Eight-year-old Jack Strait of Morgantown, West Virginia, isn't overly concerned about the worsening economic downturn or rising college tuition rates; he's got another career option in mind. Jack recently informed his parents that he intends to be a hobo when he grows up.
It's not quite the future Jack's parents, Pete and Lucinda Strait, had envisioned for their son. The news came as a particular blow to Lucinda, who says she's always done her best, ever since Jack was wee young'un, to instill in him a sense of ambition and drive toward professional success.
But Jack informed his mama in no uncertain terms that the traditional life is not for him - he's a rambler by nature, and he has no intention of abandoning his ramblin' ways.
"I don't wanna hurt my mama," says Jack, "but I got a wanderin' soul. Maybe it comes from my daddy."
And that could well be, Pete Strait reluctantly acknowledges. Pete admits that he used to live a ramblin' life, heading wherever the ramblin' road took him. But after years of wind and rain, and chilly nights huddled over campfires too small for him and his vagabond crew, he felt a cravin' for some human tenderness.
That tenderness came in the form of the sweet-faced Lucinda Honeywell, the only daughter of a wealthy Morgantown oil prospector. Pete forsook his ramblin' ways to settle down with Lucinda.
Like Lucinda, Pete has attempted to dissuade Jack from his plans to become a hobo, because as he knows all too well, it ain't no easy life.
Recalls Pete, "There were times I felt half-past dead. When I just wanted to find me a whole in the wall to crawl inside and die."
But at the same time, Pete can't entirely dismiss his son's hobo dreams.
"There ain't nothin' like the open road," Pete grants with a wistful shake of his head, his gray eyes shining with a not-quite-suppressed yearning for the wayfaring life. "Even now, something stirs inside a me when I hear that ol' train whistle blow. Lord, I'm a fool for a lonesome train."
Meanwhile, Jack has begun laying plans for his hobo future. He'll begin locally, among the West Virginia pines, taking care not to lay down any real roots. From there, he'll hop a southbound train, which he'll ride it all the way to Georgia, 'til the train runs out of track.
And after that, there's really no telling where he'll end up.
With a rueful glance at Lucinda, Jack says, "I won't never forget where I came from, but I got that travelin' bone. I just hope my mama understands. And that maybe, one day, she'll find it in her heart to forgive me."
On her part, Lucinda takes some solace in the fact that her older son, nine-year-old Lucas, plans to work for the Man when he grows up - no drifter's life for him. And she still holds out hope that Jack will change his mind about his hobo future.
But even if he doesn't, says Lucinda, she plans to stand by her son.
"I'm his mama. And he's my boy," she says simply. "But oh, Lord, I hope he don't go!"