Monday, March 07, 2005

Rich Man, Poor Man (

Rich Man, Poor Man (

From the article (not the beginning):

In the days before Christmas in 2002, Jack bought a Powerball lottery ticket along with his biscuits. Some fools couldn't get enough of those tickets. Not the cowboy-man. He'd buy one only when the jackpot got big, like anything less than a couple hundred million wasn't worth his trouble.

On Christmas Day, the lottery ticket-buying frenzy peaked at 3:26 p.m. In convenience stores and gas stations across West Virginia, 15 people every second commemorated Jesus's birthday by plunking down $1 for a chance at a different kind of salvation: that Powerball jackpot.

It was about 11 o'clock Christmas night 2002 when Channel 3 out of Charleston announced what it said were the winning Powerball numbers. Jack was slumbering when his wife of nearly 40 years, Jewell, jostled him awake to say that his lottery ticket matched four out of five. Jack was clueless about what kind of payoff a four-number match brought, but he figured it had to be good for at least $100,000. He went back to sleep while visions of a six-figure windfall danced in his head.

The next morning, as always, he rose at 4:30 to get to work. Jack, 55, had been working construction since he was a poor 14-year-old in the hills. He'd built himself a nice life in this patch of West Virginia hard by the Kentucky and Ohio borders. He had a wife and a granddaughter who basked in his attentions, a brick house in a nice subdivision in neighboring Scott Depot, and a water and sewer pipe-laying business that employed more than 100 people. At 5:15 a.m., Jack snapped on the television and heard, to his surprise, that the winning ticket had been sold at the C&L Super Serve. What are the odds, Jack later said he was thinking, that one little convenience store would sell two lucky tickets? Just then the winning numbers flashed. The numbers broadcast the night before had been wrong. He had a match on all five numbers, not four.

Jack Whittaker had just won $314 million, the largest undivided lottery jackpot in history.

A few hours later, he ambled into the C&L Super Serve and calmly handed Brenda a bill, saying he'd been meaning to give it to her before Christmas. Brenda figured it was a $1 tip for helping him diet, taking care to pinch a little dough out of his bacon biscuits so the cowboy-man's big burly wouldn't go soft.

"He handed me a $100 bill!" Brenda recalls. "I looked at it, and I'm, like, 'Oh, no, no, no. I'm not taking


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