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CAN YOU LAUGH FOR ME?



After returning from school, we boys changed out of our school clothes. Then we walked to the back of the dormitory building and grabbed one of the many rakes that leaned against the back of the white brick building. We then began the daily ritual of raking the pine straw and leaves, a never-ending task that was performed every day, seven days a week for almost nine years.

I stood doing nothing with my chin on the rake handle. I gazed out across the grounds as the many squirrels played and chased one another from tree to tree. My mind was thousands of miles away from this horrible, terrible orphanage. I am not exactly sure what I might have been daydreaming about, but whatever memories might have been captured in my little mind had to be only a dream of a better time and place.

"You had better rake or you won't get no supper time," said one of the boys.

I dropped my rake into the soft, sandy dirt and walked toward the six-foot high, chain-link fence that surrounded the orphanage. I placed my fingers through the holes in the fence and pressed my face against the rusting, silver wire.

I just stood in somewhat of a daze watching the kids who had parents gather on the baseball diamond near Spring Park Elementary School. I watched as the children ran around in a circle playing tag. Others were screaming and yelling, while some were laughing out loud.

"What makes kids want to laugh?" I thought as my little hands clutched the steel fence even tighter.

"I'm going back home tomorrow," said someone behind me.

I turned to see Tommy Jerigan standing with his little fat hands on his hips. Slowly, he walked up to the fence, placed his fingers through the holes and silently watched the kids playing on the other side of the fence.

"Will you still go to Spring Park School with us?" I asked.

"I don't know," he said.

"We had better rake, if we wanna eat tonight," said Tommy.

I shook my head and we headed back to where the other boys were still raking pine straw.

I watched Tommy as he worked. He loved making 'even' lines in the dirt with his rake. I could tell he was not excited about going back home. He had gone home many times before, but for some reason, he always returned to the orphanage.

The next morning, I helped Tommy get his few belongings together. Then I walked him to the end of the cement walk at the edge of our dormitory.

"Can you do me a favor when you get out?” I asked. “Can you run and laugh real loud for me, like those kids we saw yesterday?"

I pointed toward the schoolyard.

"I don't feel like laugh'n no more," he said.

I watched him as he walked across the grass circle located in the middle of the orphanage. Then he disappeared into the doorway of the orphanage office. That was the last time I ever saw or heard from him.



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