Orphan Survival Stories Index |
SPEECH TO SAVANNAH 4H CLUB (02-13-06)
I thank you for inviting me to speak. I hope the stories, and the message that I bring with me today will mean something to you long after I leave.
"Silt, Colorado!" hollered the Greyhound bus driver as he pulled off to the side of the road. I grabbed my small bag and climbed off the bus. At the side of the road was a large man, who was standing beside an old army jeep.
"Are you Roger Kiser?" he asked.
"Yes, sir," I replied.
"My name is Owen Boulton. I own the Rainbow K Ranch," he said as he stuck out his hand to shake mine.
The Juvenile Judge in Florida had sent me to Colorado to work on a ranch. It was a program set up to help troubled teenagers. Within a week I became a full fledge cowboy. I was assigned a large horse named Brownie and was given a full outfit of western wear as well as a list of duties, which started at around four o'clock each morning.
Things went rather well for the first couple of months. We worked from 4 a.m. until 6 p.m., seven days a week. We bailed hay, branded cattle, collected chicken eggs, mended fences and shoveled cow manure. It was a never-ending job. The best part was my horse, Brownie. I guess she had been given that name because she was brown in color. In addition to my other chores, it was my job to care for her. I fed, bathed and brushed her down on a daily basis.
Every morning, when I came out to collect the eggs from the chicken coop, she was waiting for me by the gate. I would walk over and pet her on her side. She would toss her head backward and make a strange sound, like she was blowing through her lips. Slobber flew everywhere.
"I bet you could sure whistle loud, if you had some hands," I told her.
She stomped her feet and turned around in a circle. I cannot think of any person or any thing that I loved when I was a young boy, but that horse was one thing I would have died for.
After we ranch hands ate our breakfast, I was told that I would have to go with several of the older men and repair fences up on the northern range. We loaded the jeep with fencing materials and tools, and off we went. It was almost 7 p.m. when we got back to the ranch. As we drove up to the barn, I saw about 20 ranch hands sitting around in a circle. I got out of the jeep and walked toward them.
"What's going on?" I asked.
"It's your horse, Brownie. She's dead," said one of the men.
Slowly, I walked up to where Brownie was lying in the corral. I bent down and petted her on her side. It took everything I had to keep from crying in front of all those men. All at once, the corral gate opened and Mr. Boulton came riding in on an old tractor. He began scooping out a large hole right next to Brownie.
"What's he going to do?" I yelled.
"We always bury the horses right where they drop," said one of the ranch hands.
I stood to the side while he dug the hole for Brownie. I wiped the tears as they rolled down my cheeks. I will never forget that feeling of sadness for as long as I live.
When the hole was dug, the men stood back so Brownie could be moved into the large hole. Mr. Boulton lowered the large tractor scoop and moved toward Brownie.
"Please, Mr. Boulton! Please don't move Brownie with that tractor bucket. You'll cut her and mess her up!" I yelled.
I ran in front of the tractor waiving my hands and arms in the air.
"Look here, boy," said Mr. Boulton. "We have no choice but to do this when a horse dies. She is just too heavy to move by hand."
"I'll get her in the hole. I swear I will, Mr. Owen, sir," I screamed.
I ran over to Brownie and pushed on her head as hard as I could, but she barely moved. I pushed and pushed as hard as I could, but her body was just too heavy. Nothing I tried would move her any closer toward the hole. Finally, I stopped and I just lied there in the dirt with my head resting against Brownie's side.
"Please don't use that bucket scoop on Brownie," I said over and over again.
One at a time, the ranch hands got down off their horses. Each positioned himself around the large brown horse and they began to push and pull with all their might. Inch by inch, Brownie moved toward the large hole in the ground. All at once, she slid downhill. I raised her head as best I could so that her face would not scar. The next thing I knew, I was being pulled down into the hole.
Suddenly, everything went totally silent. I just sat there at the bottom of the hole with Brownie's head resting on my lap. Dust and dirt was settling all around me. Slowly, I got to my feet and placed her head flat on the ground. Then I positioned each of her legs so they were straight. I removed my western shirt and placed it over her face so that dirt would not get into her eyes.
Then I stood there crying, as my best friend was covered with dirt. Most of that night, I stayed in the barn cleaning Brownie's stall. I cried until I could cry no more. I guess I was just too embarrassed to go back to the bunkhouse with the rest of the ranch hands.
Early the next morning, I walked back to the bunkhouse to shower and change clothes before going out to collect the eggs. As I entered the small, wooden house, the ranch hands were up and getting dressed. Lying on my bunk was $8 and some change. On a match book cover was written, "Buy yourself a new western shirt."
When I looked up, all the men were smiling at me. One of them said, "You may be a city boy, R.D., but you definitely have the heart that it takes to be a real, honest to goodness cowboy."
