Christie Shary

Short Stories - My Grandmother has an Orphanage

My Grandmother has an Orphanage

My name is Cecilia. I'm ten years old and live in Mexico City, the largest city in the world. So does my grandmother. Her name is Ofelia de Sanchez de Flores, but I call her Abuelita, which means 'little grandmother' in Spanish. I love her very much. She may be old, but she's young at heart. And Abuelita's very special to me and I am special to her, as well. For that's the way it is between grandmothers and granddaughters. (Illustration of 10-year-old Cecilia and her grandmother.)

My grandmother also has something else very special in her life; something most grandmothers don't have. For you see, my grandmother has an orphanage. She calls it Hogar Dulce Hogar, which means 'Home Sweet Home,' in Spanish. (Illustration of the orphanage, with an arch reading 'Hogar Dulce Hogar' in front.)

And Abuelita always thought it would be wonderful to have an orphanage, although she didn't expect she ever would. For she's always known how important it is for children who have lost their parents to have a safe, warm and happy place to live; a home with food, and beds, and lots of love. That's because my grandmother was an orphan herself and why she always wanted to help other orphans. (Illustration of a little orphan girl with long dark hair.)

You may wonder how on earth my grandmother came to have an orphanage all her own. It happened when Abuelita was seventy years old. She had been a widow for several years since Abuelo, my grandfather died. And her three sons were all grown up and married and lived far away. She was very lonely. But one day it suddenly came to her.

"I can't just sit around and knit and watch television all day," she told herself. "I've got to do something more-something special with the rest of my life."

She wasn't yet sure what that 'something special' was, but she knew it would have to do with ninos-that's children in Spanish. She also knew she would discover it when the time was right. So to pass her days and keep fit, Abuelita began taking hikes in the mountains near Mexico City. And one spring day during her hike, she learned what her future held. That's because when she reached a group of trees near the mountaintop, she thought she heard a baby crying.

"What is that? Who's there?" she called out.

The only answer she received was more crying. She looked around and saw nothing, so she walked in the direction of the cries. Finally, behind a large pine tree she discovered a tiny baby boy wrapped in a tattered green and yellow rebozo, a Mexican blanket.

She couldn't believe her eyes! "Oh, my, a baby! Where's your mother?" She looked all around, but could find no one else.

Quickly, she picked up the baby. She looked into his dark hair eyes, smiled at him, and held him close. As Abuelita rocked him back and forth, he suddenly stopped crying. Then he smiled at my grandmother. (Illustration of Grandmother holding a child wrapped in a bright yellow rebozo.)

She told me that a strong feeling of love and the need to protect the baby in her arms came over her immediately, and she knew that the baby could not have survived very long if she hadn't saved him.

"I think your mother wanted me to find you," Abuelita told him. "I'm going to take you home to Mexico City and care for you and raise you as my own."

The baby looked up at her as if he understood what she was saying, and he smiled and cooed.

"And I will name you Moses, after Moses in the Bible. For his mother discovered him in a basket on the riverbank in the bull rushes, much like I found you on this mountain."

So my grandmother got back on the bus carrying her new child in her arms and headed to her small home in Mexico City. On the way back she thought about how finding Moses was a special message to her. A message that reminded her of what she could do with the rest of her life. Without hesitating, Abuelita decided she should start an orphanage in her home and take care of other children who did not have parents.

"I'll name it Hogar Dulce Hogar, Home Sweet Home," she told Baby Moses. "My house is not big or fancy, as you shall see, but it is filled with plenty of love." (Illustration of Ofelia and Moses riding home on a big lime green and white bus.)

Soon all my grandmother's relatives and the people at her church heard about Abuelita's plan, so they helped her prepare her old house for more ninos. Before long, beds, blankets and pillows were delivered to her house, along with extra dishes, toys and books. (Illustration of neighbors bringing lots of supplies to Grandmother's house.)

My parents and I helped out, as well. My father painted the inside of the house a bright happy blue and my mother sewed new curtains made of yellow gingham. I put all the donated toys in several colorful hand-woven baskets.

"I've brought some of my dolls for you," I told Abuelita. "Just in case you have little girls come to live with you."

