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THE ZOO



I could hardly sleep all night long! The people at the Jacksonville Zoo had invited all of the orphans from the Children's Home Society Orphanage to visit their zoo free on Saturday, which was the next day.

"That's tomorrow,” I yelled out when I heard the good news.

I was 7 years old and had never been to the zoo before, but I knew what it was; I knew they had all kinds of animals from all over the world. I sat up very late in the bathroom hiding, while tracing pictures of animals out of a book, pictures of the animals that I was going to see the next day.

The next morning, we ate our breakfast and then stood in line on the screened-in porch, waiting to be loaded into the cars that came to take us to the zoo. It was a long, long ride, but that was okay with us. We did not get to go outside of the large orphanage fences, except to go to school and church, and you did not get to go to church, if you were bad. Of course, the matrons kept telling us to sit down and be quiet, that there was nothing to get excited about.

"It is just a bunch of damn animals in a cage,” they kept telling us.

I do not think most of the boys cared anything about the animals. They were just glad to be outside of the fences and see some other kids who lived outside the fences. I was so excited when we finally pulled up and parked in the great big zoo parking lot. You could smell all kinds of good stuff, like popcorn. One of the smaller boys reached down, picked up half a candy apple and started eating it.

"That's dirty,” I said as I took it away from him.

"I want it! I want it!"

I took it over to the water fountain and washed it off. We had never had candy apples before and we probably never would, so I took one bite and gave the rest to him.

As we entered the zoo, we were told to stay in one large group and follow along closely as the matron took us down the paths from cage to cage to see the animals. I was amazed at all the different kinds of animals they had and wondered how they could live there without dying, if they were really from somewhere else on the earth. Several of the other boys ran ahead and were laughing at some of the larger monkeys in one cage. When I got up to the cage, I could see one male monkey was doing something that was not very nice to do in front of women.

One man told his wife "I guess we came at the wrong time of the month."

Then he laughed and they walked away. I did not know what he was talking about and just forgot about it. The matron gathered us all together and herded us over to a concession stand. They gave us a hamburger and a drink, which I thought tasted great. However, some of the boys said it tasted like they made it from dead zoo animals; I did not eat any more, at least not when they were looking at me.

When we got up to the elephant cage, the big elephant was using the bathroom and it splattered everywhere, getting on one man's shoe. All the boys were laughing and running around like crazy. The matron started hitting Bill Smith on top of his head with her cotton candy and it stuck all in his hair. Then everyone was really laughing, even the people who were not from the orphanage.

This one matron was standing back from the rest of the group and kept scratching herself on her backside. She did that over and over for a long time. Finally, several of the boys began talking about why she kept doing that. She overheard them talking and told all of us to come over to where she was standing. She told us to mind our own business and keep our eyes straight ahead or she would take us back to the home.

As we continued around the zoo, we finally made it back to the big monkey cage. When we arrived, the matron began scratching herself again. When she did, the monkey started playing with his "bad thing" again and all the boys started laughing uncontrollably. Then matron started yelling at all of us to be quite. I felt sorry for her, so I started acting as if I was itching so she would feel better. The boy next to me asked me what the big monkey was doing. I did not know what to say, except what I heard the man say earlier. Before I could answer the boy, the matron grabbed me by the hair of the head and jerked me over to her.

"What the hell is wrong with you? Are you mocking me?”

I was so scared that I did not know what to say, so I stammered, "I guess you came to the zoo at the wrong time of the month."

Well, if you don’t think the candy apple the matron had in her hand could splinter into 50 million pieces and knock a big-eared orphan kid very stupid, you are badly mistaken.



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