Friday, November 11, 2016

A Simple Thanksgiving Story - Homeward Bound

You wouldn't think the muddy banks of the Ohio River would be a likely place for
a Thanksgiving story but it's a place I always think of this time of year.

It's easy to remember the wide brown river since it was essentially in our back yard. 
The river was on one side of our house; railroad tracks clacked from the other side.
 I grew up watching slow-moving barges travel up and down the river in the summer 
and floods creeping towards our house in the spring,
while hoping to get out of school as the river's muddy waters quietly filled our basement.

We watched fireworks from our little boat drifting in the river's dark depths 
and we helped Dad plant a little garden on its banks. 
The soil was rich and the water supply was close by but we never reaped much from it. 
It was almost as if the vegetables disappeared before they could make it to our supper table. 
And in a way, they did.

Dad said it was a hobo garden. 
He planted it for the men who rode the boxcars through the Ohio Valley looking for work.

I never knew what the word "hobo" actually meant until years later when I'd moved away. 
I learned it's an abbreviation of "homeward bound." 
That phrase seems to put a whole different meaning to the word. 
Hobos weren't homeless. They were riding the rails, building little campfires at night to take the
chill from the damp air, and looking for work until they could make their way back home.

A hobo was different from a "tramp" who worked only if he absolutely had to 
or a "bum" who usually stayed in one place and didn't ever work.
A hobo, on the other hand, was a traveling laborer. 
Hobos' numbers soared during the Great Depression era of the 1930s. 
With no work or prospects at home, many took to the rails
looking for whatever work they could find.

Some famous hobos included Jack Dempsey, Woody Guthrie,
Jack London, Carl Sandberg and Louis L'Amour.

Photo by Arthur Rothstein, 1939

I remember my father telling stories about his riding the boxcars as a young man
during the Depression, picking up odd jobs along the way in exchange for food,
always thinking about going home. 

Perhaps that's why he had a soft spot for his garden hobos.
If Dad saw a hobo in his riverbank garden grabbing tomatoes or pulling up carrots, 
he didn't chase them away from his hard-earned crop.

No, my Dad invited them to come home with him for supper! 
We didn't have a lot but Mom always fixed a little extra because she never knew 
when Dad would bring someone home to have supper with us.

After a home-cooked meal, Dad would take the hobos up to the edge of the Georges Run Station
rail yards in Mingo Junction so they could catch the next train out. 
Then he'd quietly give them a few dollars before they took off, homeward bound once again.

I know these men were thankful for a good meal and a little help on their journeys.
I hope, when they finally made it home,
they fondly remembered my parents on Thanksgiving as I always do each year.

Happy Thanksgiving!


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  1. Gosh, Pat, I didn't realize you hail from that area, right next door to my WV's bordering panhandle! This was a great tribute and remembrance to your home, your parents, and your heritage. Happy Thanksgiving, across the miles.

    1. Yep, we're almost neighbors Rita! Thank you for your kind words; they mean a lot to me. I wish you a very happy Thanksgiving.

  2. What a great story! My mother talked about coming home from school and finding Hobo's eating at the kitchen table. Her mother would feed them and many times, they would have an opportunity to do some work around the farm for a few days before they moved on. Love the story of the Hobo Garden. Happy Thanksgiving!!

    1. Thank you so much Arell! Sounds like we have similar fond memories. I wish you a lovely Thanksgiving.

  3. What a lovely story, I had no idea where the word Hobo came from either, every day one learns something new and how lovely that your Father always offered one a meal and that you Mother always cooked a little extra, surely what Thanksgiving is all about and I say this as a non American, this is how I see Thanksgiving.

    1. Thank you so much Susan! I think you said it well...this is what Thanksgiving is all about. Even tho you're not American, I wish you a happy Thanksgiving.

  4. Very sweet and educational post. Your father was a kind soul.

    1. Thank you Joanie! My parents were indeed kind souls. I appreciate your sweet words. Happy Thanksgiving.

  5. I love this post - never knew what hobo meant! You were lucky to have such wonderful people for parents.

    1. Thank you Mary! I'm so glad you enjoyed the post. You're so sweet to say my parents were wonderful. So very much appreciated. I wish you a Happy Thanksgiving.

  6. Same here -- I didn't know that about hobo's. What a beautiful story. Thank you so much for sharing. Your parents sound like they were strong, honest, kind people.

    1. Thank you so much for your very kind words that truly touched me. I wish you a Happy Thanksgiving.

  7. Beautiful story... This is how we supposed to be, helpful and reaching out to those in need. Thanks for sharing at DI & DI.

  8. How many times I have told this story to friends and people that I meet. our parents were wonderful people and taught us both the important things in life are kindness, generosity, and love for our fellow human beings. Happy Thanksgiving dear Sister and wish we could be together.

    1. Happy Thanksgiving Jan, Ron and Brad. Love your comment. Will be thinking of you. Hugs,

  9. What a lovely family story. We often forget about others, and how they may not have it as good as we do. I never know who will all be at our table for the holidays. And that's just the way I like it, too. Thanks for the inspiration...beautiful story and tribute to your parents. Sandi

    1. Thank you so much Sandi and Happy Thanksgiving to you!

  10. Not only did I learn a few new things with this post, but it brought back special memories of an old friend long past. My first father-in-law grew up in Kentucky during the hard times of the depression. When he was 10, his mother told him he would have to leave and fend for himself. His cousin, only 11, went with him to make sure he was OK. They were young HOBO's and wandered the country as you describe in your post. Decades later, when I met them, they were still best of friends and successful in their own way. Both men cherished their children and were the best of family men. Thank you for bringing this back to me.

    1. Thank you so much for your lovely comments and personal story. I sometimes think those who endured hard times eventually became the happiest and most successful. Happy Thanksgiving!

  11. What a wonderful story Pat! I always thought that hobo's were homeless. Loved learning this about them. Your father was a very generous man! I'm sure that the traveling hobos and loved both of your parents! Thanks for sharing with SYC.

    1. Thank you Jann! I'm so glad you enjoyed this post and appreciate your kind words about my parents. I wish you a Happy Thanksgiving with your family.

  12. Great story! A time so many have forgotten. Many lessons to be learned here! Thanks for sharing at HSH!