Grandmother gave me a big hug and then kissed me on both cheeks. "Thank you, Cecelia, for being so generous. Soon you will have lots of playmates when you come to visit."

I couldn't wait for that day to arrive! I already loved helping take care of Baby Moses, and the prospect of having more babies and children around really thrilled me; especially since I was an only child. I wondered how many children would come to live with Abuelita. Maybe five or six-or maybe even ten!

My grandmother couldn't wait for the children to begin arriving, either. Why she was so happy with her new baby and the plans to bring many more brothers and sisters into her home to keep him company, that she went around with a big smile on her face each and every day. She knew that having a large young family would be a lot of work, but she didn't seem to mind one bit.

Soon the children began to arrive. Sometimes people from the Mexican government delivered them to the orphanage. Sometimes a police officer or a neighbor brought children who lived on the street near my grandmother's house. And sometimes they were even left on Abuelita's doorstep. So many children needed a home in Mexico City. (Illustration of children arriving with social workers or else baby abandoned on doorstep in a bright blue basket.)

Veronica and Jesus were the first to arrive. Their father was very poor and had many problems and could not take care of them. But he wanted his children to have a good home, so he brought them to Hogar Dulce Hogar. (Illustration of poor father dropping off his young children and Ofelia meeting them at the door.)

I remember the first time I met Veronica and Jesus. They were almost the same age as me and it was like I suddenly had a brother and sister! I was so happy! But they were crying and it made me feel very sad.

"They have lost both their parents," Abuelita explained to me. "This is why they're so sad. But we'll make them happy, Cecelia."

Immediately I ran to the toy baskets and brought a doll with long blond hair for Veronica and a shiny red truck for Jesus. For the first time, both of them smiled. And when my grandmother placed bowls of soup and tortillias in front of those two, they gobbled them up like a couple of hungry street puppies. And after a few days, Veronica and Jesus were happy. They smiled all the time, knowing they had at last found a home.

But Abuelita was just getting a start on her new family. Next Pepe came to Hogar Dulce Hogar. Then a lady from the government brought Alin and Adrian, two more orphans. My grandmother's new family was really growing fast. (Illustration of children playing together with Baby Moses.)

Patricia, Orlando and Adriana were next to arrive. Their mother had died in childbirth, and their father did not take very good care of them. Two cute sisters, who looked like twins-named Beatriz and Aracelli, joined the family next. Their grandparents were very old and could not take raise them. Then a priest dropped two other babies off, Victorino and Daniel. Why I couldn't believe my eyes! I was afraid that Abuelita was going to run out of beds and toys, so my parents and I rushed home to get more bedding and dishes, and I brought two more of my favorite dolls. (Illustration of the house getting very filled with children of all ages.)

And soon many other children came! I was beginning to loose count. But I was having more fun than I ever had in my entire life, and begged my parents to take me to Abuelita's house each and every day, even though we lived about two hours away, clear across the Valley of Mexico on the other side of the city.

I remember the day Minerva, her brother, Rubin, and their tiny sister, Angelica, arrived. Her name means 'angel' in Spanish. And she looked like a little angel when I first saw her, dressed in a white dress, even though it was filled with holes. But her dark eyes were full of tears. So do you know what my grandmother did?

"Come, my little Angelica," she said, opening her arms big and wide. "Come to Abuelita.."

Angelica raced into Abuelita's arms and she scooped her up and gave her a great big hug. Of course, Angelica hugged her back real tight and acted like she didn't want to ever let her go.

I just stood there watching, and it made me so happy that I started to cry myself. So I went into the other room, dried my eyes, and picked up Baby Moses. "You are very lucky, Baby Moses," I whispered in his ear, "to have such a wonderful mother."

Later that same week, Astrid, Julian and Issac were dropped off by their mother.

"Por favor, can you please take care of my ninos?" I heard her ask my grandmother. "I am very poor and have no money, not even for tortillias to feed my ninos," she said. "My husband has deserted us and we have no where to go."

