Tuesday, September 05, 2006

My Mother was a Teenaged Hobo

September 6th would have been my mother Lola's 87th birthday. Smoking got her (emphysema, COPD) back in 1993. She really had one hell of a life, someone should have written a book about her. She loved to tell stories, and told them over and over, of course (don't all storytellers do that?). Now that she is gone I have to tell her stories for her, so here goes:

It was during the Great Depression that she decided to run away from home. Lola lived on a farm with her big family and abusive father. At 15 years old she just couldn't take it any more, so even though it was January in Illinois she headed down to the tracks and hopped a boxcar headed for St. Louis, hobo-style. There were lots of side stories about the other hobos and what they were like, it was a life she had been curious about largely because of the music of Jimmie Rodgers, all about hobos and brakemen and rounders. She'd listened to him on her aunt's crank phonograph and loved him (I was raised on his music too). Her own father had worked for the railroad (while his crew of kids worked the farm), and the train whistle was like the sound of freedom to her.

She described how huge, magnificent and beautiful the St. Louis Union Station looked when she arrived. I imagine that it did, after living on a farm in rural southern Illinois most all your life. (Even that was citified compared to the town where she was born, which is now nothing more than an old chimney or two at the bottom of a man-made lake in rural Oklahoma.)

Somewhere on the trip she met an adult couple and they let her tag along with them for awhile, posing as their daughter. She didn't want to be found, so she changed her name to Christine Sweet, same last name as theirs. They didn't stay in St. Louis, they kept going. My mother was innocent and churched, so she really got panicked when they were all camped down in bedrolls, and Mr. Sweet would reach over his wife trying to inappropriately handle the 15 year old. After that incident, she decided to get away from them, but there was a situation that had developed before that could happen. One of the men who had been riding the train had been either drunk or disoriented, and had leaned out of the boxcar at the wrong time and was killed... decapitated, in fact. The Sweets, "all 3" of them, were held in custody briefly while it was decided that this really had been an accident and not a murder.

After parting from the Sweets, she hitchhiked to Joplin, MO, and stayed with and worked for a lady, who wrote to her family. Lola's uncle Elvis came out and provided a ride back home on his motorcycle.

There were articles in the paper about her disappearance. One included a letter from her mother promising forgiveness (for running away) if she'd come back home.
Dead Daughter Lola (sic... a bad typo),
I know not where you are tonight. But if you get cold and hungry and want a place to stay remember your mothers house is open for you. [...] come home to your grieved mother, father and sisters and brothers your baby sister calls, the door is open. We will gladly greet you even if you did do wrong.

The article also mentioned how she was last seen walking down the hard road, and that she'd previously threatened to take poison or run away.

The story does not end "and she lived happily ever after", but nevertheless it does end... or rather trails off... right there.

1 comment:

Michael Bains said...

Thanks for the chills, Blueberry.

I'm readin' Steinbeck and this story would've been right at home in a volume of his work.

Thanks ag'in.