By Norris Chambers

             They called them “hoboes” during the late twenties and early thirties. Some folks went so far as to refer to them as “bums”. Actually, most of those people were just plain folks who had lost their jobs and were unable to find another one. They didn’t have a place to live and depended to a great extent on charity for their food. Since the “soup kitchens” in most areas were either overcrowded or nonexistent, they wandered through the country looking for something better than they had. Sometimes it was a single man or woman and sometimes it was a whole family.

            We didn’t see many of these people in the back country where we lived. There were many of them in the towns and on the well traveled roads. On the roads these people could be recognized by the big bundles of clothes and other possessions that they carried. Some were in the form of back packs and some were just stuffed into sacks and carried over the shoulder or under the arm. Residents who lived on the main roads were approached almost daily by one or more of these unfortunates and asked if they had any food that they could let them have or any work that they could do to earn something to eat. Most of the residents did the best they could to help them.

            In the country there were many church buildings and adjacent graveyards. These buildings were a favorite shelter for the travelers. Sometimes they lingered in the buildings until Sunday when they were used for churches and moved back in after the Sunday night service. The church officials and community residents didn’t approve of this but usually didn’t try to keep them out. If one family was forced to leave another came and had to be evicted. Some families had small rifles or BB guns and hunted in adjoining pastures for birds and small animals. The residents didn’t approve of this practice either but there wasn’t much they could do to prevent it.

            During the seasons when vegetables and other edible crops were available residents were very generous and provided the destitute with corn, wheat, tomatoes, potatoes, squash, cucumbers, watermelons and various fruits. Sometimes the families performed useful work in exchange for the food. This was helpful to the farmer and the travelers.

            I only recall one occasion when one of these displaced persons came down the road and stopped at our house. It was about noon and my dad and I had just come in from the field. We were about half way between the barn and the house when he walked up and greeted us.

            “Do you reckon a hungry man could get a little something to eat?” he asked. Then continued, “I would even be willing to do some work for it.”

            He wore overalls and a blue work shirt and was topped off with a relatively new straw hat. His shoes looked a little ragged but I guessed that they still had a lot of miles left in them. He hadn’t had a hair cut in recent weeks and his face was adorned with a long, scraggly beard. I didn’t consider myself to be a good age guesser, but I thought he was probably between 35 and 45 years old.

            “We’ll be glad to have you stay for dinner.” My dad told him. “You can wash-up out here at the cistern and I’ll tell Martha to put another plate on the table.” Then he told me to help the man get the water and for me to do a little washing too. Before leaving he told the man who we were and asked him what his name was. He told us his name was Anson Brown and that he had lived in East Texas and was on his way to California to find work.

            We did our cleaning pretty fast and went inside for the meal. My mother greeted Mr. Brown and got him properly seated at the table. Mr. Brown told us how he had worked for an oil company near a little town in east Texas but when the company sold the lease to a larger company he lost his job. His wife and daughter were staying with her family and he intended to send for them when he found work. He asked if we knew of anyone in the area that needed some work done. He said he just needed enough to buy a little food as he made his way west.

            “Most folks around here could use help, but don’t have the money to hire anyone.” My dad told him. “We could use some help for a couple of weeks, but $5.00 a week is all we could pay. Of course meals would be furnished. The work wouldn’t be too hard – just hoeing and maybe a little plowing.”

            The visitor smiled and he replied, “You just got yourself a hired hand. I can start this afternoon.”

            I worked with Anson for two weeks hoeing peanuts and maize and taking care of a few other chores. When he resumed his westward journey we bade him farewell and wished him luck with his job hunting. He promised he would write us and let us know how things turned out. But he never did.

            Was it fun being a hobo? I don’t think so.