Orphan Survival Stories
“Father, we thank thee for this food. Amen,” echoed the children's voices as they bounced off the walls of the large dining room at the Jacksonville, Florida orphanage where I lived.
“Please let there be something good to eat today,” I thought as I watched everyone standing at attention behind his or her chair. Every child’s eyes were shut and their heads bowed. Suddenly, all was silent just as it was at every meal that we kids ate, year after year, at this terrible orphanage. I watched from the corner of my eye as Mother Winters, the head matron, picked up the little gold bell and held it still for a second, hoping one of the children would accidentally sit down before the bell rang so she could send them away without their breakfast.
“Ding-a-ling, ding-a-ling, ding-a-ling,” sounded the little bell.
I watched as 50 children, six to a table, pulled out their chairs being careful not to make a sound and sat down. Each child sat down with hands folded in their laps, remaining totally silent until Mother Winters nodded her head so breakfast could begin. I reached down, picked up a piece of burnt toast and took very small bites. I continued to watch Mother Winters out of the corner of my eye as she ate.
“How could someone who runs an orphanage hate and treat children so badly,” I thought as I continued to watch her every move.
All of a sudden, she looked up from her plate and looked directly at me.
“Oh! God, please do not let her see me looking at her,” I thought.
“Ding-a-ling, ding-a-ling,” went the little gold bell. Instantly, all the children stopped eating and the entire dining room fell silent.
“Evidently we have an IDIOT” she screamed, “named Dean Kiser, who thinks he can look around the dining room rather than eat his breakfast!”
I sat there motionless at my assigned station with my head lowered. I watched as the small beetle bugs moved around in my corn flakes.
“Ding-a-ling,” went the bell again.
I slowly looked up and saw Mother Winters motioning with her finger for me to stand up. I moved my seat back from the table, careful not to scrape the floor and stood up in front of my chair. The entire dining room remained silent. The children sat perfectly still as she and I stared at one another.
“WHAT DID YOU SAY?” she screamed at me.
All eyes in the room were now upon me and they were as big as saucers.
“WHAT DID YOU SAY TO ME?” she hollered again.
“I didn’t say nothing, Mother Winters. Really I didn’t.”
“She’s just a mean person,” said one of the smaller boys who was sitting at my table.
“Get your ugly rear-end back over to your dormitory,” she demanded.
Keeping my eyes to the floor, I walked to the door leading out onto the screened-in breezeway porch. I slightly opened the door, stopped, turned around and looked directly into the eyes of Mother Winters. Her arm was outstretched in front of her, like that of Germany’s Hitler, demanding that I obey her every order without question.
“I said move. NOW!” she screamed.
I moved not a muscle.
“NOW! NOW! NOW!” she screamed as loud as she could.
Then she reached over and snatched up the little dinner bell.
“DING-A-LING, DING-A-LING, DING-ALING, DING-A-LING,” rang the bell as she shook it above her head as hard as she could.
“GET OUT OF HERE! GET OUT NOW!” she kept yelling at me as she continued to ring the bell.
I opened the dining room door and walked out onto the porch. I stopped and stood there trying to catch my breath. I looked straight ahead moving my eyes from right to left looking at the large prison-style dormitories. Little babies were housed on the right, the girls on the left and my own two-story, white and brick prison directly in front of me. I placed my two hands on top of my head, began to cry and then ran as fast as I could toward my dormitory.
When I entered the building, I walked into the small kitchen located by the television room. I opened the little white drawer and took out a butter knife. I placed it against my chest, where I always put my hand while saying the pledge allegiance to the flag at School. I pressed the knife as hard as I could, but it just would not go into my heart.
“Can I help you son?” said someone standing behind me.
Quickly, I turned around and saw a young woman standing in the doorway smiling at me. Her face seemed to have a glow about it.
“What is your name?” she asked.
“Roger Dean Kiser,” I replied as I tried to secretly place the knife back into the drawer behind me.
“How old are you?”
“How long have you lived here in this orphanage home?”
“A whole bunch of years now,” I responded.
“Do you know what love is?” she said as she reached out toward me.
“It’s a word you say when you like someone.”
“Oh, it is so much more than that, Roger Dean.”
She was smiling at me. She stretched out her arm and motioned for me to come to her. I walked over and stood directly in front of her. She reached out and placed her hand on the side of my face. My entire body tingled, and I felt warm and wonderful inside.
“Do you want someone to love you?” she asked.
“Yes ma’am, I guess.”
“Then you have to be able to forgive those who do not love you. Do you understand what that means?” she asked.
“Can you say, ‘I love you, Jesus?’”
“You can say it,” she said.
“I LOVE … YOU, JESUS,” I screamed.
“And Jesus loves you, Roger.”
I fell on the floor and cried as loud as I could. I just could not stop, no matter how hard I tried. Finally, I heard the other children coming back from the dining room. I raised my head to look up at the woman, but she had vanished. I got up off the floor, walked over to the sink and began to wash my face.
I have no idea who the woman was or where she came from. It was if she just disappeared into thin air.
That incident occurred in 1956. I have never forgotten that kind look or the wonderful feeling she gave me when she touched not only my face, but also my heart.