Generosity in the Middle of a Great Depression

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By StoryCorps, author of Listening Is an Act of Love
story corps pb.pngIn 2003, Dave Isay created StoryCorps to record intimate interviews between loved ones and friends. Over the years, the organization has collected and preserved tens of thousands of American stories, covering everything from the war in Iraq to the Great Depression. In 2007, StoryCorps published 50 of their favorite stories in the New York Times best-seller Listening Is an Act of Love. We'll let them take it from here:

These days, Americans are looking at the sluggish economy and bracing themselves for harder times. To many, it seems comforting to hear from those who lived through the hardest financial times this country has faced: the Great Depression.

The stockmarket crashed on October 29, 1929, but as Virginia Hill Fairbrother remembers it, the full effects of the Depression didn't show until she was in the third grade, in the fall of 1932—three years later. She lived in Parshall, North Dakota, a farm town where the winters could be merciless.

Virginia's family fared better than some; her father was a pharmacist who owned a drugstore in town. One day when her father was at home for lunch, a man drove up to the house with his wife and small children in tow. As Virginia tells her daughter Laurel Kaae, the young man told Virginia's dad that he had a job in Fort Peck, Montana—nearly 250 miles away—if only he could reach it by the next day. But he needed some help to make it out there.

Dad took them into the restaurant and had them fed. He had a friend of his who was a Ford dealer fill the car with gas and put on a spare tire. He gave this man a sack full of food that wasn't perishable and five dollars.
Twenty-five years later, I happened to be in my folks' home one night and my brother who was a pharmacist was in the drug store. He called and said, "Somebody just came in and asked to talk to Mr. Hill." This man was looking for Dad, so he sent him up to our house.
He came in and he had two tall young men with him. He said to Dad, "You don't know me, do you Mr. Hill?" He said, "I'm the fellow that had to get to Fort Peck."
On that day all those years ago, the young man had insisted on giving dad a watch that he had gotten from his father for graduation. Dad looked at Mother and said, "Florence-- the watch." My mother went and got it from where it had been all of those years, except on Sundays when Dad wound it. He gave it back to the fellow. The man said, "You were supposed to use this." Dad said, "I did. Every Sunday I wound it."

This man never expected to see it again. He just wanted his kids to see my dad.

To hear the rest of Virginia's story in her own voice, be sure to click here. And be sure to check outMonday's touching post about Sam Harmon, here.
Want more stories from StoryCorps? Pick up a copy of Listening Is an Act of Love today. (It makes a great gift!) To hear additional clips, visit the StoryCorps website or tune in to NPR's Morning Edition on Fridays.

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December 16, 2008 - 12:36pm
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