Of all the hobos who made their rounds periodically, Mama and the three of us kids despised Dee Gibbs the most, though we would have been hard pressed to come up with what was the worst: his smell, his voracious appetite, or his refusal to take the broadest hint that his welcome had worn thin. It was a mystery why Daddy tolerated him, but after the first time Dee stalled around as the weather turned bad till Daddy gave in and let him put down a pallet on the kitchen floor; he was like a bad penny, always coming back, especially when foul weather was brewing. First to the table and last to leave, he was quick to snatch the last biscuit and send us kids scurrying from the table before he could start to “sasser and blow” his coffee at meal’s end. Indolent and unburdened with chores, he hogged the choice spot by the fire, grumbling if we bumped him trying to warm ourselves coming in from the cold, or muttering “raised in a barn” under his breath at the draft when we brought in wood or water. Unacquainted with work, barbers, baths, he was notoriously afraid of storms. We all united in our hatred of him, except Daddy, who’d listen to us complain a while before putting a stop to it, defensive in the face of the hospitality he allowed Dee.
We let out a collective groan when we saw him walking up the road one cold night one winter night just at supper time, as usual. A large kettle of vegetable soup simmered on the wood stove. Plenty for her family, but Mama hadn’t counted on Dee Gibbs and his “hollow leg” tonight. Resentfully, she added a few potatoes, a jar of beans and a couple of onions to the huge pot simmering on the stove before pouring it in an earthen ware bowl and putting it, along with a skillet of cornbread on the table. She filled the empty pot with dishwater leaving it to heat on the stove till after supper. Bits of leftover vegetables and crumbs floated to the top of the dishwater as it simmered. Dee, first to the table, loaded up on soup, crumbled in plenty of cornbread, and fell to like a starving man. Not waiting to be invited, he served himself another round and cleaned it up, as well. By this time, the bowl was empty, though we’d emptied it so fast the steam still curled up. When only one piece of cornbread remained, Dee crumbled it in his bowl and headed for the pot simmering on the stove. Knowing the soup was gone, we all kept quiet, anticipating his disappointment as he made his way to the soup pot full of simmering dishwater. Instead, Dee ladled dishwater over his cornbread and returned to his seat. As we watched in fascination, he ate a bite, reached for the salt and pepper, seasoned it to his taste, finished the bowl, remarking, “Miz Holdaway, “ That was pretty good soup, but a little thin.” Big-eyed, we stared but kept quiet. Despite his poor opinion of Mama’s soup, he lingered a day or so, eating his fill, relaxing, and waiting for the weather to clear before hopping to his next roost, wherever that might be. As always, we were all glad to be rid of him, and hoped we’d seen the last of him as he made his way down the road.