Grace On The Tracks

Once again, at the age of twelve, I had run away from the orphanage.

It had not even entered my head that tomorrow was going to be Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving Day just happened to be one of the few days that we kids got to eat all that we wanted.

I was headed out of Jacksonville, Florida, and I think I was westward bound -- whatever that direction was. All I knew was that someone had told me that I was born somewhere in California, and I had a mother and father out there somewhere.

It was November so it was getting a little cold as the sun went down. I knew from past experience that I could not stay on the main road as the police would be looking for me. They would return me to the Duval County Juvenile Hall or worse, back to "The Orphanage".

As I walked along, I came across some railroad tracks which I thought I would follow in hopes they might lead me to my mother somewhere in California. After about an hour or two of walking the tracks, I came across a large bonfire. There were several men standing around in a circle trying to stay warm.

"Where you headed kid?" yelled one of the men.

"Going to California to find my mom and dad," I hollered back at him.

"Going the wrong way kid," he said, cupping his hands over his mouth like a bull-horn.

Slowly I walked over to where the men were standing and I asked if I might get warm by the fire.

"Get that empty can over there and I'll give you a cup of hot beans," said one of the men who was sitting on an old stack of tires.

They sure were good beans too! I think I ate two whole cans. Sure was nice of them to give me some of their food.

"Might as well stay here for the night," said the man with the sling on his arm. I know my eyes got real big and I got a little scared when he put his good arm around me.

"It's gonna be ok kid. I'll look after you," said the man who had given me the beans.

I slept pretty good considering how cold it was out there by the tracks. There were a few old army blankets that smelled real bad, but they sure were warm and itchy.

The next morning we had beans once again for breakfast. That was the first time I ever had coffee and it was real good tasting. Made you feel real warm inside. After breakfast we cleaned up our mess and burned it all in the fire and then we poured water over the fire and made it go out.

For most of the day we walked down the railroad tracks. Once in a while, we would sneak over a fence and steal some fruit to eat. I didn't like stealing but that fruit sure tasted awfully good.

Right before dark one of the men went into a small store and asked if he could do some work for a loaf of white bread and some meat, but the store man told him "No." Later on, I went back into the store and when the man wasn't looking I stole that loaf of bread and two packs of meat which had bad tasting pickles in it.

That night we had fruit, pickle meat sandwiches, and beans for Thanksgiving Dinner. I called it "Supper".

I never knew that poor people like hobos ever said grace before they ate, especially after stealing food. But they did, and they really meant it too, because I could tell it in their voices when they all said "Amen".

"How come you people always say grace when you eat. You're like me. You ain't got nothing to be thankful for," I said.

"Ain't you got two arms and two legs kid?" asked one of the men.

"Course I got two arms and two legs," I told him.

"Then you got something to be thankful for," said the man, as he raised his pants leg and showed me his fake leg.

"Did the big war do that to you?" I asked him. The man did not answer me. He just got up from his seat on the ground and walked away off into the darkness.

"It's OK kid. He just takes the war harder than the rest of us. We were all in the war," said his friend.

"You was in the war too?" I asked.

He looked down at the ground without answering my question. Then he broke into tears and covered his face. I sat there not knowing what to say. I just sipped on my warm coffee and tried to stay warm. The next thing I remember it was morning time.

The four men all told me goodbye, except the one who could not talk -- he spoke with his hands and fingers. Then they jumped on the slow moving train and left me standing all alone beside the railroad tracks.

I took my two good arms and my two good legs and I walked back to the orphanage. When I saw the head matron, Mrs. Winters, I told her, with my mouth that could speak words, that I was very sorry I had run away and that I was very ashamed for not being thankful for all that God had given me.

[ by: Roger Dean Kiser ( -- from 'Sermon_Fodder' ]


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