What Difference Do It Make?: Stories of Hope and Healing

What Difference Do It Make?: Stories of Hope and Healing


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Some Stories Just Can’t Be Stopped . . .

What Difference Do It Make? continues the hard-to-believe story of hope and reconciliation that began with the New York Times bestseller, Same Kind of Different as Me. Ron Hall and Denver Moore, unlikely friends and even unlikelier coauthors—a wealthy fine-art dealer and an illiterate homeless African American—share the hard-to-stop story of how a remarkable woman’s love brought them together. Now, in What Difference Do It Make? Ron and Denver along with Lynn Vincent offer:
  • more of the story—with untold anecdotes, especially Ron’s struggle with his difficult father and Denver’s dramatic stint in Angola prison
  • the rest of the story—how Same Kind of Different as Me came to be written and changed the lives of its authors
  • the ongoing story—true tales of hope from people whose lives have been changed by Ron and Denver’s story and how they make a difference in their worlds
  • your part in the story—wise, practical, and hard-lived guidance for how you can make a difference to those in need
  • plus intriguing extras—including full-page color samples of Denver’s paintings
Deeply moving but never sappy or sentimental, What Difference Do It Make? answers its own question with a simple and emphatic answer. What difference can one person (or two) make in the world? A lot!

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780849946196
Publisher: Nelson, Thomas, Inc.
Publication date: 08/29/2010
Pages: 311
Sales rank: 204,270
Product dimensions: 5.30(w) x 8.20(h) x 0.60(d)

About the Author

Ron Hall has dedicated much of the last ten years of his life to speaking on behalf of, and raising money for, the homeless. Formerly an international art dealer, Ron is a #1 New York Times bestselling author and writer/producer of the Paramount/Pure Flix film Same Kind of Different as Me. A Texas Christian University graduate, Ron was honored in 2017 with the Distinguished Alumni Award. In addition to traveling and speaking, Ron and his wife, Beth, run the Same Kind of Different as Me foundation (SKODAM.org), which meets emergency needs for those who are less fortunate.

Denver Moore served as a volunteer at the Fort Worth Union Gospel Mission until his death in March 2012.

Lynn Vincent is the New York Times best-selling writer ofHeaven Is for Real and Same Kind of Different As Me. The author or coauthor of ten books, Lynn has sold 12 million copies since 2006. She worked for eleven years as a writer and editor at the national news biweekly WORLD magazine and is a U.S. Navy veteran.

Read an Excerpt

What difference do it make?

Stories of Hope and Healing

By Ron Hall, Denver Moore, Lynn Vincent

Thomas Nelson

Copyright © 2009 Ron Hall, Denver Moore, and Lynn Vincent
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4185-8617-1



Tennessee sour-mash whiskey defined my daddy. He pledged a lifetime of allegiance to Jim Beam, and ol' Jim never had a more loyal friend. As a boy, tucked into bed in a ratty blue-collar town outside of Fort Worth, I sometimes cried myself to sleep wishing my daddy loved me and my brother, John, as much as he loved Jim.

My father's given name was Earl F. Hall. The F didn't stand for anything, but over the years I assigned it lots of unprintable meanings. Earl was a chain-smoking, chain-drinking ladies' man, who slicked back his wavy brown hair with Vitalis and favored wife-beater T-shirts, pleated gabardine slacks, and wing-tip shoes. He was not a mean drunk and most of the time could walk a straight line and recite the alphabet if he had to. Once he even recited poetry till he sobered up.

When my daddy came home from World War II in '45, we all lived in his mama's little shack in Denton, Texas, until he could find a job. After a few months he found one working for Curtiss Candy, driving a 1947 GMC panel truck painted red and white like a Baby Ruth wrapper. Not long after that, we piled our meager belongings into the candy truck and moved them over to a one-bedroom bungalow in the West Fourth Street slums near downtown Fort Worth. The neighborhood was planted smack in the geographic center of a shabby circle formed by a rail yard, a hobo camp, a gravel pit, a junkyard, a dog-food factory, and a sewage plant.

