Autobiography Twenty: Dirty Thirties, a Train, and a Bum

Autobiography Twenty: Dirty Thirties, a Train, and a Bum

At dusk, the long train came to a stop across the field from our Prairie home. On the box cars were a hundred free riders, known to us only as “Bums”, on every car, moving about like busy ants.

A lone figure separated itself from the rest, and a young man emerged, making his way to our house. Our family of seven children and mother, in her early forties, watched with caution, unease, and fear as he made his way to our door, asking for something to eat.

He was too well dressed to fit our image of a poor bum. He seemed more like a gentleman as he presented himself to this naïve prairie clan. Father had gone to Vancouver for a summer job, with private plans to bring the family there in due time.

We were all intrigued, hovered around mother who quite suddenly began to order the older children to get potatoes and to peel them. In short order they were being cut into slices. Fat was spread on the frying pan while the wood stove was fired up. Eggs were brought from the pantry, and in due course were cracked and spread over the second pan. Dill pickles, home made, were pulled from the jar. Brown bread, also home made, was cut and buttered, and within a short time a steaming plate of delicious food was placed on the dining room table in front of the welcomed guest. Postum was brewed and served.

While he ate, he asked questions, getting acquainted with this strange family. Mother sat on a chair in the corner of the sparse dining room, all her seven children sitting on the floor around her, looking in wonder at this stranger. We were transfixed. Mother gazed at the handsome young man, saying nothing. To us he looked educated, sophisticated. He was much too articulate to be riding the train in Depression Saskatchewan.

When he was finished wiping the plate with the last piece of bread, he placed the knife and fork across the plate, expressed his gratitude with sincerity, went to the door and waved goodbye.

Just as he was approaching the stalled train, it blew its’ whistle, and continued its long journey West.

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