The markings of a good woman

Published 11:00 pm Friday, January 18, 2013

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.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

“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.

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. After all those years, Mama’s house was still marked.

Plundering in the pantry the other day, I found a Coke can that had been “repurposed” by the last tramp that came to Mama’s house. He was a rather rough-looking old man and smelled of smoke and sardines. But there was something about him, maybe the twinkle in his eyes or the slow way his mouth lifted in a smile that tugged at my heart.

He was coming from nowhere and going nowhere but, along the way, he had learned to turn soft drink cans into little rocking chairs.

He said he had a rocking chair waiting for him at the end of his journeys – in that mansion the Good Lord had prepared for him. Until then, he was going to keep “tramping” along.

After he went on down the road, like Mama, I fixed a sack of food and called for him to wait.

“Thank you, ma’am,” he said. “I’m much obliged.”

I couldn’t resist asking. I had to know. “Why did you stop here?”

He said simply, “It’s marked, ma’am. The house is marked.”

I nodded.

On account of Mama.