Orphan Survival Stories Index |
I was walking down Market Street headed to the Krystal to get myself several hamburgers to eat.
"Can you spare a quarter?" asked the shaggily dressed man as I passed him by.
I just stood there wondering what I should do. I had just turned 15 years old and the juvenile judge had agreed to allow me to live out on my own. I now had my first real job cutting sheet metal at a small sheet metal shop over in Arlington. I also had a small room at a boarding house located down on Market Street in Jacksonville, Florida.
I had just been paid on Friday and had given the landlady $40 for my room rent for the next two weeks. That left me with about $25 to last me for food and bus transportation the remainder of the week.
"I ain't really got no money that I can spare," I told him.
"Can you spare a dime for a Krystal burger?" he asked.
"I'm going to Krystal," I said as I nodded my head forward. "I can buy you a Krystal burger when I get mine."
"Sure nice of you, kid," said the man.
He and I walked the block or so to the hamburger stand. I order six burgers, which came to 60 cents. I handed him two of the burgers as we sat down at one of the small tables.
"I can't afford no drink," I said.
"Why not," he asked.
"Cause I just got enough money to last me to eat on, until my payday again."
"Sure nice of you to share," he said as he reached over and patted me on the shoulder.
"I don't mind sharing with you," I responded.
"What are you going to do for tomorrow kid?" he asked.
"I'm gonna sit in my room at the boarding house, I guess. Maybe have another Krystal."
"Tomorrow is Christmas, kid. Ain't you got no family to have a big dinner with?" he asked.
"I ain't got no family. Just me. I live all by myself over at the rooming house. I got my own bed and a great big dresser and all," I said.
"That's nice that you got your own place."
I smiled real big like and took another big bite of my burger. I was rather proud that I had my own place and that no one from the orphanage could tell me what to do anymore. I was now free and all I ever wanted to do was to have some friends and be happy.
"You wanna go and stand by the fire for a little while. Just right down on Bay Street?" said the man.
I shook my head ‘yes’ and we left the Krystal. We walked the five or six blocks to the Trailways bus station. Then I followed him as he turned into one of the many alleys located in that part of town. Sure enough, there was a large fire in a 55-gallon barrel. There were five or six men standing around the drum trying to stay warm.
"This kid’s gonna eat Christmas with us tomorrow," said the man to those standing around the fire.
"You’re welcome to eat with us, if you like," said the man.
"Where you gonna eat at?" I asked one of the men.
"Right here. Gonna cook two turkeys over this here barrel. Got turkeys on ice right here in a cardboard box," said one of the men as he walked over, picked up the box and opened it for me to see.
"Those are not very big turkeys," I said as I looked inside.
"Small turkeys is all that we could afford," said one of the men.
I reached in the box and rolled one of the turkeys over.
"Can't nobody read here?" I asked.
All the men just shook their heads.
"This ain't no turkey. They’re game hens. That's what it says right here on the writing. They’re little game hens," I told them.
No one said a word as I placed the small birds back into the cardboard box.
"That's what we’re having for Christmas dinner," said the man.
"I gotta go now," I said as I walked down the alley headed back to my room on Market Street.
As I approached the rooming house, my landlady was sitting in a rocking chair on the small porch.
"Where can I get a cooked turkey?" I asked.
"Why in God’s name would you want a cooked turkey?" she asked.
"I've been invited to Christmas dinner tomorrow and all they got is two game hens to eat," I explained.
"Turkeys are expensive. They cost almost $1. More, if you get a large one," she said.
"But I need it cooked," I replied.
"Who are you eating dinner with?” she asked
"All those men down by the Trailways bus station," I said.
“There's nothing but bums hang around down in that area. You need to stay away from there.”
"But I've been invited to dinner," I replied.
"I'll tell you what. You buy the turkey and I'll cook it for you. Then you and I can eat dinner together. How about that?" she said.
"What kind of a store do I get a turkey at?" I asked.
"The super market. There's one about three blocks down Union Street," she said pointing behind herself.
I got up and headed off to the market. I purchased a large turkey and brought it back to the rooming house. Then I gave it to the landlady and I went to my room for the night.
The next morning when I arose, I could smell turkey cooking as I walked down the hallway to go to the bathroom. About 10 o'clock, the landlady knocked on my door and told me that Christmas dinner was ready. I went to her room and there was the turkey, golden brown, sitting in the middle of her table. After saying grace, we ate until we could eat no more.
"What are we gonna do with the rest of that turkey?" I asked.
"It's your turkey. You can do with it what you want, but just remember; no food in the rooms," she said.
"Can I take the rest of it to my friend by the Trailways?" I asked.
After everything was packed up into a large bag, I headed toward the bus station, walking as fast as I could. When I turned into the alley, I stopped dead in my tracks. There was no one to be found. The barrel had been tipped over on its side and it was cold. I turned around and very slowly I walked back to the boarding house. I sat alone in my room, just as I had done in the orphanage for the past nine years.
I was now free of the orphanage. Free of their abuses and free of the years of loneliness. For the first time in my life, I was free to be happy. Yet there I sat, all alone in my room - a free little boy picking on turkey bones. Sitting there on the edge of my bed on my first free Christmas Day, I had not the slightest idea of how to be happy.