Home > Stories > Our True Stories > Self-Esteem Lessons

Print Version

These are true stories written by the web master of Self-Esteem.org - Betty Hatch

One Story - Many Lessons

Johnny Cleveland (Betty's Father)

One morning while the family gathered at the breakfast table, my grandfather turned to my dad, who was just entering the 6th grade and said, "Johnny, it's time you quit school and go to work on the farm to help support the family."

Johnny was born the youngest of a family of five children in Alabama. His father was a farmer and part time police officer. Around the age of eleven, each male child was expected to stop school and help support the family.

Tears streamed down my father's face and into his cereal bowl. "daddy," he begged, "if you will just let me stay in school, I will never cost you another cent. I'll earn my keep. I'll pay for my books, my clothes and my food. Please, daddy, just let me stay in school!"

My grandfather thoughtfully replied, "O.K. Johnny, Iet's see if you can do that. But, if you can't, you'll have to work on the farm full time."

The odds of earning a living at eleven years of age seemed very long. Afternoons and weekends, he washed cars, mowed lawns, danced on street corners and shined shoes. While telling me this story, he proudly displayed the simple wooden shoebox he made to support the Southern gentlemen's shoes while he shined them.

My father's intent in telling me this story was to make the point that in spite of his dire poverty, he was always clean and well groomed. He said, "Honey, although I only had enough money for two outfits at a time, I could always be clean. I bought soap for my clothes and myself, a needle and thread for clothing repairs and polish for my shoes. When one outfit was being washed and repaired, I wore the other.

It probably never occurred to him that the main impression he left with me, his only daughter, was the value he placed on education. I saw photos of him. He was a darling little boy with curly, jet-black hair who earned his own way in an adult world, while other children his age were playing after school sports.

Johnny graduated from high school, danced professionally, worked for a national manufacturing company as a salesman and learned to fly small planes during the second world war. He used his education and his skills learned as a street-corner dancer and a shoe shine boy. Finally, as a risk-taker, he not only became a pilot but also the owner of an airport.

For thirty years, Johnny's story has inspired students to ask for what they want, take risks, value cleanliness and to complete their education.

Home > Stories > Our True Stories > Self-Esteem Lessons