Orphan Survival Stories Index |
CREDIT CAN MAKE YOU OR BREAK YOU
“You had best take your little snotty nose butt and get back over by that fire barrel,” the hobo told me, as he shook his large knife at me.
Though only ten or eleven years old, most of the time when I ran away from the orphanage; most of the hobos and tramps I met were kind to me, always willing to share their food and coffee. This particular fellow seemed to hate everyone and everything.
“How come he’s so mean like that?” I asked another of the other rail riders.
“You ain’t seen the worst of him yet kid. He’s just plain ole mean and evil.”
“You think he’ll try and hurt me?”
“I don’t think so. Not as long as there are a few of us around. But you never know. So you stay as far away from him as possible.”
“Hey, look at that pretty dog,” I hollered.
A black and white, medium size dog came running out of the wooded area and was heading directly toward us.
“COME HERE BOY,” I screamed out, with my hands cupped around my mouth.
All at once, one of the hobos grabbed me by the arm, “You keep you mouth shut boy,” he said.
Pulling away, I looked up into his face. There was a rather firm look about him. Shaking his head, he nodded toward the large man holding the knife. When I looked, the man placed his knife behind him, squatted down and began calling the dog.
“That dog’s as good as dead,” whispered the man who had grabbed me.
“What do you mean?” I questioned.
“That SOB will kill and eat anything.”
“He won’t eat no dog. Nobody eats dogs or cats,” I told him.
“He does boy. Even if he doesn’t eat it; he’ll kill it just for sport. Like I said, he’s no good, just plain evil all the way to the bone.”
The dog was now hunkering down in front for the man and was shaking his tail. Slowly, the man began taking off his belt. Bending down he carefully wrapped the belt around the dog’s neck.
“You better not hurt that dog or I’ll call the railroad guards,” I screamed at the man.
Grabbing me once again, the man pulled me over beside him and held me by the shirt collar.
“You better keep out of that boy. You don’t want to mess with him.”
“I ain’t gonna let him hurt that dog,” I told him.
“That fellow cut off a man’s finger and threw it in the damn fire -- just because he took a puff off his tobacco smoke last year.”
“You better not hurt that dog or I’ll call the railroad guards,” I screamed again.
The man picked up his knife, flipped it upside down and then threw it directly at me. I jumped backwards as it stuck in the ground, several inches from my foot.
“Pick up that damn Bowie Knife and get your ugly little ass over here.”
Slowly, I reached down and pulled the large knife out of the ground. I took several steps toward the man then took off running down the railroad tracks.
“I’m gonna report you to the railroad guards,” I screamed back at the man. Every one of the men standing around the fire began running toward the wooded area.
“I ain’t gonna hurt this dog you stupid little bastard,”
I stopped, turned around and looked back at the man. He stood up, removed the belt from around the dog’s neck and then lightly kicked him in the rear. The dog came running directly at me, wagging his tail.
“Sonny, you bring me that knife back here.”
Carefully, and very cautiously I made my way back to the man. I held out the knife and as he took it he said “Kid, you are one stupid little bastard.”
“I steal you some food if you won’t hurt that dog.”
“And just how do you plan to do that?”
“There’s an old wooden store about a mile down the road. I’ll go steal some food for you.”
“You got thirty minutes kid.”
I turned and began walking away.
“Twenty-nine minutes kid.”
I began to run as fast as I could.
Several days before, I had been caught stealing cigarettes from a gas station and the black man in charge almost broke my arm. I was lucky to get away and I won’t ever go back there again.
“You don’t have to steal. I would have given you the cigarettes kid, if you would have just asked,” the Negro man yelled out, as I was running away.
‘Cigarettes are nineteen cents a pack and ain’t nobody gonna give’m away for free,’ I thought, as I ran like a bat out of hell.
About ten minutes later I arrived at the store. Walking inside I saw an old man standing behind the counter.
“What can I help you with?”
“I’m just lookin’.”
“Well, you let me know if I can help you.”
I walked around for several minutes to see if the man was watching me. I picked up a loaf of bread, walked to the counter and laid it down on the rubber mat. Walking to the back of the small store I picked up a package of meat which had pickles in it.
