Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Treasures from the Heart

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Treasures from the Heart

Article excerpt

In the West Virginia town where I grew up, a woman and a small child lived amid the heaps of rubble at the city dump where she gleaned a living from that acrid place. On occasion, the woman and the child drifted into town wandering through the crowded streets taking what ever she could find in the bins in the alleys behind the stores.

Regardless of the season, the woman always wore a long, ragged dark coat and an old scarf that held her dingy yellow hair in place. The little boy - no more than 2 or 3 - was always at her side. Holding the woman's hand, he stumbled to keep up. So they came and went, living among a people who left them alone as long as they did their scavenging out of sight.

One Saturday before Christmas in 1954, I came upon a crowd of angry people at the corner of a busy street, and I saw her in the midst of them. The woman from the dump was sitting on a bench holding the child to her naked breast.

"That brat's too old for that," someone taunted. "Buy him a glass of milk. They ought to drag your kind off the streets."

The woman never said a word, never pulled the feeding child away. But there was great torment in her face.

As the commotion increased, the local patrolman intervened and took the woman gruffly by the arm, "You're under arrest," he said, "for being a public nuisance and exposin' yourself," and he ushered her away. There was silence then.

My father was part of an elite group of state troopers trained to keep the peace. He was strong, sensitive and quick. Some said he had a heart, that for him life was not a matter of black or white. They said they were glad he was around.

That evening, I recounted the events to him, told him what I had seen, how helpless I felt, how alone and defenseless she was. After a pause, my father said, "Come with me."

We drove directly to the jail. It was a rude, inhospitable place, furnished only with an iron cot and toilet with no seat. …

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