Of Hoboes and Jelly Bread Sandwiches

By: Trish Demaris-Cravens

When I volunteer at Mercy Community Church, I often assist in the kitchen.  Not long ago, as I was making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for serving on the street, I was struck by a memory.lunch2

I figure that I was seven or eight at the time.  It was a summer morning when a stranger in well-worn overalls and a raggedy work shirt came to our kitchen door.  Grey stubble covered his chin, and his sun-browned skin looked as tough as old leather.

My mother opened the door and the man asked if she had any work for him.  Leaving me to gawk at the stranger, she went to her sewing basket and returned with her sewing scissors (The ones I’d be hided for if I used them to cut paper dolls).

Taking the scissors, the whiskered man sat down under a big elm in the back yard.  I followed.

He set to work at once.  Sitting with a flat stone on his knee, he methodically stroked the scissors’ blades over the stone.  From time to time he’d spit on the stone, then continued to hone the blades.  When he was satisfied with the blades’ edges, he took the scissors to the kitchen door where my mother met him with a tall glass of cold milk and two jelly-bread sandwiches.  

The man thanked my mother and returned to his place under the elm to eat his lunch.  I sat down across from him.  When I couldn’t stem my curiosity any longer, I spoke to him, “Where do you live?”

He regarded me, balancing his glass of milk on his knee. “No place particular,” he said.

I was formulating my next question when I heard my mother.  “Patricia!  Come in here and let the man eat in peace.”

When the stranger returned the empty glass to the kitchen door, I couldn’t reign it in.  “Where are you going now?” I asked.

I recall that he smiled down at me.  “Oh,” he said, drawing it out, “On down the line.”  I watched him walk off until I could see him no more.  

After he had gone, I pressed my mother, “Who was that man?”

“He’s a hobo,” she said.

“What’s a hobo?”

My mother gathered her thoughts.  “Well,” she began, “a hobo is a person who doesn’t have a house to live in… like you do.”

The scissors man was not the only hobo who came to our door back then.  I recall another man who asked my mother if she could “spare a cup of coffee.”  She could and did, and paired it with two jelly-bread sandwiches.  She opened the door to these men without fear or prejudice, fed them, and treated them as if they were neighbors.

Thinking about this long ago time I know there were many such life lessons given to me by my parents without intent or design, but simply through their actions.

Now when I make “Mercy sandwiches” for men and women who live “no place particular,”  I’m grateful for my mother’s compassion.