Written by John LeRoy
In Christmas 2009, Jackie and I returned to Pennsylvania to visit with our extended family and lifelong friends. We feasted for four days, with seemingly no end to the abundance of food, when the subject changed from feast to famine. We seniors began reminiscing as to what life was like when we were kids . . .
Early in childhood, we were so hungry that we picked and ate flowers. We regularly collected violets, dandelion blossoms and leaves, clover blossoms, pokeweed, and flowers of the squash family --- to be used as a filler in a batter made up of eggs, flour, salt, pepper and diluted evaporated milk, and cooked and served like pancakes. Now we eat flowers to not forget hunger.
In the Spring of 2010, Jackie and I shared a dinner table with Bill and Virginia Manson. Our dish was garnished with an orchid, which I, as usual, picked up and ate. Virginia looked at me as if I had just gotten off a UFO. I asked if she had ever gone hungry in her life time. Her answer was that they always had plenty of food. Well, I said if you were hungry enough, you too would have eaten flowers.
That’s how it was when we were young.
It was 1929, and my dad used to walk into steel mills looking for work. The mills were closed, but sometimes they hired day help for maintenance. I remember a night when Dad cried himself to sleep from hunger. It was then, when I was six years old and my brother, Bud, was 3-1/2 years old, that we went looking for a job. We found one mowing Katie Greenham’s lawn for 5 cents a week. We took that first nickel home and tried to split it with a hatchet. All to no avail – every time we hit the nickel with the hatchet, it flew off. Mother came to door to see what we were doing. We told her that we had gotten a job and were trying to split the nickel. She said that any money earned must be spent on food, so brother Bud purchased a can of evaporated milk to be diluted and poured over bread crusts saved for us by our neighbor. This affluent neighbor saved bread crusts for Brother Bud and me. I know now that she did this so we would have something to eat, but at the time, she gave us the bread crusts under the pretext that they would curl our flaming red hair and make our freckles disappear.
I (John) was the older boy, so I was the negotiator. I would go to the store and bargain for a soup bone, an old dried-up carrot, onion and piece of potato, and I would make a broth to pour over the bread crusts.
One day, a hobo came to our door looking for work. My mother had him spade a garden plot and cut wood. While he worked, mother gave him some of Dad’s clothes to wear while she washed and mended his clothes. Brother Bud and I picked daisies, spread a towel on the porch and decorated our “table” with a jar to hold the daisies and, of course, a Bible, because Mother was a deeply religious woman. She brought out my broth, and I threw a tantrum because the hobo was getting our food. She took me by the ear back into the house and wailed me with a katynine tail until she had my undivided attention. The hobo ate; when he was ready to leave, Mother gave him a bag with the remaining bread crusts, a spoon and a small jar of jelly. He went on his way.
Within a few days, my Dad had made his usual trek into the steel mills looking for work. While en route home, a runaway truck caused Dad to jump into a ditch for safety. He flushed out a ringneck pheasant, which flew into the side of the truck and fell dead at Dad’s feet. Needless to say, we feasted on bread crust-stuffed pheasant. As we sat down to eat, Mother reminded us of her saying that the Lord would take care of us.
When we were boys, we were curious about an inscription carved in a sandstone boulder in our front yard. In our retirement years in the 1990’s, Jackie and I attended the Hobo’s national convention held annually in Britt, Iowa. They told stories of how they were helped in their travels. They had several inscriptions available for viewing – it was then that I realized that the carving in our yard was an open hand, a signal to hobos that the residents would help a traveler.
In Ralph Lester’s book titled The Magnet, he notes the fact that there were more self-made millionaires in Martinsville than any other city in the US. The money is here – it is time for us to loosen up and help the poor.