Thursday, January 20, 2011

Orphan Trains

Yesterday morning I was rushing around the house when I tossed a John Grisham paperback into my shoulder purse. We were heading out for my husband's 8 o'clock appointment to have his eyes examined.  Driving with dilated eyes is something neither of us care to do.

We arrived four minutes late.  I sat down in the waiting area.  Craving a cup of coffee to go with my book.  When I saw another waiting-wife go into the small room next to the reception area and come out with a cup of coffee, my heart made a somersault.  A Starbucks machine and a stack of Styrofoam coffee cups saved my day!  Considering the price of eyeglasses these days, a free cup of coffee is a good customer-relations gesture.

A mother with a 6-month-old baby girl, dressed in a pink sweatsuit, came in with her husband and joined three of us wives, all there for the same purpose.  Naturally, the baby immediately became the center of our attention, and the young mother willingly started sharing baby stories as she bounced her little girl on her knee.  I sipped my coffee and listened to the three women visit about the motherly frustrations involved with getting up every two hours with a newborn. 

Orphan Train
This motherly chit-chat turned serious when one lady started talking about the Orphan Trains in America.  Between 1854 and 1929, there were thousands of orphaned, abandoned, or homeless children living on the streets of New York City.  A couple of charitable organizations tried to help these children by transporting them on trains throughout the country and giving them away to families, some good and many not so good.  (

Listening to this pitiful story, I couldn't help but notice the young mother squeeze her little girl a little tighter and place a lingering kiss on the top of her head.  A few minutes later I understood why.  She herself had been a foster child and understood the plight of those homeless children.  She, too, had been given away several times when she was a little girl and knew what it was like to have to go and live with strangers.

The time went by fast, and before we knew it, our husbands were finished with their eye exams, putting on their jackets, and waiting for us to leave.  One wife reluctantly put on her winter coat and said, "This has been the most interesting coffee clutch, we should meet back here again tomorrow and continue our talk." 

It goes without saying that the Grisham novel stayed tucked away inside my purse.  I didn't need to read a drama.   A genuine one had just unfolded right next to me, and I couldn't help but think, "There isn't anyone you couldn't love once you've heard their story."  -Mary Lou Kownacki