An inspiring account of America at its worst—and Americans at their
best—woven from the stories of Depression-era families who were
helped by gifts from the author’s generous and secretive grandfather
before Christmas 1933, in Depression-scarred Canton, Ohio, a small
newspaper ad offered $10, no strings attached, to seventy-five families in
distress. Interested readers were asked to submit letters describing
their hardships to a benefactor calling himself Mr. B. Virdot. The
author’s grandfather, Sam Stone, was inspired to place this ad and
assist his fellow Cantonians as they prepared for the cruelest Christmas
most of them would ever witness.
Moved by the tales of suffering
and expressions of hope contained in the letters, which he discovered
in a suitcase seventy-five years later, Ted Gup initially set out to unveil the
lives behind them, searching for records and relatives all over the
country who could help him flesh out the family sagas hinted at in those
letters. From these sources, Gup has recreated the impact that Mr B.
Virdot’s gift had on each family. Many people yearned for bread, coal,
or other necessities, but many others received money from B. Virdot for
more fanciful items: a toy horse, say, or a set of encyclopedias. As
Gup’s investigations revealed, all these things had the power to turn
people’s lives around—even to save them.
But as he uncovered the
suffering and triumphs of dozens of strangers, Gup also learned that
Sam Stone was far more complex than the lovable retiree persona he’d
always shown his grandson. Gup unearths deeply buried details about
Sam’s life—from his impoverished, abusive upbringing to felonious
efforts to hide his immigrant origins from US officials—that help
explain why he felt such a strong affinity to strangers in need.
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