A Yuletide Gift of Kindness

Seventy-five years later, Ted Gup learns the astonishing secret about his grandfather’s generosity during the Great Depression

In 2008, Ted Gup was handed a battered suitcase by his mother; it contained conceled checks and old letters addressed to "B. Virdot". Thus began a search for the stories behind the letters. (Bradley E. Clift)
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If you should send me Ten Dollars I would buy clothing and buy the Christmas dinner and supper.

I thank you.

Finding Helen Palm's descendants was difficult. Her daughter, Janet Rogers, now 72, answered my questions about her mother—when she had been born, when she got married. Just as I was about to ask when her mother had died, Janet asked, "Would you like to speak with my mother?"

It took me a moment to collect myself. I had discovered the last living person to write to B. Virdot.

Even at age 91, Helen Palm, a housewife and great-grandmother, remembers the check she received in 1933. She used the money to buy clothes for her brothers and sisters, just as she had said she would do in her letter, and to take her parents to a nickel show and to buy food. But first, she bought herself a pair of shoes to replace those she had worn through and patched with a cardboard insert cut from a Shredded Wheat box. "I did wonder for a long time who this Mr. B. Virdot was," she told me. Now she is the only one among all those who sought help that Christmas 77 years ago to live long enough to learn his true identity.

"Well," she said to me, "God love him."

Ted Gup is the author of three books, including the new A Secret Gift, which documents his grandfather's largesse. Photojournalist Bradley E. Clift has worked in 45 states and 44 countries.

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