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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 – Advanced)
Topic: Europe (excluding the United Kingdom) (02/19/09)

TITLE: The Reunion
By Mary Lou Cook
02/24/09


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On her daughterís front porch Carrie sits in the wicker chair staring down the street, anxiously waiting her brotherís arrival. An old photo of her brother and her as children lay in her lap. Thomas was a year older and small for his age, they both had thick auburn hair. She remembered his smile; how it gave her courage to face the difficult times they went through.

In Ireland, after the Irish Potato Famine, there was still hunger and living conditions hadnít improved. Their parents, Patrick and Rose Branigan, left Europe looking for a better life in America. Upon their arrival they settled in Brooklyn, New York. The birth of their children followed soon after. Thomas was born in 1899, followed by Carrie in 1900, their father was an electrician and their mother a homemaker, life was prosperous for the family. In 1903 tragedy struck, Patrick was accidentally electrocuted. Three years later, Rose, stricken with tuberculosis, admitted her children to the Home of Destitute in Brooklyn, New York. Because boys and girls were housed separately, Thomas, age seven, and Carrie, age six, visited with each other through the narrow slates of the wooden fence. For more than two years the children lived at the orphanage until they were referred to the Childrenís Aid Society. A home was found for Thomas and Carrie in Cottonwood Falls, Kansas. On Jan. 12, 1909, the children started their long journey on the Orphan Train.

This became known as the Orphan Train Movement. When it began it was estimated that 30,000 abandoned children were living on the streets of New York City. Two charity institutions, The New York Foundling Hospital and the Childrenís Aid Society were determined to help these children find homes.

Along with other children, Thomas and Carrie rode the Orphan Train. She hung on to her brotherís hand, scared of what was to happen to them. Along the way the train stopped at different towns and cities, and at each stop a few children were let off. Carrie watched out of the window as the children were lead to their new families. Before one older boy was accepted a man examined his teeth. At another stop, Carrie watched an agent carry a crying girl, about the age of three, to a man and woman. The couple embraced the small child and the woman wept.

With Thomas and Carrie close to the same size everyone thought they were twins, this is what kept them from being separated. The Rowland family took the children in, but never accepted them as family. Their children were younger than Carrie and were quick to punish the older children. Thomas and Carrie felt more like farm hands than family. They learned to help with the chores, but faced a difficult time adjusting to their new life.

After three years of hard farm work and abuse, Thomas told Carrie he was leaving. He begged her to come with him, but Carrie chose to stay. Thomas went to the fields to work and never returned. After he left things got worse, no matter what she did nothing could please the Rowlands. She now had her chores and Thomasís; she regretted her decision to stay. Carrie missed her brother and every night she cried herself to sleep.

A week before her fifteenth birthday Carrie ran away to Kansas City. She found a job roller skating messages throughout the Union Train Station. To get the job she lied about her age, she said she was eighteen. A few years later she married James Moore, stayed within the Kansas City area, and raised their three children. As the years passed, Thomas was never far from her mind, she often thought of her brother.

On her eightieth birthday her family surprised her with the one thing she wanted the most, to find her brother. It was a difficult task but finally a Thomas Branigan was found living in St. Joseph, Missouri. Once it was confirmed that it was her brother, a family reunion was planned. Thomasí son would drive him to Olathe, Kansas to be reunited with his sister Carrie.

Carrie looked up from the old photo to see a car pull into the drive way. The passenger door opened and Thomas stepped out. Carrie was elated to finally be with her brother again. He was much older and walked with a cane, but it was Thomas. He smiled at her with that same smile she remembered from years ago.


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Beth LaBuff 03/03/09
I've heard about the orphan train. Your story is fascinating (and heart-breaking). It sounds like a true story. I'm glad there was a "reunion."