Around 1890, the word hobo appeared in the American lexicon somewhere in California. No one is quite sure were the term hobo comes from, but it might be a shorted version of the words homeword bound. Hobos weren’t vagrants or tramps. They were the country’s migratory workers, riding the rails in search of work.
Hobos usually carried all of their meager earthly possession in a knotted handkerchief called a bindle, which was then tied to staff. Another word for hobo is bindlestiff.
The number of hobos in the United States peaked during the Great Depression as more than 100,000 sought work along the rail line. It was a dangerous business, to travel illegally by train, avoiding the powerful wheels and the more powerful railroad "bulls", hired to kick off any non-paying passengers. Still, many were so desperate for work they were willing to take the risk. They established their own secret code used to mark fence posts and barns, indicating friendly farmers, vicious dogs or fresh water. They even had their own ethical code, with things like, "Help all runaway children, and encourage them to return home."
While we don't necessarily want our boys participating in the dangerous business of train-hopping, the idea behind a bindle for boys is to encourage exploration beyond their own backyard. Don’t let the washi tape and pretty handkerchief fool you. You don’t need any special equipment to make a bindle. Hobos weren't picky, so you shouldn't be either. An old dishrash or cloth napkin, a piece of fabric or pillow case, any of these will do. This isn’t meant to be Pinterest-worthy, and you shouldn't follow your kids around with a camera like I did, even though they look darn cute setting off into the woods. That defeats the purpose.
The bindle is meant to send a message. I have a friend whose mother made a bindle for each of her eight children every morning. She fastened it to a pole, stuck it in the yard, and sent her kids off to play. All day long. You can do the same. Encourage your boys to sling the food-laden stick over their shoulder and have an adventure.
The bindle can include whatever your choose. Even better, it can include whatever your son might choose: non-perishable food, a pocket knife, fresh water, a small notebook and pencil for woodsy sketches, or anything needed for a full day of exploration.
The point is to encourage boys to get out in nature, to get righteously grubby, to spend an entire day with nothing but a stick, a bindle, and, of course, a good healthy dose of imagination.