NEWS FROM THE HILLS

SONG OF THE RABBITS OUTSIDE THE TAVERN

 

We who play under the pines,
We who dance in the snow
That shines blue in the light of the moon
Sometimes halt as we go,
Stand with our ears erect,
Our noses testing the air,
To gaze at the golden world
Behind the windows there.

 

Suns they have in a cave,
And stars each on a tall white stem
And the thought of fox or of owl
Seems never to bother them.
They laugh and eat and are warm,
Their food is ready at hand
While hungry out in the cold
We little rabbits stand.

 

But they never dance as we dance
They have not the speed or the grace,
We scorn both the cat and the dog
Who lie by their fireplace,
We scorn them, licking their paws
Their eyes on an upraised spoon—
We who dance hungry and wild
Under a winter’s moon!

 

By Elizabeth Coatsworth

 

A few years ago, I saw an unbelievable sight. It was early in the morning, and I was standing at the sink, looking out the kitchen window. From the edge of the woods came six baby rabbits. They hopped out in the yard and began playing. They darted back and forth, chasing each other like a litter of puppies. To my delight, they began playing leap-frog, hopping over each other’s back. After about 15 minutes, something frightened them and they ran back in the woods.

There was such a sense of freedom and pure joy about them that it made my heart glad  There is something in the human heart that desires freedom. The dictionary defines “freedom” as liberty of the person from slavery, oppression, or incarceration. Freedom is the opposite of being bound. Is this not the ultimate aim of each human being?

We have had a lot of input from my column on hobos. Many of our older folks clearly remember the Great Depression and the effect it had upon their lives. The men who “rode the rails” at that time did so out of necessity, and not for the sense of freedom it entailed. With no work and no prospects at home, many decided to travel for free via freight trains and try their luck elsewhere.

Life as a hobo was a dangerous one—they were itinerant, poor, far from home and support. There was a hostile attitude of many of the train crews, and the railroad hired guards (called “bulls”) to police the trains. They had a reputation of being rough with trespassers, and “hopping freight trains” was a dangerous business. Many hobos lost a leg, were trapped between cars, or froze to death in bad weather.

Dorothy Rustebakke of Montana writes, “I can still remember the occasional hobo who knocked on doors on our street in Tacoma—ragged men who definitely looked like hobos. They would offer to rake the leaves or mow the grass for ten cents, which was enough in those days to buy a loaf of bread or a quart of milk.

“My children were raised fairly frugally, and so were many (but not all) of my grandchildren. Today’s standards are far different from what they used to be. None of them had to go to school with patches on their clothes, or use rags from old, torn-up sheets instead of Kleenex. Every one of my grandchildren has access to computers in their homes, and many of them have their own laptops.”

Marvin Harris, whom I have known since I was a child, grew up on Kanawha Turnpike where there were several sets of railroad tracks. My Uncle Myles and Aunt Lucille lived beside them, and I stayed a lot with them. In fact, I lived with them a couple of years after I got out of high school. Marvin is a little older than I am, and he remembers when hobos were quite a common sight on their back porch. Of course his mother always fed them. He admitted that he hopped on the boxcars for a short ride occasionally, but one time he traveled a little too far before he had a chance to jump. It was a “fur piece home” as Mom used to say.

Many people are homeless today through no fault of their own. Losing a job many times leads to losing a home—and although they are not hobos in the strictest sense of the word, they are in the same situation. They carry their worldly possessions around with them, just as the hobos carried their “bindles”—packs or bags across their shoulders. 

Yet, there are hundreds of people today who are hobos by choice. There is an appeal to this kind of life where a person is not bound by time schedules, homeowner’s bills, job expectations, the IRS, etc. You can live, sleep, travel or roam wherever you desire and never pay a travel fare, or rent, electric, gas, water, taxes or cable bills. A man who once lived this life style admits that it is so sweet and addictive that those who retire from this way of life never get free from it.

He says that it is truly a drug that gets in your blood, and it’s there for good. Whenever you hear a train whistle, or see a moving train, or just train tracks, that longing in your heart will tug at you so tight you’ll realize that you are addicted for life.

Although I’ve never hopped a freight train (or even rode a train, although I’d love to) or cooked a meal in a hobo jungle, or asked for a handout, I know that the whistle of a freight train evokes deep emotions.

The trains kept me awake when I first stayed at Uncle Myles’. They switched boxcars all night; it was a rumble and clatter that was strange. Eventually, I got so used to it that I barely heard it. But that faraway, lonesome whistle never failed to stir me. It spoke of places I’d never been, people I’d never met, and a longing I can’t describe.

Today I have complete freedom, and the longing in my heart has been satisfied. In John 8:36 it says, “If the Son therefore shall make you free, you are free indeed.” The greatest freedom there is, is freedom from sin. Only Christ can do that, forgive your sins and give you power to overcome them.

The Waynedale News Staff

Alyce Faye Bragg

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