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Depression Era: Hospitality Meant Giving Hobos Postum and a Meal

Author Photo
By Capper's Staff | Feb 29, 2012

In the depression era my folks often had uninvited company. These ”bums” or “hobos” were never turned away. It was a simple matter to share our humble provisions. Mother would fry a couple of eggs, a thick slice of ham, homemade bread and a cup of postum.

On the farm across the road from us a field of cotton was being picked, and was stored in a pile to be removed later. One morning when we had a hungry visitor asking for breakfast, he had cotton in his hair so we knew where he had spent the night.

One morning an elderly couple staggered in for refreshments. Walking was their only means of transportation and they had a long way to go to reach their destination. They were so very tired, dirty and hungry. After a period of refreshment they again trudged on their weary way.

Another elderly man asked to spend the night, but this one didn’t seem so “down and out.” After bedtime father heard muttering and cursing from the spare bedroom. Father was a religious man so the visitor was reprimanded in the morning.

This one had been with us before, but I don’t think he came after that.

The visitors weren’t always beggars. Sometimes it was peddlers, trying to make an honest living. When these arrived around noon it was taken for granted we would share our meal.

They might be selling eyeglasses, chicken and livestock remedies, yard goods, Indian blankets or many other things.

One afternoon our family was enjoying a watermelon break out in our shady yard, and a one-armed man came driving in an open Model T Ford car filled with new brooms to sell. We children were impressed by how he managed to eat watermelon with one hand.

This “entertaining strangers” was taught me from my youth.

So after I was married it was still the thing to do, to help the wayfarer on his way.

One Christmas Eve a man asked for a hand-out at our door. The weather was mild and he didn’t seem cold, but his thin old raincoat was so very tattered. It being the day before Christmas I was in the mood to make this hand-out extra special, including goodies like candy. Then I thought of his ragged coat. My husband had a wool overcoat that was not new anymore but was still nice. I wondered, should I give him that nice coat? I decided to do so. That night a fierce cold wind blew in. And I was so thankful I had done what I could do to keep him from freezing.

Mrs. Arthur E. Koehn
Macon, Mississippi

Back in 1955 a call went out from the editors of the then Capper’s Weekly asking for readers to send in articles on true pioneers. Hundreds of letters came pouring in from early settlers and their children, many now in their 80s and 90s, and from grandchildren of settlers, all with tales to tell. So many articles were received that a decision was made to create a book, and in 1956, the first My Folks title – My Folks Came in a Covered Wagon – hit the shelves. Nine other books have since been published in the My Folks series, all filled to the brim with true tales from Capper’s readers, and we are proud to make those stories available to our growing online community.

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