An Immigrant’s Triumph & Disaster
My friend told his youngest son about J L, his great-grandfather. J L was born in Poland in 1877 and came to America when he was 18. living with relatives He didn’t have much money and had little formal education. But J L was very bright, astute, and hard-working. He noticed things and understood people. He worked several jobs and acquired some savings. J L worked as a bartender at a saloon, in a working-class neighborhood.
Although he was only 5’ 10’’ and weighed around 155 pounds, he won every fist fight against drunks twice his size. The customers respected him, and flocked to the bar to hear his stories. J L spun fascinating yarns about almost anything. The bar owner liked the increased business that J L attracted. So, the owner sold his saloon several years later to J L, accepting monthly payments for his retirement. The saloon flourished.
With the extra money he earned as the bar owner, J L bought the grocery store across the street. Many of the wives of the guys, who drank at J L’s saloon on Friday nights, shopped at J L’s grocery store on Saturday. His reputation as a good, honest, and charming businessman spread throughout the neighborhood. Customers came because they got good products, at good prices, with good customer service. That successful formula works today.
The owner of the local Savings & Loan (Much more prosperous than the “Bailey’s Building & Loan” in “It’s a Wonderful Life”) approached J L with a lucrative business opportunity: Half ownership in a Building Supply Company that would sell concrete blocks & lumber to the S & L customers building homes. Home building was a booming business throughout the early & mid-1920’s.
The S & L owner needed J L’s Business savvy to run the company, and his great neighborhood reputation to attract customers. J L accepted the offer. His Building Supply business boomed. Many of J L’s saloon & grocery store customers built homes using material from his company.
An Aside: J L’s daughter worked in the Building Supply Company’s Office, managing the orders, delivery slips & invoices. Her office was on the 2nd floor. The burly truck drivers would have to walk up the stairs to get their delivery slips. One driver repeatedly “got fresh” with J L’s daughter (today’s terms would be inappropriate touching & language.) She was quite stunning.
When J L learned what was going on, he waited for that driver to reach the 2nd from last step at the top of the office stairs. Then, with fight skills honed from his saloon days, J L hit that truck driver squarely in the face, with a closed, bony fist, hurling the driver backwards down the stairs. No one knew how many bones were broken. No police report was filed. No other driver ever looked at J L’s daughter, much less touched her, again. Problem solved.
Back to business: Some investors invited J L to serve as a Director of a Community Bank. Others, partnered with him in land development at the outskirts of town. Then, J L learned the fundamentals and nuances of Stock Market. As with everything else, his astute, intuitive mind made even more money. Cash was flowing in from all directions. In 1928, he told his daughter, “We are worth over 2 million dollars. You will never have to worry about money for the rest of your life.”
The Stock Market Crashed in 1929. The Great Depression followed.. His various business partners sold-out his investments for 10 cents on the dollar.
The Above YouTube Video Speaks about Immigrants Coming to America, Treating Triumph & Disaster Just the Same.
He paid all the Bank depositors in full, out of his personal money (This was before the FDIC). When all the financial smoke cleared, he gave his home to his married daughter, and gave a machine shop business to his son. (Both were “Free & Clear” of any debts.) He left for Tucson, Arizona because of his asthma, with about $60,000 in his pocket. Yet, J L was never bitter about his enormous financial losses. J L said, “Business is Business.”
Decades later, my friend and his mother & father visited J L in his 2nd floor, 1-bedroom apartment in Tucson, Arizona. My friend would walk with his grandfather to the E. F. Hutton brokerage firm downtown. There, J L would teach his 12-year old grandson how to invest in the stock market. J L lived off of stock dividends and bond interest.
This immigrant treated “Triumph & Disaster Just the Same”. While not a religious man, he intuitively knew what St. Paul wrote, “I consider everything else (But Christ) so much rubbish.” OR, what Solomon observed about possessions & pleasure, “Vanity. All is Vanity.” Hopefully, J L completed the circuit of the “Eternal Verities”, by accepting that, “We are made in the Image & Likeness of God” – as children of God & Heirs to Heaven. And like Job, in pain & loss, confirmed, “God knows me” and “My Redeemer lives”.
In any event, he was a grateful immigrant for coming to the America that Ray Charles sang about Below:
J L always thought that America was beautiful, through Triumph & Disaster.