My grandparents lived in a small town in upstate New York. They lived in that house from the time my mother was born until their deaths.
It was on a narrow but very deep parcel of land. It had a small front yard but a HUGE backyard. Most of the backyard was devoted to a victory garden.
Rows and rows of vegetables……tomatoes, carrots, corn, peas, green beans, lettuce, beets, onions, potatoes……you name it, and Grandpa grew it. They even had fruit trees next to the barn.
At the very back of the yard was a white picket fence. And on the gate of the fence, on the alley side, was a mark carved deeply into the wood.
A strange shape with lines. I remember my grandfather showing it to me and asking if I knew what it was.
Then he told me a story.
About the depression and how during the depression many people left or lost their homes and would travel from place to place looking for work and food. He told me how the hobos would never come to your front door. They would ALWAYS come to the back door. They were polite and respectful and for the most part would not take a handout but would always ask to do a chore for any food given. And on back fences all across America were marks that the hobos carved so those who came along after would know what to expect at the marked houses.
The mark that was at my grandparent’s house was this:
It means ‘food for work’.
My grandfather was out of work for four years during the depression. I think there were times they were afraid they would lose the house. But even through hard times they never turned anyone away looking for food. Grandma always found something that needed doing. He was very proud of her for that. And proud enough of the marks carved into his back gate that in all the ensuing years he never replaced that picket.