I have just finished a book called “Orphan Train A Novel” by Christina Baker Kline. I picked this book up before heading out of town with some girl friends and the book immediately sucked me in. I knew when I read the description it would be one that I would find fascinating. It is about a girl who, after becoming orphaned in New York in 1929, is forced to board the Orphan Train taking her to Minnesota where she would hope to find her forever family. It is a heart breaking read in so many ways, but the fascination with the book for me is that my own grandma boarded an orphan train in 1928 in Minnesota.
She entered the train to be taken to the orphanage in Owatonna, and along the way made stops to be “put up for adoption” which really was mainly older boys being taken into indentured servitude, or young children being chosen to “complete a family.” Grandma’s two brothers didn’t get to the orphanage … they were chosen at one of the stops and became farm hands. My grandma, quite possibly, was a fortunate one. She was not “chosen” at one of these stops and made her way to the cottages at the State orphanage in Owatonna, Minnesota. She didn’t stay there long as she received visitors one day and was surprised to see her Sunday School teacher Florence from the church she attended while living in the foster home she was assigned to. Florence and her husband Harold made the decision to adopt this 12 year old girl. Unable to conceive children biologically, they always desired a baby but that was not God’s plan for their family. Instead, they brought home Pearl, a twelve year old girl, who had a lot to learn about being in a family. My grandma Pearl accepted Christ after becoming a “Peterson” which led to many children and grandchildren growing from birth knowing the saving GRACE of Jesus Christ.
It is odd to think that one could be thankful for the road that my grandma had to travel. For had she not been adopted by the Petersons, she likely would not have met my grandfather … which means my mother would not have been born, therefore, I would not be here today. I wanted to share a portion of the post script of the book where the author shared a short history of the real orphan trains. “Many of the children had experienced great trauma in their short lives and they had no idea where they were going. The train would pull into a station and the local townspeople would assemble to inspect them – often literally scrutinizing teeth, eyes, and limbs to determine whether a child was sturdy enough for field work, or intelligent and mild-tempered enough to cook and clean. Babies and healthy older boys were typically chosen first; older girls were chosen last. After a brief trial period, the children became indentured to their host families. If a child wasn’t chosen, he or she would get back on the train to try again at the next town. Some children were warmly welcomed by new families and towns. Others were beaten, mistreated, taunted, or ignored. They lost any sense of their cultural identities and backgrounds; siblings were often separated, and contact between them was discouraged.” – Orphan Train A Novel by Christina Baker Kline
This is my grandma’s history … this is my history. An orphaned girl, finding her forever family, which God allowed to ultimately create a legacy of adoption that remains today in our family. I am thinking that many of you reading this know of orphaned boys and girls who have lived this same life. Maybe the details are a little different as time progresses, but possibly maybe not. As a follower of Christ I am thankful for God’s plans, and trust that He has not left anyone as an orphan. He loves and He redeems … and sometimes He redeems in ways that we cannot understand. Thank you God for not leaving us, thank you for loving us and thank you for allowing us to be adopted into Your family!