Monday, August 06, 2007

Orphan Train Quilt: The Final Reckoning

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When I decided to hop on board and ride Finn's Orphan Train, little did I realize what an impact it would have. In the beginning, I didn't even think I had any orphans of my own and then, bit by bit, block by block.....I realized that I have been collecting orphans my whole life.

When I was a very young girl, growing up on Douglas Island near Juneau, Alaska, I used to take in every stray cat that wandered by my grandparent's old house. I would climb up the stairs to my Grandmother's clothes drying platform, and grabbing a hold of the old pulleyed line, hoist in the clothes, drying there. As I screechingly hauled in the laundry from that line, I dreamed of far away places and long ago times. I loved it up there so much, I began to collect old pieces of cast way lumber and built myself a little fort (a station, if you will) on that platform.

The stray cats were attracted to all of this activity and began to visit me. In turn, I began to feed them, sneaking food from the house on a daily basis. In no time at all, I had 11 'orphans' in my domain. I was the the mistress of my own orphanage and didn't even realize it. Eventually, some were allowed inside as 'house' cats. The others took turns coming and going, as cats do. I gave them all names....and loved them all, dearly.

I grew up and went off to college 'in the states'......in Oregon. I married an Oregonian, had three children and then, my own children brought home orphans. Cats, dogs, birds, mice, rats, snakes, spiders, lizards, turtles, iguanas, fish, hermit crabs, guinea pigs...you name it...we had it. If someone found an injured robin...we got it. We hand fed it mashed blueberries and worms. When we went camping, it came with us in a pet carrier...it had to be fed every few hours, after all! When someone found a pet bird.....a canary, a crow......anything lost or abandoned...we got them.

We ended up with 15 pets at a time and I was so busy saying 'no more' and 'these are too many' that it was hard to notice, when my youngest rescued another mouse from the snake's cage or another cat from the back yard. I was still running an orphanage...and still didn't know it.

When I met people who had lost their way......people going through hard times, kids who were mad at their parents and 'ran' away.....they came to my house and I took them in, too. Some stayed a night, some two weeks, and some many, many months. It all seemed normal and natural, somehow. After all, I was used to running orphanages, even if I didn't know it.

I would hear the train whistle blowing as the train came through Salem. A sad and plaintive sound, it called out to my friends and impacted their lives in many ways. They would talk and talk about that sound and what trains and train tracks meant to them. I never realized those friends were in my life, because the sound of the Orphan Train must be somewhere in my own blood. I was taking them in, and either giving them a home or trying to find them one.... and all that time, the train was stopping at my house and I still didn't know it.

Finn says there comes a time of 'reckoning'. When the orphan train children would be sized up and reckoned with. Would they be a 'good fit' ? Would they add to or help the family? Some orphans make the cut and other's don't. So there are those who have to help the ones that don't make the grade.......or leave them lost and abandoned, forever.

I guess I felt that, back then.... and somehow, I must still feel it now. I've taken in my share of orphans, and done the best I could with them all. So, I look now, at my little "Orphan Train" quilt and it's time for it's own reckoning.

Well, I reckon it's good enough. I reckon that I like it. I reckon that's its finished. And most of all, I reckon that it sure did teach me a lot about myself that I already should have known. Thanks, Finn...for blowing that whistle and calling me to get on board. And thank you, my little Orphan Train quilt for letting your train tracks lead me back home again.

5 comments:

  1. What a sweet and tender heart you have, thanks for letting us look inside. The more you give away the more that's returned to you, I don't think you've pulled in your "vacancy" shingle yet. I reckon you're open for business now and forever, what a blessing! The quilt is beautiful, how could it be anything else?

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  2. It's beautiful. Congratulations on a great finish!

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  3. Bravo, Michele, Bravo!! You found the trail, figured out the path, reconized the journey, found the clues and completed the trip...*VBS*
    There is definitely much life to be lived beyond the reckoning...and there are so many kinds of reckoning possible.
    Your Orphan Train quilt does you proud!! Congratulations! Hugs, Finn

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  4. Awww -- Finn in her wisdom leads another child by the hand to self realization...there's a Reason for everything, right? As an added bonus, the quilt is fantastic, doesn't look like orphans at all, looks carefully planned and plotted, crafted by the Orphan Mistress. Congratulations!

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  5. And thanks for taking us on the ride with you -- it's been wonderful and the destination is truly special.

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Michele Bilyeu blogs "With Heart and Hands" as she journeys between Douglas, Alaska and Salem, Oregon.