When the twins were younger they had their own language.

They only spoke it to each other….along with a lot of hand waving and pointing and giggling.

Sometimes I would hear them in the living room chattering away.  One twin would say “zoobagodago…..zzzzoooobbbaadoooo.”  And then the other twin would nod in agreement….toddle across the room and point and reply “zahbagada.”

As if it made perfect sense.

Which of course it did.


I never really understood what they were saying….but every now and then I would try to chime in with a “zahbagadddddo” or a “zazaboooodo.”

Just for moral support.

Maybe I tried to talk the language because I always wanted to be a twin…..

….but mostly because I always wanted to have a secret language and talk to my friends in a way that only we understood and no one else could…..

….just like the hobos.

In the early 1900’s hobos rode the rails and worked odd jobs and traveled from one place to another with everything they owned in a knapsack.

There were hundreds and thousands of them traveling from one end of the country to the other.

It was a brotherhood.

A fraternity.

A secret society…..

…..with it’s own language.


The hobos would scratch symbols in the dirt in front of a house or business to leave a message for the next hobo that came that way.

For example…..a bird symbol in the dirt….meant “free telephone.”

A cat symbol…..meant “kind-hearted woman.”

A circle with two arrows…..meant “get out fast.”

A circle with an x…..meant “free hand-out.”


It was a tough life…..full of challenges and heartache and empty stomachs and empty pockets.  Misunderstood and many times mistreated….the road they traveled was never smooth.

Maybe that’s why this symbol with its two intertwined circles was so vitally important.

It was meant to encourage and uplift and provide strength for the long journey ahead…..with a simple message…..

….”never give up.”

A message for the ages.

Never give up.

A message for today.

Never give up.

A message for the battles and storms and challenges of life.


Because sometimes when it seems the darkest….sometimes when everything within seems to be closing in and the darkness is all around…..

….light and joy and hope are found right around the next bend in the road.

Waiting just for you. 🙂


PS  I found Kristine Kennedy….the artist that makes these necklaces…..on Tybee Island.  I was so fascinated by the hobo story and the meaning behind the pendants….that I bought three and begged her to let me feature them on the blog.

You can visit her shop….here.

You can enter Thistlewoodfarms at check out to get $2.00  off any order. 🙂

Want to know how to decorate your home for free?
Click here to get my FIVE BEST secrets.


  1. Image for Robin Stephens Robin Stephens

    Great story. Appreciated reading it. Very moving. Surely is a bygone era, huh? My momma (1917-2006) told me many fascinating stories of growing up in Fredericksburg, VA during hard years. Their family of 11 never went without and her momma always shared food w/ neighbors and hobos. She said, "Mom would hand a hobo a sandwich at the back door." Can you imagine an odd-looking stranger coming to your door for a handout nowadays and opening the door, and then your heart? I cannot. Wow.

  2. Image for andrea cammarata andrea cammarata

    Oh Karianne...I am actually sitting here crying ...so much heart...so much pain...so much wonder..so much love...I am a bit overwhelmed. I am amazed and intrigued and so very happy that this story is being told to more and more people and that Kristine keeps the stories alive in her art. Thank you so much for sharing this gem...I do believe I will be doing some more reading on the Hobo's...a very noble people : ) I am going to need one of these beauties and so is my daughter for sure! hugs...

    1. Image for Kristine Kennedy Kristine Kennedy

      Thank you Andrea, when I made the pieces, I thought just railroad entusiasts would be interested. I've been overwhelmed with stories and rememberances in my booth and I'm grateful to KariAnne for giving the gathering of these stories a wider forum. I'm going to start a thread in the forums for the collection of these stories, the ones I've gathered and ones you all want to share. The first family I talked to started crying when they knew how people found their grandmother and were so grateful to have a link to the past and understand her a bit better. It truly is a living language and we need to get the information while people are still alive to share it with us.

      1. Image for Jan Jan

        My husband's grandmother was known as a soft touch and never turned away any of the hobos who came to the back door asking for food. One day after eating, a gentleman tore a piece of cardboard from a box and drew a pen and ink sketch and left it as a thank you. It's taken from the cover of the Saturday Evening Post magazine, Sept 27, 1924 and is a very professional looking drawing - even on a scrap of cardboard. My MIL had never done anything with it and after she died I had it framed to keep it from deteriorating. I don't remember if there is anything written on the back but the front is signed, Leonard Kumbel, from S.E.Post.

