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I can honestly say that as a five year old child I worked more hours than did I when I was thirty years old, holding down a full time job to support my family. How could this possibly be true?
Well, it is true but that is not the point of this story.
I remember three or four of we boys, ranging in ages from 5 to 8, raking the orphanage grounds. This was a daily job we performed, seven days a week for almost fifteen years.
On this particular day it was very hot and humid. The temperature had to be over 100 degrees. We boys were sweating more than we had ever sweated before. One of the boys stopped raking and leaned on his rake handle and asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I didn’t have any idea what I might want to be so I said nothing. Another boy told us that he wanted to become a fireman and possibly even a soldier. Eddie Gillman raised his rake into the air and shouted, “I want to go to the stars one day. We just laughed.
“You illegitimate little bastards had best get back to work,” yelled the matron, out one of the sewing room windows.
Once again we lined up and began raking the leaves and pine straw.
“I know what I want to do one day,’ I whispered.
“What’s that, Roger?” asked Billy Stroud.
“I want to be able to get a drink of water and use the bathroom without having to ask anyone’s permission.”
The other boys just stared at me.
No child at the orphanage was ever allowed to get a drink of water or use the bathroom without first getting the permission of the matron. If caught drinking water or using the bathroom without permission meant a severe beating on the legs with a green bamboo cane pole or a beating with the dreaded sandpaper Polo Paddle on the back, neck and face.
“Miss Ma’am,” I yelled out at the matron.
There was no answer so I continued to rake. About five minute later I had to use the bathroom so badly that my stomach began to hurt so I began to shake my leg back and forth.
“MISS MA’AM,” I screamed again.
“WHAT,” she screamed back at me.
“I have to use the bathroom real bad, Miss Ma’am. Really I do.”
I knew if she did not allow me to go to the bathroom that I would wet in my pants, causing me to receive another beating and maybe even a day or two in the orphanage closet without food or water. We still had another four or five acres to rake before suppertime even came.
“Okay, one at a time and make it quick.”
I ran as fast as I could into the large white two story brick building and up the stairs I flew. Into the bathroom I went barely making it to the toilet. I felt my eyes roll back into my head and the relief came upon me. When done, I walked to the doorway to see if the matron had silently followed me up the stairs. Not seeing her, I considered getting a small drink of water from one of the four sinks. But I had no way to dry the sink out so the matron would not know what I had done. Know that time was of the essence; I had to make a decision and I had to make it quick. There was just no way I could take such a dangerous chance.
“DID YOU FLUSH THAT DAMN TOILET?” screamed the matron.
“I’m gonna flush it now, Miss Ma’am.
When I turned I looked down at the water in the toilet bowl. It looked clean, except for the little bit of pee pee I had put in. I reached over and pulled the handle. As the water rushed downward; it cleared. I fell to my knees and with my little cupped hands I began to scoop up the water and drink it.
“HURRY IT UP KISER.”
“Yes Ma’m Miss Ma’am,” I responded, as I quickly jumped to my feet and began drying my mouth and face on my dirty shirt.
As I turned around I saw the matron standing in the doorway. Did you get a damn drink of water without asking me?”
“No Ma’am, Miss Ma’am. You can check the sink and see.”
Slowly, she walked down the row of sinks, inspecting each and every one. As she returned she took her finger and ran it around each drain to see if there was any moisture.
Just at that moment I looked back at the toilet and began to wonder where all that precious wonderful water was going.
‘It’s got in the ground, ‘cause it ain’t on the first floor no where,’ I thought.
As I returned to my raking duties, as we made piles of pine straw we carried them, by the arm loads into the large rows of azalea bushes and we strew it about. Each time I carried a load into the bushes, I began to dig a hole in the ground trying to locate where the water was being stored. By days end my hands were totally raw and bloody from the digging.
Now as an adult, each and every day I walk to the sink and I turn on the faucet, allowing the water to run cold. Then I take one small swallow of water and I thank God for finally allowing me that privledge.