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“Get out! Get out!” For heaven’s sake, that is my mom’s voice yelling at someone at the door. Why would she scream at a neighbor? But it wasn’t a neighbor. It was Stinky Joe. On a cold winter’s day, he had opened the door to the wash-house and was starting to come into our home to warm up.

There were tramps, there were hobos, and then there was Stinky Joe. One vivid image from my childhood was a man in brownish tatters sitting on our grey porch bench eating from my mother’s table on a china dinner plate: meat, potatoes, a green vegetable and coffee; he always asked for coffee. But he was never allowed into the house no matter what.

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One day my sister Janice was sitting at the dining room table doing homework when Stinky Joe peered into the window scaring her out of her wits. She didn’t know where Mom was and too scared to scream she hatched an escape plan: run upstairs, climb out a window to the porch roof and slide down the maple tree out front. The maple tree is now gone but the memory is fresh.

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We named him Stinky Joe for a reason. In the absence of an insulated vest, Stinky stuffed cow manure into his shirt for warmth: you’ll have to do the calculation on how this works, but I’m sure it involves nitrogen and body temperature.

Summer or winter, with or without cow manure, if Stinky came to our house, we put Vicks VaporRub up our nostrils to stanch the odor. Menthol vs. cow paddy—which scent would you choose? Other smells are not as vivid, but for certain Clorox was involved in the clean-up after he left.

Yes, Stinky Joe filled us with fear and disgust. Remember, this was the 1950s. Maybe now such a man would knock on the door of the rescue mission, clean himself up enough to sleep under the roof of the Salvation Army. I am sure he is long since dead and gone, but I see him differently now. Yes, he was a misfit, an outcast but once he must have been his parents’ hope. One of God’s creation.

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