Stephenson Tales

Mom's Hobo Help and a black "uncle"

Mom was a "soft touch." This trait was difficult to nurture in the depression, but when we lived on Third Street, the word got around among the hoboes who "rode the rails" from town to town, looking for part time work to keep them going until they went on to the NEXT place. Down by the depot on the corner of Ashley and Main Street, well away from both streets there was always a bonfire going with a group of men--anywhere from five to fifteen--sitting around, roasting hot dogs, small animals (?) and chunks of bread--all on sticks over the open fire. The Ann Arbor Police tolerated this with a benign lack of interest. Somehow the men had a system of communication to tell each other where to go to get a meal from the residents of the town. They came by our house on a regular basis. Some whom she came to recognize, came year after year.

There is one whom I remember clearly: He was black, completely bald (shaven, no doubt as a hygiene measure) had only three fingers on his left hand, had been a a professional boxer in younger days--he was now about sixty years old--slim, muscular, tall obviously well educated. He was from Canada and he had none of the "negroid" speech of his fellow tramps. He was also immaculately clean! How he did THIS is a mystery. In fact, most of the men who came to our back door had an aura about them--not of sanctity, but of stale humanity at its lowest level of cleanliness.

One day when two came at once to get a hand-out, mom did her usual routine. "Of course I have something for you--but first I want you to do something for me." She would then give the men a few chores that could relieve my overworked father--things that had to be done: "In the garage back there is a lawn mower. Please mow the lawn on the side of the house along Third Street." or "Please take this rag and this pail and wash all the windows that you can reach all around on the first floor." or, "Take all the leaves out of the window wells outside the basement windows and put them in a pile in the driveway on the other side of the house." (etc!!)

One day two came together and she agreed to make several sandwiches for them (ham, lettuce, mustard, cheese) and as she started to take them out to the men she suddenly came back inside the little back porch and into the kitchen suppressing spasms of wild laughter as she came in.

"What, Mom?" queried little Jim Bob.

When she pulled herself together she said, "As I was going out to give them the sandwiches, I heard one of the men say to the other, 'Man, you smell tired!'" ((pronounced "tard," of course)).

But back to the main subject. The first time he came, he was so obviously a cut above his fellow hoboes, that Mom took a real interest in him. "What is your name?"

"My name, ma'am, is Charles Eubanks."

"You may know, Mr. Eubanks, that in the South, we often address our family help as 'Uncle.' May I have your permission to call you 'Uncle Charlie?'"

He looked off into space. "Yes, Ma'am. 'Uncle Charlie'!!! The euphony of it!"

Uncle Charlie came year after year and I do not know how it had been arranged that he was to notify Mom of his annual visit, but, at any rate, upon his request she would make him a pear pie! It was flavored and prepared much as one would do for an apple pie.

So the other day, inspired by this memory, I made a Pear Pie! It was deeeelishious!

Composed on 22 March 2009

© Jim Bob Stephenson 2009

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