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No Longer Avoiding Bill Collectors

From time to time, CBS Correspondent Steve Hartman uses the random toss of a dart and a map of the United States to guide him in his quest to prove that "Everybody Has A Story." During August, he's taking a trip down memory lane with some of the many people he has profiled.

CBS News Correspondent Steve Hartman says if he had come to Latimer County, Okla., just two weeks earlier, he would have never been able to tell the following story.

"I would have never answered the phone," explains Melinda Brinlee.

The reason? Bill collectors. Until recently, Melinda and her husband David were ignoring more than 100 calls a week. Their three kids were avoiding the cordless like a hot stove. And everyone was at wit's end.

"I hate bills," says one of their kids with her hands on her neck and collapsing on the bed.

How they got into this mess is a story as common as credit cards. But how they got out of it, with their marriage unscathed, is a tale far more interesting.

"He always wanted to do this. He always wanted to start his own business," says Melinda.

Two years ago, David Brinlee started a company making compressors for the oil industry.

As he explains the job, talking about secondary and terciary recoveries, his wife admits to being lost, clueless.

But just imagine a giant tire-air compressor found in most gas stations. Except instead of re-inflating the tires on your Land Rover, this technology re-inflates the land. You hook it up to just one old dried-up oil well, re-pressurize the entire field below, and pretty soon, you're Jed Clampett all over again.

Sounds like a "can't-miss" thing.

"Oh, it can miss," says David. "You know, nothing's guaranteed."

What did the Brinlees invest in this?

"A whole lot of time. And money," says David.

"His retirement. We went through all of it. We lived off credit cards," adds his wife.

Melinda Brinlee had her job at the Court Clerk's Office, but that wasn't nearly enough. And when she couldn't pay the bills, her health paid the price. She lost 40 pounds. Her hair started falling out. She was literally worried sick. And she didn't need a doctor to diagnose that.

"You know, writing letters to Santa, you know, wanting momma to have more money," Melinda says about her daughter's rreaction, with tears in her eyes.

"And I had told him I'd never tell him to quit. But we couldn't do it anymore," she says about her husband.

What did he say?

"OK. That's all he said. Honest," Melinda replies and gives a big laugh as she wipes away her tears.

When it comes to money, especially, so many couples exchange so many words, and so often end up divorced. But this couple made it through the toughest conversation of their lives with hardly a word. All there was, was an unspoken agreement: Let's start over.

"Now he got the boss, and he got the job, but he fixes compressors," says one of their kids.

David Brinlee took the job and filed for bankruptcy just a few weeks ago. That's the happy ending to this story. The Brinlees say it feels great to finally have the bill collectors off their backs. Now, when opportunity calls, they can at least answer.