  3. Image for Nancy Nancy

    So interesting. I had never heard of the symbolic language of the hobos. I love the fact that Kristine is expressing this part of the past in her art today. I enjoyed Robin's story of her mother's generous family.

  4. Image for Marisa Franca Marisa Franca

    My husband told me the same thing. When he was growing up, he lived in what was considered the crossroads of America. The railroads crisscrossed there and in the beginning his family lived with his grandpa. The railroad passed behind the house. In those days it was not unusual for the hobos to come to the back door searching for food and my mother-in-law has a heart as big as the universe and she would feed them. We certainly live in different times but I do love the symbolism. This year I am concentrating on "Believe" and "Just do It". I love the necklaces. Thank you KariAnne for introducing us to another artist.

    1. Image for Kristine Kennedy Kristine Kennedy

      If you are willing to share, I'm starting a thread on the forums about the hobo signs to collect these sorts of stories before they are lost. I would love to hear what your husband remembers and I'm sure everyone else would too!

  5. Image for Mar Mar

    Wow. fascinating. Reminded me of my mother's brother who lived the life of a hobo. Our parents only spoke of him in hushed tones. He came to our house only once that I can remember. He stayed a week or two. All of us kids shyed away from him beause of the artificial arm he had with two hooks. We had never seen one before. The story was he lost the arm trying to hop into the boxcar of a moving train.

  6. Image for Christine Christine

    Karianne, Speaking of twins...............I'm going to be a grandma for the very first time!!!!!!!!!!! Twins at that - due Aug 18th. I can not wait!!! My daughter and her husband have been trying for a few years and were even thinking about adopting but then here we are expecting not one but two lil babies! I never knew this story about hobos. I only knew my mom used to say that they wrapped themselves in newspaper to keepwarm on the train. She grew up near train track. Thank you for posting the cute gibberish between your own twins and the cool link to the jewely store. Have a blessed day dear. Christine

  7. Image for Jenny Jenny

    Beautiful words about the symbolism the hobos used! So glad I had the chance to meet Kristine while on Tybee...and of course I could not leave without a necklace! Sweet sweet lady and fascinating story of how the hobos communicated. I bought "never give up" and I LOVE it!!

  8. Image for Stephanie Stephanie

    My mom also lived near the railroad traks and has shared stories about hobos and even their camps. Thank you for sharing this with us. I think we all have a little hobo in us.. always that sense of adventure in there somewhere inside of us.. as well as sometimes like hobos being reminded that there is no place like home especially when you leave it or to be thankful for our home while so many do not have a nice warm shelter. A shack to one person could truly be a dream home for someone else.Counting blessings! Thanks for sharing.

  9. Image for Angela Angela

    How interesting! I'd love to learn more and will definitely check out her site! Such a beautiful story and I love how you incorporated your babies into it! You're so talented, dear friend, as is Kristine! Two soul sisters meant to connect to further along the history of the hobos! Have a wonderful day!!~~Angela

    1. Image for Kristine Kennedy Kristine Kennedy

      Hi Angela, it was like kismet meeting KariAnne, and it was done through a whole string of amazing women coming together who love to share stories. I will be starting a thread in the forums to collect the hobo stories and share the ones I already have. There are books about the hobo signs, they were seen in MadMen episodes, but interestingly enough, it's little girls that seem to know them when they come to my booth if no one else in the family has. They learned about them from an American Girl Dolls movie about the Depression.

  10. Image for Gina Gina

    Interesting story. I've never heard it before. Will check out the site. My best friend and I had our own language and still have words and sayings we throw out every once and a while. Our families never knew what we were talking about and now our husbands sometimes question our sanity! The memories of this language and friendship go back 45 years.

