A Peek Inside the Heart of Claire Hall

This battered wooden toy car is one of the most precious things I own. It belonged to my father when he was a child, and when I was a teen, he entrusted it to me. I will never forget that day. 

My father was born in 1925 in Pierre, South Dakota. His father, who was in France with the US Marine Corps in World War I, came home and realized his dream of owning and operating a small farm outside of Pierre. He thrived for a time—I still have a yellowed clipping from a South Dakota small farmer’s paper about his farm, which features a photo of my dad, a smiling, chubby infant, in front of some choice produce. 

All was good until the Great Depression hit, and my grandparents, like millions of others, saw their economic security vanish. 

My grandparents kept the farm, but times were tough. One Christmas—I think it was about 1930, when my dad was five, his only Christmas gifts were an orange and this car. He ate the orange. 

Tough times persisted for years; when my father went off to school and had to change clothes for gym class, the other boys saw the underwear his mother had made for him from potato sacks and teased him. He cried. Listening to this strong, brave man, who came home from service with the Marines during the war in the Pacific with a metal plate in his skull, a hole blown entirely through one bicep, with more than 100 pieces of shrapnel permanently embedded in his legs…listening to him tell me this story and fighting back tears left an impression burned into my soul that’s still there decades later. 

It's human nature, I guess, to project our own narratives onto people we don’t know, and I’ve been on the receiving end of a lot of that this year. Twice I’ve been accused of being off playing golf with my rich friends while I ignore, or laugh at, the plight of people suffering through the lockdown. Two things. First, the only golf I’ve ever played has been putt putt. 

Second, I don’t have rich friends. My friends work the counters in retail. They operate mom and pop shops. They work in social services, doing the best they can to help those in need. They’re retirees, some doing well, many others living with daily fear about whether they will enjoy health and independence as the years advance. They struggle with chronic illness and disability. They’re parents and teachers. They’re journalists and broadcasters, and while I loved my years in that field, I can assure you it does not make you rich. 

In short, they’re like many people I have admired and loved, including my parents. People who give of their time, talents and dollars, not from a place of abundance, but from their own place of want, because they know there’s someone close by who is in even greater need. Those are the values my parents taught me and that I carry forward into serving the community I love. 

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