One Lonely Little Boy

One Lonely Little Boy

From Chicken Soup for the Grandma's Soul

One Lonely Little Boy

You save an old man and you save a unit; but you save a boy, and you save a multiplication table.

“Gipsy” Smith

When I was twelve years old I was locked up in juvenile hall after being released from a Florida reform school. I refused to return to the Children’s Home Society where I was raised. I was never going back to that orphanage, even if I had to spend the rest of my life locked up in a small cage at juvenile hall.

I had been there for several months, and I had flatly refused even to walk out the front door to help them clean up the streets for fear they would take me back to that awful orphanage.

It was a Wednesday morning, and a man named Burt who worked for the court came into my cell and asked me if I wanted to go somewhere special for Thanksgiving dinner. I told him that I did not want to go outside of the juvenile shelter. I liked Burt because he was a nice man. Burt’s brother had written a song, which they played on the radio, called “The Lion Sleeps Tonight.”

Burt kept going on and on about Thanksgiving dinner and how a kid should not be locked up on Thanksgiving. So I finally told him that I would go.

The day before Thanksgiving, 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.

Mrs. Usher and I walked out of the juvenile hall together and got into her car and drove to her house. As we walked in I was really surprised at what I saw. Her house was really small inside. Not like the big dormitory house that I had lived in at the orphanage—you could sleep thirty or forty people in our house at the orphanage. I was even more 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 I did not know that regular people only had one toilet and one sink in their bathroom. That is one of the hazards of being raised in an orphanage—you never get to see what life is like in the real world. Then one day the orphanage shoves you out and everyone treats you like you are an idiot. They think you are stupid because you do not know anything about real life outside the orphanage.

Wednesday afternoon and evening were very difficult for me. I wanted so badly just to get out of there and go back to my cage at the juvenile hall. There must have been fifty people going in and out of that house, each doing this and that, all getting ready for that big Thanksgiving Day 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 are a kid. I hardly moved an inch because I was so scared. I never got out of my chair, nor did I move in any direction until almost all those people were gone late that afternoon. Mrs. Usher came into the living room and asked me if I wanted a bottle of Coke. I told her thank you, but that I did not care for anything. I wanted that Coke real, real bad, too. But I was just too scared to take it. I thought about that Coke all day long, and how good it would have tasted.

Late that night, when everyone was asleep, I snuck into the kitchen real slow and quiet-like, and I took a cold Coca-Cola out of the refrigerator. I drank it real fast, in about five seconds, and then hid the bottle cap behind the refrigerator. After that I warmed the cold bottle against my stomach so it would be warm like the other bottles, then put it in the bottle carton so no one would ever know I drank it.

The next day was almost as unbearable for me as the first day, all because of the strange people coming for the big dinner. I would rather have died than to have gone through such a horrible experience as that dinner. All those big, strange people laughing and joking and making all kinds of noise. I had never been so embarrassed and so scared in all my life, and that is the God’s truth. Not scared like being scared of the dark—scared in a different kind of way. I cannot 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 and we talked for hours and hours. She was a real nice lady. I had never once just sat and talked with anyone in my whole life. It was my first “nice and slow time,” as she called it, and I really liked it.

I will never forget her kindness and her warm smile. But what I could not understand was why she was doing all of this for me. It was very difficult for me to understand why anyone would be kind to me. So I kept one eye on her all the time.

Mrs. Usher got up from her chair and went into the kitchen. She returned with 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 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.

While I was in the bedroom packing 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 had done that was so bad that I had to be sent back there. They told her that I had done nothing wrong, but they had nowhere else to put me. I heard her get very mad at them and tell them that she was not going to bring me back to the juvenile hall to be “locked up again like an animal.”

God knows I loved that woman for saying that! That was the most wonderful thing anyone ever did for me as a child. That, of all the things in my life, was the one thing that made me want to become somebody someday. That one little sentence was the small and only light that guided my life for the next forty-five years.

I stayed there with Mrs. Usher for several weeks, and then I turned thirteen and left to go out on my own. I continued to see the Usher family on and off for the next twenty or thirty years, until their deaths. I know they wanted to adopt me. But when it was discussed I told Grandma Usher that it was too late for me. She placed her hands over her face and cried. I told her, “I have to make it on my own now, ’cause I’m a man.”

I just wish that I could have shown her how much I really loved her, but I did not know how to show love. I didn’t even know what love meant or what it felt like.

Grandma Usher is now in heaven. I hope she knows how much I love and respect her. I think she knows how much she added to the life of one lonely little boy that nobody else in the world wanted by teaching me “nice and slow time” . . . and love.

Roger Kiser

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