ABoxofBooksIt doesn’t take much to give a kid living in poverty a dream. My two younger brothers and I grew up in the Oklahoma hills in tin-roofed shacks and abandoned dirt-floored chicken houses working the cotton, corn, and strawberry fields alongside Mom and Dad. Dad could neither read nor write; Mom had quit school in the eighth grade.

They refused, however, to give up their souls in exchange for dependency on government handouts of any sort. “We will be beholden to no one, especially government,” Mom declared.

When I was about seven, my Great Aunt gave me a box of old books that included Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath and Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls. I began to read—and the world opened up to me.

“I’m going to be a writer like Ernest Hemingway,” I informed my Mom. “I’m going to travel the whole world, live many lives, not just one, have adventures, and write about it.”

Dad had never lived anywhere except in these hills sweating in fields bringing in crops, and as a laborer. He scoffed at the idea of my becoming a writer; people like us didn’t do things like that.

When I was about 15, I received $50 for a published piece I wrote. Dad looked shocked. He couldn’t read the check, but he turned it over and over in his hands in disbelief.

As perspective, I would have had to work the cotton fields every day sunup to sundown dragging a pick sack for two weeks to have earned that much money.

A box of books had provided a dream to a ragged little hill kid. I enlisted in the U.S. Navy when I was seventeen, left home, and have traveled the world as a writer/adventurer ever since—and have indeed lived those many lives:

U.S. Navy journalist; U.S. Army Special Forces (Green Berets); Miami, Florida, police officer; Tulsa, Oklahoma, police homicide detective; combat correspondent in Asia and Latin America; photographer; professional kickboxer; rodeo cowboy bronc rider, roper, and bullfighting clown; archaeologist, race car driver; horse trainer; college instructor; long distance runner; airplane pilot; missionary…

I’ve hopped freights to live with the homeless; climbed the tallest mountain in Africa; won a Silver Medal in snow ski racing; solo-canoed the Yukon River and kayaked the Inside Passage to Alaska; sailed the Caribbean in a 17-foot sailboat; made the first transcontinental flight in an ultralight aircraft known as a “powered parachute;” rode horses across Alaska; went undercover on Occupy Wall Street; was a finalist to fly into space with NASA’s “Journalist in Space” project… I’ve traveled to every continent on earth except Antarctica, hiked the Sahara, roamed Africa, Vietnam, Europe, and Asia; ran with the bulls in Spain; covered wars as a journalist…

Along the way I have published over 60 books and thousands of magazine articles and short stories.

I have indeed lived many lives, just as I promised myself as a kid. It all began with a box of books and a dream. Dreams are powerful things.

“During the last days of a failing society,” Alexis de Tocqueville warned, “appear prophets who try to warn of the precipice ahead in the darkness. We should not complacently think that the barbarians are still far away…”

From Chasing the Collective: The Last Chance to Keep America Free and Self-Governing, by Charles W. Sasser. Available in book stores and on Amazon-com.