It’s funny how life turns out. As a parent we often worry over our children and their choices, wanting success and happiness for them. And yet, it’s strange how the things we anticipate will bring success often fail to; and those random silly things that they bump into along the river of life are the ones that change their trajectory and prove to be the deciding factors.
That’s certainly true for Harland. I’ll bet he struggled mightily in school. Everything we know from his life showed him pinging from one difficult situation to the next. He struggled with commitment, with anger, with stability. He was in fights constantly. Big fights. Huge. He wound up in a shoot out even. A real legitimate shoot out, that killed his friend.
His father died when he was five and he dropped out of school in the seventh grade. He was fired well over a dozen times, almost always for conflict, arguments and insubordination. A long list of angry bosses, irate customers and annoyed co-workers trailed in his wake. He failed in his marriage, he failed in his work. He lost a child, divorced his wife and lied his way into the army. For whatever brilliance he had, and he did have some, his aggressive personality and lack of self-control seemed to sabotage every opportunity. He worked for a railroad and was fired after getting into a fight. He worked as a lawyer, but lost his license within three years after getting into a fight (with his own client), he then sold insurance for a while only to be fired again.
He made some money in the ferrying industry, sold his interest in the company to manufacture lamps only to lose it all when a similar company beat him in sales.
It is hard to imagine a man who had a longer, more intense string of failure upon failure. But he is not a failure… in fact he is a legendary success and he only had to wait until he was 62 to finally see it all come together. And, when success arrived, it came from the most unlikely of places.
Remember how at five years old Harland lost his father? Well, that loss came with a lot of hardship. His mother had to work to provide for her three children; and Harland, at five, was the oldest. To provide, she left the children home alone for days at a time. After all, this was the 1890’s and times were hard. Five year old Harland was forced to cook for his younger siblings and over time became very comfortable in the kitchen. While he left home in his early teens after too many fights with a new step-father, the years of feeding his younger siblings left there mark.
That is why, at 62 years old, Harland Sanders was able to find his calling. He had been running a gas station truck stop and selling his food on the side, and was starting to make a bit of money at it, when once again fate dealt yet another blow. The Second World War arrived and threw a wrench in his plans. But this time was different. He again lost his money, lost opportunity and struggled to gain footing. But, it was the special secret recipe, which he was clever enough to keep secret, that gave him his final break. In Salt Lake City, he sold a franchise, for the very first restaurant to sell his special recipe. He was clever enough to name it after the state where he’d developed the recipe; a place that evoked southern hospitality and good food, and where he’d sold it from a Shell station gas station. By deciding to give it the moniker of, “Kentucky Fried Chicken,” he helped grow the appeal, and with his new product, finally brought the struggling, angry, difficult man, real success.
Having made friends with a Kentucky governor he was awarded the title of colonel - and he used the title to keep the chicken moving. And while he grew to hate many of the choices those restaurants made with sides,(declaring that the gravy they served tasted like wallpaper paste) the chain still proved profitable and his name and reputation continued to grow. So while Colonel Sander’s never did come to love all options his world famous Kentucky Fried Chicken was served with, he was happy to put his name and his face up front and center to help them sell his “finger lickin’ good” chicken, and to remind everyone in the country that it was his special recipe. While he didn’t find success until he was 62, he did enjoy being a success and a man of considerable fame and fortune for almost twenty years. His legend, and his amazing chicken, live on today in our hearts, minds, and tummies.
Twyla Righter is a native of Western Colorado. She is the mother of three children bent on world domination (they have pie charts) and a proud CASA advocate. She writes two columns for The Press as well authoring the definitive guide to a horrible pregnancy: “About That Pregnancy Glow.” Righter’s “Outside the box” column appears every other Friday in the Montrose Daily Press.