Our neighbors were mostly workaday folks, bagging kibble at the plant or spelunking in the sewer lines. Except for Andy, who lived across the street. Andy was a Harley-riding professional wrestler who stayed home all day and wrestled at night. When he wasn't wrestling in the ring, he wrestled naked in his living room with his redheaded bombshell wife, Rusty Fay. For some reason Rusty Fay had never gotten around to hanging curtains in the front room, so the picture window that faced our street drew neighborhood boys like the hootchy-cootchy tent at an old-time carnival. We never could figure out how little Rusty Fay always managed to pin her big, brawny husband and wind up on top, but we all thought it was the best show in town.

From a boy's perspective, that was about the only thing my neighborhood had going for it. For one thing, the place stunk to high heaven. Smelly emissions from the sewage facility and the dog-food plant settled in the trees like an invisible fog with a combined scent that reminded me of a roomful of old men after a chili cook-off. Those fumes competed with equally unpleasant ones from hobo campfires, backyard chicken droppings, and the working outhouse that our next-door neighbors kept out back. Once, on a school field trip, I smelled the warm, cinnamon scent of a bakery and was jealous of any kids fortunate enough to live nearby.

Our house sat near a rail yard with acres of tracks planted like row crops that produced a year-round yield of multicolored boxcars and a round-the-clock clang of crossing bells. Day and night, the cars collided in a steady, drum-like rhythm as screeching engines slammed them together to form mile-long strings that chugged out of the yard with hobos in hot pursuit. (The good news about the rail yard was that my friends and I, through many scientific trials, disproved the old wives' tale that a single penny on the tracks can derail a moving train.)

Playing second fiddle to the rail-yard symphony were the grain elevators and the dog-food plant, each of which produced an uninterrupted, high-pitched whine. But none of these noises was as obnoxious or caustic as my parents' constant fighting.

I have heard it said that a thin line exists between love and hate. From the epithets I often heard floating through the open windows into the front yard, I thought Earl and Tommye Hall were hell-bent on erasing the line entirely.

Most of their screaming matches took place in mornings and afternoons since most nights Daddy hid out at the Tailless Monkey Bar. Then, just before midnight, he'd call home and make Mama come and get him. She'd wake us up and drive the mile or so to the Tailless Monkey. She'd honk, and he'd stumble out. After we were old enough to walk and talk, John and I would fight until the loser had to go in and get him. Earl would usually be sitting with his buddies at a table, sometimes with a woman on his lap. Daddy was handsome and attracted the barflies like ants to a family picnic.

"Gimme some sugar," he would slur, trying to kiss me on the mouth. I'd wiggle out of his grip and turn my head because I hated the way beer and smoke smelled on his breath.

Daddy didn't set out to destroy me, and I didn't let him, though there was no avoiding his influence. I promised myself I'd never drink or smoke, and I managed to make it to age five before I started smoking grapevine and age six before I started smoking Kool menthols stolen from Elizabeth Henson's daddy, who drove a dump truck for the neighborhood gravel pit. I had my first drink, a Pabst Blue Ribbon, at the age of fourteen. It is sometimes a sad irony of boyhood that sons can emulate their fathers and simultaneously loathe them.



Lotta times, people look at homeless folks the way they used to look at me: they'd kinda eyeball me up and down, and I could see them wheels turnin in their heads, wonderin, how'd that fella get that way?

See, that ain't the right question to be askin 'cause it might be that ain't none a' our business. Our business is to find out is there anything we can do to bring a change in their life. To bring opportunity. To bring hope. Sometimes that might mean gettin a man off liquor or drugs. It might mean helpin him find a job.

Here's my story. When I showed up in Fort Worth, Texas, I couldn't read, couldn't write, and couldn't do a lick a' rithmetic. I had growed up on a plantation in the Deep South and never went to school a day in my life.

I was born in Red River Parish, Louisiana, in 1937, a time when whites was white and blacks was "colored." Officially, there wadn't no slavery, but that didn't mean there wadn't no slaves. All around the South we had what we called sharecroppers. Now, my daddy, BB, wadn't no sharecropper. He was a railroad worker, I think—I never did know for sure—and a ladies' man that couldn't set foot in the New Mary Magdelene Baptist Church on Sundays 'cause he'd been steppin out with some of the women in the congregation. But BB got stabbed to death one night in Grand Bayou right out there by Highway 1. My grandma, Big Mama, had already burned up in a house fire by then, and me and brother, Thurman, went to live with my Aunt Etha and Uncle James. They was sharecroppin on a plantation down there near Coushatta.

