"One sure measure of the heart and soul of any society is how it treats its children.” David McCollough
“You’ll live to regret leaving the Pembrook Orphanage. Who is going to want an eight-year-old boy? I just want to save you the pain of never get adopted.” rang out the words of the headmistress at the school.
Aaron clutched the small suitcase with his chubby little fingers. He clung tight to the piece of luggage the Children’s Aid Society had given him before placing him on the “Orphan Train” in search of a new home. It held the few possessions he owned on this earth. It wasn’t much— a Bible, a change of clothes, a dress tie-- not even a pair of shoes but was all he had. Anything was better than the orphanage where he had been living. Aaron had his whole future ahead of him and he was hoping for a better tomorrow.1
Aaron was instructed by the matron to stay in his assigned seat for the journey that lasted three to four days in length. All of the children stayed away from the matron, Wanda, whose presence reminded one of a drill Sergeant come back from the war before her time. Her hair was constructed in a bun that was wound too tight. Her uniform was a drab brown color that was starched until her dress was unmovable. She was constantly barking orders so it was better to remain seated and stay quiet. The children knew that it was better not too cross paths with her. It gave Aaron time to ponder his life as the train slowly chugged down the tracks heading in the western direction.
Aaron had mustered up the courage to run away from the tenant building where he was living. Aaron’s recollection of his pop’s routine was to “hit the bottle hard and fair frequently”.2
Aaron had been told by his Irish neighbors, “Listen ‘ere lad, your pap has not always been this way wee one, but when ‘ere mum died from a brain tumor--God rest her soul-- everything changed.”3
Aaron’s thoughts were interrupted by Wanda’s shrill voice, “Everyone needs to change their clothes and wash their face” as we are entering Kansas.
Aaron felt every nerve in his body tense up on stage at the train station. He felt a farmer gazing in his direction and it made him feel uncomfortable. The farmer said, “You’ll make a fine little farm hand” after he had felt my muscles. Something in me exploded and I said, “I don’t want to go to your house, mister.” “You smell like you haven’t had a bath in over a year.” He grabbed my arm to take me with him and I did the only thing an eight-year-old boy was accustomed to doing, I kicked him hard in the shins and when that did not work I bit him and he let go as fast as rocket on takeoff. Now no one in the town wanted me. They said I was an incorrigible little boy who was out of control.4
One teacher did have pity on me and said she would take me home for a week to play with her son. If I didn’t get adopted, the family would send me back to the orphanage in New York City. The tears trickled down my face as I began to envision that I may never find a home to call my own.5
The teacher said to dress up for company. I wore her son’s suit; along with the tie from the suitcase I had been given. The tie had a picture of a lost looking lamb on it. Unbeknownst to me, the teacher had placed a call to an elderly couple in their sixties who had always had a desire for children. They did have one child born about thirty years earlier that was still born. The kind gentleman pulled me unto his lap and he said, “If you come live with us—you can have a pony, a bicycle and a puppy.”6
I woke up with the kisses of my new puppy slobbering all over me. It was a family any little kid would dream of and I was no longer felt lost like the lamb on my tie. I had found my new home and future--a hope for a better tomorrow.
1 www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/orphan/orphants.html,1995.Web, 1995 Janet Graham and Edward Gray
2 www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/orphan/orphants.html,1995.Web, 1995 Janet Graham and Edward Gray
3 www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/orphan/orphants.html,1995.Web, 1995 Janet Graham and Edward Gray
4 www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/orphan/orphants.html,1995.Web, 1995 Janet Graham and Edward Gray
5 www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/orphan/orphants.html,1995.Web, 1995 Janet Graham and Edward Gray
6 www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/orphan/orphants.html,1995.Web, 1995 Janet Graham and Edward Gray
Editors Note: The “Orphan Train” began in 1853 when Charles Brace Loring wanted to get children off the streets of New York. He had just become a minister and wanted to send children via train throughout the United States to loving Christian homes.
I used some of the facts from the PBS story based on the “Orphan Train” and about a child named “Elliot Hoffman Bobo”. The story is fictitious and does in no way reflects his life.
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