My mother recalls when she was a very little girl, she lived in her uncle’s house as part of an extended household that included her aunt, uncle and cousins, an elderly grandmother as well as my mom and her parents. (The house pictured below shows a similar home, but it’s not the home in which my mom lived before being sent to boarding school … mentioned in my previous post.)
This would have been the late 1920s and early 1930s, a time when some Americans enjoyed prosperity but many others suffered pressing economic challenges. Jobs were scarce and extended family households weren’t unusual.
Mom remembers her parents emphasizing that, no matter how vexing the challenges they faced, others were worse off. This fact was underscored numerous times when came an unexpected knock at the back door. An adult would open the kitchen door leading outside and at least one homeless man (sometimes several), oftentimes dirty and disheveled, would be standing there in the yard below.
(Whenever there were men in the back yard, my mom was hastily shooed upstairs or to another part of the house where she wouldn’t be tempted to chat with the men nor to have even casual contact with them.)
The beggars’ mission was always the same: they hoped to receive food in exchange for doing some household chores or other physical labor. Once fed, they’d move along elsewhere.
The family lore says these poor and homeless men, many of whom had come from the nearby railroad yard, had a code they’d use, marking those houses where they’d been successful at finding work and being fed. My aunt and others along the marked route felt it was their Christian duty to help needy individuals, but they also held the firm conviction that no meals would be provided until these beggars had completed some necessary task. Continue reading “The Mark”