|The Church of St. Christmas - Photo by [Maris], 1998|
Okay, jumping the gun a little bit, there. Firstly, know my hobo world... [HERE]. Then, come in, and know me better, friend! There's no fire, but help yourself to a grog and tankard, and have a sit and a listen. K?
Winifred Weingarten left home on a Tuesday - February 11th, 1930 - a cacophony of poverty-fueled domestic violence and home-brewed drunkenness roiling behind her as she strode numbly away, as a too-cool action hero might stride toward the camera with Armageddon exploding behind him (which here means her). She was twenty at the time - on the cusp of spinsterhood.
"Why'd you leave, again?" Molly Bewigged asked. Again.
"I told you," Elffriend (nee Winifred) Weingarten deadpanned, "I was on the cusp of spinsterhood."
"Yeah, yeah - spinsterhood," Molly said, having long ago given up trying to prevent her eyes from rolling like locomotive wheels at such utterances from her occasional friend. "Big deal. Aren't we all spinsters, by now? I mean why did you really leave? What actually happened? Did your pa murder your ma, or visa-versa? My parents were buried alive under a hundred feet of dirty coal at the Allentown Steel Works. That's why I left home. Just tell me what happened to you, Weingarten."
Elffriend closed her eyes and calculated the most efficient way to answer her friend. She loved words, and loathed wasting them. A minute later, she said, "I got bored."
"You got what?"
"Bored?" Elffriend said with a tone that managed to convey her concern that Molly might not have known what the word meant.
"Bored? You got bored? The markets crashed. Our fathers all lost their jobs. Everyone went broke overnight, and hit the bread line at the same time - basically the whole world went to pot - and you got bored?"
Elffriend shrugged. "I didn't have to go. I was tough enough to handle Pop. I wanted to go. I loved trains and I loved men and I had heard stories of the hobo nation - and ofttimes I was so very bored, so I grabbed a few things and took to the rails. That's all there is to it."
"Oh, your poor, poor mother," Molly sighed, shaking her head with a heavy sadness. "We have to fix this." Molly was frequently a fixer, and her inability to fix Elffriend was vexing her. She had fixed the issue of her own abusive father by "accidentally" crushing him under fifty tons of anthracite. The guilt she endured for inadvertently including her innocent mother in said coal-alanche had been fixed with homemade hooch. She had then fixed her ensuing economic predicament by hitting the road at nineteen and learning to survive as a member of the wandering work-seekers known as hoboes. Now, fourteen years later, with the second world war dragging its way toward the end of 1944, she found herself desperate to fix her misguided friend.
"Whaddaya mean, 'fix?'" Elffriend barked, as she and Molly stepped carefully across the B and O trestle over the Potomac river at Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, accompanied only by the soft, cold silence of falling Christmas Eve snow. "I left Mother surrounded by love. She had twin four-year olds, and--"
"Oh sweet Jesus, Elffriend! I forgot about the twins. You left her with no one to help with twin toddlers and a depressed, unemployed husband!"
"She had my brother. James was twelve when I left, and he was a better helper than I ever was. Mother was fine. She was probably glad to see me go. Can we change the subject? And pick up the pace - I want to make it to Frederick in time for the Maryland Hobo Co-op Christmas Jamboree and Hootenanny, tomorrow, so I can spend Christmas with some men."
"Molly Bewigged shook her head, sending a small shower of snowflakes swirling from her red and white Christmas wig. "We're not going to Frederick, sweetie."
Elffriend stopped. "What?"
Molly continued taking cautious steps along the tracks, looking through the ties at the frozen moonlit river below. "You heard me."
"What are you up to, Mol? We'll never make it to Baltimore by tomorrow."
"Not going to Baltimore, either."
"That's a relief. I thought for a second that you were going to try to take me home, and I've told you many times, there is no home. I tried to go back in 1935, and my family had moved away to who knows where. And even if they were still there, for one thing it's too late..."
"Never too late," Molly interrupted.
"...and for another thing, it's none of your beeswax," Elffriend insisted. "So, where is there to go that's better than a camp full of men?"
"Is there a hobo jamboree in Brunswick?"
"Nope. Come on. Keep walking," Molly said.
"Let's just say there's a Christmas dinner, hobo-friendly, and we're going and that's that."
