In researching my husband’s ancestry, I have been trying to get a feel for what life was like for his grandparents. They married in 1924 and lived on some different farms in South Dakota the first 20 or so years of their lives. In order to get a glimpse of what their lives might have been like, I have been reading books about the great depression and the dust bowl. Both of these events were major parts of America’s history and neither of which I learned much about during my years in public school.
One of the books: A Secret Gift by Ted Gup is a story of happenings in depression era Canton, OH. The book is somewhat of a biography of the author’s grandfather, Sam Stone, and includes many of the citizens of depression era Canton. The story starts off with Mr. Gup receiving an old leather suitcase from his mother, the suitcase contains some of his grandfather’s papers. Mr. Gup’s grandfather and grandmother are deceased at the time of his writing the book. Among the papers in the case, he finds a pouch containing a bunch of old letters and a bankbook. Upon further investigation, the author discovers that near Christmas 1933 his grandfather placed an ad in the local newspaper under an assumed name stating that he wanted to help some 75 families during the holidays. He asked that the write to him and explain their circumstances and he would choose 75 or so families to help. Realizing that people were proud and didn’t want to take a handout but also that many people were suffering at this time from lack of work and thus lack of money for food and other necessities, he also promised that he would not reveal the names of those that had written to him for help. It turns out that the author is an investigative reporter who has the skills to investigate the letters and stories of the folks involved. During the course of his investigation he also learns much about his grandfather’s secret past. The author also contacts descendants of the folks who wrote the letters and learns what became of them and where their families ended up. The gift that Mr. Stone gave the writers was only $5, equivalent to about $100 today but more than that he gave them a way to express their fears and frustrations – to relieve themselves of an emotional burden anonymously and people were very encouraged to find that someone cared. It brought hope to a portion of Canton, OH. The contents of the letters sheds light on the fears of the time and helped to me to better understand the people living at that time. The book is well written and reads somewhat like a mystery but the fun part is that the people and events are real. I found this book by accident by searching Great Depression on our library website, I am truly glad that I found it and highly recommend it for anyone interested in that time period.