I was wearing a farm fresh skirt and blouse from enchanty when I stopped by the farm at Surface. I was inpecting the grain elevator waiting for the train to come pick up the harvest.
There’s something melancholy about a railroad track passing by the fields.It reminds me of the old family farm and the railroad running by. During the Great Depression, hobos would stop at the farm for food. They did not know that my grandfather had lost great wealth when his bank collapsed. They didn’t know he voluntarily assumed personal responsibility for the corporate liability – though his other three partners did not. He sold his electric company, lumber mill and other factories in order to make whole every depositor in the bank. They didn’t know that at age 65, he was started over from nothing on a $1/acre work-to-own dairy contract so that every bit of milk was pledged to the local creamery and not available for food for the family. Yet they came, and none were ever turned away unfed. They ate what the family ate – biscuits and gravy made from red dog flour.
My mom was just a child then and one of her earliest memories is of a hobo seeing the impoverished food offering and turning up his nose at the idea of eating red dog flour (it’s normally used in animal feed) and throwing the food on the ground, saying “this is not fit for human beings.” It stayed with Mom so vividly because of her mother’s response. Her mom knelt down on the ground and picked up the food from the dirt, putting it back on the plate and gently said. “I know it is less than you expected, but it is the best we have. This is what my children eat and today I fed my children less so I could feed you. I am sorry we cannot offer better, but still we offer. Now please come in and eat with us.” According to Mom, the hobo cried and apologized and even stayed the afternoon, helping with some chores.
I often wondered and finally asked why she asked him for food after he rejected her first offering. Mom just gave me this dumbfounded and disappointed look, as though I should have never had to ask. “She fed him because he was hungry.” Then she quoted Matthew, “whatsoever you do to the least…” I never knew her parents. They died decades before I was born. However, from stories like these, I can see how Mom became the giving and generous woman she was. I love visiting Surface, The Quiet and the Far Away. They evoke so many memories of home and family.
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