Orphan trains crossing America
Wednesday, February 12, 2014 4:00 PM
LINDEN, Texas - "Little Gerald is gone. Why couldn't they take all three of us," Alton wailed to his brother Leo. At the last train stop, a couple had taken their little brother Gerald off the Orphan Train. Gerald had a new home, Alton and Leo were on the train heading westward. Whats going to happen to us, Alton worried.
At the very next stop, the children were displayed outside the train, and a kindly lady said "I'll take these two," laying her hands on Alton and Leo's shoulders. Things are looking up, thought Alton. Leo and I will be together, and not far from little Gerald. I'll go find him. Its not far.
The lady and her husband took the two boys to their farm near Post Oak, Texas, south of Paris. (Paris, Texas, silly, not France) They settled in to start a new life together. Things are looking up, said Alton.
In a few days, a car came to get Alton. Unknown to him, the couple were giving him up to another farm couple that wanted him. The boys were heartbroken. Leo was distraught, crying and holding on to his brother. They had to tear him from Alton. The old Model T had a spare tire on the rear. Leo grabbed onto the spare tire, and wouldn't let go. Two men had to pull Leo from the car. He was screaming as the Model T went out of sight. A small crowd of onlookers were crying. Alton became more angry and bitter. He planned on running away at first chance. He had dreams of getting his brothers back and going back to their father in NYC.
The next day he went with his new father to learn the chores. The chickens and baby chicks were put up at night, then let out next morning. One morning Alton let the chickens out without being told. Later that morning all the baby chicks were found dead. His new father was very angry over this. Soon, another car came for Alton. He was not unhappy to be leaving there. He was taken a few miles away by an older couple. They were kindly and compassionate, and seemed to genuinely care for Alton. But he was too bitter to care.
His new father told him to bring firewood in and stack it by the kitchen stove. If you want firewood moved, you can move it yourself, Alton responded. The razor strap got his attention and he was more determined than ever about running away. I'm a goner come first light in the morning, he told himself.
He was surprised with his new bedroom. It was large and very neatly furnished, with a big four poster bed. When he awoke, breakfast was ready and smelling good. Drat, I can't leave until tomorrow, he thought. He was told to wash his hands, then he started grabbing for the food. The ladies gentle hand took his, and said, wait, we have to say grace. Alton did not know what "saying grace" meant. She bowed her head and gave thanks to "our Father." She gave thanks for the food, and for "our new son." "Help us all make the right choices," she prayed. Alton wondered who "Our Father" was.
After breakfast and chores, the farmer and his new son walked to town.
Everywhere they went, the farmer introduced Alton as "our new son." For the first time in a long time, Alton felt he was part of a family. He decided to stick around for awhile, and see how things turned out. Three years later, Ben and Ollie Nailling adopted Alton, and he became Lee Nailling. They gave him all of life's necessities, even love. The parents of all three boys allowed them to visit one another. The sad Orphan Train ride had been good for them after all. They had all been taken by loving Christian families.
Lee graduated from Detroit, Texas high school in 1935. He went to a business school in Dallas, where he met Novelle and they stayed married until old age death parted them.
All three of the boys served in World War II. Lee and Leo came home. Gerald was taken prisoner by the Japanese and survived the Corregidor Death march, only to die on a Japanese troopship. The ship was sunk by Allied war planes and all aboard went down with the ship.
In 1984, Lee, Leo and their two older brothers had a reunion in Atlanta. (Atlanta, Texas, silly, not Georgia) They had not seen each other for 58 years. None of the boys adoptive fathers were present, but Lee said "Our Father" was present.
Lee died in Atlanta, Texas in 2001, and I'll bet he had a glorious reunion with Gerald, somewhere up there, with "Our Father."
Roy Bale can be reached via email at email@example.com