I wiped my swollen red eyes and smiled real proud like.
WHO REALLY CARES? I sat there watching her as she read the local newspaper. I in a chair and her on the antique couch in her living-room.
I was not sure why I was even there. Who were these people anyway? Why would someone invite a total stranger into their home and give them food and a place to sleep? It was true that I was just a kid. But still that made no difference. They were still strangers to me. There had to be a catch somewhere. There had to be something in it for them. No one is kind to someone else for no reason at all.
I would glance at the television and then once in a while I would look back at her face. I watched as she read and changed the expressions on her face. All at once I noticed tears running down her cheeks.
"Are you ok?" I asked.
She reached over and she picked up a tissue. She wiped her eyes and then she looked directly at me.
"I was just reading an article. It said that four teenagers were killed today in an automobile accident over on University Boulevard."
"But why would you cry for them? You don't even know them."
"I cry for them because they lost their lives at such a young age," she explained.
"I ain't never cried for nobody, ’course I ain't never known nobody that died before either."
She put the newspaper down. Then she sat up onto the edge of the couch and she looked directly into my eyes.
"I was told by the juvenile authorities that you are a bit of a hard-nosed boy. Is that true?" she asked.
"I guess. I don't know."
"I don't think that it is true at all," she said. "I can tell that just by looking into your face and your eyes. The truth of the matter is that you do not know how to feel about certain things." She continued.
I just sat there not having the slightest idea of what to say back to her. She just sat there staring at me. I looked down at the carpet and then I turned my head and I began to watch the television.
"Let me get us a coca cola and let's go out on the front porch," she said, as she got up from the couch.
I really didn't want to go out onto the front porch. I knew that I would be asked a bunch of dumb questions; questions that I could not answer. I just wanted to be left alone until I was returned to the juvenile shelter the next morning. Nevertheless, I got up and walked out onto the porch. I stood there waiting for her to return.
The next thing I knew it was almost four in the morning. She and I had talked for almost five hours. I don't really remember what all was said. I do remember her hugging me and my body going limp, my arms to my sides. I did not know how to react to someone hugging me. I had never felt such a strange thing before. I lay in bed all night feeling numb and confused. I think I tried to cry but I just couldn't.
My life continued to spiral out of control for many years after that. I made my way to the reform school, jail and then on to prison at age twenty-one. I walked out of prison on February 6th, 1969, at age twenty-four, never to get in trouble again. That's been thirty-seven years ago this last February.
Whatever I have accomplished in my life is due to that stranger putting her arms around a very confused juvenile delinquent. A stranger who took the time to make me feel that I had a worth. Someone who made me feel that I was worth talking to. That I was worth my own bottle of coca cola.
It is amazing how much money the county and state probably spent on unwanted children like me. That woman accomplished more in five hours than did the state in fourteen years. All for the price of a bottle of coca cola and a free hug.
After I was released from the Florida School for Boys at Marianna (reform school), I was locked up in the juvenile hall for months. I refused to ever return to the Children's Home Society. I was not going to return to that orphanage, even if I had to spend the rest of my life locked in a small cage. I flatly refused to even walk out the front door of the juvenile hall to help them clean up the streets, for fear they would take me back to that awful orphanage.
It was a Wednesday morning when a man named Burt, who worked for the court, came into my caged cell and asked if I wanted to go somewhere special for Thanksgiving dinner. I told him that I did not want to go outside the juvenile shelter. I liked Burt, because he was a nice man. Burt's brother had made a song, which they played on the radio called ‘The Lion Sleeps Tonight.’ Burt kept on and on about that dinner and how a kid should not be locked up on Thanksgiving, so I finally told him that I would go.
Later that afternoon, an older woman came to the shelter. She talked with me for about ten minutes. She told me that she wanted to take me to her house for Thanksgiving. She also said that no child should be locked up in a cage. Before we left, I made her promise that she would bring me back the very next day. She and I walked out of the juvenile hall together and drove to her home. As we walked into the house, I was surprised at what I saw. It was really small. Not like the big dormitory house that I lived in at the orphanage. You could sleep thirty or forty people in our house at the orphanage.
I was really surprised when I went to their bathroom. I saw right away that they were not rich at all. They only had one toilet and one sink in their bathroom! They were really poor and they did not even know it. Of course, I had never been in a regular house before and did not know that regular people only had one toilet and sink in their bathrooms. That is one of the hazards of being raised in an orphanage. You never get to see what life is really like in the ‘real world.’ Then one day, the orphanage shoves you out and everyone treats you like you are an idiot. They think that you are stupid, because you don’t know anything about life outside of the orphanage.
