Lefty, Joe and Beans

freighthopping

It was my father not my mother who took on the task of bedtime stories when my sister and I were children. He told us about having flapjacks in a lumber camp up in northern California, of seeing pyrite and thinking it was gold but with disappointment learning it was called “fools gold.” He told us about a snake yards long and many inches wide. He wasn’t reading from a book of fairy tales and when I was a little older I remember asking him where he got those adventurous yarns from and he said they were not stories, they were all true.

It was the recounting of his running away from home the year he was fifteen with his best friends, his cousin Lefty and pal, Beans. The great depression was still in progress and the three boys became young hobos and learned the art of hopping trains, all the way to California. They also learned what it meant to be really hungry. Somewhere along the way a man gave them leftovers from his lunch pail which kept them alive. In one place they found an orchard and gorged themselves on unripe fruit, which caused stomach problems.

When my father finally got home, his father only said to him, Son, you don’t know what you did to your mother. For the rest of his life those words haunted my father and he never hesitated to cross town to mow her lawn, or help her in any way he could. Some of his siblings lived closer to her, but she always asked him and he never said no.

By the time my own son asked me to write the stories down, I only had sketchy memories of them.

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