My step-cousin Billy and I used to play hobo for hours at a time and enjoyed making up simple pretend means of survival.
“Let’s hide this biscuit in a jar and bury it by the ditch so we can come back for it when we are hungrier,” one of us would say. Or, “Let’s go get some dry salt meat from the refrigerator and catch us some crawdads to eat.” Or, “Let’s build a tree house up in the gum tree so we can have a secure place to spend the night away from the hobo cops.”
We did all those things, but Pop would never let us sleep up in the tree house. Mother seemed to be fine with it after I told her we would tie safety ropes to our belts, but Pop never bought it. The tree house was way up there, and, to my carpenter step father at least, it was shabbily built. He was well aware of my somnambulism, too.
We were, however, allowed to sleep outside and we found many unusual places to do so. My favorite natural bedroom was way back up in a nearby culvert. Even though it was concrete and often a bit damp, we found ways to pad the surface to make it if not hugely comfortable, at least slumber-ready after a long day of tramping. The only problem was the campfire. We couldn’t stand the smoke if we built it up in the culvert and we would be too conspicuous if we built it nearby. So we did without fire those nights.
Why did my step-cousin and I enjoy playing hobo so much? I think that even back then we were skeptical of the way society was getting so comfortable and convenient. We had the urge to rough it. I found out many years later that the term hobo came from hoe boy, men and boys who carried all their possessions tied to a hoe and went from farm to farm to work.
Many of us still have the urge to simplify our lives. Few of us want to sell out and hit the road, be we do see that possessions do not satisfy and often have a way of possessing us.
My step-cousin didn’t remain interested in hoboing, though. Billy’s father owned a successful store and he and his family lived very well indeed. They nurtured every aspect of Billy’s aspirations. At first they had Pop build him a little soda stand on the street and he did a lucrative business after school. When his father learned of his interest in preaching, he had Pop build him a mock church with pulpit in the storage room. Billy would preach moving sermons at the drop of a hat. I remember him arguing passionately and persuasively from the pulpit that Hitler was the Antichrist.
My step-cousin became a very fine minister of the gospel and has had enormous influence as a Christian witness internationally. Perhaps it took a little inner hobo to make him what he became.