"There better be men," Elffriend muttered. She felt a tiny warm flicker of relief at the thought of ending this hike twelve miles sooner than she had planned. She was tired, and she was cold. Tired and cold were nothing new to a hobo with fourteen winters on the road, but over the past couple of years, Elffriend had become increasingly aware of the cumulative effect of so many colds, so much tired. As much as she still adored the freedom and empowerment of the hobo life, she couldn't continue to ignore the nagging notion inside her that other lives were a possibility. She'd never be a daughter or a sister again, and probably not a wife or mother, but maybe she could teach, or cook or clean or write books or invent things or fix tanks and airplanes, or run for office on a pro-hobo platform. Just entertaining such thoughts for the first time in so many years gave her to know that change was not only possible, but actually desirable.
She didn't have the heart to admit any of this to Molly, however, because Molly was always adamant that there was no life for them but the hobo life. Going back to the world was laughably nonsensical, and she had ninety-four ways of explaining that to whomever would listen. So, hearing the words "never too late" fall from Molly's lips was disconcerting to Elffriend. On the other hand, a hobo-friendly dinner sounded a lot more Christmassy to her at the moment than did a hootenanny.
Several hours and eight miles later, the double-track main line split into quadruple tracks, before further branching into the yard at Brunswick, Maryland. "Hey Mol," Elffriend mused, "you've never told me how exactly you managed to bury your parents under a pile of coal."
"It wasn't easy," Molly said, somewhat absently. "Okay, here we are - up the hill two blocks to Mooseheart Drive..."
Elffriend followed Molly up a steep hill and along a street lined with skinny houses - basically row houses that didn't touch - until they reached a red one with a driveway and a 1939 Hudson that looked as if it had once been an expensive car. They stashed their bags in the bushes, then climbed six squeaky stairs to the front porch. Molly turned to Elffriend and nervously set about straightening her hair and coat, and wiping dirt from her face.
"What the heck are you doing, Mol? Lay off me!"
Molly rapped sharply on the front door, then kissed her friend on the cheek, leapt from the porch, and scampered off behind the bushes. "Good luck, sweetie. I'm sorry. Merry Christmas! Good luck!"
"What the-- Molly Bewigged! What did you do?" Elffriend heard footfalls inside, approaching the door. At the same instant, she noticed the brass door knocker, on which was engraved, WEINGARTEN. "Aw, shi--"
The door swung open. Molly watched from behind the hedge, as a man in his thirties in an Army uniform emerged and stared at Elffriend for a moment before wrapping her in a huge bear hug, soon to be joined on the porch by a white-haired man and woman, then a couple of additional adults and at least a half-dozen children. There were gasps, there was crying, and laughter, and the entire ensemble retreated into the house.
Molly stood on tiptoes, straining to see over the bushes and into the front windows. She saw only shapes moving behind foggy glass, but the shapes appeared to be hugging a lot. After a few minutes, the door opened and Elffriend Weingarten emerged. Molly resisted the impulse to dive straight back into the bushes, opting instead to stand on the front walk, smiling sheepishly at her friend. "Don't kill me," she said.
"Oh relax, Mol," Elffriend said, smiling and shaking her head. "This is the most wonderful family."
Molly relaxed and let go of a massive sigh of relief. "Hooray!"
"I mean, it's not my family, but they're really nice."
"What? That's not your family? Oh no! I'm so sorry. How did this happen?" Molly was mortified.
Elffriend laughed long and hard. "I'm joking, Mol. Of course they're my family - but you had that coming to you. Come on in - they want to meet you."
"Oh, you stinker!"
"Come in. You were right. It's not too late. Can I ask you something, though?"
"Sure, I guess."
"How did you find them?"
Molly Bewigged shook her head. "Well, it wasn't easy - especially since I didn't know that your first name is Winifred. How did you end up with a hobo name like Elffriend, anyway?"
"Oh, I don't know, Mol," Elffriend sighed, "opium is a hell of a drug."
They stepped through the doorway and into the warm glow of an entirely new world.
"Whoa," Molly said quietly, surveying their surroundings.
"I know," Winifred Weingarten said. "Merry Christmas..."
I'm back, I guess. I was spurred to action not only by this week's Two For Tuesday writing prompts (ofttime and/or frequently) from my friends at Our Write Side, but also by the return to blogging of my web-based friend Kelly at Naked Girl In A Dress. Writers gotta write, right?
Merry Christmas, happy holidays, and here's to our collective survival in 2018...