I remember him well. He called himself Orphan Ab, or at least gladly accepted that moniker referring to his lack of familial linkage.

I remember him as always smiling, always in a celebratory mood. Not aware of his actual birthday, he frequently would enter one of the many small stores strewn up and down the highway of my youth, and loudly proclaim, “Today might just be my birthday! Drinks are on me!”

Now a store plum full of people at that time was generally less than half-a-dozen. At a dime a bottle, for soda was what was on the proffered menu, the cost was not extreme.

Rick Mansfield

For a kid whom had just ridden a bicycle the three miles to Carr’s or the four miles to Hamilton’s, it was a welcomed treat.

But I remember it was enjoyed by all. The idea of helping an older man, for Ab was well up in years, celebrate what many might have considered a tragedy was an attractive distraction.

Ab had come to the Ozarks courtesy of one of the many “orphan trains” that crossed the Midwest beginning in the late 1800’s and going into the 1920’s; this despite the fact that Missouri outlawed the practice in 1901.

Roughly ten at the time, he nor the “agents” accompanying the train were sure of the year, let alone the day of his birth.

Yet, by all reports, Ab had always been happy. Happy to have found a family, happy to have found work and all that meant. A roof over his head; three meals a day — at least two hot and served on a table.

He had gone on to do well, later having a farm and a family of his own. I just remember an old man eager to celebrate the chance that the day was the memorial of his birth and he was pleased to share in its enjoyment. And treat a neighbor kid to a free soda pop!

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