It was so hot outside you could fry an egg on the side walk. Although it was hot, old Farley was grateful for this time of year. The sun’s rays warmed his bones. He could feel the warmth deep down in his soul. He loved the sun. He needed it to help him get through the winter’s cold. Without the summer sun warming up his core being he’d be in real danger of freezing this coming winter. You see, old Farley was homeless. He lived in a small homeless camp under the bridge along with five other hobos. He laughed to himself. Hobo, bum, good for nothing, lazy tramp, he’d been called worse. At 68 he was the oldest member of the group. They were like family to him. He had no family of his own. The homeless looked out for each other. They followed the code of the road. They honored and protected old Farley like he was their old man, their father, their dad. The younger men had helped build him a makeshift tent out of plastic some kind soul had donated to him to help keep him dry last winter. He almost didn’t make it last year. The winter had been bitter cold and the Freezing Centers would fill up so fast you had to be quick to get there before they would close the doors. If there was one thing Farley wasn’t at his age it was fast. If he didn‘t make it in time to the shelter he’d just turn around and follow the group of others that had missed the deadline too and their chance for a warm dinner, a single cot and a good dose of the evening’s mandatory Christian class. Farley would just follow the crowd while the younger ones scouted for a safe place out of the rain to set up camp before it got too dark to see. It was important to get camp set up as fast as possible. The city had been pretty rough on the homeless last year making it against the law to camp on city property or in the parks. And the street kids were getting more dangerous every year. They’d beaten several homeless people in the dark while they were sleeping. One Native American woman who loved to dance at the Saturday Market got both her legs broken. Another man was beaten so bad he lost his eye. His shoes were stolen too so he had to walk barefoot until someone gave him a few dollars so he could buy himself a pair of shoes at the Goodwill. 39 people had frozen to death last year in the biggest blizzard anyone had seen in years. To his amazement Farley had made it through last winter. He’d tell the young ones, “If we can make it through winter until Spring we’ll be OK”. Some made it, some didn’t. Everyone worked as a team. Farley couldn’t do much except mind the fire that was set up before anything else was started. He also would stir the pot of stew that would be attached to a kettle bar above the fire. He’d sit on an old three legged stool that he’d carry with him all day. It had chipped blue paint on it. Farley had tied a rope around it‘s legs and carried it over his shoulders. He also carried a backpack and his sleeping bag. This was a lot for him to carry and it was getting harder to do each year. But he didn’t have a choice. He couldn’t afford a locker at the bus station like some of the others could. Besides that he used his stool during the day to sit on by his favorite spot by the freeway and panhandle. He had been a Vietnam vet but was too far gone with PTSD to get help from the Vets Office. Several street officers had tried to get him signed up for Social Security Benefits but the paperwork was too much for him to handle and he just couldn’t follow through with the appointments. Farley had been married once after his stint in Vietnam. He thought about his wife as he sat by the cooking pot slicing up some potatoes that had been donated for tonight’s stew. His fingers were arthritic and his knife rusty and dull but this was his job, his contribution to the group. He wouldn’t complain or let them down. He thought about his wife Ruth. She’d been gone eight years now. His daughter was gone too. Farley had been an English professor at the University. He’d had a good life, a home, a wife and a family. He’d retired early and was looking forward to traveling with Ruth around the country. She’d been a good wife and mother to their daughter who became a nurse. She’d never married or given them any grandchildren. She lived with her folks and worked at the local hospital. One summer day his wife and daughter went out to the country to pick some fresh blackberries for blackberry pie. About six in the evening there was a knock at the front door. Farley opened the door to find a policeman standing on the front step. “I’m sorry to inform you, Sir, but there’s been an accident. Both your wife and daughter were killed as their car crossed the train track around 4:15 this afternoon. Neither of them had any I.D. on them and we couldn’t identify who they were until about an hour ago. We came right over to let you know. I’m so sorry”, he said taking the cap off his head. “I’ll need you to come down fo the morgue to identify them”.
That was about eight years ago this summer. Farley promised the officer he’d meet him at the morgue. He’d grabbed his heavy coat, for some reason, even though it was warm outside. But he never made it to the morgue. He got outside and he just started walking. He kept walking even after it got dark. He walked for hours. He hadn’t brought his wallet or I.D. with him. He’d just kept walking until he couldn’t walk anymore. He must have walked for ten hours. He was tired and thirsty and hot. He looked ahead and saw a stream under a bridge. He walked towards the stream and when he reached it he put his whole head in the cool water. Then he cupped his hands and drank as much sweet stream water as he could. After that he’d found some bushes under the bridge. He smoothed his coat under them and laid down and fell asleep. When he woke up he didn’t know how any hours he’d been asleep or even what day it was. After his family died he’d just kept walking. It was a hot summer and he’d met some hobos that talked him into joining them on a train headed south. He jumped the train with them and never looked back. No one ever found him. That was his first summer. Now here he was slicing potatoes, carrots and anything else the young ones brought to throw in the stew. It must have been 90 degrees out that night. It was hot and everyone was having trouble sleeping. It was too hot to sleep in the makeshift tent so he laid his old beat up coat under the night sky and thought about his wife Ruthie. He missed her. It was so hot and the mosquitos were out bothering everybody but he finally fell asleep under the stars dreaming of his sweet wife. The next day promised to be a hot one as well. Usually the men got up around 7 a.m. and someone would start a fire. Old Farley would be up getting the coffee ready. But he didn’t get up that morning. The men decided he must be tired and they let him sleep in. They ate breakfast, cleaned up the camp and got ready for a long hot day of pan handling. A couple of the men had dogs and they were already panting. Yep, it was the dog days of summer. Time to go to work. One of the men went over to gently wake up old Farley to let him know it was time to go but he couldn’t wake him. He got scared and called out to the other men. They checked his pulse. Old Farley was gone. He’d left peacefully dreaming of his love, Ruthie, during the dog days of summer. He’would never have to face another winter again. He‘d gone home at last.