If you are a Stephenville resident or have driven through the Cowboy Capital of the World, chances are you’ve seen him. He stands about six feet tall and weighs about 180 lbs. His shaggy white hair is almost always covered with a hat, and a full grown beard hangs from his chin. Half of his teeth are missing, the remaining ones are stained with years of tarnish. He most often wears khaki cargo pants and a plain T-shirt or button-up shirt. His name is Thomas Genova and his trusting companion and best friend is a red heeler mix named Brandy.
On this particular day, he stands outside Tahiti Tan with his dog in tow alongside his cart that carries his few belongings. He hasn’t been approached by many people since coming to town in November 2007, but already he is known as a town character.
He limped inside using his cane and left his dog and cart behind. He began talking about his early years.
“I used to be a very bad person. I was a horrible, horrible person to women. I lived off women for many years,” he said, looking down at his feet. “When I was young, I was into drugs and women. I didn’t always look like I do now. I used to be a very handsome and wanted young man.”
Genova spent the first of his 64 years growing up in Connecticut. He was into the pool hall scene and drank frequently. He went through many tough times in his life before he found what he believed to be his place in the world.
“I was stabbed when I was 19. I shouldn’t have lived,” Genova said.
He was stabbed in the stomach by his opponent after he beat him in what started out to be a friendly game of pool.
“I just remember laying in the ambulance, having convulsions, and praying to God to let me live,” he said.
The incident led to a turning point in his life.
Genova dropped out of high school at a young age and went to work for his brother’s construction company.
“My brother taught me how to be a businessman,” he said.
He went on to own his own construction business when misfortune found him once again. He lost his left pointer finger to 3,000 tons of pressure while water painting the side of a brick building.
“I told the doctors I had to go and they wrapped it up and sent me on my way,” he explained, holding up his hand.
His finger became infected and had to be removed.
Throughout the years, he traveled by foot, living in San Marcos, where he found Brandy.
“I was sleeping behind the Flying J when the clerk asked me to help her lure this dog out from under the dumpster,” he said of his first encounter with Brandy. “I lured him out with a Slim Jim from the store and she just walked back in leaving the dog with me.”
Brandy was named after the veterinarian who gave him his first shots. When he decided it was time to leave San Marcos, he headed north, and after a long walk, ended up in Stephenville.
“I’ve never been good with directions,” he said.
Genova has traveled many miles on foot and has been everywhere from Connecticut to Wyoming to Oregon to California to Texas.
“I don’t have a mule so I have to walk,” he said with a laugh.
Genova does not like to accept gifts or handouts. He does odd jobs to make enough money to get by. He cleans for some small businesses around town and does carpentry work on occasion.
Genova pulled out some old, torn pictures printed on computer paper from his bag.
“I carved this out of an old piece of wood with my saw,” he said, holding up the ragged picture of a birdhouse. He sold some in Stephenville for a small price.
“I tried to buy this one back because I liked it so much but he said his wife wouldn’t let him,” he added with a chuckle.
Genova feeds his dog corn dogs, chilidogs, anything he can get his hands on. Locals have referred to him as the “corn dog” man. He makes sure his dog has plenty to eat before himself.
When asked about what his future might hold, he paused, unzipped his small bag, pulled out the Bible and flipped to Mark 1:17.
“Come, be my disciples, and I will show you how to be fishers of men.” He pointed at the verse with his finger and said, “This is what I want to do.”
Genova is, in fact, homeless. He lives in a tent in an open field on the west side of Stephenville.
“I want to live like He did — simply,” he said.
He said he likes the way it feels to not have to be dependent on money and material things. He was recently offered a full-time position, but is afraid of what money might once again do to him.
Then, he picked up his cane and limped towards the door.
“I guess that’s enough for today. God willing, I’ll see you again,” he said.