cared for our two children at the time,yet baby sat a few more for extra spending money. I didn't get my reward in cold cash, rather it was being able to afford a couple of employees to manage my station,so my small family and I could enjoy a rare full weekend together..
My story doesn't end well because one day, back during the oil embargo (mid 70s) Tolson Oil said that they were not allowed to purchase gasoline in this area anymore but I could continue to run the station. Just as fast as our community lends a helping hand; they can take it back even faster. I was was told that in no uncertain terms that Mr. Alkek Oil would not allow me to purchase gasoline.I sold my remaining inventory but I had to drink or give away the beer I had left because my liquor license was for that premise. I drank Jax for a while,Lone Star and Pabst on other days because my friend's were choosy ,even for free beer. They took all the free Bud and Schlitz and even offered to pick it up...:-)