I was told not to go near the railroad tracks or the bridge that went over them; Ho-bo’s lived there. My Grandmother warned me daily of the consequences, and they were all bad. Scary men, vagrants with no home and no family, they were just there, alone, living their life as best they could. I was seven years old and unafraid.
The dirt road along the tracks took me past Mrs. Ellis’s shack of a home. She didn’t live much better than the Ho-bo’s, but she had a home, a warm dry bed, chickens, and a dog, so she was poor but stable. She waved as I walked by, then as I got a few yards past, she took off to my Grandmothers farmhouse to tattle on me. I knew I was in trouble even before I got to the bridge. I considered turning back, but no, I needed to see this through.
As I got closer to the bridge, I could see there was a lone figure sitting on a bucket next to a campfire. I was puzzled because Granny always said there were dozens of those evil men under the bridge. Now, there was only one, and he appeared to be old and not much of a threat, sitting on his bucket cooking a can of something in the campfire. I approached him but with caution and a bit of fear. The Ho-bo waved me over. He was an old black man with hair as white as south Texas cotton. His clothes, mostly rags, hung on his frail frame; he resembled the scarecrow in my Papa’s garden. Next to him was a Calico cat, curled up in an old felt hat, purring and licking its paw. In the fire was a can of pork and beans cooking on a flat rock and bubbling like a witch’s brew. I sat crossed-legged on the dirt next to him.
” Does your Granny know you are here?” he asked.
” No sir, she don’t know, and I’m in a heap of trouble.” said I.
He smiled at me and said, ” It’ll all be good, your Granny knows old Bebe. I used to do odd jobs for her and your Papa and she paid me good and always fed me her heavenly biscuits and gravey. She is a wonderful lady, your Granny.” I couldn’t disagree with that, so I smiled back.
He took a worn-out spoon, heaped a large serving of beans into a dirty tin cup, and handed me the food. I was hungry. We ate our dinner together without talking. He gave the cat a spoonful of his beans. It was then that I noticed he had given me most of the can, and left little for himself. This old Ho-bo living under a bridge with hardly any food and nothing of value to his name, except maybe the Calico cat, shared with a stranger, possibly his one meal of the day. In the mind of a seven-year-old, this seemed normal.
Bebe told me a little about his life and how he came to be a Ho-bo. I shared what little of life experience I had accumulated up until now. We laughed a little, and then he said I had better head back to the farm. We shook hands; I scratched the cat and walked down the road towards a switching I knew was coming.
My Granny took my explanation well. There was no switching my butt this time and no dressing down. As I walked through the screen door headed for the barnyard, she said “sometimes the folks that have the least, share the most, remember that.” I have.