Mary Burton, Michigan
When I was a child, my aunt and uncle lived a few hours away from my parents. My uncle was my father’s older brother. They didn’t have any children, and lived in a small house in a factory town.
Once the auto factories started to leave, the city began to decline, and many residents moved away. This city was a world apart from our safe middle class town; theirs was the only house I knew that had bars on all the windows. They had been installed after three people came to their front door brandishing a gun. After that experience, they were frightened into barricading themselves in.
My uncle walked with a cane after he was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. Back in the 1950s, he was considered unable to work, so my aunt worked full-time to support them. She also was responsible for her elderly mother, who lived with them too. At 10 years old, I didn’t understand that their financial situation was precarious.
During a family visit to their home, my aunt asked me to get a cup so she could pour me some milk. When I reached into the cupboard for a glass, I saw that one of the drinking glasses on the shelf held a $10 bill. I grabbed it and demanded to know why they kept money in a glass. At the time, $10 was a respectable amount of money.
I don’t remember their answer. Eventually I learned my father had hidden the money there. He wanted to help his brother, but didn’t want to insult him by handing him cash, which his brother surely would have refused. Like many people raised during the Great Depression, they took pride in taking care of themselves and never asking for help. Dad knew the money would be discovered after our visit, thus avoiding any face-to- face discussion and refusal to keep the cash.
Many years later, my aunt told me about going to settle up with the funeral home after my uncle died—when she discovered Dad had already paid it in full.
Although my discovery thwarted my dad’s effort that time, I learned a lot about generosity, pride, and how people help one another out while leaving their dignity intact. My dad has been gone for two years, but even now I find myself continuing to learn from his example. There is always a way to help people without taking away the most important things that remain to them.