  11. Image for Michele Michele

    My grandpa was a hobo for a short while. He was a seaman before he married my grandma and when a voyage ended, he sometimes had to hop trains to get back to the opposite coast to catch another ship. He wasn't much of a talker, but we loved hearing stories about his time spent as a hobo traversing the US with little money and few belongings. I don't remember hearing about the symbols, but I'm sure he must've known about them. Thanks for sharing this touching piece of history. Wish my grandpa was still alive...

  12. Image for Linda Linda

    My twin sister and I had a special language all of our own. Our mother told us it continued until kindergarten when the teacher threatened to put us in different classes if it didn't stop. It stopped! Now sixty five years later we still look alike and are still best friends. Being a twin has been one of the best gifts in life.

  13. Image for Cindy Barganier Cindy Barganier

    Can't believe I missed out on seeing these. I wonder how she found out what they mean? I am passing this post along to a friend today who needs to hear the encouraging words. Beautifully written my friend. Love you. C

    1. Image for Kristine Kennedy Kristine Kennedy

      I found out about the symbols from Coastal Heritage Society and the Georgia State Railroad Museum here in Savannah. It's a beautiful facility doing wonderful work at restoration and preservation. But the stories that keep being told to me I get from all accross the country, from NJ to New Orleans. I am happy to share them with you, it's been such a job to be a part of families rediscovering their own history.

  14. Image for Kristine Kennedy Kristine Kennedy

    I'm so excited that you've chosen to share these pieces KariAnne and even more excited that people are sharing their own stories and memories about the hobo signs and stories from their own family. The very first show I debuted these at, I heard my first hobo story. I wasn't sure how they would go over among none train enthusiasts, but I met a family whose grandmother truly was the "Kind Hearted Woman". She never turned anyone away from her door who needed help because you never knew if someone was "an angel in disguise". They didn't know about hobo signs or how the men knew to find her. I told them about the symbols and gave them one of the pendants in rememberance. I asked what their grandmothers' name was and if I could name the cat on the pendant after her. The cat has been named Ruby ever since and every single show I do, I am overwhelmed with stories and recollections. This is our story, our history, so thank you all so much for sharing your stories and memories. I look forward to reading them all.

    1. Image for Anne Porter Anne Porter

      My grandparents lived in a railroad town in Penna. and Grandmother (who was never without an apron around her middle!) who cooked and baked nearly all day, always made extra for the hobos who would hop on and off trains coming through her town. She always had a handout ready and shared freely when one would knock on the back door. She taught us to fully respect hobos, that times were tough and they were just folks down on their luck. Looking back, she taught us much more; that we are in this world to love one another and not to judge!

  15. Image for Kris Kris

    This is so neat! I love history--thanks for opening up an aspect that I didn't know about! A few years ago my husband's side of the family made a cookbook to commemorate his grandparents (which, according to my father-in-law, was funny because apparently the grandmother wasn't that great of a cook ... ). Anyway, whoever compiled it added a little story to the beginning of the cookbook honoring the grandparents. One of the things they commented on was that there were often hobos in the front yard eating eggs, bread, pie, and a cup of coffee. The comment in the book says, "Dad and Mom never turned them away. I think our house was "marked" ". Ooh, that gives me goosebumps--after reading what you wrote today, it indeed may have been marked! It doesn't surprise me that my husband came from a family of "kind-hearted women". :)

    1. Image for Kristine Kennedy Kristine Kennedy

      I'd love to hear more of your husbands stories if he's willing to share them. I'm starting a thread today on hobo signs over in the forums thanks to KariAnne's generosity, to help collect these rememberances.

  16. Image for Kymee Martinak Kymee Martinak

    Another great one... I will check out the stories in the forum I am very excited Thanks Ladies have a blessed day Thanks again for sharing with all of us.

  17. Image for Lisa Lisa

    My twins also had a special word, DAHBI! They would refer to "things" as dahbi but also called each other dahbi. "Look at this dahbi. Dahbi, where are you? Over here, Dahbi". On the cover of a National Geographic Magazine many years later was the title, "Dahbi means friend". Who knew?!

  18. Image for Michele/Finch Rest Michele/Finch Rest

    OH BRAVO, KA!!!! Well done, indeed. This is an excellent post, beautifully written with exquisite pics. You have such a talent, my dear. Thank you - hope your artist from Tybee friend does super fantastically well.

