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Memories of tramps and kindness

At first thought, the tattered man standing at my door was a tramp. Hat in hands and his eyes cast downward.

In that moment, I was a little girl again, peeping out from behind my mama as she turned the tramp away, saying she was sorry but she had no food to spare.

But, before the tramp was down the doorsteps, Mama had the oven door open and was cramming all our leftover dinner in a paper sack.

She got to the tramp even before he got to the road and handed him our supper.

Mama was afraid of a long, alphabetical list of things and tramps were near to bottom of her list. But, Mama had a heart of gold and we had pea soup and cornbread for supper.

To my great disappointment, the man at the door wasn’t a tramp, not even an old soul looking for work. He asked for the tumble of cable line that had been left after the storm. But, sadly, it was not mine to give.

But by his visit, my memory was drawn back to the last tramps at the door. The first appeared much older than he probably was and  was wrapped in a wool blanket and had a rag hat on his head. Mama cast him immediately as a hippie from Woodstock. She locked the door and pulled back the kitchen curtain to watch.

As she saw the tramp leave the road and come toward the house, she locked the door and turned off the light.

“Mama!”

I went to the door.

The man asked for anything to eat that we might could share. From the darkness of the house, Mama said she was sorry.

Knowing what was about to happen, I walked over and opened the oven door. Mama filled a paper sack and waved the tramp down as he made his way out of the yard. We had pea soup and cornbread for supper.

That was the last tramp that came to our house. But it was not the last encounter I had with a tramp.

I don’t remember why several of us “girls” had gathered at a friend’s house on North Main Street. But, one among us noticed a strange and “dangerous” looking man coming up the street.

“Get in the house! Get in the house,” our hostess demanded.

When the strange and dangerous man came into clear view, he stopped and stared. And, why wouldn’t he? There were four ol’ nosey hens staring at him from behind the storm door.

He stepped into the yard and two of us cautiously ventured out. The door locked behind us.

Like all tramps, he was looking for food but, like all 21st century tramps, he would also accept cash.

Realizing that the tramp probably had no ill intentions, that he just needed to hear a jiggle in his pockets, the other two “hens very cautiously clucked out. In a short time, we felt comfortable with him. Soon, we sat back in lawn chairs — in plain view of passing motorists and pedestrians and within hollering distance of the police station — and enjoyed the tramp’s stories, true or not, of his travels and the adventures he had along the way.

Later that afternoon, as I was leaving, the tramp came back.

At first, I was startled to see him standing there. But he held out his hand. A gift, he said.

The gift was a rocking chair he had fashioned from a tin Coca Cola can.

“It’s what I can do. What I can give,” he said.

That gift has a prominent place on the top shelf in my den. It’s a memory of days gone by, of tramps, of scant suppers and most of all of Mama.