The Red Caboose-an Orphan's Journey
The Red Caboose-an Orphan's Journey
I t was a cold rainy day with clouds hanging over the city of Pittsburgh when I pulled into the parking lot of the Amtrack train station. The hands on the clock tower of the red brick depot read 9:45; I was fifteen minutes late. When all of the black, plastic molded seats in the waiting room of the station were empty, my heart dropped.
My nine-year-old granddaughter and I had just traveled nearly three hours from Ridgway, Pennsylvania to pick up a childhood friend I hadn't seen in over forty years. Valerie and Lilly, her eight-year-old daughter, were scheduled to arrive from California.
My thoughts began to race. Perhaps Valerie got off the train in Chicago to visit her sister but didn't get back on. What possessed me to invite a person I hadn't seen or barely heard from in over forty years to come live with me? Valerie and I lived in an orphanage called Mooseheart together, from the time we were three years old until we were twelve years old. Mooseheart, The Child City and School, sponsored by Moose Clubs is an orphanage located thirty-eight miles west of Chicago.
Despite losing touch, I hadn't forgotten Valerie because I still had the 8th-grade school picture she sent me after she left the orphanage. The photo was tucked away in the drawer of my musical, wood jewelry box. In 2001, when the internet was in it's infancy I found an Alumni website for Moosheart, which had been in the far recesses of my mind.
I was sure in this day and age of foster care and government assistance to needy families the institution had closed by now. As I surfed the internet, I discovered Moosehart was still in operation and groveling for money to help the orphaned children. At the time, the organization was asking for millions of dollars to continue it's operating costs. Buried feelings of outrage surfaced to my psyche.
I couldn't believe that the Moose Club was still at it's antics of using children to raise money. I couldn't understand the outrageous operating costs. The Moose owned acres of prime land near the Chicago suburbs and the children weren't wearing designer clothes or driving BMW's. When my connection to the Moose came up in conversation with friends and community members, I didn't hesitate to vent my frustration.
Thankfully, the alumni website wasn't asking for donations to support the Moose or I wouldn't have used it. Valerie's older sister, June and I connected. When I emailed June, and asked about her younger sister Valerie, I was delighted when she gave me her California mailing address.
Valerie didn't have a computer, so we wrote handwritten letters back and forth. When she got a cell phone, we began calling each other. Valerie had two daughters; I had four children and five grandchildren. Valerie was a dental hygienist; I was a nutritionist. Both of us suffered from depression.
My thoughts continued to race. Maybe it's for the best; I don't know that much about her and people change over time. She could be a drug addict or a thief and wipe out my house and the little savings we have. After all, we got caught stealing soap from a dispensary and received detention. And we did try to smoke dried banana peels. Maybe she went on to heavier drugs.
As I was turning around to leave the station, I spotted a staircase with marble steps and a stainless-steel handrail. At the top of the steps was a woman exactly my age with bleach blonde hair and a nine-year-old little girl sleeping on a suitcase.
"Valerie!" I cried as I ran up the steps with my arms wide open to give her a hug.
She backed away from me and put her hand on her daughter's shoulder and started shaking her. "Lilly, wake up our ride is here." The young girl was dressed in skin tight black capris, a sho