We spent three days on that train. Somewhere in the loop we made from South to North Dakota and back again, our hunger sent us off the train in search of food. One of the nicer bums from the train suggested an orphanage he knew of nearby and went to solicit a handout. My stomach was growling miserably making it hard to wait for that anticipated meal. An interminable time later he returned with a sack of sandwiches and oranges, their citrusy fragrance making us salivate. This luscious lunch was quickly disseminated between us with unheeded warnings to save some for later. Our hunger was too fierce and left no room for patience. Without restraint we gobbled up every bite. That simple meal from those generous nuns filled my stomach and my belief in humanity. Thank you. It warms me still to this day.
One of our traveling companions was a memorable man named, George. A lanky Indian, he stood 6’6” tall, with a forward stoop, shoulders rounded, long ropey arms, swinging bent like a gorilla. We nicknamed him “George of the Jungle” after the loveable cartoon character. He was silly and fun, and the time we spent with him was a welcome respite from the road we’d been traveling. With his friendly face and warm heart, I felt comfortable for the first time since we’d left home, and relaxed in his presence. He took us aside, kept us under his sheltering wing—away from the other rougher bums. He led us to a hobo camp hidden in the trees alongside the train yards, passing lights that warned of incoming trains, and levers that diverted some to adjoining tracks, where all the tracks met at the roundhouse. We kept asking new arrivals to the camp, which trains were headed out of state. We’d had enough of circling the Dakotas. After finally finding directions we hoped we could rely on, we said our good-byes to our newfound friend, George. At the last minute, he took me aside and placed a short, whittled stick in my palm. Closing my fingers around it, holding my hand tenderly, he entreated me to be careful, and use the homemade weapon to poke out the eyes of anyone who might attack me. I was touched by his brotherly concern. I carried that token of his friendship across the country, clutching it in my pocket like a talisman, rubbing it like a worry stone. Maybe it really did hold some strong protective magic, for we never encountered any danger during that whole adventure. Looking back now through many years of living, I realize how taut a tightrope I had walked, how quickly it all could’ve turned ugly, and how different my story might’ve ended.
Wherever you are in your story George, I send you my deepest gratitude, and wish you well.