Wednesday afternoon and evening were very difficult on me. I wanted so badly just to get out of there and be back in my cage. There must have been fifty people going in and out of that house. They were each doing this and that, getting ready for that big Thanksgiving dinner the next day. I was really scared, too. I didn't like people very much, especially grown people. They can do some really bad things to you when you’re a kid. I hardly moved an inch, because I was so scared. I never moved out of the chair, nor did I move in any direction, until almost all those people were gone later that evening.
Earlier that day; Mrs. Usher, the lady who brought me to her house, came into the living room and asked if I wanted to have a Coke in the small bottle. I told her "thank you," but that I did not care for anything. I wanted that Coke really bad, but was just too scared to take it. I thought about that Coke Cola all day and how good it would have tasted. Late that night when everyone was asleep, I snuck into the kitchen really slow and quiet like, and took a cold Coca Cola out of the refrigerator. I drank it real fast, in about five seconds and hid the bottle cap behind the refrigerator. After that, I pressed the cold bottle against my stomach, so it would be warm like the other ones in the carton. Then I put it in the paper case, so no one would ever know I drank it. Even after forty-five years, no one ever found out that I drank that coke.
The next day was almost as unbearable for me as the first, because of the strange people coming for the big dinner. I would have rather died than gone through such a horrible experience. All those big, strange people were laughing, joking and making all kinds of noise. I have never been so embarrassed and so scared in all my life, and that is the God’s honest truth. Not scared like being scared of the dark - scared in a different kind of way. I can’t explain it, not even to myself. I hardly ate anything that day, even though I had never seen so much food in all my life. I sure was glad when it was finally over.
Later that night after everyone else had gone to bed, Mrs. Usher took me out onto her front porch. We talked for hours and hours. She was a real nice lady. I think I was about twelve years old at that time. I had never once sat and talked with anyone before that in my whole life. It was my first ‘nice and slow time’ and I really liked it.
I will never forget her kindness and her warm smile. But what I could not understand was why she did all of this for me? Why would anyone be kind to me? So I always kept one eye on her all the time.
Mrs. Usher got up from her chair and went into the kitchen. When she returned, she brought a small bottle of Coke for each of us. She smiled and handed one to me. I will never forget that either. That was the best Coke I ever drank in my whole entire life.
The next morning, we ate some breakfast together. Then she told me to go into the bedroom and get my things together, so she could take me back to the juvenile hall like she promised. When I was in the bedroom getting my things together, I heard her in the hallway talking on the telephone to the authorities. She asked them why I was being sent back to the reform school. She wanted to know what I did that was so bad that I had to be sent back there. They told her that I did nothing wrong, but they had nowhere else to put me. I heard her get very mad at them and tell them she was not going to bring me back to the juvenile hall to be locked up again like an animal.
GOD KNOWS THAT I LOVED THAT WOMAN FOR SAYING THAT!
That was the most wonderful thing that anyone ever did for me as a child. That, of all the things in my life, is the one thing that made me want to become somebody someday. I thank you so very much, you loving, kind and wonderful woman. That one little sentence that came out of her mouth was the small and only light that guided my life for the next 45 years.
I stayed there for several weeks, then left to go out on my own at the age of thirteen. I continued to see the Usher family on and off for the next 20 or 30 years, until their deaths. I know they would have adopted me. But when it was discussed, I told Mrs. Usher that it was too late for me. She placed her hands over her face and cried.
I told her I had to ‘make it on my own now,’ 'cause I was a man.
I just wish that I could have shown her how much I really loved her before she died. But I didn’t know how to show love. I didn't even know what love meant or what it felt like. Mom, now that you are in heaven, I hope you know how much I love and respect you. I hope that you know how much you added to the life of one lonely, little boy that nobody else in the world wanted.
I read you these stories because I want you to know what it is like for children who have no home and no parents. Never once, until Mrs. Usher, did anyone ever hug me. Not once did I ever go to the mall or even to the store. Not one time did I walk to a refrigerator, open it and make myself a sandwich. Never once did I own a pair of pants or a shirt that belonged to me. No radio, no cds no movies, no mail, no letters, no telephone. NO NOTHING. The only thing I ever owned was a rock that I found while digging in the ground at the orphanage. That I gave to a girl in my class as a Valentine gift. It was the only thing I ever owned as a child. I located her several months back. She still lives in Jacksonville, Florida. She has kept that rock now for forty-five years.
BRAINS AND BRAWN
It was strange to us how we kids from the orphanage were always the last to be picked when it came to any type of a game at school - baseball, football and even dodge ball. It didn't seem to make a difference if we were tall or short, thin or fat, or fast or slow. The fact that we came from the orphanage appeared to be all that mattered to those who did the choosing.
