Orphan Survival Stories Index |
THE OLD BAG
It was not easy for a 10-year-old runaway boy to walk the dangerous streets of Jacksonville, Florida, especially at night. Even at that young age, I hated the Children's Home Society where I lived. The orphanage had been my home for almost four years. Little did I know, I still had six more years of hell to come.
When the school bell rang, I headed out the back door and down Spring Park Road. I traveled for what seemed like miles, before I crossed over the Main Street Bridge. I walked as fast as I could through the downtown area, hunting for something to eat. I made my way down to Bay Street, stopping in the doorway of the Trailways bus station. I watched as the dirty looking bums drank from their brown paper bags and argued with each other.
"Sonny, can you go into that store across the street and cash in these here glass bottles for me? I'll buy you a candy," said the old woman.
"Sure. I can do that for you, for nothing."
I loaded the bottles into the store a few at a time. Her large wooden wagon was loaded with all varieties of soda bottles. I cashed in the bottles and walked back out of the store to give her the money.
"Can you count the money out for me, sonny?" she asked.
"Can't you count?"
"It's not that. I just can't see very well."
As I stood there counting out the money in her hand, two large boys walked up and began jerking on her coattail. One boy tried to grab the money from our hands, while the other boy pulled her backwards. Immediately I closed my hands and fell to the ground trying to catch the coins that had fallen.
"OUCH!" I screamed.
One boy had stomped on my hand, pinning it to the ground.
"Boy, you sure stink, lady," said one boy.
"You boys go on now. Leave us alone," she yelled at the two of them.
"Shut up you retarded old bag," yelled the young man.
Then he flipped her off as he started across the street with his friend. I got back down on my knees and picked up what money had fallen to the ground. Again, I recounted the money and placed it in her hands.
"You sure count awful well for being little like you are. And you can count fast too," she said as she laughed.
"Are you retarded too, like me?" I asked.
"You ain't retarded boy. You are as smart as a whip. Look how fast you can count. And you are real cute too."
"You really think so?" I asked with a big smile on my face.
For the remainder of the day, I walked around talking with the old woman. I stayed as close to her as possible hoping she would again say something nice about me.
Throughout the years, I have often thought about that woman, especially when I drive through a large city and see someone pushing a shopping cart down the street.
I could count on one hand the times that any grown adult ever gave me a compliment or made me feel proud of myself. The few times that it did happen, I soaked up the experience like a sponge soaking up water.
I can remember exactly what she looked like and exactly how she smelled. I remember her legs being fat at the ankles with many veins. Her lips were rough and cracked, her hands scarred and she had many sores about her hands and wrists. However, what I remember most was her kind face. She had a wonderful smile that made her look happy all the time.
Late that afternoon, we parted company. She told me she wanted to have a drink or two at the bar on the corner and no children were allowed. As she drank, I stood outside the barroom door watching her as she laughed and talked. After about 15 minutes, I headed on down the road to who knows where.
I never saw her again after that. However, that was okay with me. She gave me what I needed that day. The thought that I was very cute, I was not dumb and best all that I was “as smart as a whip.”
Her kind words followed me for many years. However, what I learned most from her was that being kind to others costs a person absolutely nothing, except maybe a few moments of their time.