“I wanna say I am somebody. I see pink faces in suits look over the top of my head. I watch myself disappear in their eyes. I talk loud but I still don’t exist.” Precious Jones, from the book, Push by Sapphire.
I’ve truly enjoyed writing about the Orphan Train, my third book in the Mysterious Miss Snoddy series. Perhaps because my first job out of college was as a house parent at Lydia’s Children’s Home, established as an orphanage on the north side of Chicago in 1916.
In our country today, there are very few true orphans because the accurate definition is a child who has lost both parents to death.Children who rode the train that bore their name were usually not true orphans. They were a menagerie of abandoned, abused, and homeless children gathered up by Rev. Charles Loring Brace and the Children's Aid Society in New York City. It represented one of our country's earliest foster care programs.
The first train loaded with "street rats", as they were known by NYC officials and law enforcement, chugged out of the city in 1853. After the Civil War, more trains ventured to Midwestern states in the hopes of finding a better life for each passenger. Many of their stories can be found online at one of the Orphan Train museum websites. These children shared a common desire to belong.
After meeting our primary physical survival needs, security and belonging are the most powerful driving forces in our lives.
Song lyrics by Taylor Swift, Christina Aguilera, BJ Thomas, and Bread extoll the passions of belonging. Poems penned by the masters, Whitman, Hugo, T. S. Eliot, and Langston Hughes, express our innermost fears and rewards of belonging or remaining faceless and nameless. Whitman wrote, “I celebrate myself and what I assume you shall assume; for every atom belonging to me, as good belongs to you.” Ava, Ellie, and Griffin encounter such a boy on the Orphan Train. Their experiences intimately acquaint them with his abandonment, street toughness, and eventual joy.
One does not have to be an orphan to suffer the ache and shame of not belonging. There are those among us who struggle but whom we may not see. They watch us look over the tops of their heads and feel as if they don’t exist. If we look a bit lower, into their eyes, they may know they’re not invisible.
His interest in writing the Mysterious Miss Snoddy series is to introduce young readers to basichistorical facts about our country by captivating them with an exciting mystery. His wife Jan is his inspiration and they spend their time together in Colorado and Louisiana, enjoying the best the mountains and gulf have to offer.
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