May 3, 2014 by northerncardinalreview
It started out as one of those scary days, especially when a warm wind
was blowing. It seemed to be an omen of sad things to come.
It was the kind of day like last summer. My father was heating up some
hard tar in a pail, on the cook stove, to make repairs on the roof. The tar
caught fire and he barely made it outside without burning the house down. I
didn’t think my mother swore but she sure did that day.
It was 1938 and the Great Depression was in full swing. There was
hardly any work and the crops were all drying up, so my dad said. I guess
everyone was poor but it didn¹t worry me. I was ten; the only thing that
bothered me, was that wind.
I decided to head to town, down the railway tracks, about a half a mile
away. We lived on a point out into the lake, with a bush between our house
and the town. As I passed the beach, just around the corner where the bush
ended, I heard a shout.
I turned and set eyes on the sorriest guy I ever saw. He stood in front
of the railway pump house. He wore this old brown hat that drooped over his
ears. His plaid shirt was frayed; his pants were really greasy looking and
his toes showed though his boots. What caught my attention the most were the
sad eyes and the long scar down his cheek.
“Yes, sir,” I said. I went towards him, not getting too close. I
figured I could outrun him.
My mother said that corner of the beach was a hobo jungle and to stay
away from there. When I told her I didn’t see Tarzan swinging from the
trees, I thought she was going to tan my hide. She couldn¹t stand boldness;
she said it was disrespectful, especially from a kid who doesn¹t behave that
“The poor men who travel in railroad boxcars throughout the country,
looking for work, camp there,” Ma said. “They forage and beg for food,
trying to get through the day and stay alive. Even though they’re God’s
creatures and some mother’s son, they’re some bad ones. I’m not going to
tell you again, Wish, stay away from there.” I usually listen and do what
I’m told, but sometimes my imagination gets the best of me.
“Are you heading to town, son?” the hobo asked.
“Yes, going to play with some of my friends.”
“Here’s eighty cents. On your way home would you stop at the store and
buy some tobacco and cigarette papers, spend the rest on stewing beef, and
maybe ask the butcher to throw in a ham bone?”
“Sure, mister,” I said. Wondering why he didn’t go himself. He sure had
a lot of time on his hands. As he limped back behind the pump house, using a
pole for a cane, I could see why.
When I got to town, I helped my friend Jimmy get a nickel he spotted
between the cracks of the wooden sidewalk. After about an hour we got it out
using a piece of gum on the end of a stick. We sat in the shade, shared the
candy we bought, and planned a fishing trip on Sunday.
I kept thinking about the hobo and how hungry he probably was. I headed
over to the Hudson Bay Store and got his order, including a hambone, figured
he stole some vegetables from some of the gardens around and was going to
make a stew.
He was sitting on his bedroll, on a grassy area looked kind of forlorn,
as I shouted to him, then walked over and handed him the bag.
“Thanks very much, son. I’m sorry I don’t have the money to pay you
for running this errand. All I can say is you’re going to grow up to be a
good and decent human being.”
“You’re welcome,” I said. I tried to be polite and not ask questions,
but I just couldn’t help it. “What happened to you mister? You don’t look
all that good.”
“What’s your name, son?”
“They call me Wish, after my father.”
“My name’s Edward, but you can call me Ed. My old mother would be
upset if she could see me now. I got shot up a bit during the war, then came
home and got a decent job working as a bookkeeper.”
“Why did you quit?”
“I just don’t fit in, nothing really matters anymore.”
“How’s that, mister?”
“During one of the many battles in France, the shelling seemed to
never end. I huddled up to the side of the trench, trying not to drown in
the mud that was knee deep over the duckboards. Everything went black. Then,
I looked up at this shining light, a sense of peace fell over me and the
pain was gone, I felt like never before.”
“Was it a dream?” I asked excitedly.
“It was too real for that, Wish. It felt as if I had entered another
world, as if this one didn’t exist. After they brought me back to the field
hospital and I came to, I felt the same horror, hate and fear as before.
“My dad says you have to make the best of a bad situation, Ed.”
“Oh, I’ve tried.”
“Maybe it’s heaven?”
“It isn’t the heaven of many mansions and angels we were told about.
I can’t explain it. It’s feeling that we are one and there’s no judgment or
guilt, only love.”
A warm wind was rustling through the trees, and the sun seemed to
cloud over, as the hobo turned and limped back to his fire.
Gordon Miller is a visual artist, poet, and writer and teacher living in Oakville ON. He has published a book, Kokum’s Gift and numerous short stories and is presently writing a mystery novel. Website: http://www.gordonmillerart.com