When you is croppin, here's how it works. The Man that own the plantation give you everthing you need to make a cotton crop, 'cept he give it to you on credit. Then you plant and plow and chop that cotton till pickin time. And when you bring in that cotton, you s'posed to split that crop down the middle, or maybe 60/40, and the Man take his share and you take yours. 'Cept somehow it never did work out that way 'cause by the time you pay the man back for all he done loaned you on credit, ain't nothin left outta your share a' the crop. In fact, most a' the time, you in the hole, so you got to work another season on the plantation to pay back what you owe.

From the time I was a little-bitty boy, I was a cropper. Didn't know how to do nothin 'cept plantation work—plowin, plantin, choppin, pickin, and whatever odd jobs there was to do, like tryin to nail scrap boards in the floor of the shack the Man let us live in.

I worked like that all the way till the 1960s, all without no paycheck. Then one day when I was grown, I realized I wadn't never gon' get ahead. I wadn't never gon' be able to pay the Man back what I owed. So I hopped on a freight train that come runnin through the country and wound up in Fort Worth, Texas. Even though I hadn't ever been outta Red River Parish, I'd heard there was plenty a' work in the cities. But once I got there, I found out there wadn't too many folks willin to hire a colored fella who couldn't read, couldn't write, and couldn't figure.

I got me a few odd jobs here and there, but it wadn't enough to pay for a place to live. So I wound up homeless.

Now, let's say you walked up to me on East Lancaster Street in Fort Worth and asked me, said, why you homeless? Why you down on your luck?

If I told you about BB and Big Mama and the Man, if I told you that I used to work plantations like a slave almost up until the time America put a man on the moon, what you gon' say?

"Here's a dollar"?

"Good luck and God bless"?

A lotta homeless folks has been hurt and abused since we was little bitty. At one time or another we loved or was loved by somebody. We had hope. We believed. Then hope flew out the door, and everthing we had was gone. For a lot of us there come a time when nobody was willin to take us in. Nobody was willin to help in no kinda way. All the doors was slammed in our faces, and next thing you know, we just sittin on the curb with everbody passin us by, won't even look at us.

Even though you is still a human bein inside, even though you mighta been a little boy once with a mama, even though you mighta been married once with a house and a job, now you ain't nothin. And once that happens, people rather come up and pet a stray dog than even say hello.

Sometimes we becomes homeless 'cause we done some real bad thing, somethin so bad that everbody in our life just stop lovin and trustin us. And when you ain't got no one to love you and trust you, you becomes like a wild animal, hidin and livin in the dark. Even when you see them homeless fellas on the street that look real cheerful and happy, that's just a mask. Underneath is a swamp of misery, but they puttin on that mask so they can get through the day. Maybe scare up a dollar or two so they can get somethin to eat or a half-pint to take the edge off the pain.

No, if you'd a' seen me back then, you prob'ly wouldn'ta believed my story. You mighta even just rolled on by and said to yourself, "Idle hands is the devil's workshop! Why don't that lazy fella get a job?"



Daddy started out a comical, fun-loving man who retired from Coca-Cola after forty-odd years of service. But somewhere during my childhood, he crawled into a whiskey bottle and didn't come out till I was grown.

My daddy, Earl, was raised by a single mother, Clarabell, and two old-maid aunts, Edna and Florence. None of them ever drove a car; they walked to their jobs as maids at the laundry for the Southern Hotel and the Texas State College for Women. Their little house never saw a coat of paint inside or out. They had no telephone, heated the place with a four-burner kitchen stove that I never in my life saw turned off, and considered air-conditioning a dream on par with someday owning an estate like John D. and Lupe Murchison, the richest people in Texas.

Mama Clara and Aunt Edna and Aunt Florence dipped Garrett snuff. Between the three sisters, they went through a whole jar of it every day. The smell was nauseating, and it ran down their chins and dried deep in the wrinkles. I would rather have had a leather belt whipping than kiss one of them. But once a month, when we visited the three sisters in their little shack across the tracks in Denton, Daddy made me say hello and goodbye with a kiss on the mouth. I squinched my eyes shut, made my lips as thin as I could, and endured it. Maybe Edna and Florence knew it was a trial for me because they always gave me a jar of pennies as a kind of reward.

