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Monday, November 30, 2009

My Life in St. Anne's Orphanage--Part Four

(This is the fourth part of a continuing story of my two week interruption of childhood at St. Anne's Orphanage, Worcester, Massachusetts.) It wasn't all " life by the numbers" so to speak;that is, corn flakes, march, march, "the catatonic shuffle", sew the mattresses, "clack clack, the sea of bunk beds. If I had to go to the bathroom at night, I would look over to the lady in black sitting under the dim light and think, "Well, I could get up. But, what would she do then?" "I could walk over to her, but I would never be able to find my way back to my bed in the dark, so I better just forget about it and go to sleep." Also, she might start waving her arms at me again! I also used to lie awake and wonder what they ever did with Jeanny Benoit and all the other girls. It couldn't be that there were only boy orphans, could there? I NEVER saw Jeanny nor ANY girl the entire two weeks that I was there. Where they hid the girls I will never know.
However, by midweek I did get my one and only ORANGE! Jeanny, if you ever became a nun and you read this, I know you did not lie to me. They really did give oranges to kids at St. Anne's Orphanage. (It's a long time ago now, but I think they had seeds in them. ( In fact, I don't think the seedless orange was invented yet.) This is how I got my orange: It was about midweek. We had finished sewing some mattresses and they probably ran out of rags or something because we were lined up and marched out to a field with what I could recognize as a baseball diamond carved into it. I remember playing the outfield and if one of the kids hit a flyball you had to keep your eye carefully on the ball if it fell on the ground because the grass was rather high and it was easy to lose the ball, but I didn't care one bit. It sure beat sewing mattresses....and when I came in from my stint in the outfield..there it was...THAT BEAUTIFUL ORANGE, Jeanny or Sister Jeanny, probably of the Sisters of Saint Josephs! I savored every segment and spit out the seeds, but what a PRICE! That was the most expensive orange of all time. A price can not be put on it. I wish now that I could have waxed it or put it in a glass case and preserved it. It is possible that at the time I might have wanted to stuff Jeanny....and my mother...with a few of those oranges but the moment passed.... I don't remember who won the game.
I do remember one other athletic contest at St Anne's very well though because I won the contest. It was also outdoors and it was a swimming contest. It is strange but after all these years I still remember the names of three boys that I competed against in a swimming race. These boys were REAL orphans and their last name was BULLARD. The thing that made them stand out was the fact that they were triplets. After I won the race, we became friends for the rest of the few days that I stayed at the orphanage. I was not sad to leave that place, far from it, but I was sad to leave my three new friends. I thought that I was leaving there but they would be there until they were adopted or grew into adulthood. Years later as a teacher teaching GED preparation (I was not always teaching English as a Second Language) I had a young lady in class whose last name was BULLARD. I asked her if her father had two brothers and was a triplet. I did not tell her why I was asking, but she apparently did not know the answer. She went home and asked. She came back and told me, "Yes." I simply said that I knew someone one time by that name. I did not pursue it with the young lady nor did that one brother. I think I did the right thing to just leave it there.
I am almost at the end of the week. I had almost forgotten what it was like to sleep in my own bed. I didn't know it at the time, but the training I was getting was excellent introductory training for the Army. The last adventure I can recall was the one with those hogs! You know, everybody thinks nuns are delicate creatures. Forget it. They can raise the biggest HOGS you ever saw! As a city kid, I had never seen a HOG. I don't know what they did with these hogs. You cannot milk a hog, but they kept them in a pen with a fence around it. Well, let me tell you what happened: late in the week, probably Friday or Saturday,(I was scheduled to go home on Sunday and I was counting the hours!) somehow these HUGE HOGS ESCAPED INTO THE WOODS AROUND THE ORPHANAGE. Well, the nuns were in a panic. They got all the kids out and handed each of us a two by four piece of wood that was about as big as I was. Now you must remember that I was a litle skinny kid weighing about 75 pounds soaking wet; it was about 7:30P.M on a July summer evening and just starting to get dark and here I was out in the woods with a two by four listening to the God awful "OINK OINK" of these HUGE HOGS roaming the woods and the nuns screaming. Suddenly there he was right in front of me about 30 yard.....the BIGGEST HOG YOU EVER SAW! He came crashing through the trees straight at me!! I was scared out of my mind as I looked into those mean eyes. I can see him right now....Just as he was going to trample me into human sausage, I stepped aside a WHACKED HIM ON THE DERRIERE as he crashed by. This sort of gave me courage and I chased along after him. One way or another the nuns and all the kids corraled those hogs back into the pen and our work was done for the night. When my own children were small and we went to visit an animal farm, I think back with fondness about the hogs of St. Anne's Orphanage.
Sunday night FINALLY came. I finally came together again with that little cardboard suitcase my mother had given me two weeks previous when she faked her trip to the hospital. Now I anxiously awaited her arrival to take me home. I had secretly made my goodbyes already. I had said goodbye to the Blessed Virgin in the "catatonic shuffle" room on Saturday morning (No shuffle on Sundays), a secret goodbye to that lovely nun who poured the sugared milk each morning, another one to "clack clack", and to the lady in the chair at night who gave hand signals, another goodbye to the three Bullard boys, and good riddance to the tasks of sewing mattresses,and chasing hogs. I thought of all those things as I waited for my mother and then there she was. After a few formalities she took me by the hand and we started out the door. I turned around and took one last look and there was that nun, the one in charge whom I met the first night, with that "Mona Lisa look" on her face. It seemed as though she might be thinking, "WHAT DO YOU THINK, YOU'RE GOING TO GET AN ORANGE FOR NOTHING? DON'T YOU KNOW THERE'S A WAR ON?

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