I am not sure what came over me the day the teacher picked me to be one of the captains of the dodge ball team. I was rather shocked, as even the teacher treated us as though we were different from the other kids. This time, my team was going to win. I knew who was the fastest and who had the best aim. This was the day I was going to become the winner. As we gathered in a group on the school ground, the teacher flipped a coin to see who would be the first to pick.
"Heads," yelled Mrs. Cherry, my Grade 4 teacher.
I smiled, as I was the one who had picked heads. I am not sure what came over me at that moment. Winning the game did not seem so important to me now. I looked around the large group of boys and my eyes stopped at Jeffrey. He was slow and weighed a whopping 98 pounds.
"JEFFREY!" I yelled as I pointed at him.
He looked up in total shock as he began to move his massive body toward me.
"You picked me?" he asked.
I reached over and patted him on the back.
My next pick was Leonard. He was a small boy, who wore black, thick-rimmed glasses and never combed his hair. He was the quiet type and was not liked by very many of the popular kids. He was without a doubt, the brain of the class. The remainder of my picks were kids I knew from the orphanage or kids, who were always the last to be picked - kids that never got to play, because of the teams being uneven.
"He picked a bunch of losers. Were gonna win without even trying," said the captain of the other team.
"We’re gonna lose," said Jeffrey as our team huddled in a tight circle.
"Of course, we’re gonna lose," I told them.
"Then why did you pick me?" asked Jeffrey.
"And why did you pick me? I can't see without my glasses," said Leonard.
As the game started, I made sure Jeffrey stood behind the ones of us who were faster. That way, he could get out of the way of the ball before it reached him. I made sure that my team did not stay in the center of the circle. We moved around the circle, rather than across the circle. That seemed to give us a big advantage.
The ball was thrown five or six times, before Robert was hit and another five or six times, before the ball hit Wayne. One at a time, my team members were hit and fell out. They hit us with the ball as hard as they could, slamming the ball against our backs when we could not get out of the way. Their team laughed and mocked us the entire time. Soon it was down to just Jeffrey and I.
"I can't believe it’s just you and me," said Jeffrey panting as hard as he could.
"Just stay behind me," I said.
"Get that fat Jeffrey kid," yelled one of their team members.
They threw the ball ten or more times without hitting either one of us. The harder they threw, the more they missed and the madder they seemed to get.
"Okay, that's enough. You’re getting too rough," yelled Mrs. Cherry.
I will never forget the look on Jeffrey's face when the game ended. He could hardly believe that he had made it that far. When Jeffrey and I went to the bathroom to wash up, he had tears in his eyes.
"You made me feel good by picking me first," he said as he stood crying over the sink.
I learned a very good lesson that day. We were just a bunch of kids, who were not popular at all. Earlier that morning, Mrs. Cherry had talked to us about ‘brains’ and ‘brawn.’ She told us that if we were to succeed in life, we had to learn to use all of our skills and that we had to work together as a team. I just wanted to see if the teacher knew what she was talking about.
I am going to close on a rather harsh note, mainly because I feel this is an important issue. I was speaking at the Kiwanis Convention in Jacksonville, Florida when someone asked me if I might know why some children go off the deep end, sometimes hurting and possibly killing other human beings, such as in many of the school shootings?
I am going to tell you exactly what I told them. I’m going to tell you the one story that was not reported.
As those two boys at Columbine walked around randomly shooting the students; one boy ducked down behind one of the tables.
“Who’s that?” yelled out one of the shooters.”
“It’s me,” said one boy, as he stood up, shaking all over.
“Get your ass out of here,” yelled the shooter.
The boy ran out of the room to safety.
Why did he not shoot this boy?
The reason he did not shoot this young man was because he had spoken kindly to him, in the hallway, just the day before.
What does this story tell us and does it give us the answer to the problem? Yes it does.
For some strange reason adults always try and figure out why someone did something.
Many children do not have a reason to do what they did. The problem is that they feel they do not have a reason not to do it. The shooter did not shoot the boy because he found a reason not to shoot him. That reason being the boy was kind to him the day before.
We are human beings have become selfish and greedy, and for some strange reason, we have to make others look even smaller than ourselves in order to make ourselves look even bigger. We have to make ourselves so much prettier than everyone else so that others will look even uglier, just so that we will be noticed above the crowd.
Oh, how much we humans still have to learn about love, respect, kindness and being considerate of our fellowman. I hope we learn that lesson before receiving enough knowledge to leave this earth behind - venturing outward toward the heavens and end up spreading that selfish disease throughout the entire universe.
It costs nothing to be good, kind and respectful to others. Much of our time as young adults is spent trying to impress others and to make others think that we are important and that we are special. When all is said and done and if there is no one left to see how special and important you are. You will no longer have a meaning; therefore you will not be important and you will certainly not be special.