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ONE OF LIFE'S LESSONS



“You will sit there until you eat every bite of that food. Do you understand me young man?” said the matron at the orphanage.

I looked down into my plate and stared at the mixture of eggplant and slimy boiled okra - a thing, which appeared to have hair growing all over it. Both items were mixed together to form something that looked as if it had already been eaten once and decided to come back from whence it went.

"Do you realize how lucky you kids are to have food?" I thought as the matron started the speech, which we had heard numerous times before.

"Do you kids realize how lucky you are to have food?" she asked.

I continued to move my lips along with her every word.

"There are children overseas that would give anything to have what you kids have to eat," she continued.

I moved my head from one side to the other, continuing to act as though her words were coming out of my mouth.

"Are you mocking me? You little bastard!" she hollered at me.

"NO MA'AM" I yelled back. "I can't eat this stuff. It looks like puke stuff."

Robert, Wayne and Billy Stroud all started laughing.

"What was that you said?" she asked.

"I said it looks like slimy snot with hair growing on it," I repeated.

"You other boys rake your plates onto Kiser's plate and then you are excused," she told the other three boys.

"You will sit there in that damn spot until you eat every damn bite of that food. Do you understand me Roger Dean?" she asked.

I watched as the other boys raked their food onto my plate.

I sat there silently with my hands lying flat against the table on each side of my plate. I remember making a decision, right then and there, that I was not going to eat that food no matter what happened to me. No matter how many beatings I had to take. No matter how many hours I had to sit there. I was not going to eat that food.

If I am not mistaken, I was about 9 or 10 years old at that time. What I remember most about that day is my having to make a decision as a young boy, which took a stand against an adult person, no matter what the consequence.

I was beaten four times that night with a bamboo switch. I was hit across the hand so many times with a ruler that I lost count. My face was pushed down into the plate of food so many times that on one occasion my nose started bleeding. I sat at that table for 14 hours straight. I remember wetting my pants on purpose three or four times just to make Mrs. Winters as mad as I possibly could. When the other 50 children came in to eat their breakfast the next morning, I was still sitting in my assigned spot.

As I look back at that incident, I do not view it as a bad experience. I look upon it as a very good lesson - a lesson that taught me that sooner or later, there comes a time in one's life when we have to make a decision to stand up for what we truly believe in and want. It is a decision that we have to make even at a personal cost to ourselves. It might be for our family, country, friends or our own personal religious beliefs. Mine just happen to be ‘not wanting’ to eat boiled okra and eggplant.

What I learned that day was not that being defiant of an adult was right or wrong. Taking that stand was preparing me to become the kind of a person I was going to be one day. That I had what it takes, deep down inside and in spite of fear, to step in and help someone who was being beaten or mistreated. That I would involve myself, rather than just stand there or walk on by. That I had what it takes to step forward, if and when someone might need me.

I think that it is necessary sometimes to look back upon some of the bad things that happened to us when we were children and try to see what good may have come from it.



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