Panhandlers – Street-bums – Hitch-hikers. To be pitied, scorned, or none of the aforementioned.

How do you react when approached by one of the above? It’s not an easy question to answer because they seem to come in many-layered categories.

As for me, before retiring to anonymity on my mountain top where there are no such people, I seemed to come into contact with many. Actually, I seemed to attract them – hobos and drunks.

Digressing for a moment to the drunks, I recall a time when my very conservative, dairy-farmer mother came to visit me in Seattle. She was accompanied by my sister who is 21 years my junior and was then extremely shy. While I was taking them on a bus trip to Vancouver, Canada, a drunken African-American knelt in the aisle of the bus, singing loudly to me and inadvertently spitting on me the whole way. My mother and sister looked pointedly out of the window, distancing themselves from me. I always try to look on the bright side -he DID have a nice voice. However, I was thankful when we reached our destination and he left us once I rejected his offer of marriage.

My mother sighed with relief and we walked the streets of Vancouver, lost, and looking for someone to give us directions. I approached a neatly dressed gentleman and asked him to help. He immediately went into a paroxysm of unintelligible sounds, eye rolling and arm-waving, which frightened my mother and sister and didn’t help me. Still lost, I soon  attracted yet another drunk(?) who then persisted in following us. My mother and sister had, by that time, had enough and would no longer walk with me. I can only assume I have an ‘approachable’ face.

Now back to the beggars asking for money or those merely thumbing a ride. I think I first started picking up hitch-hikers when I lived in Alaska. The winters there are dark and cold. I was managing a trucking company at Fox, a few miles outside of Fairbanks. Thousands of workers had flocked to Alaska to work on the Trans-Alaska pipeline which was under construction. They were not all savory characters and my husband became furious each time he learned I had picked up a hitch-hiker. But how do you pass someone in the frozen wilderness?

Vignettes tumble through my mind.

There was the grubby-looking young man sitting on the steps of the South Seattle post office. He was not begging. His head was in his hands and he looked so dejected. My twelve year old adopted son from India was sitting in the pick-up, waiting for me, as I went to collect the mail.

“Are you alright?” I asked the man. He nodded and I passed by.

When I returned, he was waiting. “Could you buy me a cup of coffee?” he asked.

As the man went on his way, I climbed back into the pick-up.

“Why did you speak to that man?” my son asked.

“Because he is a human being.” I replied.

Another vignette;

That same son was with me when I closed up Diamond Lil’s, my shop/tea-room, in downtown Seattle. We were going to the Chinese Restaurant next door to have dinner.

There were two young men sitting on the pavement with their backs against the wall.

“We are hungry.” One said “Could you spare us some money?”

I looked at them. They were clean shaven and were wearing Nike shoes.

“No.” I said and passed by.

Inside the restaurant my son and I began to eat our meal. My conscience was ruining my appetite. Those two boys had not looked like street kids. Probably having a week-end in the city – spent their money and couldn’t get home. Didn’t look as if they had been on the streets long but maybe they were hungry. I ordered two more meals-to-go and carried them outside to the grateful boys. My own food tasted better after that.

Am I a sucker??? That particular son has grown into a ‘soft touch’. When I try to warn him, he says ” You taught me, Mum.”

Back in Australia, my youngest son, Chip, and I were driving out in the country when we saw an old farmer walking along the ride and not a house to be seen for miles. It was a terribly hot day. Not until he climbed into the car did I realize he had dementia and he had poo’d his pants. We were so pleased when we could unload him but we had to keep the windows open for weeks.

Again in Australia, driving back to our motel, we saw a strange young man walking in the rain. His odd dress contained feathers, skulls and metal billy cans. Despite his appalling appearance, I stopped. After ascertaining he seemed harmless I told him to climb him in. We took him back to our motel where I ordered him to take a shower while we waited for pizza to arrive. After dinner he drew us some rather clever cartoons while we waited for the rain to abate and he went happily on his way. My son later told me he had been scared at first.

I realize I have placed myself in harm’s way on occasion and I thank God that he has always kept me protected.

There are many incidents. I could bore you by going on and on. I seem to have been afflicted with this inability to pass on by and mind my own business. Fortunately I am no longer given these opportunities on this serene mountain top.

I will finish with one last vignette that remains with me. It happened In India about five years ago. My youngest son and I were on a train. At every train stop, peddlers jumped aboard and quickly passed down the aisle, selling chai and fruit or snacks. One very old man came on. He was blind, and a ragged little girl about 8 years old was leading him by one hand. In the other hand she carried a tin containing few coins. The silent man was tall and bony and one gnarled hand held a walking stick. After I placed enough money in the tin to feed them for a week, I felt it was more important to have contact with the old man. I placed my hand over his, on the cane, and left it there for a few moments – my way of embracing him. He flinched momentarily then spoke to the girl. She answered and they moved on – out of my life- but not before touching my heart.

Now I know this all sounds like I am a ‘goody-two-shoes’. I suppose I am in a way. But I am also kinda street smart and I can recognize a scammer. No-one wants to be taken for a sucker. Maybe on rare occasions I have been. But I would rather that than I develop a hard heart. We have to all make our own judgement calls. We shouldn’t place ourselves or our children in danger.

But I never forget, no matter what their circumstances – no matter how they look- or even sometimes, smell…we are all human beings.

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8 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Susan Joyce
    Jul 22, 2013 @ 12:16:47

    Good reminder. We’re all in this together.

    Reply

  2. Pat Skene
    Jul 22, 2013 @ 12:20:11

    How I would have enjoyed knowing you June. I have done many similar, but never so daring, things in my life. I’m going to buy your first book today to hear more of your stories. So many rich wonderful memories. We touch people as we go through life in ways we never understand. And then we get old and look back at what we did and hope we made a difference. I’m looking forward to reading your book.

    Reply

  3. June Collins
    Jul 22, 2013 @ 14:35:09

    Thanks Pat – hope you enjoy Junie Moon. You should have seen it was free in download, If you missed out – let me know and I will email you a free e copy.

    Reply

    • Pat Skene
      Jul 22, 2013 @ 17:54:03

      Thanks June – sorry, I don’t see the free copy. Yes, please send me the email file. Thank you so much. I look forward to reading. Cheers from way up here to way down there.

      Reply

  4. Shauna Tanner
    Jul 22, 2013 @ 21:07:46

    I tend to attract the homeless and disabled as well. One time a woman asked me for money for bus fare. I didn’t have any change so I offered her a bus token. I could tell that she really wanted money, but she took the token. I wonder if she tried to sell it later? Another time a guy got off the bus with four boxes of groceries that he got from a church welfare program. He couldn’t carry all four boxes to his next bus stop. He asked me to watch two of them while he took 2 to the next stop. I missed my bus but there was another 15 minutes later. When he got back he put his arm around my shoulders and said “thanks babe”, it made my day!

    Reply

  5. Pat Skene
    Jul 23, 2013 @ 14:56:16

    Got it, thx.

    Reply

  6. Helena
    Jul 13, 2014 @ 21:46:08

    Years ago as I was walking with another female she glanced across the street and saw a man who had had more than a wee bit too much to drink. As he lurched his way down the sidewalk, the woman I was with had nothing good to say about the stranger who was obviously quite drunk. My comment to her was that he was teaching us that we never had to be that way–needless to say, she became angry with me and stomped away–so that day I had two ‘teachings’–one was by the stranger and the other was by the female who became angry with me. There are some days when I truly do get lucky!

    Reply

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