Drifters, Bums and Gypsies


The Depression

It was summer in Kansas during the nineteen thirties, hot dry windy and dusty. The whole country was in a depression. Many young men were out of work drifting from one part of the country to the other looking for work. Since we lived so close to the highway many men stopped at our house asking for food. Most of them offered to do any kind of work , split wood carry water, anything in exchange for food. I don't ever remember mom or dad asking them to do anything. I remember one man offered mom a bunch of safety pins all pinned on one large pin. Mom didn't want to take his last belongs so she declined his offer.

We always fed the men because mom said you never knew maybe one was Jesus in disguise ,testing her to see if she would "feed the hungry". All the men seemed very polite. Mom fed them on the back porch .She took out a kitchen chair and a milk bench served as their table. If it happened to be Sunday they got leftover Sunday dinner. Usually fried chicken, mashed potatoes and gravy ,corn, home made bread and butter and maybe home canned peaches for desert. Occasionally one would ask dad if he could sleep on the hay in the barn. Dad always asked them if they smoked and if they did they had to promise dad that they would not smoke in the ban. Most did not smoke. After all cigarettes cost money.

Years later when I was a teller in a bank one of the customers began to talk about his early life. At the time I met the customer her was a wealthy diamond merchant. He told me how he hitch hiked from New York to Seattle to find work. I told him where I lived and how we fed many men who came by. It was fun reminiscing with him, speculating on the possibility that he just might have stopped by the farm in Kansas.

Gypsies were another story. Gypsies came by in their house wagons pulled by a couple horses. There always seemed to be a couple men along with several women. The ones who came by our place were beggars asking for eggs etc but what they really did was steal anything could. They used the divide and conquer method. They would get dad talking to one of them at the barn while one of the women talked to mom at the house while the third person did the stealing. We were always told the gypsies would steal little kids so when they came into the yard it was alert time for everyone.

I remember the time Al, Bill and I were at grandpa's house. He had a large water tank for the horses and he kept large gold fish in the tank. As kids we loved to go watch the fish. We were watching the fish when the gypsies came driving their wagon and horses up to the tank. Grandpa came out of the barn and said in a very stern voice "You kids stay on this side of the tank." We knew by his voice and manner that something was wrong so we didn't move. He walked over to talk to the gypsies. I don't know what they talked about but I heard grandpa say "You get off of this place". They looked angry but they did get into their wagon and left. That was the first time I really thought they might actually steal little kids.

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