The Old Billionaire’s been thinking about buying property near our mountain, and a few days ago I went with him while he looked the place over.
And what a place. Four hundred acres, mostly rolling pasture, with a mile of river frontage. Stock ponds, a humongous horse barn and two relatively new houses thrown in for good measure.
The Old Billionaire and I stood in a light rain near the smaller of the houses and took it all in. My thoughts were sharp and clear: What a beautiful place.
His words were just as sharp and even more clear: “It’ll do.”
“‘It’ll do?’ It’s sensational. I could be very happy here,” I said.
“You’re already happy where you are,” said the Old Billionaire. He walked over to the front porch. Pointed up the outside wall. “See where the flashing’s gone? That’s going to be a bad leak. Your house doesn’t leak, does it?”
“Not anymore,” I said. “We had some water coming in through the west wall of the cabin, but we finally got that fixed.”
He turned back to me. “When I look at you I see a man who’s got everything, Larry B. You saying I’m wrong? You saying you’re another victim of the curse of ‘I Want More?’”
I laughed. “I don’t think it’s a matter of wanting. I think it’s a matter of wishing I could afford to make a change to someplace like this if the time came when I did want to.”
“So it’s a money thing. Aha! Want to know the secret of making money? Big money? Very Big Money? I can give it to you in a word.
The Old Billionaire’s face took on a haunted look.
“Or maybe it’s anger. Fury! Yep, that’s it. Misery and fury caused by living in the past instead of the present.
“Misery and fury closer to me than brothers because no matter what I do I can’t escape a time when I had nothing. When my daddy rode a neighbor’s fence line because we didn’t have any land of our own. And my momma took in mending from all the better off people in town. Which was everybody.
“The way I succeed is I find openings, and I push at ‘em and make things happen for me,” the Old Billionaire went on. “Because no matter how much money I’ve got, I’m still starving inside. Fighting with the dogs over pork rind.”
The rain stopped. We headed back to the Old Billionaire’s truck. “Now I want you to tell me your secret,” he said. “The secret of being content.”
I thought about it. “I think it’s living in the present. Not comparing what’s going on here and now to what was, or will be. It’s knowing who you really are and what you’re worth.”
The Old Billionaire didn’t say anything. We got into the truck and drove along the river, then out a back gate to the main road.
We were going at a pretty good clip until we rounded a curve and found ourselves behind a lumbering dump truck.
The truck was loaded with gravel and surrounded by a cloud of rock dust that billowed back at us and clung to the wet windshield. The Old Billionaire slowed and muttered what sounded like a curse. He saw my surprise.
“My daddy used to tell me there was no point in complaining about slow drivers,” he said. “He told me nobody could ever pass ‘em all because there’d always be somebody else in the way.
“He was 35 when he died. Couldn’t afford to go to the doctor, let alone the hospital he needed. So I keep complainin’.”
And then the Old Billionaire surprised me again. “What you said before, about knowing what you’re worth. Worth to who? To your neighbors?” He squinted at the road. “To God?”
“I don’t know what anyone else values,” I said. “And I leave it to the preachers to speak for God. I only know what I’m worth to myself.”
The Old Billionaire stayed quiet.
“You going to buy that property?” I said.
“What for?” He let out a long sigh. “I’ve already gotten everything I ever will out of being on that land. Got it from you.”
We dropped back farther behind the dump truck and drove on. The Old Billionaire looked … relaxed.
I didn’t have the courage to tell him how much I ached from wanting that farm.
Larry Brody is an author, veteran television writer and producer and creative director of Cloud Creek Institute for the Arts. He, his wife and their dogs, cats, horses and chickens live in Marion County. The other residents of the mythical town of Paradise reside in his imagination, however, and any resemblance to actual places or persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
Originally published March 28, 2007