Sunrise Magazine Online

The Tramp

By Frances Hanken

We always meet him as he walks beside a certain stretch of highway not far from our home. To the casual observer he would appear to be no different from any ordinary road tramp. Sometimes he will be trudging along, looking at the ground, apparently heedless of heavy traffic speeding by just a few feet from him. Or perhaps he will be investigating the bottles, cans or papers carelessly tossed aside by motorists. His schedule never varies much; rain or 'shine, he slowly walks on his "route" near a small town.

Years ago, when he first came to our notice, we named him "Harry Chin," and watched for him along the highway. At that time, he was always dressed in nondescript coat and trousers, a dirty cap over long unkempt hair, a heavy beard almost hiding his features. His age could not be determined by his looks. After seeing him thus untidily arrayed for several years, we were startled one day to meet him dressed in neat clothing, clean, shaven and with a recent haircut. A new white cap and sturdy shoes added to his trim appearance. Then we were able to note his sensitive, not unattractive features and to guess his age to be in the late twenties. However, as the weeks passed, the white cap became dingy, his rather delicate features again were disguised by a heavy beard; his clothing became worn and filthy, his shoes scuffed and broken.

Recently we learned his story. When he was a boy of about 12, he and his mother came to stay overnight at the hotel of a little town. Sometime during the night or early morning the mother went away while the little boy slept, leaving behind her a shy, delicate and frightened child to awake and face life alone. None of the townspeople saw her leave or knew where or why she went. Afterwards they could not be entirely certain that she was the child's real mother. Questioning the boy proved to be unsatisfactory as his response to the gentle inquiries was usually only soft, hopeless sobbing. "Where is my Mama? When will she come back? Why did she go away? I want my mother."

It was a very small town. No one made any official investigation. When a kindly family provided him with room and board, everyone rather took it for granted that the matter was settled. The boy was sent to school and provided for. Still he did not cease to grieve for the woman he called his mother, who never returned for him. Moody and retiring, he made few friends.

Until he was 15 or 16 he worked after school at odd jobs, using his spare hours to walk along the route he and his mother had come so long before. Then he disappeared for a day or so; when next seen, he was living in a shelter built with discarded pieces of tin and boards from the town's rubbish heap.

From that time on he refused help from anyone, preferring to live on fruit picked up from under the trees that lined the highway, on scraps from discarded lunches tossed out by passing motorists. As he lost contact with people he knew, and withdrew within himself, his mind, never very strong, became more and more dim until finally he lived almost entirely in a dream world of his own, unheeding of the world around him. Still grieving for his mother, he went out each morning to look for her down the road she had brought him on the last day he had seen her.

Time passed, and as he retreated still further from reality, his walks became a fixed habit. Each morning he followed beside the highway for a few miles, then turned around and went back to his shelter to wait for another day to dawn.

Thus he fills his hours, day after day, year after year. People who do not know his story think to help by offering food and money. His only response is a blank stare. He will not touch food offered to him. Might it not be poisoned? Money — what does he need that for? He never enters a store, so coins are cast aside as worthless.

His pitying friends leave fruit or wrapped sandwiches on the side of the road where he is sure to find them as he walks by. Magazines are occasionally left for him. These he will leaf through to see the pictures or maybe to read a page or two. Seldom does he carry anything home with him, except perhaps a gunny sack or an old coat that might serve as a blanket on chilly nights.

Once he sampled too much whiskey he found in a discarded bottle. He was picked up by highway patrolmen and kept overnight in their protective custody. That was several years ago at the time we saw him dressed so neatly.

Now he walks alone in his never ending search, scarcely noticed by the countless motorists who race by him. To them, he is just another hobo, probably an amusing sight to many travelers. But, could there be a soul in agony imprisoned behind the blank stare with which he faces the world — a world he has almost, but not quite escaped from?

So, a lonely figure, he trudges along beside the road as he spends his days walking, walking, always walking.

If we could but know the true story of those who seem to have made such complete failures of their lives, perhaps then we would be more understanding towards them. We see the outward appearances. God sees the soul of a man, knows the intent of his heart and understands his struggle. Only God can rightly judge man's progress.

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