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"It's really cold," said Wayne as we boys huddled in a tight group. The temperature was down to around 38 degrees. That was unusual for this time of year. Jacksonville, Florida rarely ever got below 40 degrees, even in the winter months. Yet, here we were wearing short sleeve shirts and short pants.

The cement house, known to us as "Old Spanish House" was where we boys hid when we ran away from the orphanage. The long abandoned house was located about four or five blocks away from The Children's Home Society. The orphanage was located on the corner of Spring Park and San Diego Road.

"We have got to get some wood for a fire or we’re going to freeze to death," I told the other boys.

No one said a word. Each boy just sat shaking - six small orphan boys raging in ages from 6 to 10, all squatted down in a small circle, each shivering with teeth chattering and trying to stay as warm as possible.

"We've got to move around to stay warm," said Robert as he stood up and began to run in place.

One at a time, each of us boys stood up and began to copy Robert.

"I saw an old ladder by that house on the corner," I told the boys.

"Was it was made out of wood? Can we burn it for a fire?" asked Wayne.

"I think it was made out of wood. I’m pretty sure it was," I said.

"It's dark now. Let's go and look at it," said Robert.

The six of us headed out into the darkness to try to steal the ladder to use for firewood. Slowly, we weaved our way down the street, constantly looking for police cars and hiding in the large bushes that lined the roadway.

"There it is right there," I said in a whisper.

Sure enough, there it was - a large wooden ladder leaning against the side of a small brick house.

"It's gonna take two of us to carry it back to the Spanish house," said Wayne.

Robert and Wayne reached up to grab hold of the ladder. All at once, it began to slide down the side of the house. It made one hell of a racket as it hit the ground. All of us boys just stood still, too afraid to move.

"Whose out there?" yelled a man's voice.

All at once, there was a shot fired. Then another. The six of us started running as fast as we could back toward the Old Spanish House. When we arrived, we found little Billy Smith was missing.

"I wonder if Billy got shot?" said one of the boys.

No one said a word.

"Shhhh. I hear somebody coming," said Wayne.

Every one of us boys moved to the far corner of the room and huddled together in the corner.

"You boys come out here right now," said a man.

One at a time, we walked outside to see a man holding a flashlight in one hand and little Billy by the shirt collar with the other.

"I hear that you boys are cold," said the man.

"Yes sir," we said one after the other.

"Come with me and let's get some fire wood,” he said.

We followed him back over to his house where he gave us armloads of firewood. He then walked us back over to the Old Spanish House where he helped us build a fire out of leaves and pine straw.

"How come you gave us firewood after we tried to seal your ladder?" asked one of the boys.

"You boys are from ‘the home,’ aren't you?" he asked.

"Yes sir," we said one after the other.

"I ain't never been in no orphan home, but I've been locked up in a prison before. Same thing to me," he said.

"Then if you’re a bad prison man, how come you being good to us?" asked Billy Stroud.

"Cause I know what it's like to be locked up and treated like a dog," said the man.

"Did you kill somebody?" asked Wayne.

"I ain't never hurt nobody," said the man pointing his finger at Wayne.

"All of us boys are going to prison one day. That's what the matron told us," said Robert.

"Look! I know about you boys. Everyone in the neighborhood does. You kids need to stop running away and you need to stop this stealing. That's what will get you into prison," he told us.

"Have you got any food to eat?" asked little Billy Smith.

"You boys hungry?" he asked.

"Yes, sir" we said.

"Wait here and I'll be right back," he replied.

He got up from his seat on the ground and walked back toward his house. About 20 minutes later, he returned with peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, paper cups and a coffee pot full of Ovaltine. The man sat in the Old Spanish House with us all night long. We talked, told jokes and laughed for hours. He told us stories about what he had done when he was a kid. We could hardly believe that such a nice, kind man could have ever been in prison.

Throughout the years, we boys continued to run away from the orphanage. We continued to steal fruit and various food items wherever we could find it. Later on, many of the boys started stealing bicycles and BB guns. But I can tell you what we did not do. We never, ever stole from the yard or the home of anyone who had been kind to us. Their yards, homes and property were strictly off limits. That was the code we lived by.

I am not sure exactly what the lesson is here or if there is one. All I know is that we appreciated it when someone showed us kindness, so much that we would have gone hungry before we took fruit from the trees in their yards. That is the God’s truth.

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