Twenty-six years ago today, a crazy thing happened. My dad won the lottery.
Yep, no kidding. The real deal. All six numbers. Jackpot.
I can still picture the scene: I was standing behind him, peeking over his shoulder as he compared the official numbers to his list. He got to the matching numbers before I did and gave a little, “Whoo-hoo!” Then he held the numbers closer together and had me read them aloud with him. Mom was clearing the dinner dishes until he started shouting her name and soon the entire family was in the living room. We were laughing more than anything. I can’t say we were really shocked or surprised. Dad had always had the feeling that he was going to win and we believed him, so when it finally happened, all we could say was, “Now how about that?”
I was a Senior in high school at the time, and had been on my way out to meet my friends at the pizza joint when it happened. I still went out, of course, but dad made us all promise that we wouldn’t tell anyone outside of the family. It was a crazy secret to keep. I sat there with my friends all night, listening to them tell stories, and was practically mute. I don’t think I ever explained to them why I didn’t tell them anything.
Dad had a darned good reason, though — we didn’t have the ticket.
You know how, every time the Powerball Jackpot gets high, someone that you work with will suggest pooling everyone’s money to buy a bunch of tickets? It’s a good idea. It works – I’ve seen it.
Dad and all the other welders along his line at the plant had started doing it almost a year earlier. Whenever the lottery got above $10 million, they’d all throw in $5. With ten men on that line, that resulted in 50 tickets. One guy would buy them, then make photocopies for everyone else.
That’s what dad was checking the numbers against that night – a photocopy. Then he immediately called one of his friends from work who also had gone in on the pool. But the guy who had bought the tickets wasn’t home that night, so nobody knew exactly where the tickets were and whether they were secured.
Don’t worry, it all worked out. The guy was smart enough to have kept them locked up.
We originally planned to keep up the secrecy for a month, until all ten guys and their wives could go to the state capitol to redeem the ticket together. Word leaked, of course. Heck, by the time I got to school on Monday most of my little town had heard about it, though they weren’t all ready to believe it was true. (Little towns are great for crazy rumors.)
Because we weren’t talking about it publicly, though, most people never knew about the craziest twist of all.
I mentioned that these ten guys on the gantry had been pooling their money for months. However, on the week that they won, one of the guys was out sick. They wanted to do an even $50 of tickets, so they invited their foreman to chip in instead.
I’ve never been able to imagine what went through the mind of that guy when he showed up Monday morning and discovered that all of his co-workers had won the lottery … and he didn’t because of a flu bug!
I think I’d have gone catatonic.
Fortunately, the “Gantry Gang” (as they would later be called, after they all retired early) was made up of guys who cared more about what was right than about the money itself. They had a private conference over lunch that day and voted unanimously to include the 11th guy in the winnings.
I’ve always been proud of my dad. But I think my heart swelled two sizes that day.