Leah’s Pony by Elizabeth Friedrich starts out as an average story about a girl and her horse, but the ending packs a wallop!
Set in the 1930’s Dust Bowl, Leah spends every waking moment with her pony. She watches her neighbors pack up and leave for Oregon when the crops fail. Leah’s family is one day forced to auction off the farm and its contents to pay the bank. Leah, anxious to help her family, sells her precious horse without telling her parents in order to get money. As the auction begins, items begin selling; but when her dad’s tractor is put up for sale, Leah bids a dollar (the amount she sold her pony for). No one bids against her, much to the auctioneer’s dismay.
She buys the tractor for one dollar, setting off a wave of “penny bids” for the rest of the items. All of the neighbors give back the items they bought to Leah’s family. They end up keeping everything. Leah goes to sleep missing her pony.
The next morning Leah goes to the barn and finds her pony. A note from the grocer whom she sold her to tells her the pony fits her much better than his grandson.
I had never heard of these “penny” auctions before this book but apparently they were commonplace in the Great Depression. Neighbors and friends would gather around a family who couldn’t pay their mortgage. They would agree beforehand to not bid too much on items and encouraged others who showed up not to bid either. Then they would buy all the items at low prices and give it all back to the family, thereby settling their debt with the bank. I wonder wistfully where these neighbors are today when people lose everything.
Another book along the same lines is called Saving Strawberry Farm by Deborah Hopkinson. This one features a woman who owned a strawberry farm and would invite all the children over each summer to pick her strawberries. One boy found out she was to love the farm through an auction. Encouraged by a shopkeeper, the boy rallies the neighbors and show up to the auction to save Strawberry Farm.
When the bidding started, the boy bid one penny. Everyone else bid up the price but just by a little bit, no one allowing anyone to bid up the price too high. When the price reached $9.75 cents the woman bid on her own property and the bidding stopped. The neighbors collected the money and gave it to her to pay for her farm.
Both tales are heart-warming and inspiring to help others in times of need. Both show the power of the collective good when all are united for one cause. I loved the ingenuity of people which continues to amaze me. Both recommended highly especially to lighten the mood when speaking of such trying times as the Great Depression. Take away: the human spirit never dies despite the circumstances we face.