On a rainy day in May, I drove 30 miles down winding rural roads just past Ashland City to visit my friend and Contributor vendor Mario M. at his newly purchased home. In his driveway sits Mario’s maroon truck with an “I Break for The Contributor” bumper sticker and three “Bear Care Lawn Service” signs on the doors and tailgate. Mario and his five dogs greet me warmly on the porch and give me the grand tour.
We walk through the rooms and Mario points out which furniture came from friends: a desk in his office, several shelves, and a large bed. I see the kitchen, bathroom, and the room where he keeps his lawnmowers. We walk down to the basement and I read “A dog doesn’t care if you are rich or poor, give a dog your heart and he’ll give you his” on our way to the back porch. There, we look out into the large yard where Mario’s dogs are free to run and play, a luxury they haven’t had during the last five years as they were all living in a barn in Carthage.
“Dogs have been in my life probably about eight years now. They found me. They are all rescues. The Lord knew there was a void in my heart to be filled, and he filled it when he brought these kids into my life,” Mario said. “I was so depressed, but because of them, I had a responsibility. I told them, ‘Look you’ve been abandoned once, you’re not going to be abandoned again. We are sticking together.’ And we did it. We lived two weeks in that truck and now we got a home. I didn’t abandon them. We stuck together. That’s why I bought this home. I bought this home for them, not for me, for them.”
Mario began selling The Contributor in 2012 after the economy tanked and his business staining log cabins dried up. His home was eventually foreclosed, and Mario found himself and four dogs living in his truck—the same truck that now sits outside his home and pulls a trailer full of lawn equipment from his mowing business.
After two weeks of living in the truck, a friend offered to let Mario live in a barn on his property. Eventually, Mario bought a 22 -foot camper which he parked in the barn, but still only had limited water and electricity. Mario said storms in that barn were so scary that if he knew it was going to be bad, he’d pack the dogs in his truck and drive to an overpass where he knew he’d be safer.
In his new home, Mario doesn’t have to leave during a storm, his dogs have space to play, and he can use more than one electrical plug at a time. He has a huge smile on his face throughout the tour of his new place. The smile of a man who is seeing the fruits of his labor.
“I knew what I had to do and I worked hard for this,” Mario tells me when we take a seat on his front porch. “I put effort toward it. I don’t focus on the problem, I try to focus on the solution. I’m semi-retired now, I’m 63 years old and I’m still working. I’m going to continue doing what I have to do to have a halfway kind of life.”
Mario rose to the top of The Contributor sales list early on, which he attributes to his dog Bear who would accompany him to his spot. They’ve become fixtures in Donelson, and have several regular customers.
“I treated The Contributor as a job because it is a job. We bought our papers, we sold our papers. Like any other merchant. We’re not asking for a handout. We’re out there selling. We have to make our money and go buy more stock. I think a lot of people saw that in me. And I think they also saw, too, where their money was going. Like when I put it in my lawn business. I worked hard to get that. Why should I be ashamed?” said Mario. “I’m proud of what I did. The people who criticize you, I found out, are the ones who don’t know anything about you.”
Throughout our conversation, Mario’s gratitude for his customers, his dogs, and The Contributor is palpable.
“I cannot emphasize enough how grateful I am for The Contributor. If that had not been available, I don’t know what I would have done. My hips are bad, my back is bad, and I’m getting older. So I thought, I’ll start my own business, I’ll make my own hours, I’ll do it my way to my level to what I can handle,” said Mario. “And my customers have helped me out a lot — more than they realize. If it wasn’t for my customers, I couldn’t have done it.”
Mario says he still plans to sell The Contributor during the winter months.
“The lawn business supplements what I need, but come winter time that’s not to say I won’t need to sell the papers again. I know a lot of people might criticize me saying, “now you got a home, what are you doing selling the papers?” But now I have a mortgage payment and utility payments. Now it’s harder, I have more responsibility and more debt now. But at the same time, when I’m selling papers, I’m not asking for a handout, I’m just asking for the price of the paper. That’s all I’m asking for.”