Kayaking with my grandson down the Etowah River recently, I decided to take him down the creek that runs beside what many folks call “Hobo Canyon.” I know where the name came from, being some homeless people usually stay around there, but the name “hobo” brought other memories to me that day.
Back in the days of the Great Depression, men that left home and hopped on trains to find work to support their families were called hobos. My grandfather being one of those men, we heard stories all my youth of his antics.
We grew up in North Rome very close to the railroad tracks. When the trains passed the whole house knew it and would shake, giving meaning to the saying “born on the other side of the tracks.” Sleeping would be rather difficult at times and TV watching would be interrupted from the noise. Not to bother us kids; the railroad was our playground. We kids would always talk about hobos and were convinced they lived next to the tracks in a patch of woods. We were rather scared of them. A group of men would gather inside a bamboo patch and whittle wood and we avoided them. I’m sure they were not hobos, just guys meeting up enjoying whittling and company, but still we were rather fearful of them.
One day while we were outside in the sultry summertime, a guy came up to our house asking for water. My mom said he had jumped off the train, and being she had a soft spot because of her daddy being a hobo, she gave him my dad’s Igloo container filled with water. Dad was not very happy about that when he got home. Needless to say, I grew up hearing the word “hobo” a lot, and not necessarily in a negative way. Today, calling them hobos don’t seem accurate, for it does not really seem like they are looking for work, but it’s still a sad situation. Maybe they are not hobos at all, but just homeless. The word “hobo” stirs interest in me in a fun, kind of adventurous way. Maybe that’s where my adventurous spirit comes from, being a vagabond at heart.
My granddad lived to be 82, and up to a few years before his death he would walk and wander around; he never drove a car. He walked everywhere, sometimes me along with him. I was his baby granddaughter and carried the nickname he gave me, “Butterball.” So glad the river and exploring Hobo Canyon brought back the fond memory of him that I can pass down to my grandkids.