Wheatley was fortunate enough to learn to stand on his own two feet at a young age. His father was abroad during World War II, and when he was nine years old, there was an Army Air Artillery Regiment near San Diego, and the soldiers stationed there became close friends with him to pass the boring leisure time. They would give Wheatley military souvenirs, like Army camouflage helmets, gun belts, and military water bottles. Wheatley would return the favor with candy, magazines, or invitations to their homes for casual meals.
Wheatley will never forget that day, he recalled.
One of my soldier friends said, ‘I’ll take you fishing on the boat at five o’clock Sunday morning.’ I jumped up and down and replied happily, ‘Woo-hoo! I so wanted to go. I’ve never even been near a boat, and I’m always on the bridge. On the breakwater, or fishing on the rocks. It’s enviable to watch a ship sail out to sea! I always dreamed that one day I could fish from a boat. Chagrin, thank you so much! I’m going to tell my mom to invite you over for dinner next Saturday.’
Saturday night, I excitedly got dressed and went to bed, wearing my tennis shoes to ensure I wouldn’t be late. I couldn’t sleep in bed, imagining grouper and barracuda in the sea, swimming around on the ceiling. At 3:00 a.m., I climbed out of my bedroom window, prepared my tackle box with extra hooks and line, and oiled the spools on my fishing rods. Brought two peanut butter and jam sandwiches. At 4:00 sharp, I was ready to go. Rods, tackle box, lunch, and a lot of enthusiasm, all set – sitting on the curb outside my house, waiting in the dark for my soldier friend to show up.
“But he missed his appointment.”
That may have been the pivotal moment when I learned to be self-sufficient.
“I didn’t let it make me doubt the sincerity of people or feel sorry for myself, nor did I crawl back into bed sulking or chagrined, complaining to my mother, siblings and friends that the guy didn’t show up and missed his appointment. Instead, I ran to the vendor’s stand in the vacant lot of the nearby drive-in and spent all the money I had earned from weeding to buy the single rubber lifeboat that I had seen and patched there the previous week. Near noon, I blew the rubber boat full of air, I put it on the head, with fishing gear inside, like a primitive hunting party. I cranked the paddle and slid into the water, pretending I was about to launch a big luxury tanker and sail out to sea. I caught some fish, enjoyed my sandwich, drank some juice from a military canteen, and it was one of the best days of my life. It was truly one of the great high points of life.”
Wheatley often recalls that day and contemplates the lessons he learned, even at the tender age of nine, but he learned a valuable lesson: “The first thing I learned was that as long as the fish were on, there was nothing in the world to worry about. And that afternoon, the fish did get caught! Secondly, my soldier friend taught me that good intentions alone are not enough. The soldier friend was going to take me and thought about taking me, but he didn’t show up for his appointment.”
For Wheatley, however, going fishing that day was his greatest hope, and he immediately set a plan to make the wish come true. The disappointment most likely crushed Weiteliand just went home to comfort himself: “You wanted to go fishing. But the soldier didn’t come, so let’s forget it!” On the contrary, a voice in his heart told him: desire alone is not enough to win; I have to act immediately, to stand on my own feet, to develop my piece of fertile ground, that is, my potential.