The Odds Are Against It

It was a big problem for us.  How would we get the money to pay the second semester tuition at the graduate school?  It had seemed an adventure for me, traveling across the country to Phoenix, Arizona, so my husband could attend the school that then was called The American Institute for Foreign Trade.  We had been married only three years, after our first year in Western Maryland College, and we had no savings at all.  I had dropped out of college after our marriage and was supporting us with my small salary as a secretary.  But when Dick graduated, he wanted to attend the graduate school recommended by the Dean of Women at WMC.  All his life he had wanted to have a job that would let him travel to many countries neither of us had ever seen.  This happened more than 50 years ago.  We were young, and anything seemed possible.  Dick’s parents had given us the money for the first semester’s tuition and board, but as the first semester drew to a close, we realized that we didn’t have the money to continue his studies in economics, marketing, and business, as well as language and area studies.

It was doubly hard for me because the graduate school offered free courses to wives—Spanish and Latin American Area Studies for students interested in working in Latin America.  I had enjoyed those classes very much and wanted to continue taking them, but it seemed impossible now.

When Christmas vacation came, and we couldn’t afford to go back home for the holidays, we discussed our situation.  Dick absolutely refused to ask his parents for any more.  They had helped enough.  I felt it was up to me to find a solution.  I’d quit school and somehow find a job in Phoenix that would pay enough for the $450 tuition (This was a long time ago and school didn’t cost what it does now, but salaries weren’t as high either.)  During that first semester, I had worked part-time in the school library and the administration office, and had typed term papers for other students, but at $.35 an hour, these jobs would not earn us enough for Dick’s tuition.

Then one day we heard that Turf Paradise race track always hired students as ushers on Thursday through Sunday afternoons during the racing season from January to May, and that they would arrange hours to fit the student’s schedule.  We heard that ushers would receive tips as well as salary, so there were always more students applying than there were jobs.

I didn’t like the idea because I had always thought that race tracks were “dens of iniquity,” full of rough characters, where people lost money on bets they couldn’t afford.  I’d heard that some of the students in prior years had lost their whole paychecks gambling on a “sure thing.”  I was afraid that because we were so desperate, Dick might be tempted to do just that and defeat our whole purpose.  So I prayed that he would not get that job.  I thought that God had not heard my prayers.

Determined to be one of those ushers, Dick was the first person to apply and the first to get a job—but it was not as an usher; he would run the elevator to the Club, where rich people and celebrities watched the races.  He was terribly disappointed; all his friends who had applied after him got usher jobs and earned quite a bit in tips, but nobody tips the elevator boy.  There was one good thing about it though; once everyone had been carried up to the Club, no one came down again until the races were finished.  Dick could sit in the elevator with his books, studying.  I’ll admit, I should have had more confidence in his motives.

There was a deadline for paying the fees at the school, although the officials tried to accommodate students as much as possible.  But as the weeks went on, it became clear that we’d have to do something else to make ends meet.  Again I felt it was up to me.  Then one Friday before he left for work, I announced that I would skip class on Monday and look for a full-time job. Dick looked as dejected as I felt.  He didn’t want me to give up my classes, but there was no other way.  I had to solve our financial problem.

A different look was on Dick’s face when he returned that night.  I thought that he might be getting sick.  Then he began to tell me what had happened.  He had been sitting on the elevator, studying as usual, when an older lady returned to the elevator.  He had seen her often in the past weeks; she was a regular on racing days, but she hardly seemed to notice him, not much different from most of his passengers.  He put down his book and reached for the down button.

“Young man, wait a minute,” she said, startling him.  “Where are you going to school?”  Dick told her.  She continued to ask him many questions—about his major and where he was from and if he was married, etc.  Dick answered them all, but he was puzzled.  None of his passengers chatted with him, not even that same lady.

She continued, “I’ve been watching you.  You don’t watch the races, and you’re always busy studying hard.  That’s commendable.  Would you mind if I gave you a tip?”

Wonder of wonders, Dick thought, remembering all the money his friends had made in tips in the first few weeks.

“Well, I guess it’s o.k.,” he answered.

“Write your name for me.” she said, handing him a piece of paper.  Strange request, he thought, but he rationalized that many of his passengers seemed a little eccentric, so he complied.  Then she said, “Wait here, I’ll be right back,” and left the elevator.  While he waited, Dick calculated what kind of a tip she’d give him.  Most of his friends received a dollar from each party they escorted to their seats, collecting sometimes $15 or $20 a night.  Maybe she’ll give me $5 or maybe even $20;  it’s bound to be more than $1 or she wouldn’t have asked me all those questions, he reasoned.  He opened his marketing book while he waited.

In a few minutes she returned.  “Here, young man,” she said, handing him an envelope.  Dick opened it, and his mouth dropped open.  Inside was a check for $500.  He didn’t know what to do.

“I-I-I can’t accept this much, Ma’am,” he stammered.

“Nonsense!” she answered authoritatively.  “We’re a 5th generation Texas oil family.  The races are my only vice, and I always win.  But I give all of my winnings away, and today I want to give them to you.”  She told him where to go to cash the check, then turned and went back to her place in the Club, without another word, leaving Dick to stare after her.

He was still in shock when he came home that evening.  We couldn’t believe it had happened.  We were half afraid to appear at the bank in Scottsdale the following morning to cash the check.  We were sure it must have been a hoax.  But when the bank manager took the check, he said, “Oh yes, Mr. Graham, we’ve been expecting you.”

Even now when I think about this incident, I realize how God works in mysterious ways.  In a place that I considered a “den of iniquity,” He sent a good-hearted messenger with the means to pay the needed tuition and board, allowing me to continue my studies, plus enough left over for a new suit for Dick for interviews when he received his degree.

We never saw our benefactor again.  Eventually, thanks to her, Dick achieved his goal of working abroad.  He became a U. S. Foreign Service officer, and for many years we served our country, living abroad in Africa, Central America, and South America.  And in all of those posts, and even now back home, when I’m tempted to worry about finances, I thought and still think about that miraculous event in our young lives.  And I learned that I never have to solve problems alone.  God is always there with a better solution than mine just when I need help the most.