Orphan Survival Stories Index |
A REAL THANKSGIVING
Once again, at the age of 12, I ran away from the orphanage. It never entered my head that tomorrow was Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving Day just happened to be one of the few days when we were given all that we wanted to eat.
I was heading out of Jacksonville, Florida and was westward-bound, I think. I had been told I was born in the State of California and that was all I knew for sure, so I figured I had a mother and father out there somewhere.
It was November, so it was getting a little cold as the sun went down. I knew from experience that I could not stay on the main road, as the police would be looking for me. If they found me, I would be arrested and taken to the Duval County Juvenile Hall or worse, back to ‘The Orphanage.’
As I walked along, I came across some railroad tracks. I thought I would follow them in hopes they might lead me to my mother somewhere in California. After about an hour or two of walking the tracks, I came across a large bonfire where several men were standing around in a circle trying to stay warm.
"Where you headed, kid?" yelled one of the men.
"Going to California to find my mom and dad," I hollered back.
"Going the wrong way, kid," he said cupping his hands over his mouth like a bullhorn.
I walked over to where the men were standing and asked if I might get warm by the fire.
"Get that empty can over there and I'll give you a cup of hot beans," said one of the men sitting on an old stack of tires.
They sure were good beans, too. I think I ate two whole cans. Sure was nice of them to give me some of their food, with them all being poor.
"Might as well stay here for the night," said the man.
He had a sling on his arm. I know my eyes got very big and I got a little scared when he put his good arm around me.
"It's gonna be okay, kid. I'll look after you," said the man who gave me the beans.
I slept well considering how cold it was. They had lots of old army like blankets that smelled very bad. They sure were warm, but they were itchy.
The next morning, we had beans once again for breakfast. That was the first time I ever had coffee and it was really good. It made you feel very warm inside. After breakfast, we cleaned up our mess and burnt it all in the fire. We poured water over the fire to make it go out, so it would not burn anything down.
For most of the day, we walked down the railroad tracks. Occasionally, we would sneak over a fence and steal some fruit to eat. I did not like stealing, but that fruit tasted awfully good. Right before dark, one of the men went into a small store. He asked if he could do some work for a loaf of white bread and some meat, but the store man told him, "No."
Later on, I went back into the store. When the man was not looking, I stole that loaf of bread and two packs of meat, which had bad tasting pickles in it. That night we had fruit, pickle meat sandwiches and beans for Thanksgiving Dinner. "Supper," we always called it at the orphanage.
I never knew that poor, old people, like hobos never said grace before they ate, especially after stealing food. However, they did and they meant it too. I could tell it in their voices when they all said, "Amen."
“Why do you people always say grace when you eat? You are like me. You ain't got nothing to own.”
"Ain't you got two arms and two legs, kid?" asked one of the men.
"Course I got two arms and two legs," I replied.
"Then you got something to be thankful for," said the man as he raised his pant leg and showed me his wooden leg.
"Did the big war do that?" I asked.
The man did not answer me. He just got up from his seat on the ground and walked away off into the darkness.
"It's ok, kid. He just takes the war harder than the rest of us. We were all in the war," said his friend.
"You were in the war?" I asked.
He looked down at the ground without answering my question. Then he broke into tears and covered his face. I sat there not knowing what to say. I just sipped on my warm coffee and tried to stay warm. The next thing I remember, it was morning.
The four men all told me goodbye. Then they jumped on the slow-moving train and left me standing alone beside the railroad tracks. I walked the 10 miles or so back to the orphanage. When I saw the head matron, Mrs. Winters, I told her that I was very sorry I ran away and I was very ashamed for not being thankful for all that Jesus had given me.
"For your warm bed, the food you eat and the good clothes you wear?" she asked me.
"No!" I told her. “I don't like the food here.”
"Then what are you thankful for?" she asked.
"For my two arms and legs.”
"You had best get over to your dormitory, before I slap your God damn teeth out," said Mrs. Winters.
As the days turned into weeks and the months into years, life passed me by. I once again began running away. I suppose, because I finally realized that there was less and less in this world to be thankful for.