One of our members -- the oldest active Stringer at 89 -- reached a new pinnacle in literary success recently in publishing his first book -- our first book, the SilverStringers feel, for we are all a part of this close-knit organization.
Our star author is Bill Jodrey, and his book is simply "Diary of a Hobo".
As soon as the first copies became available in late February, three Stringers went for a non-stop read. They all agreed: It is outstanding!
"It is one of the best books of this type I've ever read," commented editor Jim Driscoll. "The copy just flows, and the story just provides such a wonderful lift. I couldn't put it down." Ella Letterie and Don Norris, also editors, agreed whole-heartedly.
Bill, who has been a Stringer for five years, never wrote much more than a letter before he joined this group. He told us he "wrote a little rhyming poetry", and he on occasion jotted notes to himself about that rather notable time on the road -- but, no, nothing came of it -- until the Stringers gave him a grand opportunity.
His book is based upon a short period of his life during the Great Depression, when he joined millions of other unemployed Americans, on the road. He was 19 at time of the Depression, he was just out of school, no job, no future, no money.
And furthermore, he knew that he was now a serious obligation to his family -- a tough situation, since his dad had lost most of his income.
He became a hobo. A rail rat, a hitch-hiker, a Samaritan as well as a recipient of America's largess during those trying times of the 1930s. His story deals with the hunger of the unemployed and displaced men and women who took to the railroads and highways in looking for work, a job, and the next meal.
Illustrations were from both Bill and his SilverStringer buddy, Don Norris. The front cover drawing is from Don's sketchbooks.
The book, printed by xLibris of New York, was largely motivated by Stringer Advisor Jack Driscoll, formerly editor of the Boston Globe and now editor in residence at the Media Lab at MIT. Jack was the one who saw the potential when Bill began writing a series in the SilverStringers' Melrose Mirror called "Tales of the Open Road".
Those "tales" were the daily episodes of Bill's adventures as he sought his way from Melrose to California in 1932, looking both to relieve his family of supporting him, and to find work perhaps with a brother in Los Angeles. As it turned out, brother Les had been let go and was trying to keep his family together as a part-time church custodian. Paying jobs disappeared as the economy simply shattered like fragile glass.
"The book is a lesson, a piece of history," Jim commented. "It is a true accounting of what it was like to be a hobo, of how these penniless men and women survived, and how the American public responded to an army of down-on-their-luck people."
Bill is a native of the Highlands section of Melrose, and went to school here. When he turned 19 in 1932, just out of school, there was no work, no jobs, so he chose to go on the road.
His story runs a gamut of emotions, from penniless people caring for each other to the sudden, violent death of compatriots. There is, among the starvation and poverty, a knowing that things will get better over the next hill. It is a story of hope, despairing, of joy, of adventure.
Among the heros of Bill's stories are the police of small towns across the nation. Yet at times the same police are the bullies, the brutal enforcers who marched surprised hoboes off to serve as a conscripted work crew.
He tells with humility of the first time he had to beg for pocketchange to buy a sandwich. He tells of going three days straight with nothing to eat. He tells of the compassion that many Americans gave him, how they virtually saved his life, how they reacted to a young man with only holes in his pockets.
It is beautifully written in plain, no-nonsense prose. Chapters are short, one leading to another as we follow his journey across America. And it is a tribute to Stringers' advisor, Jack Driscoll, who suggested ways to this bright octogenarian to make reasonable transitions from one episode to the next.
"Diary of a Hobo" will be available in limited numbers at a book signing, set for March 5 at Bill's home, the Cochrane House, on Grove Street, in Melrose. Otherwise, it can be purchased by calling 1-888-795-4274 ext 276. The price for a soft-cover copy is $18 plus shipping and handling.
Taking part in the gathering of material for this article were Natalie Thomson, Jim Driscoll, Ella Letterie, Russ Priestley, John Averell and Don Norris.
Read more samples of Bill's "Tales":
Idle thoughts of an idler
A youngster on the lam
Hunting deer with the CCC