Orphan Survival Stories Index |
One day a man came to the orphanage. He talked with the head office and they agreed to allow him to come in every other week. He would teach the children how to do woodworking projects.
I remember the night when I was 8 years old and had finished my first project, a small table with a Formica top. I was so proud of that table; I looked upon it as though I had created a life. It was absolutely beautiful. Not to mention, this was the first time in our whole lives that the orphanage had allowed us to use our own minds.
It had taken me six weeks to complete my project. I could hardly wait to give my little table to Mother Winters as a gift. “Mother Winters” was our head mistress, the administrator of our orphanage. We called all our female caretakers "Mother.” It was the title that we used when addressing them.
As the table legs were not dry from the clear coating that had been applied, the man asked us to wait until our next session, before taking our projects to our dormitories. However, I was just so excited and happy I could not wait. Besides, my woodworking project was the best one of all (except for this full-sized rowboat some 10-year-old nut was trying to build).
I moved my table toward the doorway and waited for the right opportunity to escape. When I saw my chance, out the door I went like a flash, running through the darkness with my little hands underneath the tabletop. I was smiling from ear to ear as I headed toward the dormitory. When I reached the dormitory, I placed the beautiful little table beside my bed. I stood there for about 10 minutes just gazing at what I had created with my own mind.
When Mother Winters entered the room, I pointed at the table and she smiled at me; I felt so proud. She asked me where the other children were, and I told her that they were cleaning up the sawdust and would be coming soon. She walked over to the table and ran her hand across the slick Formica top.
"It is very pretty," she told me.
When she touched the table leg, she noticed that the leg was still wet from the clear coating. She asked me why I had brought the table into the dormitory with the legs still wet. I did not know what to say, so I just stood there with my head down and did not say anything.
"Were you supposed to bring this home?" she asked.
"No ma'am," I told her.
Mother Winters walked over to the table and with her foot kicked it over onto its top. Then she stepped on each of the small table legs, breaking them off. She then opened the side door and made me throw the little table out into the yard.
After Mother Winters left the building and all the other children were asleep, I opened the outside door and went out to get my little table. There was sand stuck all over the legs. I brushed and cried and brushed and cried and brushed and cried, but the sand would not come off. I hid the little table in my closet. I never ever returned to the wood shop after that.
About a year later, I gave the little table and legs to Mother Henderson, my houseparent, so she could throw them away.
About 30 years later, I tried to find as many of the orphanage children as possible to have a reunion. It took place in Jacksonville, Florida in 1991. That is when I learned that Mother Henderson was living in Asheville, North Carolina.
Several weeks later, I drove up to see her. We visited and talked for four or five hours. As I was about to leave, she asked me to come down to the basement and help her get something important. She and I climbed down into her dark, cold, damp cellar. The shaking, 75-year-old woman walked over into a dark corner and picked something up. As she turned around, I could see that she was holding a little table with four broken legs.
"Do you remember this?" she asked.
I just stood there with my head down and I did not say a word. I could not speak for fear of crying.
"Roger, I want you to have this?" she told me.
Mrs. Henderson gave me back the table that so long ago, I had given up for lost. She had kept it all these years, never knowing if she would ever see me again. Her intention was to save the table because she could not rid herself of the pain she remembered seeing in this orphan's eyes.
I had etched my name underneath the table when I was a little boy and it was still there. Since then, I have sanded, clear-coated and replaced the legs. That little Formica table - my first woodworking project so many years ago - now sits in my granddaughter, Chelsey's, bedroom. It’s only a few feet from where I sit now, along with her little plastic (sissy) chair that her poppa gave her.
I look at that table today with bittersweet memories. I think of my heartbreak and disappointment when Mother Winters forced me to throw my table, which she had destroyed, out the door.
However, I am comforted and rejoice at the kindness of Mother Henderson, who kept that little table as a remembrance - never wanting to forget the story of a young orphan who tried so very hard to please.