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Mama's Pearls of Wisdom


The miles chugged by as I stared out of the soot darkened window. Tonight would be the fifth stop for the orphan train and I had already lost hope. Maybe if I was beautiful someone would want me. But no one wanted a thirteen year old girl with wild, red, corkscrew curls and who suffered from the plague of freckles. I was too old and too ugly. Most importantly, no one on the planet earth seemed to want a cripple. I had been on this journey twice and each time when someone considered me, they always turned me down when they found out that I was maimed. It wasn’t my fault that my one leg was shorter than the other. It wasn’t my fault that my face looked like I had caught the freckle epidemic when it passed through town. It wasn’t my fault that my hair was wild and untamable. Yet people always thought it was.

                “Well if it isn’t miss little limp,” I glanced up and inwardly groaned. Above me stood the worst person in the world- Cassandra Harrison- I absolutely loathed her.

 “Hello Cassandra,” I coolly replied, “How are you today?”

                “As good as I can be,” she sniffed daintily, “The soot is horrible for my delicate lungs. Did your leg grow any longer today?”  I stared at her, willing myself not burst out in tears. I don’t cry easily, unless you mock me about my parents or my leg.  “Are you going to cry?” she sneered.

                “No,” I briskly replied, “I am going to see if Mrs. Hayes needs help.”  I angrily got up and walked to the back of the railcar. There I sat down and began to play with the adorable toddlers. This had become a routine, Cassandra taunted me and I went and played with the younger children. I knew that she was bitter from her past but it was still no reason to mock me.

In my thoughts I saw my mother sitting in her rocking chair knitting, we had just finished supper. I had just finished telling mama about the girl who had teased me at school. She lowered her knitting, looked me straight in the eye and said in her soft, thick Irish brogue, “Fiona, as hard as it may be to understand but that girl is hurtin in the inside. The lass’s father was mean to her, she dinna know no better. Be kind to her, I know it’s hard to do that but just make sure you try.” 

I knew I should be more kind toward Cassandra; she was probably hurting as much as the rest of us. But it was so hard, yesterday she teased me about my parents, today it was about my leg, would she ever stop?  “Fiowa,” I glanced down at the adorable two year old tugging at my dress hem.

“Yes?” I questioned cheerfully.

“Will I get a new mommy and daddy?” she hopefully asked. Tears sprang to my eyes; every one of us was hoping and praying that we would find new parents who would love us. Everyone that is except me, I was a cripple and no one wanted that. I knew better than to hope because if I did, by the end of the trip my feelings would be crushed. Oh how I wished that my mother and father were still alive.  Why couldn’t the doctor have given my mother better medicine for her tuberculosis? Why couldn’t my father have handled his grief better, and not died from it? Why couldn’t I be pretty? Why couldn’t I have two legs that were the same length?  Why couldn’t my parents have been rich so I could have taken care of myself? Why? Why? Why?

Then I remembered the time I had gone to the store with mama.  While we where shopping, a young girl with her mother walked in. They wore the most beautiful clothes I had ever seen.  “Mama,” I had whispered looking down at my old, neatly, mended homespun dress, “Can I have some clothes like that?”

Mama had sadly smiled at me and said, “My wee colleen we can’t afford anything like that.”

“But mama,” I had insisted, “It’s not fair! I want a dress like that.”

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