Orphan Survival Stories Index |
THIS HERE MONEY
I had just turned fourteen and I was living under the direction of the juvenile court, in a small boarding house on Market Street in downtown Jacksonville, Florida.
On the way home from my job at Murphy's Heating and Sheet Metal Shop, I happened upon a small wood frame house that was in full flames. Standing out in the street was a woman; her arms wrapped around three small children. Next to her was a man who was down on his knees, his hands covering his face as though he were crying. Within minutes, the fire trucks began to arrive and people were running in every direction. I just stood watching as the small wooden house finally collapsed in on itself.
"Do you live here?" a police officer asked me.
"No Sir. I think that woman and that man live here," I told him as I pointed at the couple.
The police officer walked over and began to question the family.
Within thirty minutes, the fire was out, and there was nothing left of the house except a smoldering pile of embers.
"What's we gonna do?" the woman asked the man, as she too began to cry.
The man just stood there shaking his head back and forth.
"We got nowhere to go,” the woman yelled out at her children, as she began hugging them.
"I got this here room at the rooming house. You can stay there for tonight. I'm sure it will be alright," I told them.
The woman said something to the man and within several minutes, the six of us were walking towards my rooming house. When we arrived, my landlady was standing out on the front porch. As we walked up onto the deck I could see from the look in the landlord’s eyes that something was not right. She told the family to sit down on the wooden chairs, and she asked me to come with her.
As we walked down the hallway, I explained to her that the family had nowhere to go, that their house had burnt down, and they would have to sleep outside in the cold.
"There is no way that they can stay here. Those people are Negroes. Can't you see that, young man?"
"But they got nowhere to go."
"That's not my problem; and it's certainly not your problem."
"But what are they going to do?" I inquired.
"Look at me," she said, cocking her head to one side. "It's not your problem and there is nothing that we can do for them. Now you go out there and you tell those people that they will have to leave the premises, immediately!" she continued.
Slowly I turned around and I started walking back down the hallway. That was the longest walk I ever had to travel. Half way down the hallway, I stopped and I looked back at her.
"Come here for a minute," she told me.
I followed her to the door leading into her room. I stood outside while she went in. Several minutes later, she returned and handed me five dollars.
"Give this to that family and tell them that is the best we can do.”
"Can I see if anyone else will give a little money?" I asked.
"Just this one time, but don't you be doing this anymore. Ok?”
"Ok." I said as I smiled back at her.
As fast as I could I traveled from door to door telling the story of the family who had lost everything. Out of twenty-eight rooms, I raised almost sixty dollars. When I had finished I walked back to the landlady’s room and I showed her the money.
"I am really surprised."
She stood there shaking her head back and forth.
"You see there was something that we could do. All we had to do is keep trying real hard." I told her.
"You are something else, Roger Kiser!"
I walked back to the front porch and I explained that it was against the rules for me to allow anyone to stay in my room.
"There ain't any black people live here, so all this here money came from white people. They all feel real bad that you ain't got no place to go," I told them, as I held out the handful of money.
"Everyone who lives here gave money?" asked the man.
"Everyone that was home, and in their rooms."
"Can you tell them that they get a free shoe shine if they come down to the Trailways Bus Station?"
As far as I know, no one ever went to the Trailways Bus Station to collect on that free shoeshine, including myself. However, two years later I had joined the Army and returned to Jacksonville from basic training at Fort Gordon Georgia. When I walked into the bus station, I saw a man shinning shoes. I walked over and sat down in one of the three chairs, and placed my feet up into the stirrups. The man said not a word as he shinned my shoes to a glow. After he was done, I got down from the chair and I held out a dollar bill.
"Don't guess you want that free shine, Mr. Roger?" asked the man.
It took me several seconds before I recognized the gentleman. I slowly stepped down from the high bench-seat and he and I hugged one another.
"I would be honored to have a free shine." I told him.