But they were mighty sweet, and Son, as they called Daddy, was all they had.

My grandmother, Clarabell, wore the shame of being a single mother like a leper. She seldom made eye contact with anyone but her sisters. I recently read a book about single mothers, Holding Her Head High, by the actress Janine Turner. I wish Mama Clara could have read it and held hers high, but I don't believe she could read, and because of her shame, her chin always rested on her chest.

When he was seven years old, Daddy had to go to work to help make ends meet. He wound up washing bottles in a 7-Up plant. Mama Clara and the aunties strictly forbade him to ask for any information about his father. Later, when I came along, the don't-ask-don't-tell policy was still in force.

I remember sitting on the front stoop with Aunt Edna and Aunt Florence one day when I was about eight, each aunt with her little lump of Garrett causing her lower lip to poke out like a permanent pout. With the Texas sun heating up the porch and the seat of my dungarees, I was feeling a little brave.

"Tell me a story about my granddaddy," I ventured.

The sisters barked in unison, "You don't have one!" Then Edna turned her head and spit in the yard.

As I got older, I realized it couldn't be true that my daddy didn't have a daddy, as there was only one virgin birth ever recorded. Once, my brother, John, told me he thought Aunt Edna was our grandfather.

In any case, all his life, when Daddy asked who his father was, the sisters gave him the same answer. Finally, when he shipped off to fight the war in the Pacific in 1942, he quit asking. He was seventy-five years old when his mother died. Florence, the oldest aunt, was on her deathbed when she told him his father was named Wanda and that he was from Stephenville, Texas. But it was too late to go looking for him, even though there could not have been another man named Wanda in all of Texas.

My mama raised us like a single mom with no help from Earl. As opposed to Mama Clara, she held her head high, leading by example. She taught us the Bible and dragged us off to Sunday school and church every week—no excuses, no absences unless one of us was broken out with chicken pox or measles.

Not even circumcision was an excuse. When my brother was five, he got circumcised on a Friday and bled like a stuck hog. On Sunday morning he was no better, so Mama wrapped his penis in a sock, looped Scotch tape around the package three or four times, and hauled us off to church. Sitting on the front pew, I was too scared to ask to go to the bathroom for fear of what other creative uses my mama could find for tape and a sock. So I just sat there and pooped in my pants.

I never remember my daddy ever setting foot in church, except once or twice on Easter when I was in junior high and high school. I don't have a clue what he did on Sundays when the Monkey was closed, but we never saw him. In fact, I can't remember him ever driving us anywhere, except when he moved us to the slums in the candy truck. Sometimes he would go with us when we went somewhere, but my mother was always the designated driver so he could be the designated drinker.

Mama taught us how to throw a baseball, and she also helped coach our games. We'd drop Daddy off at the Monkey before the games and pick him up after.

"Paste that ol' pill!" he'd command as the door slammed on our '49 Pontiac. What he really meant was, "Hit the ball." Later he'd ask, "Did you paste that ol' pill for your daddy?"

That was Earl Hall's definition of involved fatherhood.

* * *

My mama, Tommye, was a farm girl from Barry, Texas, who sewed every stitch of clothing we wore, baked cookies, and cheered me on at Little League ... Tommye, [her brother] Buddy, [and her sisters] Elvice and ... Vida May ... all picked cotton on the blackland farm owned by their daddy and my granddaddy, Mr. Jack Brooks.

We were poor but not the charity kind. My mama, Tommye, was a resourceful old farm gal who raised chickens in the backyard and sold the excess eggs and roosters to the neighbors. We always had plenty to eat, a rich diet of yard bird, fried Spam, and Van Camp's pork and beans. Mama bought those beans by the case and stored them in the garage like she was preparing for Y2K. Our daily dose of them produced indoor smells to rival those indigenous to the neighborhood. Daddy always tried to blame the smell of his farts on the neighbor's outhouse. But when I messed in my britches that time at church and tried the same thing, Mama said we were more than a mile away from there and not to be acting like my daddy.


Excerpted from What difference do it make? by Ron Hall, Denver Moore, Lynn Vincent. Copyright © 2009 Ron Hall, Denver Moore, and Lynn Vincent. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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