During the Depression, those who managed freight trains were told by the government that men could hop the empty side cars and ride for nothing. They were looking for work, any work; they left home and family hoping to find something that paid any small amount of money so they could send it home.
Hank Meyers was one of these young men.
Ever worn the same clothing for days without bathing? The aroma in some of these box cars, according to Hank, caused the men to jump--clothes and all--into streams along the way, knowing another train would come chugging up the track...eventually.
And, in the meantime, those who had disembarked as they neared a town looked for an X on one of the many nearby fence posts along the way. This X had been put there by some earlier hitchhiker and told the one seeing it that there was a house nearby where one could get a meal for a bit of work.
This is how Henry Myers met his wife, Betty.
There were several nearly-grown daughters in the home of Betty’s parents--and there was always work to be done, way back then.
The girls in the family were considered too much of a lady to do some of these things, like chopping down trees for their lumber, so, when Hank went to the back door of the house closest to the railroad tracks, Mrs. Bernard not only gave Hank a meal but told him he could stay in the room they’d added to the barn if he cared to work.
Any hungry man would have accepted such an offer--and Henry Myers did.
Mrs. Bernard had her husband share his nearly worn-out overalls with this traveler so the man could clean himself up a bit. And this was the first time Betty Bernard ever saw her future husband.
Hank Myers stayed in Minnesota for a little over a year. He ended up not only helping the Bernards but became well-known and trusted by many people in the small town, even earning money by hiring himself out as a clerk in the general store and milking cows or plowing fields.
Betty and her parents were impressed. In fact, they found Hank so engaging that he and Betty were soon married.
However, the couple never stayed for long in Minnesota. Hank’s parents were both ill and someone, somehow got hold of the young man. Soon, he and his (now) wife ended up back in Michigan--by hitch-hiking. This was considered a safe mode of travel way back then.
My husband and I met the Myers as they had grown older, at a church we attended. Hank could regale anyone by his imitation of “getting my sea legs back” after disembarking from the old, lumbering freight trains of the past and covering his ears with his hands as he mimicked the screeching of the old trains on the tracks as they came to a noisy halt.
Betty, who after almost 60 years of marriage to this man, still thought he was Adonis. She would just smile as though this was the first time she’d heard these stories, along with Hank’s accompanying shenanigans, and retire to the kitchen for refreshments. That’s true love!
However, one morning, Henry Myers never awakened from his trip to dreamland. Overnight he’d gone to that great depot in the sky.
When asked if she was going home to Minnesota, she started crying, then burst into a fit of heavy laughter. Thinking she’d “lost it,” I tried to calm her down. When she regained her aged breath, she smiled.
“Going home?” she asked. “Minnesota? Why would I go back there? Hank won’t be waiting for me there, to knock on the back door, asking for a hand out.
“No, the next time I see Hank, I’ll be the one to be welcomed by him. That’s when I’ll know I’ve really made it to Heaven.”
(Columnist Faye Harris may be reached via email at Fayeharris77@yahoo.com.)