I remember when I was just a boy, he would come to our door soon after the leaves fell in Autumn, looking for odd jobs. I am ashamed to say I have forgotten his name, but I remember him well. Grandmother always found some work for him, leaves to rake or rain gutters to clear...whatever needed doing that could be done in a few hours time. When he was done she would let him wash his clothing in the laundry room and clean up in the bathroom. He was treated with the same respect accorded any other person. Grandmother had raised a family during the depression and knew how capricious fortune was. Afterwards he would join us at table for supper. I remember he taught me how to read hobo signs.
After supper she would pay him a fair wage for his labor and he would thank her and go back to where he and the other men of the road were camped over behind the cannery near the place where the railroad made the long curve and the trains slowed enough for a man to catch a ride.
He and his kind are all gone now. The diesels recover speed too quickly and don't have to slow as much as the old steam engines. Only the young and nimble can ride the rails.
There are plenty of others out there who are his brothers in spirit. You see them every day...or you would if you didn't try so very hard not to see them. The buskers and the panhandlers and the homeless wanderers are all around us. Every year there are more of them. There is another layoff at a plant or another old hotel that rents by the week is torn down to make room for condominiums.
This year I would like to ask you who read this to give to my favorite charity. I learned about it from Jon Carroll, a fine columnist who writes for the San Francisco Chronicle. It is called "The Untied Way". It has no board of directors or officers. 100% of all money donated goes to those in need.
It works like this: Go to the ATM and make a withdrawal. It should be enough that it stings just a little, but not so much as to cause serious regret. You will now have a small pile of crisp twenty dollar bills. Some of you will only have two or three. That is all right. Now go forth into the core of your city and give a twenty to the next busker or panhandler you meet. Repeat until the pile is gone. It is that simple.
Some of them will thank you. Some may not. Some may even weep. Some of them may not be deserving. So what? Many of those who are wealthy are not deserving. It is an imperfect world. I guarantee you will make someone feel a little better for a while...and you will find that perhaps your own burden feels a little lighter too. You probably won't actually save anyone with your twenty dollar bill, but there is a small chance that you will be there at just the right time to make the big difference. I am sure the odds are better than they are for winning the lottery.
Think of it as a karmic lottery ticket.
Or look at it this way. Times are bad. Most of us are closer to the edge than we want to think about. Things go wrong and you might need him to show you how to get by one day. Might be nice if he remembers you fondly.
Be seeing you.
Hobo sign image from: http://empax.org/blog/hobo-symbols