Orphan Survival Stories Index |
ALL DRESSED UP
AND NOWHERE TO GO
"Excuse me. Do you have any work I could do to earn 50 cents?" I asked the large man standing in the doorway of the small shop.
"Why do you need 50 cents?" he asked.
"I want to buy some Krystal burgers to eat.”
"Why aren’t you in school this time of day," he asked scratching his head.
I just stood there and did not say a word.
"I've seen you around here several times before. You are one of those runaway kids from the orphanage over on the south side of town, ain't you?"
"I just don't like it there anymore," I replied.
"Don't they feed you at the orphanage?"
"Just bunches of slimy okra with a lot of hair on it, lots and lots of eggplant and a whole bunch of bread with peanut butter and jelly all mixed together," I explained.
"Don't they ever feed you children any meat?"
"Yeah, we got meat, but it’s got green-like things in it sometimes. It tastes very bad like too. I don't like to eat it," I said.
"How long have you been a runaway now?"
"Almost a week," I replied.
Where have you been staying?" he asked as he leaned up against the red brick building.
"Over at St John's River side in those old brick buildings by the water."
The man reached into his pocket and took out a pack of cigarettes.
"Can I have one of those?" I asked.
He reached out and handed me a cigarette.
"How old are you, boy?”
"Eleven," I said. "Have you ever gone fishing for real fish?"
I watched as he struck a match and lit his cigarette. Then he bent over and lit mine.
"How long have you been smoking cigarettes?"
"Ever since I was nine; almost two years now."
"You ever been fishing for real fish?" I asked again.
"Use to fish a lot when I was a kid. My daddy took me fishing all the time. I have been too busy the last few years to do any fishing."
He stood blowing smoke rings from his mouth.
"How can you do that?" I asked watching the rings come from his mouth one after the other.
"So you like to fish?"
"Never been real fishing, except in a goldfish pond near the orphanage. I got in bad trouble too. I got a bad beating with a bamboo stick," I said.
"Well, I have to close up now. You ever ate pork chops?" he asked.
"What's a pork chops?"
"Let me lock up and I'll feed you a meal you'll never forget," he said laughing aloud.
I followed him around as he locked up his small shop. Then he grabbed a pile of old newspapers off his desk. We walked around the building and I opened the passenger door to the old pick-up truck. I slid in beside him and folded my hands on my lap. As we drove along, he began to sing to himself. Within five minutes, we pulled up in front of a house that was near the hospital off Riverside Avenue. There was a large woman sitting on the front porch.
"You wait in the truck, until I motion for you to come up."
I nodded my head back and forth to let him know I understood. He talked with the woman on the porch and she looked over at me several times. Then he waved for me to come up on the porch.
"This is my wife, Judy and this is... hell, I don't even know your name," said the large man. "What's your name, boy?"
"Roger Dean Kiser. That is Roger Dean Kiser with an RDK. That's my initials," I told them.
They both laughed and then sat down on the porch swing. I sat down on the cement step and I watched as they talked with each other.
They let me stay at their home Friday, Saturday and Sunday. All three nights, I got to take a bath in a real bathtub. They even had yellow soap in a bottle to wash your hair. I slept in a great big bed all by myself and we ate food that I had never seen before.
On Saturday morning, the man took me fishing on his little boat and I caught a real fish for the very first time. When we got back to his house, his wife took me to the store and bought me a new set of clothes and a pair of cowboy boots. We looked all over for a cowboy hat, but we could not find one. When we got back to the house, the man gave me his old fishing hat to wear.
On Sunday, we got up early and went to church. I did not mind church at all. It was fun even though my butt hurt from the hard wooden seat.
When church was over, we ate a great big chicken with cornbread and thick gravy. After lunch, the man told me that he wanted to talk with me out on the front porch.
"You can't tell anyone you were here or I will get in serious trouble. Tomorrow, I will take you back to my shop and you need to go back to the children's home. You need to stay there and you need to go to school. That is very important. Do you understand?" he said sternly.
"Why can't I stay here and live with you?" I asked.
"It's against the law."
"But you ain't got nobody and I ain't got anybody."
"Look here, son. My wife is very sick and I have to work all the time. There is no way we can have children living here.”
All the wonderful feelings I had for three days seemed to disappear in an instant. I just sat with my head held down, eyes looking at the ground.
"Would you like to go to the movies?" he asked.
"No, sir," I said quietly.
We spoke very little for the remainder of the evening. We had chicken sandwiches for supper with iced tea that had sugar cubes inside.
The next morning when I got up, I put on my new clothes and boots, and then we ate breakfast. Without speaking, we started the drive back to his small shop. All at once, he pulled off to the side of the road.
"Before I drop you off is there anything you would like?" he asked.
"What would you like?" he asked again.
"Can I have my very own pack of cigarettes?"
He pulled back onto the road, drove about a block and then pulled into a gas station and got out of the truck.
"What kind of cigarettes do you smoke?"
"The White Parliaments with the recessed filters," I said.
I watched him as he purchased several packs of cigarettes. When he came back to the truck, he pitched them at me through his window.
Not a word was said as he and I drove back to his shop. When we arrived, we got out of the truck and walked to the front of the building. He kept looking down into my eyes as he searched out his keys.
"I hope you enjoyed your stay with us. You head on back to the orphan home and do not run away anymore. It is dangerous. You hear me?" he said.
"Thank you for the new pants and the new shirt. I really like them a lot," I said.
"My pleasure, boy. Now you go on back to the orphan home now."
I turned and started walking toward Riverside Avenue to see if I could find Robert and Wayne, the two boys who had run away with me. When I got to the old brick building where we usually stayed, they were not there. I began walking toward the city and when I reached the downtown area, I stopped in front of one of the shops. For the longest time, I just stood looking at my reflection in the store window.
"Hey, kid. Why aren't you in school?" said someone coming up from behind me.
When I looked up, it was a police officer. I knew at that moment, it was time to go back to the prison. As usual, I spent the next two weeks in the Juvenile Shelter, before I was taken back to the Children's Home Society Orphanage.
About three months later, I broke into the clothing room, stole my new clothes and ran away again. I searched for two days trying to find the man's house. All I could remember was that it was over by the hospital. When I did find the house, there was no one there.
"Can I help you?" asked the neighbor.
"I'm looking for the man and woman who live right here," I said pointing at the house.
"They no longer live there," the man said.
"Do you know where they went?"
"You related to them?"
"I don't know what that related means," I replied.
"Look here, boy. Judy died of cancer several months back and then old Carl… well, he shot himself a couple of days later."
I reached into my pocket, took out a cigarette and lit it with a match. When I opened my mouth to speak, a large smoke ring came out. I stood watching it as it circled around my head.
"It looks like you’re all dressed up with nowhere to go?" said the man.
I turned around and walked back to the orphanage. I did not run away again for more than a year. I did not have any place left to go.