No tramps were ever turned away

Published 9:57 am Wednesday, November 16, 2011

by James D. Archie Howell

We are eating supper (our evening meal). A footstep on the front porch and then a knock on the front door catch our attention. Someone answers the knock with me close behind.

The large shapeless mass that stands at our door asks for food. We return to our table and fill a plate with whatever we are having that night. Probably meat of some description, vegetables, including potatoes, greens and maybe some pickles. And biscuits, several biscuits. I don’t know if iced tea is served or not. If not, well water from our bucket is offered.

All the food is delivered to the front porch and the over-coated figure sits in a chair and eats. We finish supper inside; conversation is a little subdued.

The man knocks again, and when we answer, he thanks us and wanders off down the road to wherever he feels it necessary to wander off to.

I don’t know if he has specific plans, or if it is just some destination that he feels compelled, by some mysterious force, to struggle toward. He has an air of resignation about him, as if the present is just a circumstance to be tolerated. He is polite and deferential but devoid of purpose.

I watch him sadly.

Even as a child, I feel comfort and safety in the arms of a family with roots. I pity those who have no home.

There is economic strife in our country; there is a distant war that claims the children of families in our neighborhood. My brothers are working at a shipyard somewhere. Another brother is in the local National Guard. Our windows have shades to be drawn during air raid warnings. Headlights on passing cars and trucks are half shaded with black paint.

Something called a black market has sprouted and, by all accounts, is doing well.

Something called “bootlegging” seems to be doing well also. I have family members with all too much association with those activities. Cash money is not in abundant supply, but here on the farm, food is plentiful and celebrated — and shared.

Many tramps knock on our door. Each is treated with dignity and respect and served with food from our table. None are turned away. That is just not done.

Each person comes and goes quietly; each has a personality that we do not experience. Each has a past untold and a future unseen. Each takes a brief respite from their journey on our front porch.

Each takes a little bit of us with them on their search for that ethereal something that cannot be quantified. Each remains nameless.

I have never felt pangs of hunger, except for those self-imposed. I’ve never been homeless, except for those times in transit.

Yet, I feel the emptiness in those tramps’ eyes, and in similar eyes of others with whom I have shared a part of my life’s path. My pain has not lessened, in spite of life’s abundance.

I am thankful for the gift of a heritage that includes home and family, no matter how widely disbursed or different thinking. I pity those who have no home.

JAMES D. “ARCHIE” HOWELL is a Southampton County native and 1955 graduate of Franklin High School. He can be reached at