"A Morning with Pops" - Ted Conover - Amherst Alumni Magazine

"A Morning with Pops" - Ted Conover - Amherst Alumni Magazine

by: Ted Conover | publication date: January 1, 1981 | Publication: Amherst | volume: Winter 1981 | pages: pp. 14-17, 26

The sun has not yet risen over the mountains east of Portola, California, but in the early morning dimness I can see that Pops is already stirring.  I watch from the shrubs across our "jungle," as the mound of blankets and plastic sheeting which contains Pops shifts and gets thrown back.  Stiffly, Pops rises to his feet. He glances over at me, still wrapped in my own blankets, and I not.  That means "good morning."  It's been a long night's sleep - like most tramps, we "rolled out" just after sundown - but November mornings in the Sierras are cold, and I wait until Pops has fire going before climbing from my bed on the ground.  Dressing is not necessary - we sleep in our clothes to help keep up warm - so the first business of the day is to heat the coffee water. Pops has the "gunboat" (cooking can) ready, but pouring the water from the plastic-jub water bottle is hard this morning because chunks of ice keep blocking the mouth.  I hold the jug while Pops pushes the ice back with a twig, and the water pours.  

As a senior at Amherst college, Conover rode freight trains in the guise of a tramp for his senior thesis in anthropology. This piece for the Amherst alumni magazine is based on that research, describing a morning spent with "Pops," a 61-year-old man Conover lived with for a week.

Copyrighted, used with permission from Amherst Alumni Magazine.