an animal that has strayed (especially a domestic animal)
In this particular usage, "stray" doesn't just mean animals -- it's being used metaphorically to refer to people who have wandered away and don't belong anywhere in particular
The creator and sovereign of this enormous house with the four sickle-pear trees in the front yard and the single elm in the back yard was Eva Peace, who sat in a wagon on the third floor directing the lives of her children, friends, strays, and a constant stream of boarders.
First she reclaimed her children, next she gave the surprised Mrs. Suggs a ten-dollar bill, later she started building a house on Carpenter’s Road, sixty feet from BoyBoy’s one-room cabin, which she rented out.
Operating on a private scheme of preference and prejudice, she sent off for children she had seen from the balcony of her bedroom or whose circumstances she had heard about from the gossipy old men who came to play checkers or read the Courier, or write her number.
silky envelope spun by the larvae of many insects to protect pupas and by spiders to protect eggs
This is a figurative use of "cocoon."
Slowly each boy came out of whatever cocoon he was in at the time his mother or somebody gave him away, and accepted Eva’s view, becoming in fact as well as in name a dewey—joining with the other two to become a trinity with a plural name ... inseparable, loving nothing and no one but themselves.
a behavioral attribute that is distinctive and peculiar to an individual
Under Eva’s distant eye, and prey to her idiosyncrasies, her own children grew up stealthily: Pearl married at fourteen and moved to Flint, Michigan, from where she posted frail letters to her mother with two dollars folded into the writing paper.
Deep in its darkness and freezing stench she squatted down, turned the baby over on her knees, exposed his buttocks and shoved the last bit of food she had in the world (besides three beets) up his ass.