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TOYS IN THE CLOSET



I can still remember those orphanage closets as if it were only yesterday. Those always-locked wooden doors were located in every building at the Children's Home Society orphanage. The closets were a very scary place for us orphans.

We boys spent several two or three-day periods locked away in those dark scary places, without food, water or a place to go to the bathroom. As a 6-year-old orphan boy, I have lied in the dark corner of those closets many times, with blood dripping from the head wounds I received from the house parents. Such beatings happened, because I did not wax the checkerboard floor correctly, left the soap-sock in the sink or forgot to flush the toilet. Even today at the age of 54, I still wonít enter a dark closet, without the aid of a flashlight or a lamp in hand.

It is true that we did get into much mischief as little boys. There was never anything for us to do. We had no toys to play with, so we made things out of sticks and cans, and we built army forts under ground. We hid in them for hours at a time, just to feel safe. Sometimes, we climbed up into the trees and jumped into the large clumps of bamboo bushes, crashing to the ground. It was a very dangerous thing to do, but it was fun. Besides, nobody really cared if we got hurt anyway. However, they did get mad if we were laughing aloud or if we were having any noisy fun at all.

One afternoon, I was instructed to go over to the main dining room. That was where the head matron, Mrs. Winters, lived. When I entered the building, I did not see her anywhere, so I walked over to the large hallway that led to her bedroom. I stopped at the dark entrance of the hall and stood there, quietly waiting for her.

As I nervously looked for her approach, I noticed the closet door next to the little bathroom was slightly ajar. That totally surprised me, as those closets were always locked. I took one giant step toward the door and pushed it open slightly with one finger. This was the only closet that we had not been locked in and we never could figure out why. However, as I inched my way very slowly into the small, long, slender closet, I finally understood.

For as far as my little eyes could see, there were presents and toys that went on forever and ever, all the way from the floor to the ceiling. There were tons of roller skates, balls, also lots of baseball bats and gloves. There were little cars, and some great big trucks that could really carry dirt in them. I saw some metal and plastic airplanes too; many looked like they could really fly. There were some that used real gas to make them go way up in the sky and they could fly far away. In addition, I saw lots of guns and holster sets. There were girl things too, like play dollhouses and little bitty clothes.

I stood for the longest time just wondering why Mrs. Winters had all this good stuff in the closet to play with. I started to play quietly with some of the little green toy soldiers. I lined them up for battle and they fought each other. Some of them died when they fell off the wooden shelf onto the floor. However, I made them come back to life, so I could play with them over and over again.

"What the damn hell are you doing in there?" yelled Mrs. Winters.

"Nothing, ma'am," I said as I placed my hands behind my back.

"Put your damn hand in the doorway!"

"That's going to hurt me again," I stammered.

Mrs. Winters had slammed my hand in the doorway once before, when she caught me looking into the kitchen pantry. I was taking one of her special boxes of raisins, because I was hungry.

"Put your damn hand on the damn doorway," she demanded, gritting her teeth.

"I can't, Mother Winters. It just hurts so badly when you do that."

I turned my eyes down toward the speckled terrazzo floor. Mother Winters grabbed me by the shirt collar and slammed my face into the bottom shelf where the toys were stacked. They fell everywhere as I crashed to the floor.

"Keep your little ass right here, until I get the damn bolo paddle! Do you understand me?" she asked firmly.

"Yes, ma'am."

As she disappeared down the dark hallway, I started picking up the little green soldiers that fell onto the floor. I noticed that some of the soldiers had blood all over them. I started picking them up as fast as I could, placing them into my pants pocket, so I could play with them later.

When Mrs. Winters returned, I said, "My teeth are loose. Iím hurting real, real bad in my face."

Her eyes got big and white, and then she went ahead and hit me with the polo paddle one time really hard.

"Get your little ass back to the boy's building and get up to your room. You stay there for the rest of the day!"

When I got back to the dormitory, I told all the other boys about the toys and presents in the closet. Then I went to the upstairs bathroom and wet some toilet paper, which I put into my mouth so the blood would stop and my teeth would not move around anymore.

I returned to my room, as I was told and played war games on my bed with the five bloody soldiers. However, they did not want to play very long 'cause they were already hurt and bloody. So two of the soldiers and me cried together and then I fell asleep, until the next day.



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