The tricky part was deciding on the seating arrangements. Dr. Bill Stain-Chin, the Boxcar Medic, would obviously have to be at the head of the table. Some years, this wasn't an issue, since the table was often an upended cable spool, and therefore round and headless (like the poor goose). But beyond the good doctor's position, there was a complex hierarchy, despite the small size of the group.
Boxcar Ted could be next to Boxcar Jones, the Boxcar Benjamin Disraeli, but he had to be separated from Boxcar Mick by at least one seat, or there'd be hell to pay. Jane the Boxcar Beekeeper liked to be next to Boxcar Mick, and an effort was always made to make her happy, for she was the one with the honey. Boxcars [sic] Timothy Twin could not be next to, nor across from, Boxcar Jones, the Boxcar Benjamin Disraeli, but he and Boxcar Ted were close, so they could be neighbors at the table. Dr. Bill Stain-Chin, the Boxcar Medic, could be next to anyone but Boxcar Aldous Huxley, who in turn could not be next to Jane, Jones or Ted. Ted could not be in the middle. Jones had to be in the middle.
The group had recently given up trying to keep track of which of them wouldn't or couldn't eat which foods. The last time they had attempted to do so, Thanksgiving had ended in fisticuffs and hurt feelings. These days, the food would be put into serving ware - tin cans, old hats, the odd shoe, pieces of tree bark or found plywood - and arrayed in the middle of the so-called table for each hobo to take or leave as he pleased. That it was so difficult for a family of drifters, none of whom were blood relatives, to get along for a few hours once a year was somewhat embarrassing to Dr. Bill Stain-Chin, the Boxcar Medic. But a hobo bond is a hobo bond, he would always say, and the tradition continued.
With the seating and serving arrangements completed, the other issue facing the Boxcars was the goose. It was not uncommon for Canada geese to winter in central Virginia, but this year they were scarce, and Boxcar Aldous Huxley, who was the designated goose-bringer, this time, had failed to catch one. What he had done was insult everyone's intelligence by presenting them with a dead possum with its limbs and most of its fur crudely removed, and trying to pass it off as a goose.
A search was mounted (Jane The Boxcar Beekeeper wouldn't allow it to be called a hunt), and a small gaggle was located, arrogantly standing around in a field not far away. Without a gun, they would have to employ hobo goose-catching techniques. The first of those, the slingshot, failed. The only half-decent slingshot marksman among them, hobo Mick, was too cold and too drunk to hit any of the birds.
It was getting late, so the group decided to go to Plan B. Jane sat on the ground with her back to the geese and held up a piece of bread. When the first and most insufferable of the birds approached to arrogantly steal it from her, the men pounced on it.
It took a long time to cook, because their fire had died by the time they returned to their campsite, but eventually the feast was on. Beans, carrots, corn, a potato, moonshine and a dangerously-undercooked goose. The biggest and best meal any of them would see all year.
Dr. Bill Stain-Chin the Boxcar Medic led the Boxcars in the Thanksgiving prayer: "Heavenly Father we thank you for keeping us in your good graces, for allowing us to gather once again around this table of stolen plywood. We are thankful that none of us has been bitten by a police dog this year, that only one of us was shot, that Jane turned out not to be pregnant, and for so many other blessings. Lord, you have seen fit in your mysterious wisdom to let us wander homeless and friendless and hopeless - and in Ted's case, toothless - across your beautiful world. We know that what seems to us like a cruel and terrible life of misery is really a blessing, part of your wise and mysterious plan, and for that we are grateful, dear Lord. Thank you for the feast before us, and for the fire, and for each other. And for not judging us when we all get even drunker, later. Thanks for that, as well. You're a good guy. Amen."