It was a Thursday in July of 1934. Irvin Milhouse sat on a tree stump in Kentucky. He had left New York on Black Tuesday without saying goodbye to anyone. He feared that the mafia was after him, and any person he saw dressed in a black suit Irvin generally avoided. If a gunshot rang in the distance, Irvin thought the mob was getting closer: Irvin Milhouse was a wreck.
He had not eaten in two days. It had been five years since the stock market had fallen, and since then Irvin had lost much of the weight he once possessed. Now he longed for it back. He bore a beard, old clothes, and a crumpled leather hat. He looked Kentuckian. Often he contemplated suicide. It would put an end to the suffering, but for some reason he could not bring himself to do it. He thought occasionally of the beautiful apartment he once owned and it brought tears to his eyes. All of the luxuries he had once taken for granted had simply vanished on that Black day. But, he rationed, was it payment for his sins?
Somewhere in the distance he could see a figure drawing closer. Too tired to run and too tired of hiding, Irvin simply sat on his stump, waiting for the person to come to him. As the shape grew close enough to see, Irvin made out that the figure was simply an old man, weary and bone-thin like everyone else. The man said nothing until he stopped beside Irvin.
"Howdy." The traveler peered sadly into Irvin's eyes. "You got a name stranger?"
"Yes, sir," said Irvin. "I used to use it back before everything went wrong. Irvin's the name. And you?"
The man shook his head and spit in the dirt. "Nope. I don't reckon I'm worthy of a name anymore. Haven't used one in so long."
Irvin stood and shook hands with the strange old man. "Take this here seat, Mister. An old man like you needs all the rest he can get."
"What are you doin' in these parts?" Asked the old man as he sat down on the stump. "You're not from around here, are ya?"
Irvin shook his head and shrugged. "I guess I'm doing what every other person in this country's doing. I'm looking for work and food." He paused. "No, I'm not from here. Does my voice give me away?"
The old man laughed. "Yep. You Yankees all sound the same to an old man, but I s'pose we hicks sound the same to you. But ye ain't gonna find work or food around here. I used ter work in them mines fer enough money ter s'port my fam'ly. Had me a wife and two kids. My woman died two years ago and my kids left me. Said they'd find 'em some work and then they'd help me out. Well, it's been two years and I ain't heard from 'em yet."
Irvin did not know what to say. Since the crash he had heard countless stories similar to this, and each one broke his heart anew. The whole world had been drastically altered in just one day. People were roaming the streets looking for work; people were crossing the country to find work anywhere they could in America; people were seeking desperately for just a small bite to eat and to end the suffering. Irvin and the stranger were two people out of millions who could tell similar stories.
"What's yer reason fer sticking ‘round here?" The man's voice brought Irvin back to the present.
"Well, I used to work on the stock market up in New York before that dreadful day. Somehow, I got involved with the mob and since Black Tuesday, I have been running from them. I think they are always after me because I lost my boss millions of dollars. Last I heard there was a bounty on my head, but I'm sure that's just a bluff. The Don doesn't have any money either."
The old man was shaking his head. "A bounty huh . . .. Aw, it's a shame when a man ain't got no place to sleep without being skeered o' somethin'. To be a runnin' fer five years must have quite a toll on a feller like you."
"Yep. I ain't ate in two days now. I ain't bathed in Lord knows when." Irvin paused. "What about you, Mister? How long has it been since you ate?"
The man had to think for a minute before responding. "Lemme see. I reckon I et me somethin' last night. I was gettin' off a train, and I found me an apple tree. Plum near every apple was plucked off 'at tree, but I got me one."
"Sure wish I had me an apple right now. I could eat the whole tree probably." The old man reached into his pocked and pulled out a small Golden Delicious.
Irvin's eyes lit up with hunger and the man smiled. "Here, son. You take this here apple and eat it. I'm old and ain't got much life left in me, but yer young and in need of some food." Irvin looked apprehensive. "Go on, son. I got more."
Irvin took the apple from Mister's hand and began eating. Between a bite he managed a "Thank you" and Mister smiled at his fortune. "The Lord is gonna look out fer ya', Irvin. He's got plans to fix up this country. You just wait."
For a while longer the two men just sat and said nothing. They enjoyed each other’s company. It was rare for a friendship to start in such hard times, but Irvin figured that people all around the country were pulling together, trying to overcome the hardships. Irvin looked at his new friend and smiled. The stranger could offer hope in Irvin's life where others could not. God was showing him that there was still a reason to hang on.
Night fell and the men were resting peacefully on the Kentucky grounds. Mister stood up from his stump and talked quietly "Irvin, son, are you awake?"
"Yeah. I'm just sittin' here thinkin'."
"Me too. I think I'm gonna be a headin' on."
"Where ya goin'?" Irvin asked rising up.
The man shrugged. "I dunno. I got a fam'ly out there somewhere. I sho' would like ta' see 'em again before I go on to meet the Lord. I guess I'll go a lookin' fer food, a job, and my kids. What about yerself?"
Irvin shook his head. "I don't know, either. I'm probably going to head on down the river and see if I can get me a job sharecroppin' with someone. Only the Lord knows."
Mister extended his hand, and Irvin happily grasped it. "I thank'ee son fer givin' an ole' man yer seat. If ya' travel a piece east, you'll find that apple tree I was tellin' ya about."
"Thank you, Mister. I hope God watches over you on your trip and I'll be praying for you to find your kids. Thanks for that apple, too."
The old man smiled. "I'll see ya again one day."
Irvin watched as his friend started walking away in the dark night. He was amazed at how strong the man was, how determined he was to find his kids and secure a future, and this offered inspiration to Irvin. He watched until Mister disappeared and then he sat back down on the stump. For the first time in years, Irvin Milhouse slept unafraid. The future would bring with it change for the better, and he would be there when it came.