Kevin Salwen’s daughter Hannah didn’t think her parents were doing enough for the poor. So she persuaded them to sell their $1.6 million house and give half the proceeds to a village in Ghana.
I expect she also persuaded them to write a book about what they did, and tell the New Yorker all about it, too.
One day in 2006, Kevin and Hannah pulled up at a stoplight. To their left was a homeless man, to their right a guy in a Mercedes coupÃ©. Hannah said, â€œDad, if that man didnâ€™t have such a nice car, then that homeless man could have a meal.â€ Kevin said, â€œYes, but if we didnâ€™t have such a nice car that man could have a meal.â€ This sank in rather more deeply than heâ€™d intended. By dinnertime, Hannah was all worked up. She didnâ€™t want to be a family that just talked about doing good, she said. She wanted to be a family that actually did something. Kevin and Joan explained that they did a lot: they volunteered at the food bank; they wrote big checks to charities; after Hurricane Katrina, they let a family of refugees stay in their basement. Hannah rolled her eyes. That was annoying, so Joan said, â€œWhat do you want to do, sell the house?â€ And Hannah said, â€œYeah! That is exactly what I want to do.â€
â€œWe donâ€™t expect anyone else to sell their house,â€ Hannah assured the Marymount girls, whose parents might not have appreciated a demand by their offspring to donate eight hundred thousand dollars (half the value of the Salwensâ€™ house) to charity. â€œWe know thatâ€™s a ridiculous thing to do. But everyone has something they can afford to give away. If you watch six hours of TV a week, maybe you cut that down to three hours and spend three with your family volunteering at a homeless shelter.â€
A girl with a ponytail raised her hand. â€œHave you ever regretted selling your house?â€ she asked.
â€œThere are some things that I miss,â€ Hannah said. â€œWe had an elevator that led up to my room, and it was really cool, because nobody else had an elevator in their room. My friends would say, â€˜Letâ€™s ride in the elevator!â€™ But it really doesnâ€™t matter.â€
Now, there is a Oneupsmanship line that Stephen Potter might envy.
In this well-meaning but self-congratulatory memoir, the Salwen family decides to sell their gorgeous Atlanta mansion, move to a home half the size, and commit half the proceeds to the needy. … The authors tend to gush over their efforts while discounting the privileged position that allows them to make them (“we think everyone can give one of the three T’s: time, talent or treasure”); their unflagging optimism, buttressed by clear self-regard, can also be tiring.