Friday, June 20, 2014

Pantless, Sockless, Shoeless Buster Bareass - On Loss

In my quest to tell the stories of John Hodgman's 700 HOBOES, I have often struggled to find any useful information at all, beyond a name.  Many of these people are nothing more than ghosts.  Interviews of actual hoboes have been helpful, but short of that rare face-to-face meeting, I have found that the best window into the forgotten lives of America's legions of train-riding wanderers is found in the letters a few of them left behind.  

The following letter was found in 1949 in the woods near the Louisville and Nashville tracks, twenty-two miles southwest of Mobile, Alabama.  It was in a glass bottle, clutched in the skeletal remains of a long-dead man - presumably its author - next to a shallow grave marked only with a number of small rocks arranged on the ground in the shape of a cross.  Local authorities had the remains exhumed, and they were able to determine that it was a woman, estimated to have died at least fifteen years prior, probably in her mid-twenties and eight-to-ten weeks pregnant when she perished.  Nearly all of her bones had been broken.

My Dearest Eleanor,

I will try to be brief. I know you hate when I ramble.  I hope I needn't remind you that I view our time together as nothing short of a miracle, but in case you forgot, there it is.  I never believed in soul mates before you stumbled so drunk and pretty into my campfire.  Enough said, I'm sure.

It has been five years, but the only difference between how I feel now and how I felt when it happened is that now, I'm older and more tired.  They said time would heal me.  It hasn't.  They said I could take comfort in knowing that you and the baby are at peace.  I cannot.  And Lord knows I have tried.  They even said I would love again, the fools.  I have not.  I will not.  I cannot.  I love you, and that is all.

I tried to convince myself that it wasn't my fault, that if you couldn't hear the train over the storm, there was no way you could have heard my voice.  I don't know.  I said nothing.  I just stood there, paralyzed and stupid in my disbelief of my own eyes, and it was over.  You were gone.  Our life, ended in a horrible blink.  No, I will not forgive myself this loss.  We knew plenty of losses before this one - my pants and shoes, my watch, your scarves and the photograph of the two of us with the sideshow madam in Cincinnati.  Even the fingers I lost to frostbite were nothing.  I am empty, I am dead, I am lost.

I still wake at night and speak to you, as if you are beside me.  I dream of our baby, always a girl, and she looks just like you.  Every day, I tell you I'm sorry, over and over.  I have returned here twice a year - on your birthday, and on our anniversary, to bring you flowers that I paid for myself. 

And now I think I've cried enough, trying to reach you, and to be where you are.  There was frost all the way down near Pascagoula last night, and it feels just as cold, tonight.  I'll sit with you, sweet Eleanor, and drink all this hobo wine, and I'll pass out, and freeze right to death, right to you.  And we will be happy - you, me and the baby.  I hope you haven't met someone new, where you are.  That would be awkward.  Anyway, if that's the case, I'll have only myself to blame, for not doing this sooner.

I'm sure when they find me, they'll say, "Oh, this poor bum - he had nothing of his own," but I know better.  I'm not a bum.  I am a hobo, and I had everything.  I had you.

With all of me,

P.S. I didn't freeze to death, and I have a splitting headache.  I'll try again tonight.

This post was written in response to another Studio Thirty Plus writing prompt.  This time, the phrase (He had nothing of his own) comes from one of my own posts, last week's little ditty about Packrat Red And His Cart o' Sad Crap.


  1. Popping in and leaving a comment to say hi.
    I drive a route through an older part of Warner Robins, Georgia which I grew up in. It's the subtle nature of homelessness that I notice. I'm always curious about their story. Some I see as mental illness but some just get lost along the way.

    1. Indeed. I started giving silly back stories to Mr. Hodgman's hoboes with silly names. Then, during last year's Camp NaNoWriMo, I read a tiny bit about real hoboes, and since then, I've been trying to keep their hard (and varied) lives in mind when I write them. A million hoboes - no two exactly alike.

      Thanks for visiting!

  2. Replies
    1. Thanks for stopping by! Yeah - I went all maudlin on this one. I'm about due for a really goofy one...

  3. Very sad and tragic, but the P.S. about did me in. Poor Buster.

    1. Thanks, Tara. I actually thought about having several of those post-scripts, including a final one in which he gives up and decides to live on, but that just wouldn't do, would it? :)

  4. Oh Joe, this cut me right to the core. A love like that, a yearning that strong is too romantic (even if it's incredibly sad) for a soft heart like me.

    such beautiful words...thank you for sharing them with us.

  5. Thank you so much, Kirsten! This one's been simmering for a while. I had in mind some of the Civil War soldiers' letters home, when I conceived it. I'm glad it connected with you!