FROM THE COPIOUS CROP OF AMERICAN BLOSSOMS MR. PONZI PICKS HIMSELF AN EXQUISITE ROSE OF THE AMERICAN BEAUTY VARIETY AS HIS LIFE'S EMBLEM
In Wichita Falls, Texas, I got my first training as a foreign correspondent and salesman. The company I was working for manufactured auto-trucks. Shipped them everywhere. Had agents or users in almost every country in the world. Except, of course, Germany and her allies.
All of our foreign business was transacted by mail or by cable. In the English, French, Italian, Spanish or Portuguese language. And it required us to keep posted on shipping routes and rates. On custom tariffs abroad. On foreign currencies and exchange. On postal and telegraph rates. All knowledge which, later, played such an important part in the most spectacular episode of my career in America.
Life in Wichita Falls was not very exciting. The factory was about two miles from the city itself. On the edge of a prairie section, typical of the South-west. Not far from the Oklahoma state line. I boarded a stone-throw from the office. And, often, I worked after hours because I had no place to go.
The only exciting thing about the place was a bear. Not of the Max variety, either2. Just a big, grown bear. I don't remember whether it belonged to the watchman or the manager. But I know we had a cage for it in front of the building. And I know that after hours the watchman would turn it loose for a while and let it roam around. That bear never failed to walk right into my office, upstairs, and scare the wits out of me. It would sneak in without making any noise. As it it wore rubber shoes. Then, all of a sudden, I would hear its breath right in the back of my chair or catch a glimpse of it as it was rounding the corner of my desk. And I would jump. And swear.
I couldn't argue with it, or shoo it away. I would just duck and shut the door. I have no use for that kind of pet, for overgrown pets that can slap me from one end of the room to the other. There is nothing cute about that sort of animal, except the smell. In that respect, a good size bear can shame a dozen pole cats.
The Wichita Falls Motor Truck Company was owned by Kemp and Kell. I don't know this day who Kemp and Kell were. Off hand, I would say they were an alias for Wichita Falls. They owned everything in sight. What Kemp did not own, Kell did. And vice versa. But I can't say for sure whether they were humans or just a myth. I never saw either one. On the other hand, I have never seen "America's Richest" either. Yet, there is plenty of evidence of his presence in the States. Gasoline stations, A & P stores, the National City Bank, and so forth. Anyway, whenever dimes get scarce, you can bet he has been around your neighborhood. That man keeps the mint working overtime to restock the dime supply. They claim he gives them out as souvenirs. But it looks as if for every one he gives away, he sinks a hundred for himself.
Speaking of millionaires, in Wichita Falls I had a chance of becoming a multi-millionaire like him. A perfectly good chance. Hundreds of millions of dollars were made in that section after I left. Oil deposits were discovered. Wells drilled. Gushers set off and harnessed. But the oil deposits were there in my time too. Amply in evidence. Only, I was too blind to notice the evidence.
In fact, we used to spend some week-ends in that section which is known today as the Burke Burnett Oil Field. A truck load of us clerks would drive there Saturday afternoons with a good supply of bottled beer and eatables. We would spend the night in the open air. On the prairies. In day time, we would hunt cotton-tail rabbits and bull frogs to add to our bill of fare.
The frogs were in the many pools of water which were scattered all around the prairies. The water of those pools was streaked all over with oil. The iridescent patches of floating oil were everywhere. And where else would that oil come from, but from underground deposits? But I never stopped to think of it. If I had, I could have bought that whole section at five dollars an acre! Yes, that land covers enough oil to make it worth the price of real estate in down-town New York.
I left Wichita Falls, minus the millions, in January 1917 to go to Boston as a foreign correspondent for an export Company. A sort of gamble on futures, because the job didn't pay much. But the prospects looked good. The company was doing very well, for itself. And it was quite lavish with its employees. With promises. The only trouble was that its promises did not pay our living expenses. But, by starving one day and eating a little less the next one, we employees always managed, more or less, to keep handsomely in debt.
Although my job with the company was not what you may call a bonanza, it was a source of some satisfaction to me. It made me realize that, after 13 years in America, I had reached the point where I needed no longer to turn to menial job by I was in every respect equipped to fill an office position. Especially with a firm engaged in foreign trade. So, even if my job didn't pay much, I kept at it to acquire additional experience, to meet new people, to build myself up a wide acquaintance. Eventually, I intended to branch out for myself.
By then I was 35 years old. A soft of happy-go-lucky fellow with a penchant for good times. A little lonesome now and then. When I realized that I had no home of my own. But otherwise care-free. And rather partial to good looking girls. I liked them all, God bless them! In a sort of good fellowship way. You know how it is. Never giving a thought that in the same community, within a few blocks from where I was rooming, lived the girl whom a kind fateâ€”kind to meâ€”had destined to be my wife â€¦
It was the night before Memorial Day. Around midnight. I had been to the Pop's and was waiting for a street car at the Boylston Street subway station. An elderly lady was with me.
A beautiful girl, escorted by a young man, was, like us, waiting for the same car. She could not have been there long, because I know I would have sensed her presence. The same as I felt myself drawn to turn and glance in her direction she set her foot on the subway platform.
One glance at her, at that picture of loveliness and kindness and clean vivacity â€¦ One look into her deep, dark, smiling eyes â€¦ At that pretty, round face, framed in a background of gorgeous curls â€¦ At her whole fascinating ensemble â€¦ And I was no longer able to remove my eyes from her. I remained there, staring so intently that, for my unre-pressed and evident feeling of respectful admiration, I might have appeared rude.
I have no idea how long I stood there looking at that girl. Probably, only a matter of seconds. But they could have been hours and I wouldn't have known the difference. Time, space, the world and everything else around me, except that girl, had ceased to exist.
The lady who was with me must have noticed my state of blissful reverie and followed the direction of my glances, because not only did she see the girl, but recognized her too.
"Why, there is Rose!" she said to me. "I want you to meet Mr. Ponzi. She was one of my pupils."
We walked up to the couple.
"Rose," said the lady speaking to her." I want you to meet Mr. Ponzi." Then turned to me. "This is Miss Gnecco," she said.
"How do you do?" the girl acknowledging the introduction with a voice as sweet as her looks.
"How do you do?" I returned, but I made no effort to conceal how I felt. I didn't care who knew how I felt. In fact, I wanted the whole world to know that I had met the girl of my dreams and surrendered unconditionally to her charms.
She lived in Somerville. Not very far from where I lived. So, we were in the same street-car for the next twenty minutes or so. She was with her escort a couple of seats ahead of us, on the right. All the way to Somerville, my eyes did not leave her a minute.
When we got home, the lady I was escorting asked me what I thought of that girl.
"I think she is wonderful!" I replied. "I am going to marry her."
"Why, Mr. Ponzi!" the lady said. "You must be crazy!"
"I am! I am crazy about that girl," I admitted and that was no exaggeration.
Eight months later, Rose and I were married at "a little church around the corner" in Vine Street, Somerville. She has been my companion ever since. That faithful, loyal, little wife who has never faltered in the many days of sorrow and adversity. The one inspiration that has enabled me to face the most crucial crises of my life with a heart steeled by our reciprocal love.
Rose is the most precious gift America could have tendered me. She was born and raised in the United States. In Boston. I am grateful and thankful to America for the gift. My wife is ample reward for everything I have suffered, justly or unjustly, during the 31 years in the United States. I cannot bear any grudge, any malice, against a country which has been so lavish and generous as to place within my reach to pick, from a whole garden-full of beautiful flowers, such as American girls are, what has been for me the most exquisite of all blossoms. An American Beauty. My Rose!