It was Texas, 1926. America was on the brink of the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl was not too far behind.
My Papaw, Doc Hillin, was 23 at the time and worked at a service station for the Panhandle Refining Co. in Wichita Falls. The definition of a working class man, he barely had two cents to rub together. Despite his empty pockets, he was a bonafide romantic and in 1926 he was madly, deeply in love.
He had married my Mamaw, Virginia Walker, back in 1924. She was a tall, strong woman of Scottish descent who had a quick wit and feisty disposition that stayed with her well into her 90's.
When the two got hitched, Doc didn't have enough money for a wedding present but knew exactly what Virginia had always wanted: a silver set of her very own. She never bugged him about it -- that wasn't her style -- but Doc knew that if the time ever came he'd do anything to get it for her.
As luck would have it, that time came in the summer of '26.
One day while working at the station, a man walked in who happened to sell silver. My Papaw wanted to seize the the opportunity, but unfortunately he was short on cash -- as in he had none. Zilch. Zero.
What he did have was an old Ford, which he had recently purchased for $35.60 so he wouldn't have to walk to work anymore; he desperately needed it. But he wasn't thinking straight. He was a man in love.
The silver-seller offered Doc a trade: his old Ford for a beautiful silver set. Doc accepted without hesitation.
He went home that day and presented the set to his new, young wife, who was shocked beyond belief. She never saw it coming.
I know all this because my Papaw wrote it down in 1987 when he gave us that same silver set. The set is now almost a century old.
"It has been in our home since 1926," he wrote. "It is getting old like me. We hope you will like it."
Silverware set from 1926, with letter
In the letter, he also explained that he didn't really "need" the car, but my Mamaw, who didn't have a lying bone in her body, later informed me that because of the trade, he had to walk to work every day for the next few years -- in Texas, where on some days it's so hot you can cook an egg on the sidewalk.
Luckily for me, I have seen it, all thanks to my Papaw -- and now as an adult, I know how to give it.
Even into his 80s and 90s, I watched him love and adore my Mamaw as if no time had passed. I'm sure their relationship had its ups and downs as all relationships do, but this was a man who would hug her in the evening, hold her hand at the table, sneak kisses in the kitchen corner, thank her for making dinner and looked at her like she was the only woman in the world.
But what I love most about this one small story in a long line of others from their decades-long marriage is not that he bought her the silverware, but that he never regretted it.
He never once complained about walking to work and sixty years later, when passing the prized set down to his grandchildren, he remembered his Ford as a car "which I did not need." He had two feet after all.
Now, that's a love we can all learn from.
Doc and Virginia Hillin as newlyweds (left), then in 1987 (right).
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