Hattie’s View: Homeless, bum or hobo?

By Ellen Coffey

Today’s unemployed and homeless folks gather in certain areas and form communities called tent cities. The population of those homeless is growing and many may never look for work again. But the unemployed are not all homeless.

For instance looking back to the days of the Great Depression, Grandma Hattie referred to unemployed folk as hobos. In fact grandma cared for those in need of a job but had no pity on those drifters she called bums. What is a Bum? Well according to Grandma:

“A bum is a shiftless drifter who does not want to work but wants someone to meet his needs for free.”

Today we’d probably call that kind of person a pan-handler. 

My country grandma cooked three meals a day, so she was able and willing to give a cup of cold water or feed another mouth or two as instructed in the Good Book.

According to her, hobos were folks looking for work wherever they could find it. Many traveled with a dog. Most traveled by rail, on slow moving trains, hitching rides from one temporary job to the next construction site. 

In the 1920s the nation would begin building the infrastructure and some of the early highway system that is still in use today. Is it any wonder that today our city systems need restructuring? 

But my Grandma Hattie did her part. She drove a food buck-board wagon for workers who were constructing US Highway 1 barely a half a mile from her home.

I think the year was 1925 when the South Carolina portion of the future national corridor was under construction. It would stretch north to the Canadian border and south to Key West Florida.

My mom and her two, red haired, younger brothers, James and John, watched from the back of that worn old buck-board wagon. They witnessed the land being cleared by men and mules. 

Little did my Mom know that she was watching her future brother-in-law, Alton Sturkie, who was one of the young men working with the mules on that very stretch of road.

The workers were paid only $15 a month by our government. 

It was hardly a salary but it gave desperate folk a place to be and something to do. 

I hear every day there are jobs available. But do the street people have the skill or desire to be employed?

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if our government could create a simple but similar work program to get help get today’s homeless off the streets? You may say, “Many of today’s homeless are addicted to drugs. We have to find a way to stop the flow of drugs entering the country first.” 

That’s the problem and I don’t have the solution, but I pray we find it soon.  

This column was intended to give credit to our, grandparents and other relatives who labored in hard times to the highways and other systems we use today.

When you travel US Highway 1 in Lexington or Richland county you might give some thought to the Great Depression when the unemployed, homeless, and hobos, labored side by side building the highways. 

They finished the job never realizing this very highway would still be traveled a hundred years in the future, Yall.

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