In the spirit of the holiday season and its meaning, I hope it will inspire you. This story was adapted from Charity: True Stories of Giving and Receiving and edited by Rosemerry Wahtola Trimmer.
In the 40s and early 50s, the plaque of a smiling cat displayed in the window of a home meant that a hobo might find a hot meal there. Tootie’s grandparents didn’t have such a plaque in their window, but because they were just blocks from the train crossing, they would encounter their share of men who were just passing through. Tootie’s grandfather was always willing to pay these fellows a couple of dollars in exchange for their labor.
One morning, Tootie noticed a hobo tending her grandfather’s yard while her grandmother was in the kitchen fixing bacon and scrambled eggs.
“But we’ve already had breakfast,” she said to her grandmother.
“This is for the hobo,” her grandmother said as she collected a jar of peanut butter, crackers, and other food from the pantry. She stuffed the items in a bag, grabbed a table cloth, and headed out to the picnic table in yard.
“Are we going to have a picnic?” Tootie asked.
“No, this is so it’s nice for him,” the grandmother said. She placed the bag of groceries on the table, “And so he has something for later until he can get a decent meal.”
Tootie wondered why her grandmother was treating this hobo like he was special, and she said as much.
Her grandmother let out a sigh and told her the story of an uncle who’d gotten into a bit of trouble as a young man during the depression. In a fit of desperation he’d run away from home. A neighbor told the family that he’d seen the uncle hop a train that was going to California. Decades passed, and the family never heard from or saw him again.
Tootie’s grandmother thought of this uncle each time a hobo came past their fence. Somewhere out there these men had family who were missing them and hoping they’d return. A chance to earn their keep, a kind word, a little food, and a prayer was the least anyone could offer someone who’d lost their way.
Over the years, Tootie witnessed her grandparents treat these men with dignity and compassion, never once judging them nor asking them to divulge their secrets.