Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Allerton - My Mom's Story

My mother, Laura Gray Thompson, who was born in 1917 in the little town of Allerton, Illinois was a bright and essentially self-educated woman. When I started college in 1964, my mother expressed regret for not attending college. I suggested that she could start college at that time. She did begin taking classes at the newly built campus of Indiana-Purdue University in Fort Wayne. Eventually, she earned both a bachelor's and a master's degree in English. Even before her college days, my mother was a great story teller. The following story written for one of her graduate level classes retells her childhood experience with the Orphan Train.


“Get up, get, Ida! It’s today! It’s today! Dancing around the bed of the older girl was a tiny tousled haired girl of four, clutching a small gray flannel elephant against her worn nightie. Soon Ida was scrubbing the little face, brushing the coal black and shiny hair, buttoning the little pearl buttons down the back of the starched blue and white checked gingham smack, with the matching blue and white checked bloomers. Away they went, the strange pair, the big, heavy, slow girl in her limp and faded blue dress plodding along and the little girl in her crisp smock darting ahead now scuffling through the dusty road, now running through the grass along the edge. Clackety-clack went her stick in her hand against Grandma Miller’s white picket fence that enclosed an English garden, redolent of sage and lavender, fragrant with roses. Clankety-clank went the stick against the iron fence around Rachel’s big house, with the iron deer in the big yard glowering out at the passersby.

It was because of Rachel that today was to be such a glorious one. Rachel was a big girl, bigger than Ida, though not fat big, just old big. Rachel had gone away to school and now worked for a funny old lady in a place called “Hull House.” When the morning train came in, Rachel would be on it, and greatest of all, so would children from the “Hull House”. And everyone was going to get one to take home for their very own for two whole weeks. Mothers and Fathers said that it was to fatten them up on good country cooking and to show them the grass and trees and flowers and everything that didn’t grow in the city. In the city, the roads were hard, not this lovely dust that squooshed up between your toes. But Tot knew that wasn’t the reason they were coming at all. They were coming so little people would have somebody to play with!

Down the dusty road they went, the two so different sisters, under the hot brassy sun that beat down through the dusty leaves of the plane trees. Past the white Presbyterian Church Tot ran, singing her tuneless song. “Mine will be a boy and I’ll teach him how to roll down the hill in the park and we’ll have tea parties with my tin dishes and I’ll read The Little Red Hen and Chicken Little to him and I’ll help him write a letter to his Mama on my very own letter paper with blue lines to help you write better and straighter, with a pretty pictures of Peter Rabbit at the top. Oh, it will be such fun to have a little person to play with.”
Tot and Ida finally arrived at the magic place, the little green wooden depot with a shiny steel tracks in front making a ladder to the distant skyline. The blinding sun glanced off the tracks into the eyes of the waiting people. All the townfolk and some of the neighboring farmers had turned out to see Rachel’s kids. It was a big event in a little town where nothing much ever happened. The whistle of the train at Broadland’s crossing brought a cheer from the milling crowd, and soon the train snaked into sight and slid up to the wooden platform. From the other side of the tracks where Tot and Ida waited, the view was better.

It was hot and it was dusty as Rachel and the children stepped down the wooden stepstool onto the platform. Tall Rachel and her yellow tablet was the center of attention. Names were checked off the yellow tablet; children were parceled out to the waiting families and all scattered to the various homes.

“Where is my boy? Where is my very own boy? My small person just like me.” Tot jumped up and down in sheer frustration, tears running down the now grimy face.
---Why didn’t they tell her? Don’t she know we’re poor? How can we have a kid around the house with Mom out the Allerton Ranch cooking for the thrashers. I know that she is lonely with only a fourteen year old brother and a sixteen year old sister to play with ---and both of them to busy to pay any attention to her. Good thing Sam taught her to read and write, even if she is only four. Gives her something to do.---“Don’t cry, Tot, don’t cry.”
“ ‘n’ I was going to show him the chickens. Bet he never saw a chicken. I want my boy. Everyone else got one and I never got one.” Tot sobbed on.

--- I’m going to get out of this damn town and I’m going to see that Tot will sometime get something she wants.---“Don’t cry, Tot, don’t cry.”


Karmyn R said...

What a great story.

Was your mom Tot or Rachel?

mjd said...

My mom was Tot the four year-old.

Margaret said...

Your mom was a talented storyteller and writer. She makes it all come alive. I love reading stories from the past.

daddy d said...

There is some real family history in that story. Tot did get what she wanted most of the time. Her grand kids almost had red hair.

Anonymous said...

Happy Belated Mother's Day!

karisma said...

I bet poor or not "that boy" would have had a far better time at "tots" House! Life is just full of mistakes isn't it?

Pamela said...

I've read some history about the orphan trains. Some children found beautiful homes.
Other children just became hire hands.

sounds like this one was just a visit -- not an adoption train?

And it is a great story!

debi said...

Oh thank you for sharing this. What a wonderful story teller. Got any more?

debi said...

Hi Molly, I am looking for a recipe for strawberry jam. Do you have one by chance? I didn't make any last year and I need to get some made.So much better than the store stuff.

Jan said...

What a great story. Yes, your Mom was a wonderful writer.

Cazzie!!! said...

Now it has been published on your site, and people can read it and share it... I so love stories. People just don't write like that anymore..don;t speak like that any more...whatever happened to our lovely language?

riseoutofme said...

What a great story! I can almost feel the heat, the dust and the excitement of little Tot! Its a shame that Life is full of disappointments when you're only four!

Molly said...

Your mom had a wonderful talent with words! Did she write any more stories that you know of? As Rise said, you can feel the heat, smell the dust, share little Tot's excitement, and her disappointment. As someone else said, had she got her boy he would have had a grand time playing with and being shown country ways by Tot!