Stinky Joe

“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.


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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10 thoughts on “Stinky Joe

  1. LOVE Cliff’s pictures! Part of my devotional this morning was when Jesus said in Luke you would always have the poor with us and we, with much, are to serve and feed them. What a Godly example your mother was! I believe it came to you as you seek to serve through church and the City Rescue Mission.


  2. Great story Marian.  My comment is much too long for your message board, but thought I would relay it to you, my favorite story teller.



    This post reminds me of the time my elderly father was picking butter-beans. Anyone who has ever picked butter-beans knows that they grow very low to the ground. For the aged, one might scoot along on their bottom or squat on a wooden “picking stool.” Such was the occasion one morning, when out of the corner of dad’s eye, some unknown person had joined him. Not a word was spoken, but the work was accomplished in half the time. Seems this quiet “picker” was a itinerant farm worker who needed work and food but only spoke Spanish. Long story, short, this “picker” whose name was later determined to be Victor, eats at the table with the family and takes up residence in the ‘pack house’ in the backyard. My young niece, who was in the care of her grandparents that summer, questioned why he wasn’t invited to sleep in the air-conditioned guest bedroom rather than a hot, uncomfortable storage shed in the backyard. A hard principle to explain to an idealistic, naive 8 year old. Victor became a neighborhood project with everyone providing extra clothing, spiritual guidance and more food than he could eat, but always eating at the table with the family. It seems mother’s biscuits and pound cake became his favorite. Victor moved on when a large farmer in the area was looking for ‘hands’ for the summer harvest. A never forgotten family story of loving care and provision for someone in need, much like your mother’s provision of ‘stinky Joe.’     


    1. What a heart-warming story, Carolyn. And, yes, it was not too long for the message board. You and your family provided great fare (not welfare!) for a needy person willing to work. You have wonderful stories to tell. Keep them coming.


  3. Marian, I couldn’t help but laugh a bit as I read about Stinky Joe and the reason for his peculiar odor. Yet, I sensed you would like tie his story into our Christian calling to serve. Interesting timing as I have just been planning our small group’s cooking and serving a meal to a local mission for men in a couple of weeks. It is worthy service and as I continue I planning I’ll be thinking of Stinky Joe.


  4. I have known many people like Stinky Joe. One of them goes by the name of Marcus the Carcass. This isn’t said to him in sarcasm, it’s the name he offers when introducing himself. Personal hygiene isn’t one of his strong points. He is a very intelligent person, I have trouble keeping up with his ideas . In my blog I call him Clark.

    Following is a quote from him during a conversation, “Have you ever thought about solar power. It’s much less expensive than hydro. They’ve developed a new solar heat conduction vacuum tube in glass and metal. They’re also called evacuated heat pipes. You should give them a try.”



  5. I had a picture in my mind of the cartoon character Pigpen. The fact that your mother fed a person that most others would have shunned is a testimony of her generous heart.


    1. Generous, that’s Mom. Last week she told me she made a tater-tot casserole for a neighbor across the street who’d been sick. At almost-95, she made the dish and called up the neighbor who got it hot from her oven. Thanks for the comment, Traci!


  6. I have been troubled in my past to the point of wondering where the next meal is coming from, so I try to keep an open mind whenever I see the homeless. I am doing better not to enable their bad habits, but still offer some assistance.


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