  19. Image for Karen Karen

    What a great an interesting story Karianne! Thank you for sharing it with us. I will think of it whenever I tell my son how he looks like a hobo when he gets to lazy to shave his beard! I am so glad to hear you had a wonderful time in Tybee!

  20. Image for Marsha Marsha

    Hey Girl! When I saw the title of your post...and knowing you have twins....I was wondering if your post would start off like that....and it did!! I remember learning about "Twin Speech" in my early childhood classes. Cool! I knew about the x and circle-often being drawn on a gate or fence post of a freindly house. Nice to know about the other hobo symbols. Pretty necklaces. Love Tybee Island. Marsha

  21. Image for Kay B. Kay B.

    When we were in our early 30's, my husband took his first pastorate. The parsonage was behind the church on a state highway. Many a day there was a knock on the door, with a car of hungry people (often children), or a homeless on foot. Scrambled egg sandwiches became a specialty of mine! I was thankful for our small porch, where they could set to enjoy a sandwich and a glass of ice tea. I often wondered if there was a sign on the road, letting them know of a young tenderhearted pastors wife, who made a mean egg sandwich! Wonderful memories!

  22. Image for Cheryl @ Artzzle Cheryl @ Artzzle

    This brings back memories of a wonderful lady . . . my mom. We lived in a tiny town in the middle of Iowa . . . hence the name State Center. We were just two blocks from the tracks and heard many trains go through each day. And with the trains, came the hobos tapping at our back porch door, off the alley. Mother would find something for each one . . . always food, but often a jacket or warm shirt, a blanket or a recent newspaper or magazine. She was so kind, but always cautious, as we were instructed not to answer the door if she wasn't home. I always wondered how these people found our house as we were not right by the tracks. One day my grandpa told me. We had an old tin covered shed that sat on the alley behind our house. Grandpa said the hobos would walk down alleys close to the tracks, away from the main streets. He showed me where they had marked something on the back of our shed. This told them that a good woman lived here and they might get some food. I haven't thought of this in years . . . literally decades. I'm so glad you shared this particular post today. My mother died much too young, in a terrible accident. In a few weeks will be the 30th anniversary of her passing, and I still miss her every day. Your words have renewed happy memories of her AND my grandpa. I must also note, at the age of seventeen, my grandfather ran away from his family's Tennessee mountain home. He stopped his journey in Iowa where he became a farm worker . . . who married the farmer's daughter . . . my grandma. By the way, he "road the rails" all the way from Tennessee, so I guess he knew of what he spoke. Thank you.

    1. Image for Sandy Sandy

      Cheryl, your story is a special one too. Your mother sounds like a very kind and wise woman. No matter how much time passes, we will always miss our mothers especially when they hold a special place in our heart. I'm sure lots of fine folks rode the rails for so many different reasons. Some to escape and start a new life, some who found work from town-to-town, and probably many during the Great Depression. Karrianne brought this issue to my attention so now I want to research hobos to find out more.

    2. Image for Kristine Kennedy Kristine Kennedy

      What a beautiful story. Thank you so much for sharing this. She truly was the kind hearted woman. Perhaps Ruby needs a middle name? If you don't mind me asking, what was your mothers name? I'd love to honor her in some way.

      1. Image for Cheryl @ Artzzle Cheryl @ Artzzle

        Kristine, I'm not sure if you were asking about my mother, but if so, her name was Marguerite. I've certainly enjoyed ALL the comments and stories in this post of KariAnne's. Thanks to all, and enjoy the rest of the weekend.

        1. Image for Kristine Kennedy Kristine Kennedy

          Yes Cheryl, I was, and what a beautiful name. I think Ruby has a new middle name. :) She's a small cat but this so much history and love behind what she means, I think she can handle it.

  23. Image for Annaliza R Annaliza R

    Very cool! I'll have to check these out in person. Glad you made it to Savannah. I guess the trip you mentioned did happen.

