I feel so lucky to have had Samuel Wells Sr. in my life for 50 years. He was handsome and funny and strong and I think he thought I was pretty much perfect.

One time when my aunt playfully “told on me” that I’d been cursing, he replied, “Oh, I don’t think El would do that.” (I was in my 30s at the time so it wouldn’t have been that much of a transgression). You don’t have to spend much time with me to know that I have a bit of a potty mouth but it didn’t matter. Sam was not going to let anybody say anything bad about me … even in jest … unless, of course, it was him. He never understood why I wear my hair the way I do and would often laughingly ask me “what happened” and whether I wanted to borrow his comb.

He was an old-fashioned man. He grew up in rural McCormick, S.C., one of 10 children in a family of sharecroppers. As soon as he was able, he headed North to make a living and change his destiny. Perhaps because he was a child of the Depression or because he knew what it meant to have not much, he was an amazing money manager. Once I became an adult and learned his income, I was astounded at (and so proud of) how well he raised us on his blue-collar salary. My mother was able to be what they now call a stay-at-home mom because Sam Wells was so good with a dollar.

But, Lordy, his money-management style drove me crazy when I was growing up. His mantra was “if you can’t pay for it, you can’t afford it.” He had no use for credit cards. “What’s better than cash?” So he would show up at the car dealer with cash in his pocket and smugly drive off the lot the same day in his brand new, already-paid-for car!

And, OMG, he actually paid my college tuition in cash! Every single time. He couldn’t have been more proud and I couldn’t have been more embarrassed. And, as you can imagine, it always caused quite a stir at the bursar’s office. They did not know what to do with a mound of cash. Daddy didn’t care. To him, it was ridiculous that this big university in the fancy part of town got all tripped up over what to do with cold, hard cash.

So fast forward all these many years later and Sam Wells’ mantra is alive, well and still in my ear: If I can’t pay for it, I can’t afford it. I haven’t exactly paid cash for a car, but my downpayment is usually about 50 percent. And, other than my mortgages, I don’t carry debt. I do use credit cards but I pay them off every single month. To do anything less would be a letdown to my Dad’s legacy.

I lost my Dad in 2006 and I still miss him every day. But I’m blessed to have a heartful of memories of our times together and his jokes, idiosyncrasies, and wise life lessons. Happy Father’s Day, Sam Wells … my favorite guy.

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  • Elfreda Massie March 19, 2012 at 10:07 pm

    I enjoyed your writing. I ran across it while looking for information about sharecroppers in McCormick, South Carolina. My grandparents were share croppers and I am gathering information about our geneology. Your dad has the same pride as my grandparents, Estelle (Martin) Cartledge and Samuel Cartledge. Thanks for sharing!

  • Cheryll Greene June 18, 2011 at 8:28 pm

    Thank you, Eleanore Wells, for evoking your handsome dad and, even more so, the generations of Black fathers who took such good care of us–along with our mothers–that we could step out on faith and proclaim ourselves whatever we imagined we could be. My relationship with my father was perhaps more conflicted than yours, but I miss him since he left in 2006, and I think of him with love every day.