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THE CHILD (DOG) POUND



I was 6 years old and chasing a butterfly in the azalea bushes at the orphanage in Jacksonville when I heard someone yelling, "They are here. They are here."

All the boys started running as fast as they could toward the big white building where we lived. I also started running as fast as I could, wondering the entire time who and what the heck they were yelling about. They ran up the stairs to their rooms and started digging out their Sunday best, which was not much at all. I walked to my room, took my Sunday clothes out of the closet and walked back down the hallway with them slung over my right shoulder.

"Who is coming? Is it Santa Claus?" I said one of the boys.

"NO DUMMY,” he hollered at me. "It's the mommies and daddies. GET DRESSED! GET DRESSED!”

I put on my Sunday clothes, wiped my shoes off on the corner of my bedspread and then walked out into the hallway to wait and see what everyone else was going to do, and where they were going in such an awful hurry. It was like a mad house around there. There were boys running in and out of bedrooms and bathrooms, and tripping over one another.

"Move it, you little brat!" yelled one of the older boys as he ran into me knocking me down.

I stood up, brushed myself off and headed down the back stairway.

"You had better comb your hair or you are not going to be picked for a mommy and daddy," said one of the boys.

I walked back up the stairs, went into the bathroom and looked at myself in the mirror. My hair was a mess and sticking straight up in the back. Another boy came in the bathroom and I asked him what was going on. He told me that once in a while, mommies and daddies came to the orphanage to buy kids, and they took these kids home. They got to live in their house, and they were given lots of toys and nice things.

"But I don't want nice things. I just want a dog," I said.

"They have dogs too. Everyone who gets picked by the mommies and daddies gets a free dog and sometimes a baby.”

"I don't want no baby. I just want a dog!"

I stood at the mirror for a long time trying to get my hair to lie down, but it just would not stay. I knew immediately that no one would pick me and I would not get a dog of my own. I tried and tried to make my hair stay down, but no matter what I did it would not stay flat. I ran back to my bedroom and grabbed my toothpaste, put a little on my hand, rubbed my hands together, and then rubbed the toothpaste through my hair and combed it. I looked into the mirror and to my surprise my hair was no longer sticking up. I ran out of the bathroom and down the stairs to catch up with the other boys, who were all in a straight line on the front porch.

I stood very proudly in line with my hair lying flat, while the matron walked back and forth inspecting us, one at a time. When she got to me, she grabbed me by the arm and asked me what I had done to my hair.

"Nothing."

She jerked me by the arm snatching me out of the line up, and dragged me into the back room where there was a large cement sink. She ducked my head under the water faucet and washed my hair with the soap sock. She handed me a towel and told me to dry my hair. I dropped the towel, because she was rushing me along and kept pushing me down the hallway with her hand in my back. When I bent over to pick up the towel, she kicked me in the rear-end saying, "If it is not one damn thing with you little bastards, it is another. I have a good mind to send you to your room."

"I don't want to go to my room. I just want a dog!”

She grabbed me by the arm again and herded me toward the front porch where the other boys were waiting. I saw Mrs. Winters, the head matron, walking down the road with a bunch of men and women.

"Where are the mommies and daddies?” I asked one of the boys.

"Right there, stupid." He pointed toward the group. "But you are not going to be picked cause you got big ears and your hair’s sticking up."

I tried to slick my hair down, but it would not stay. I lowered my hand and stood there at attention like the other boys. The four or five couples walked up and down the line of kids, saying nothing. They just looked and smiled at each of us. Then this one woman stopped in front of me.

I looked up at her and said, "Do you have a dog for me?"

"We don't have a dog, son," she replied.

I looked at the boy next to me and said, "They don't have any dogs."

"Do you brush your teeth every day?" she asked me.

"I do with my finger." I said very proudly.

She bit her lip, turned and walked away looking at the next boy in line. I reached up and slicked my hair down again, getting ready for the next couple walking down the line. However, they passed me by without speaking at all, as did the next and the next and the next.

When I was about 30 years old, I went to the local dog pound to get a dog of my own. I walked up and down the line of cages looking at all those sad faces. Finally, I came across one dog whose hair was sticking up on her head and she had big ears. But I did not have the heart to make a choice. It would hurt me too badly to take just one and leave all the others behind. Therefore, I left her there with the others and I did not choose any of them. I hope that is the way it was when those mommies and daddies came to look at us kids at the orphanage. I hope it was just too sad for them to choose just one of us.



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