Mama sees the result of her kind words and deed
About a mile down the road from the orange grove where I lived in my early years, the Santa Fe railroad crossed on its way to Los Angeles.Skip to next paragraph
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The freight trains slowed down at a small hill there, permitting hobos and tramps to jump off, if they wanted to. And many did, since they had heard of kindly folks who lived thereabouts and could usually be counted on for a handout.
One day a man with a bundle on his back came into our driveway as I was playing with my dog, Jumbo, who, upon seeing the strange man, barked, growled, and darted toward him.
Mama, hearing the noise, came from the house, called Jumbo to her, and motioned for the man to sit down on an old rocker beneath a tree.
"Oh, thank you, ma'am," he said. "I'm very thirsty. May I have a drink of water?"
Mama went to the pump on our cistern and drew a pitcher of cool water. Gratefully he drank as I watched him. He was a strange, rather dirty, unshaven fellow. Then with a weary sigh he rose, picked up his bundle and thanked Mama again.
"You must be very tired and hungry," she said. "It's quite warm today. Just rest a bit while I get you something to eat."
The tramp sat down again, leaned back against the tree, closed his eyes, and heaved a sigh of relief.
Presently, Mama appeared with a plate of sandwiches which she placed on the man's lap. He opened his eyes in surprise and asked, "Why are you so good to me? I am not used to such kindness."
"It is unchristian to turn away a tired and hungry man," Mama answered, adding, "If you would like to freshen up a bit, there's a bucket of water, wash basin, and soap on that bench by the screen door. Help yourself. I'll get a towel."
The man washed up, dried himself on a clean towel, and sat down to eat.
"Now you look quite respectable," Mama said. "Would you care to tell us something about yourself? I can tell that you are really not a tramp."
The man finished the first sandwich, appeared to be deep in thought a while, and then said, "You are correct, kind lady. I'm ashamed to be like this. Not very long ago I got to drinking too much; my wife left me. I lost my farm, and I took to the road. Some day I hope to start a new life here in California."
Mama listened and then said, "I know that you will succeed, and everything will be right with you again. I shall pray for you. Now just wait a bit. I have something else for you."
Soon she brought out a big piece of apple pie and also a paper bag, so he could take the uneaten sandwiches with him.
Tears welled up in his eyes as he said, "Thank you once again, ma'am, for your kindness. You are a very good woman."
Then he picked up his bundle and started down the road toward the Santa Fe tracks, waving goodbye to us.
It was about two years later, on another summer day, when a beautiful dapple-gray horse and small wagon turned in our driveway.
"Where is your ma, little boy?" he asked me.
Hearing the man's voice, Mama appeared, looked at him as he took off his derby hat and exclaimed, "Well, for goodness sakes, I can't believe my eyes. It's really you - the tramp!"
"Yes, it's me," he said, "but no tramp anymore. I have a business now and am doing very well peddling housewares; and some day I plan to own a store, get married again, and even raise a family. I've met a lovely lady at the church I now attend, and she seems to be interested in me. So you see what prayers and kindness have done for me."
Getting down from the driver's seat, he folded back a canvas that covered his housewares and brought out two large cooking pots, which he handed to Mama. "Now, if there are other things you need, just help yourself to anything in the wagon."
"Oh, I couldn't think of accepting anything," Mama said. "You will need the money that you can get for them. I've done nothing to deserve this."
"Oh yes, you have," he said. "You have helped to make a man of me again. Now I must be on my way, but someday I'll see you again."
The man shook hands with Mama and me, climbed back on the wagon, and was soon disappearing down the road.
"What a nice man he has become," Mama said as she blew her nose and wiped her eyes.
Then she told me to go feed the chickens and fetch the eggs.
• Mr. McFaddin died several years ago at the age of 92. "He loved to write true stories of his early experiences, but never attempted to have one published," says Merle J. Petersen, his daughter, who submitted this essay. "He felt that they were not good enough." But he did share this story and others with Ms. Petersen and her brother, and so, she adds, "I would like to see the efforts of so long ago put into print."