  24. Image for Charlotte @ Charlotte's Chair Charlotte @ Charlotte's Chair

    Really enjoyed reading this story and I love the way you presented it Karianne! Your pictures are so goooood! My great-grandmother would put plates of food out for the hobos. It's so interesting to learn about the symbols and I will be heading over to Kristine's shop, I love her work/jewelry. I think of the homeless as today's hobos and have compassion for them, as I never know what their story is or what they have been through. Thanks for your story!

  25. Image for Diana Lucas Diana Lucas

    Thanks for sharing this story. I remember vaguely hearing about this awhile ago. You really brought it to life the way you told it and I enjoyed learning the basis of it. Already been to Kristine's shop and bought a necklace. I love owning a little piece of history.

  26. Image for Sandy Sandy

    Once again, one of your stories wrapped itself around my heart. You are a magical storyteller. It's a special gift you possess. How interesting that the folks who rode the rails, had a special language all their own too. I love.....Tybee Island!

  27. Image for Sandy Sandy

    In case any readers are interested, I found a great article on PBS about hobos riding the rails. Some very heartwarming stories. https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/features/interview/rails-tales/

  28. Image for Sandy Sandy

    And lastly.....here is a website with a symbol chart for hobo's own unique language. Karianne, you really sparked my interest in the hobo culture of the 1930's. Not too many ride the rails these days like they used to.

    1. Image for Kristine Kennedy Kristine Kennedy

      I actually meet people in Savannah that still ride the rails and have the hobo symbols tatooed on their arms etc. They've drawn from symbols for me that I didn't know. I've also had medical professionals tell me how their buildings are marked in the present day by people who know where to find the administators and health care providers that will still help them. It's a fascinating culture. I will share these stories in the forums and hope others will continue to share theirs so we don't loose the history. The rails tied this country together and it's stories are universal.

  29. Image for Sarah Sarah

    What a touching post, KariAnne. Thank you for sharing this and Kristine Kennedy's wonderful art work. Wonderful1 Happy Valentine's Day to you and your sweet family………..Sarah PS My husband is a twin, and his mom used to tell me stories of her twins speaking in their own language. Fascinating!

  30. Image for Suzanne Melton Suzanne Melton

    Here is something we do: In Fall, 2011, we bought 960 red Delta Airline blankets at auction. We donated cases to Occupy Seattle, Occupy Tacoma, Occupy Olympia, no-kill cat and dog shelters. We still have three cases left (180 blankets). In cold weather, we keep a dozen or so blankets in each vehicle. We buy gloves and rain ponchos at the Dollar Tree. Any time we see someone with a cardboard sign, we give them something. In hot weather, we freeze bottles of water and take three or four with us. We once gave water to an older man with a dog. He poured water into his dog's dish before he took a drink.

  31. Image for Ronda Ronda

    .....thank you.....you see I also have twins....twin girls.....who are 16 and a half....and who hate me right now. Everyone tells me "its the age" or "they'll see when they are older" or the ever popular "didn't you hate your mom at that age?" but none of this helps you see.....because these are my babies and I remember their beautiful little faces the day they were born, and their little language, and all the days since. So your story about your girls and their secret language and the story of the Hobos and the twin circles meaning to never give up, it really touches me. Some days it's so hard....but my love for them is never ending. Thank you for always knowing the perfect thing to say.....xoxo

    1. Image for Kristine Kennedy Kristine Kennedy

      I'm glad you like it Kathy. I've made brand new "Never Give Up" cards to go with the necklace. Contact me at kkennedydesigns@yahoo.com if you would like me to send you a card. They are hot off the presses.

  32. Image for Carrie Welborn Carrie Welborn

    What a great story. My daughter gave birth to triplets on Easter morning nearly 10 years ago. They two had their own language. Two were identical, and the third had a better speech ability. The identicals would talk and talk, and the other one would argue with them, then translate to the rest of us. Gods blessings.

  33. Image for Linda Linda

    My first thought was Kit an American Girl. There is a movie plus the books where this is explained. I think just maybe some of my family were the hobos. On my mom's side they were "dirt farmers" and so very poor but at least one single uncle hit the road. He has some stories to tell with another uncle from the other side who was younger. His mom ran a restaurants in the wild mining town. It was a severe time but one of much open handed generosity by many. Thanks for sharing this.

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