The sound of the train going click-clack, click-clack on the rails woke Anna. Gently, she placed her brother’s snoring body on her wadded up pinafore and stood, stretching her arms over her head.
All around her, other children were either sleeping or talking quietly to one another.
Mr. Bosley, their agent, soundly slept. Sister Marie sat near the window, her hands busy with a sewing project on her lap.
Was it just two days ago that they had been told about the orphan train to Aurora, Kansas? They were then all lined up to receive baths, new clothes, and a cardboard box with another change of clothes in preparation for their departure.
Anna zigzagged her way across the car to the only window where she manipulated the crate so she could climb up it and peer out. As far as she could see there was only flat land peppered with patches of snow and brown, dead-looking grass poking out. She thought that it matched how she felt-- flat, lifeless, cold and hopeless.
She remembered her tenth birthday last April. Dad had put his hands over her eyes, while her brother, Brian had led her into the kitchen. “Open your eyes now Anna,” Dad had whispered in her ear as he pulled his hands away.
Sitting in a wicker basket with a big red bow around her neck was a brown puppy with big eyes. Putting her hands over her mouth, she gasped “Oh, is she mine?”
Momma was standing by the basket grinning, “She is yours, but you must promise that you’ll take care of her.” She wagged her finger at her. “She has to be taken out, fed, brushed, and played with. If you don’t, we’ll need to give her back.”
“Oh, I will; I promise.” She raced to hug her puppy.
The next week, Dad’s boss showed up at the door, “Mrs. Paige, I’m sorry, but your husband was killed on the docks this morning.” He twisted his cap nervously in his hands. “A line broke, and a crate fell on him. He died instantly.”
Momma collapsed on the floor sobbing, while Anna and Brian wrapped their arms around her, pressing their tear-streaked faces against her back.
Momma started working fifteen hour days while Anna tended Brian and Rosie, the pup.
Before long, they couldn’t afford enough food, so they had to give Rosie to a neighbor.
Momma got sick. When Anna touched her face, Momma was burning up and coughing so hard that blood was on the handkerchief when she pulled it from her mouth.
She bit her lip to keep from crying as she remembered how she had prayed for Momma to get better. Within three days, though, Momma was gone. That was the last time she had ever prayed.
Whooo, Whooo, the train whistle broke through her melancholy memories, announcing that they were arriving at their destination.
Anna tightly held Brian’s hand as they were lined up on the stage of the church. Men and women walked down the line, pinching children to see how muscular they were or forcing them to open their mouths so they could check their teeth.
One by one, the children were placed with families. Then it was just Anna and Brian left on the stage.
“We’ll take the girl, the Missus needs help with the cooking and washing,” a tall man with stringy hair declared.
Anna looked up and pleaded, “Mister could my brother come too?”
“Don’t have no need for another boy, already got five. Besides, he’s a mite scrawny. He’d just be another mouth to feed. Nope, I just need a girl.” He walked up, grabbed her arm, and pulled her off of the stage.
By now, Brian was sobbing and holding onto Anna with both hands.
Suddenly, a woman in the back of the room jumped to her feet and yelled. “We’ll take them both.”
The agent looked at the man sitting beside the woman and asked him, “That alright with you, Sam?”
Sam grinned and patted his wife’s hand, “Sure, the more the merrier, I always say.”
The man and woman led them out to a wagon, which took them out of town to the flat, brown- grassed, snow-patched plains that now held hope.
Authors Note: My story is fictional, but orphan trains were used from 1854-1929 usually from Boston and New York City to take orphans and neglected children to families out west.
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