CHRISTMAS WITH OLD BOB
As a boy in Martin City in the late ‘40’s I came to know an old hermit that lived back in the trees near our house, which was the last house on our road. We called the hermit “Old Bob.” He was a husky, barrel-chested man, and a loner. He had no house, just a board lean-to, open on the front. A big log he had hewn flat on top served as a bench and bed. He slept on that hard log with just an old army blanket under him, and one to cover up with.
Bob had a flat-topped stove that he used for cooking and heat. He would cut dead trees about 12 inches in diameter into lengths about 12 feet long. Bob would carry these logs on his shoulders, up the river bank to his camp, then saw them into blocks with his crosscut saw. Most men couldn’t have picked these logs up!
Old Bob lived here the year around, even when the temperature dropped to 40 below. His camp was not cluttered, but could have been fixed up a lot better. He didn’t seem to want to make it more comfortable for himself. Bob’s main diet was pine squirrel, sometimes grouse or venison. He had a medium sized dog, black and long haired, that was well behaved. He was probably a spaniel and shepherd cross. The dog never barked except when he had a grouse or squirrel treed for Bob to shoot, or when a bear would come into camp, which was quite often. Bob’s only gun was a single shot .22 rifle.
He was well educated, but would not talk of his past. The kids liked him, and he seemed to enjoy them more than the grown-ups. I sometimes went by his camp on my way hunting or fishing, and we talked quite often. He liked to talk about politics, and knew what was going on in the world.
Bob sometimes dug ditches for water and sewer lines by hand, for Mr. Joe Weedning, a developer, who had bought a lot of land from my Aunt Vina Martin. Joe had a limp and walked with a cane, and Old Bob called him “Limping Jesus.” The ditches had to be below the frost line, 4 or 5 feet deep. Bob’s ditches were perfectly straight, and the sides vertical and all the same width. He was a perfectionist in his work, but not at his camp.
My Uncle Herman and Aunt Bernida Byrd were always trying to give him things from their store, but Old Bob would not take handouts. On real cold nights, Dad would sometimes check on him. On some cold mornings Mom would have Kenny and me go check on him. Mom always had us kids take a big plate of our dinner to him on holidays, as he would not come and eat with us. On Christmas, we would take him a little gift of something, sometimes gloves or wool socks. He did not like taking the gift, but he would, mostly, I think, so he wouldn’t hurt our feelings. I remember my sister Ola, Kenny and I going over to his camp one Christmas day. We had some gifts and a wreath we had made for him. It was a beautiful day; the snow was over two feet deep and his camp looked so cozy and cheery in the snow. Ola said, “It’s just like going to the stable in Bethlehem to see Jesus.” I think God was smiling on Old Bob and us kids that Christmas Day.