The $10 Bill

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.

The Ten Dollar BillDuring 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.

Originally published as HeroicStories #873 on June 17, 2016

3 thoughts on “The $10 Bill”

  1. The comment this person makes about being a 10 year old in the 1950s and demanding to know why folks kept money in a glass is quite affable ….. 10 year olds in the 50s didn’t DEMAND anything.

  2. In the 1950’s, $10.00 was significant. It would buy a lot of groceries.

    A lot of elderly people today are in the same situation as his uncle and aunt, they have little income and barely make it every month. Ten dollars isn’t worth much today but it can make a difference to some people.

    When you see people in public you can tell that some have little extra. Figure out how to help even if you don’t know them. If they are in a restaurant, pay for their meal, pay their grocery bill at the store. They may object but they will be thankful.

  3. Upon reading Mary Burton’s “The $10 Bill,” a long forgotten and life
    affirming memory came to me. During college three of us chose to
    be roommates the entire four years.
    There were three times when I was very worried about money. Someone
    in that room put $50 in my dresser drawer each time. I know who it was
    but words were never spoken.


Leave a Comment