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When we lived in Alda, Nebraska, we lived next to U.S. Highway 30. It was an exciting place to live because with the Depression in full swing, something interesting was happening almost every day. Highway 30 was the main road across the United States from New York to California. One day we saw a couple roller skating across the country. Since Highway 30 was the only paved road from the East to the West we would even see people walking on the highway. Some would stop and provide a show and collect a few coins. Many people called them “bums” or “hobos,” but Mom and Dad wanted to help them. I was never allowed to cross the highway to go to the railroad on the other side, but the older boys spent much of the day talking to the men on the trains or eating raw sugar beets being transported by the trains.

Mom planted an extra large garden and let it be known that anyone who would work an hour in her garden could receive a hot meal. Marketing was not a problem, for soon up and down the railroad men would leave their boxcar-homes to get a hot meal in Alda. The railroad was packed with men heading for California. They had heard that there was work in the fruit and vegetable farms in California and they were desperate to find any kind of work that would allow them to provide an income they could send back to their families. Everyone knew about Mrs Larsen’s gardens, and soon she had more workers than jobs. So she put them to work doing other odd jobs around the property.

One day she looked out the window and saw a man lying in the garden. She went out to see if he was sleeping and found an unconscious, middle-aged man. She got some water and aroused him. “Are you ill?” she asked.

“I have had nothing to eat or drink since leaving New Jersey three days ago”, he muttered. 

She gave him a generous bowl of soup to help him recover. After he finished the soup, Mom told him he didn’t need to work in the garden, but he insisted on working his hour. Until today he probably relates to his grandchildren about Mrs. Larsen who was responsible for getting him to California.

Bob Larsen

Bob Larsen is a retired surgeon whose eclectic career has allowed him to see the world.

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