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Lessons learned from an unlikely pair

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Dolly Withrow Dolly Withrow
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Dolly Withrow is a retired English professor and the author of four books. Contact writer Dolly Withrow at ritewood@aol.com.

A few years ago, I was invited to join an organization that at one time had admitted only men. Talk about exclusive. It was exclusive with a capital E, and the members were proud of it. After all, belonging to an organization that can be selective is part of the fun of belonging. Since that exclusive attitude had been ruled unconstitutional, however, membership became nonexclusive; that is, it was opened to us women. 

Excited about the invitation, I decided to join despite having to fork out the considerable fees, payable every three months. I was sure the weekly conversations at the round cloth-covered tables would be stimulating and more than worth the money. I would learn about stocks and bonds and about the secrets of success in the business world. In other words, I'd be networking with the best of the best, for I had heard that millionaires were plentiful in that group. 

Looking almost sharp in my camel-colored suit, albeit minus a power tie, I attended my first meeting. I entered the large room where club members clustered in small groups. Several of the men who saw me standing uncertainly by the door took great pains to greet and welcome me. Of course, I stood out in the crowd. They could tell right away I was a member of a different kind, for I was the only woman among approximately 60 men. I was looking forward to brilliant dialogue, remarks that would astound me with their depth. Most of all, though, I wanted to transform my small business into a venture that would include corporate offices throughout the world, and belonging to the old boys' club would surely help to ensure that. 

I remember the very noontime when a member with his expensive suit and red power tie smiled at me and said, "Dolly, I expect at each of our meetings there are at least 30 millionaires in this room."

His remark triggered visions of seeing myself on my own yacht or in the south of France where maids catered to my every whim. Coming out of my reverie, I filled my plate from the buffet table and searched for a seat. 

I soon settled in with about 10 fellows seated at a table near the speaker's lectern. (That's how I received my cherished invitation. It came after I made a speech to the group a few weeks earlier). As I picked at my food, I sharpened my listening skills and tuned in to the conversations. I didn't want to miss a golden word. Token or not, I became invisible at that table, for the discourse focused on football and hunting and golf — all trivial matters when contrasted with the matter of becoming a millionaire. The next meeting and the third were the same. I finally decided that I could stay home and, for free, listen to our son talk about football and golf. He doesn't hunt, but I could live without talk of hunting. 

Anyway, I later discovered that old boys' clubs come in all shapes and sizes and, well, species, too. I remember one such restricted club. It had only two members whose names were Floppy Chenowith and Deacon Jones. Floppy, who didn't even have to earn a living, lived like royalty. He ate scrambled eggs for breakfast and succulent roast beef for dinner, purchased and prepared for him by one of his family members. In nice weather when the sky was the color of bluebells on a sunny day, he lazed away his time lying in the yard or strolling along the skinny blacktop road that ran past his home. Deacon, who lived nearby with a minister and his wife, was Floppy's best friend, and that mutt and yellow lab formed their own old boys' club. They weren't millionaires. I don't think they yearned for anything more than the necessities of life, but family and friendship were among those necessities. They were as rich as could be, but they didn't have a penny to call their own. Both dogs have now been dead for several years, but Floppy and Deacon taught me a lesson. They helped me realize I had made the right decision when I resigned from the exclusive club because close-knit families and good friendships offer the kind of wealth money cannot buy.