Wednesday 26 Nov 2014

The Special Birthday
JR Hafer

Most, of us, have a past birthday we set aside, in our memory, as the favourite. My seventh birthday is my extra special one. I still ask myself "How lucky can a kid get?"

For fifty years, 1916 to 1966, a large two-storey brick colonial mansion, with prominent round, white pillars, stood stoically, on East Boulevard, in Charlotte, North Carolina. This was the Alexander Home for Children. It was home to orphans and emotionally disturbed children. If the walls could talk, most of the stories would be tearful.

The Alexander became my home in 1949. I was about three years old. The Alexander Home was not a happy place.

My extra special birthday was 25 November 1953. I turned seven years old. My present was a new set of parents, and a sister.

I wasn't popular, with the other kids, at the Alexander Home. I had no social skills. I didn't know how to get attention. Of course, I was three.

I was gullible. I'd act out to get any attention. I got attention no one would want.

The way I acted meant the other kids, in the Home, avoided me. Who wanted to be in trouble, always?

I did have one friend, Norman. He was in a wheelchair. I guess he couldn't run away from me, as did the other kids.

Norman and I often evoked the wrath of Mrs. Smithson. She was in charge, of the Alexander Home. Thinking back, I realize she had a tough job and strictness was what we needed.

The morning, of my seventh birthday, Norman and I were racing through an upstairs hall. Norman fell out of his chair, as he didn't make it around a curve. Scared more than injured, Norman began bawling. I put my hand over his mouth, to quiet him.

Mrs. Smithson arrived and Norman, to avoid punishment, claimed I was trying to smother him. Mrs. Smithson fumed.

Later, in the day, Mrs. Smithson called me to her office. Her call, for me, was not unusual. More fallout from the morning indicant, I surely thought. I do recall, though, sensing a heavier tone, in the call, than usual.

The urgency, in the voice of Mrs. Smithson, over the loud speaker, made me want to run out of the back door and escape. The fire escape, too, was not a choice. I tried to escape down the metal fire ladder. The point, made clear, was if I tried to run away, one more time, I'd never see the light of day, again. That failed escape was why I was standing in the corner when the summons came.

There was no way out. I was sure I was in big trouble. I felt a teardrop, from the corner of my eye. Expecting more punishment was the worst.

What I feared most was the other kids seeing my tears. I wiped the tear away, quickly, then slowly descended the wide set of stairs. I prepared myself for the scolding or possibly a stripe or two with the leather razor strap. My steps were cautiously deliberate. Still, my weight on the stairs made the boards creak, with protest, and hail my presence.

I held my breath. I feared what was to come. At the bottom, of the staircase, stood Mrs. Smithson talking to two other adults, whom I didn't know. They seemed in deep discussion.

Facing Mrs. Smithson was a big man, in a suit and tie, holding a black overcoat. The shiny black fur collar made him appear important. "Wow", I remember thinking. "He must be a movie star," the way he held himself so tall and straight.

The most beautiful woman, I had ever seen, completed the trio. She wore a mink fur coat, which almost touched the waxed, hardwood floor. Her black felt hat had a long, matching feather, sticking out of the hatband. She had such a beautiful smile, and looked wonderful. What a wonderful smile she had on her face.

Then, as a bolt of lightning, it hit me. Another set of foster parents I remembered the other foster homes, where I'd lived for short times. My heart started pumping. I became afraid.

The excited conversation abruptly stopped, and all eyes swung around to me. I froze in mid-stride halfway down the stairs. My whole body clenched, until it hurt. I was trying to prepare myself for what was to come.

Well, there they were. Mrs. Smithson and the strangers were standing, staring at me. I remember the beautiful woman squatting down, to my level, as I reached the bottom of the staircase. I could smell her perfume. Her makeup, applied faultlessly, impressed a 7-year old. Her lipstick framed her smile, which was wide, warm and wonderful.

Perhaps my blue colour, from holding my breath, concerned her. I'll never forget the words from her lovely mouth. "Rickie," she spoke softly. "How would you like to come home with us?"

I couldn't answer. I was trying to catch my breath. I gasped and shook my head, "Yes."

Oh my, that was the most wonderful day of my life. There are so many stories attached to her words. Perhaps the worth is for me, alone.

My memories, of the years, of my imprisonment, with furloughs to various foster homes, are fading. I mostly recall general vignettes, and only sometimes. There is no measure of time or numbers to apply, with certainty, now. Years, in fact, may have been weeks; weeks, in fact, days or hours. Every foster home, I can recall, today, is simply another painful experience.

An adoption takes a year to complete. That day, my 7th birthday, started my new life. The day was a most fortunate birthday.

JR Hafer writes from his home in central Florida.

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