"Grandpa, is Jericho Fop your real name?" The child had been warned repeatedly not to ask her grandfather about his name or his past, but with her mother out for the evening and Grandpa babysitting, she decided it was time to know.
"Of course Fop isn't my real name! What kind of a name is Fop? No, I was born Jericho Sanford. Well, technically, I was born with no name, but my parents - your great-grandparents - bestowed upon me the name Jericho Sanford, the day after I was born, back in 1909."
"Wow - you sure are old," she marveled, quickly trying to subtract 1909 from 1978, and wishing she had pencil and paper because it was too hard to do in her nine-year old head.
"Yes," he admitted, "I am. Feel even older than that, sometimes."
"So, why are we the Sanfords, but you're a Fop?"
"When I was a hobo, they called me Pineneedle-Jacket Jericho Fop. Hoboes liked to give each other funny names."
"Mama says I'm not supposed to ask about when you were a hobo..." She was too young to know it, but she was giving her grandfather an out. To her delight, he failed to take it.
"I'll give you the short version of the story, for now. Don't tell your mother," he winked.
"I won't," she assured him. "Cross my heart and hope to die, stick a needle in my eye." She pantomimed stabbing herself in the face with what seemed to be a large, invisible knitting needle.
"Don't hurt yourself, kid! Now, let's see... I had a normal childhood in the very normal town of Kansas City, Missouri. When my parents moved us to California, we took the train, and even though I was only twelve at the time, I fell head-over-heels in love with the railroad. I knew that whatever I did in life, it was gonna have to involve trains."
The girl looked around her grandfather's study. "That explains all the train stuff in here, huh?"
"That it does, that it does." He took a moment to join her in a brief admiration of his collection of Santa Fe and Union Pacific memorabilia. "So, when my folks were killed-- I mean, when they passed away..."
"Wait - 'killed?' What do you mean, they were killed?"
Jericho Fop hesitated. "I'm going to be in so much trouble with your mother, if she finds out I told you about this..."
"I won't tell. I promise."
"Okay, then. I was fifteen years old, and I was in the junior rodeo. I wasn't the best rider, but I was real good at roping, so I got to compete. Ma and Pa came to see me, of course. At the junior rodeos, they didn't let us kids anywhere near the big steers, but they had one full-grown longhorn tied up out front, just for people to look at. I didn't actually see what happened, but I guess that old bull got lose and went on a rampage. My event was a few minutes off, so my parents were behind the grandstand, looking for some shade."
"Oh, no! Did the bull get them?"
"No, the bull just ran off into a nearby field. My parents were trampled to death by a bunch of rodeo clowns in hot pursuit of it."
"It wasn't pretty. Anyway, there was no way I was gonna stand for living in some orphanage, so I packed what I could carry and set out - following the rails, hopping trains, finding work where I could, and never looking back. Listen, it's getting late - I better save some of the story for another time."
"No! I wanna hear all about it. What was it like being a hobo? Were you always dirty? Were people mean to you? Did you have a dog?" the girl was determined to get more out of her grandpa, because who knew when she'd get another shot at one-on-one time with him?
"Okay, real quick. I promise to tell you more, one day, but for now, I can tell you that being a hobo was very, very hard, but it was also the best twenty-two years of my life. It was freedom, above all else. And yes, I was dirty most of the time, but I didn't mind. Yes, some folks were very mean to me and my friends, but most people were surprisingly kind. What else? Oh - dogs. We didn't exactly have dogs, but it seemed they were always just sort of around. There. How's that? There's your introduction to the story of my hobo life."
"One more thing - why did they call you Pine... Was it Pinecone-Jacket Jericho Fop?"
"Oh, that. It was Pineneedle-Jacket, because the flower petal jacket I made for the Tournament of Roses parade fell apart in the rain, and I had to make a new one out of pine needles. Don't make a face. It was really warm, completely waterproof, and it smelled wonderful. I thought I looked very dapper in it, and I guess I talked it up too much, 'cause the boys put Fop at the end of my name. They said I was a dandy when I wore my coat. I didn't care. I love that coat. I still have it, in a trunk in the basement. I'll get it out and show it to you tomorrow. But it's almost ten o'clock. You were supposed to be in bed by nine. Your mother is going to have my head..."
"Okay, okay. Two minutes - I promise. First, I have to know..."
"About the flower petal jacket?" he smiled.
"I was the victim of a prank. My buddies and I got jobs gluing flowers to parade floats. The guys who had worked on parade before told me that the only way I'd be allowed to walk in the parade was to make sure I was covered in flowers, just like the floats were. So, I made this ridiculous coat of white rose petals, and darned if I didn't show up wearing it, only to find my friends in normal clothes, and just howling with laughter at my expense. It was warm that morning, so I didn't have a shirt on underneath, so I had to wear the stupid thing. That is - until it started raining, and my jacket began to dissolve. They said all the fallen petals looked like wet confetti at a New Year's Day parade. I'm sure that's exactly how it looked, and I was embarrassed, for sure."
"Wow - they were mean to you, Grandpa."
"Oh, they were just being boys. You know, when you're making a group of boys, you subtract ten I.Q. points for every additional boy, until you reach zero. It's okay, though. I applied what I learned making that coat to the construction of my pine needle jacket, and I headed north toward Seattle, made some new friends, and lived happily ever after. The end."
"Not 'the end,'" she corrected him, "just the end for now, right?"
"You bet. Now, run upstairs and get ready for bed, kiddo. I'll be up in a minute to tuck you in." The child scampered off, and the old hobo pulled himself from his easy chair and stood, admiring the mementos of his glory years. "Huh," he chortled quietly. "Pineneedle-Jacket Jericho Fop. What a life..."
Today's post was prompted by fellow studio30plus.com blogger KG Waite. I had to use "like wet confetti at a New Year's Day parade," from her post Hung In Tatters. I also picked another one of the BRILLIANT John Hodgman's 700 hobo names, and boom. Hope you enjoyed it!