“What’s this stuff here?”
“It’s pickle loaf.”
“Why would someone put pickles inside meat?”
“I have no idea young man,” replied the store owner.
Within minutes, I had a loaf of bread, a package of pickle loaf, several cupcakes and five pieces of penny candy placed onto the counter.
“That will be eighty-nine cents,” said the clerk.
“Is it true that people will give you stuff for free if you just ask rather than stealing it?” I asked him.
“Were you planning on stealing all this?”
“That’s what I was gonna do, ‘cause it’s real important.”
“How can stealing be important?”
“It just is. It really is mister.”
“Well, you sure make it sound important.”
“It’s real important.”
“And if I won’t give you this?”
“Then I take it and run.”
“I’ll tell you what I will do. I’ll give you this on credit.”
“Credit, I trust you to come back and pay me later.”
“But I ain’t got no money.”
“One day you’ll be all grownup, you’ll have a job and then you can come back and pay me.”
“You would trust me like that?”
“I’ll trust you.”
“Ain’t nobody ever trusted me before.”
The man took the items and began placing them into a brown paper bag. As he held it toward me I found it very difficult to reach out and take the sack. Knowing that I had to save the dog, I took the bag and walked toward the screened door.
Stopping, I turned around and said “Will you eat one of these here little candies with me?”
I reached in, took two of the penny candies from the bag and handed one to the old man.
“Thank you. That was very kind of you,” he told me.
“I’m sorry I was gonna steal this here stuff from you.”
“Don’t worry about it. You just come back and pay me when you get all grown up.”
“I will. I really will. If I can’t I come back and come and do some work for you. Will that be okay?”
“That will be fine. I’m sure you will repay me somehow,” he said, as he smiled.
“I GOTTA GO. IT’S REAL IMPORTANT,” I yelled, as I ran out the door and headed back toward the railroad yard.
When I returned, all the men were standing around the fire, no one said a word. The dog was again tied, this time to a small tree stump with a long green vine, the belt around its neck. I handed the sack to the man and then I ran over to make sure the dog was still okay. The man took the sack of food, candy and all, walked over to the side and sat down and began eating.
“You gonna share with anybody,” I asked.
“Bunch of idiots,” mumbled the man.
“Like I told you boy, he is just plain evil,” said the man who had earlier grabbed me by the arm.”
“Well, he didn’t kill the dog.”
“Oh, he’ll kill it, as soon as he’s got his belly full.”
I walked over to the dog and began to untie it.
“You leave that damn dog where it is,” said the man, as he reached over and picked up his knife.
“HOBOS, HOBOS, HOBOS” I screamed, as loud as I could, hoping to bring the railroad guards to my rescue.
Everyone scattered and headed back toward the woods, except the man with the knife. He just sat there waiving his knife at me. Jerking the vine loose from the stump, I grabbed the belt and began running down the railroad tracks, the dog running behind me and barking at my heals.
I ran, not stopping until I once again reached the small wooden general store. Gasping for air, I sat down on the wooden steps and tried to catch my breath. Hearing the screen door open behinds me, I turned around to see the old man who had given me the sack of food.
“SCROUNDAL,” Yelled the man.
The dog ran up to the man and began to lick him.
“Where did you find my dog? He’s been gone for more than a week.”
“He was tired to this old stump right down there,” I said, as I pointed down the tracks.
“Wait right here,” said the old man, as he turned and walked back into the store.
Several seconds later, he walked out onto the porch and handed me two dollars.
“What’s this for?”
“That’s the reward.”
“Thank you, sonny,” he said, as he opened the door, allowing the dog to run inside.
I sat there for several minutes before entering the store. Walking up to the counter I held out one of the dollars.
“What’s that for?”
“I came back to pay off my credit like I said I would.”
“There was no doubt in my mind that you would come back some day and pay me.”
I just smiled.
This was just one of the few people from my childhood who was kind enough to help me. A very special individual who took the time to teach a very confused little boy that being honest had a feeling and being honest had a meaning and a value.