Howard Kirby

Earlier this week, the paper I work for sent me out to photograph this man. His name is Howard Kirby. He lives in Ovid, Michigan, and he’s in the news because he found $43,000 of depression-era cash stuffed in a thrifted couch cushion and returned it to its original owners.

Howard and his pets.

Howard’s living room.

Howard, his daughter-in-law, Diane, and his son, Ben, in the doorway of their home.

The Kirbys’ home.


Honestly, neither the $43,000 figure nor the fact that he returned it made much of an impression on me. (Did he do the right thing? Yes. Do the sum and the circumstances make you look twice? Sure.) What did make an impression on me was pretty much every other detail I gathered about Howard’s life and world during the few hours I was granted access to it: the six cats, one dog, eldest son, and daughter-in-law he lives with, the cousin he lost to cancer last year and the way his voice cracked when he brought it up, the second divorce he went through recently and how he stopped himself mid-sentence to say, “I still love her,” the board games stacked against the basement wall, the religion he clings to so strenuously, the bullets that he did and didn’t fire, the reasons he should be dead, the way he lit up when I asked about his grand-niece’s artwork hanging crookedly on the wall, the miles and miles of snowy, open farmland that I drove past to get to his house and the crumbling barns that dotted it.

Everything, in other words, that had been stuck in and probably will, once the story blows over, sink back into obscurity. The perfectly ordinary, often devastating, totally invisible struggle of just facing every new day.

If there’s anything I’m taking from Howard’s story, it’s that we’d do well to consider how we can make the sort of big-heartedness and generosity that got him into the headlines in the first place as commonplace as the pain it’s also helping to ameliorate.

Saginaw, MI
January 2020

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