Better Late than Never
He is lying there in the grass, hiding and thinking. He has studied the little girl's habits. He knew she would come outside her grandfather's house midafternoon to play.
He hated himself for this.
In his whole miserable, messed-up life, he'd never considered anything so callous as kidnapping.
Yet here he was, lying in the grass, hidden by trees from the house, waiting for an innocent, red-haired, 2-year old girl to come within reach.
It was a long wait; there was time to think.
Maybe all his life Harland had been in too much of a hurry.
He has 5 when his Hoosier farmer daddy died.
At 14, he dropped out of Greenwood School and hit the road.
He tried odd jobs as a farmhand, hated it.
Tried being a streetcar conductor and hated that.
At 16, he lied about his age and joined the Army --- and hated that, too.
When his one-year enlistment was up, he headed for Alabama, tried blacksmithing and failed.
He became a railroad-locomotive fireman with the Southern Railroad. He liked that. Figured maybe he had found himself.
At 18, he got married, and within months, wouldn't you know she announced she was pregnant the day he announced he'd been fired again?!
Then, one day, while he was out job hunting, his young wife gave away all their possessions and went home to her parents.
Then came the Depression. Harland couldn't win for losing, as they say. He really tried.
Once, while working at a succession of railroad jobs, he tried studying law by correspondence. But he dropped out of that, too.
He tried selling insurance, selling tires.
He tried running a ferryboat, running a filling station. No use.
Face it --- Harland was a loser!
And now, here he was hiding in the weeds outside Roanoke, Virginia, plotting a kidnapping. As I say, he'd watched the little girl's habits, knew about her afternoon playtime.
But, this one day, she did not come out to play, so his chain of failures remained unbroken.
Late in life, he became chief cook and bottle washer at a restaurant in Corbin.
And did all right until the new highway by passed the restaurant.
And then his expected life span ran out.
He's not the first man, nor will he be the last, to arrive at the twilight of life with nothing to show for it.
The bludebird of happiness, or whatever, had always fluttered just out of reach.
He'd stayed honest --- except for that one time when he had attempted kidnapping.
In fairness to his name, it must be noted that it was his own daughter he'd meant to kidnap from his runaway wife.
And they'd both returned to him, the next day, anyway.
But now the years had slid by, and a lifetime was gone, and he and they had nothing.
He had not really felt old until the day the postman brought his first Social Security check.
That day, something within Harland resented, resisted and exploded.
The government was feeling sorry for him.
You had all those hitless times at bat, the government was saying; you've had it.
It's time to give up and retire.
His restaurant customers in Corbin said they'd miss him, but his government said 65 candles on the birthday cake is enough.
They sent him a pension check and told him he was "old."
He said, "Nuts."
And he got so angry, he took that $105 check and started a new business.
Today, that business is prospering, and so, at age 88, is he.
For the man who failed at everything save one thing, the man who might have been a lawbreaking kidnapper had he not also failed at that, the man who never got started until it was time to stop was Harland Sanders.
Colonel Harland Sanders.
The new business he started with his first Social Security check was KFC (Kentucky Fried Chicken).
You know the rest of the story.
By Paul Aurandt