Thoughts on tramps and magnitude of a widow’s mite

Published 11:04 pm Friday, April 30, 2010

Tramps mark their houses. Ours was marked on account of Mama.

Hardly a week went by that a tramp wasn’t knocking on our front door.

Mama would go out the side door and stick her head around the corner of the porch.

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“What do you want?” she would say in a firm voice and the tramp would say he wondered if she had a bite or two that she could spare him.

Mama would say she didn’t have a thing in the house but, before the tramp could get down the steps, she would be in the kitchen putting the leftover meat and cornbread from dinner in a paper sack. She would chase the tramp down at the road and give him the sack of our supper. He would tip his hat to Mama or bow and say, ‘Thank ya, ma’am. Thank ya.”

Daddy told Mama that a tramp would as soon knock her in the head out by the road as he would if she had opened the door to him. But Mama believed if you could put the light of day on anything it would be all right.

I guess she was right because no tramp ever did her any harm.

My friend Betty Kay and I would run as fast as we could through our backyards to a deep wooded place along the road where the tramps would always stop to eat. Sometimes we just hid and watched the tramps but sometimes we’d say hey and they would talk to us.

Tramps gave me my first glimpse of the big, wide world. The stories the tramps told about walking the roads and riding the rails in boxcars fascinated me. I thought I just might want to be a tramp when I grew up and have all of those adventures.

Daddy said tramps were beggars but Mama thought they were just poor ol’ souls down on their luck and she wasn’t about to turn them away.

Many years later, “Hobo” John Sherwood came home from a lifetime on the rails and became a good friend of mine. I realized that Mama was right and that many of the tramps who marked our house were probably as intelligent and as fascinating as Hobo John and were filled with a sense of wonder and desire for adventure that few are privileged to have. I was disappointed that I was not a tramp.

Before long, tramps mysteriously vanished from the scene. But, many years later, a tramp appeared at Mama’s house wrapped in a blanket and asking for a bite of food. Mama obliged him. Her house was still marked.

I didn’t grow up to be a tramp and ride the rails but, once a year, I do a little “begging” myself. I join a few others from our church’s Relay for Life team and stand in the middle of the crossroads in downtown Brundidge with a bucket and, as Daddy would say, “beg” for donations for the American Cancer Society. But I look at it as an opportunity for folks, who might not have another chance, to be a warrior in the battle against cancer.

As I stand there on Main Street, the story from the Bible about the widow’s mite often comes to mind.

You know the story from Mark and Luke of how, in the midst of rich men casting their gifts into the treasury, a poor widow came and cast in two mites. Jesus said she had given more than all the rest because the rich had given out of abundance and she had given all she had.

My heart is always touched by the giving of the widow’s mite – by those who give all they have. “I don’t have much,” they will say dropping a handful of change in the bucket. “But I lost my daddy to cancer.” Or maybe it was a brother, a friend or a child.

A teenager stopped and reached deep in his pocket. “One of my classmates at Lakeside was just diagnosed with cancer,” he said handing me a five-dollar bill. “ I wish I had more to give.”

One elderly gentleman dropped in some change as he waited for the traffic light to change. The light turned green but he didn’t move. He opened his wallet and I could see a lone ten-dollar bill. Without a word, he took out the bill and dropped it in the bucket. “My wife died with cancer,” he offered. He had given all he had.

Time and time again, people in cars that rattled, cars with ragged children and men and women, to whom life had obviously not been kind or generous, gave their nickels and pennies – gave all they had to spare. And, with each battle that is won over cancer, I believe it is not the huge donations that tip the scale but it is that last penny – that widow’s mite — that makes the difference.