I felt so sorry for them, knowing how well my parents cared for me. I was one lucky kid, and not a day went by that I was not thankful for this. I also knew that Astrid, Julian, and Issac's luck was about to change. For they now had a home at Hogar Dulce Hogar, along with fifteen other children, from my last count. I seriously wondered how many kids my grandmother's house could hold. But I knew her heart was very big, and that somehow she would find a way to care for each and every one of them. But she was going to need some awful big soup pots and a lot more beds, so everyone went to work finding some. (Illustration of large copper soup pots and piles of colorful blankets.)

The next time I visited my grandmother's house, there were even more children! Edwardo moved in after his parents died in the big earthquake that struck Mexico City. Fernando, Alan and Daniel also arrived. Why my grandmother's house was as stuffed as a bucket filled with cochkarachas!

And each time we visited, there were even more kids! But my grandmother could just not say 'no' to those little children who were in need of a home. She sure couldn't resist the sad brown eyes of Diana, Enrique, Ricardo and Daniel Mendoza when they arrived, and was determined to find a place for this family, no matter what. (Illustration of a very crowded house with children looking out of all the windows.)

Of course, I spent a lot of time at Hogar Dulce Hogar when I wasn't in school. It was so much fun having twenty-three other ninos to play with. But Abuelita was beginning to look kind of tired and my parents and I were worried about her.

"You need to slow down, Dear Mother," my dad told Abuelita. "You are no longer a young woman."

Abuelita simply smiled at him and nodded. "Someday, but not now. I have lots of ninos to take care of." And in our hearts, we knew she had never been happier in her life.

Fortunately, grandmother finally got some help. Her friend, Esther, who was also a widow, moved in. So did Father Bernardo, a young priest; and Marguerite, a friend who loved to cook. (Illustration of Esther, Father Bernardo, and Marguerite helping out at the orphanage.)

Of course, the older children helped out, as well. After school Veronica liked to tend the younger children and help in the kitchen.

"I want to be a mother someday, and this is good practice," she told me while stirring a huge pot of soup on the stove, a baby on her hip. I wondered if I should pitch in, as well, as I wanted to be a mother someday, too.

Edwardo and Pepe also liked kitchen duty, and they didn't mind peeling potatoes and carrots for the soup, or making hundreds of tortillias one little bit. And Julian liked to push the big broom throughout the house, even though he was only eight. And Ricardo, why he liked to mop the floor, although the mop was taller than he was! (Illustration of all the children working around the house.)

Grandmother also discovered that she had her own in-house 'handy man.' That's because Orlando enjoyed fixing things, and could always be seen with a hammer and screwdriver in hand. Of course, with so many kids running around, lots of things got broken, but Orlando was always there to fix them.

I also started to help out more at the orphanage wherever I came to visit. I soon found out how much fun work can be since all of us ninos pitched in and did it together. My favorite job was helping Marguerite and Veronica make a huge enchilada casserole that would feed at least twenty-five residents Sunday dinner. And that took a lot of tortillas and cheese, thanks to the generosity of the local cheese shop.

So with all the extra help, Abuelita found time to teach all the ninos to play the piano as soon as they were old enough to sit on the old wooden stool before it. She also formed an orphanage choir, and my grandmother and Esther made the members blue choir robes with red collars, and taught them all about music and singing. It's amazing how often those robes were used, as Abuelita liked nothing better than for her children to perform at local events. And the audiences really loved the sweet clear voices of the little children singing their hearts out. (Illustration of choir dressed in blue robes singing at a banquet.)

On Sundays, Grandmother and her new family went to church. They piled into the two old mini-vans that an American company had donated to the orphanage. Abuelita drove one and Father Bernardo, the other. All the ninos squeezed in wherever they could find a spot, and I was sure that they were going to burst the sides of the vans right out! (Illustration of orphans crowded into the vans which read Holgar Dulce Holgar on their sides.)

Afterwards Abuelita's new family gathered around the huge kitchen table for a big Sunday dinner, where they gave thanks for all their blessings. Then the eating began. It's amazing how the enchilada casserole was gobbled up so quickly, along with the giant bowls of refried beans and baskets of tortillias that crowded the table. For the children were growing up fast and needed more and more food. (Illustration of the family eating Sunday dinner.)

Abuelita figured out how to handle this. She visited the people at Superama, a huge supermarket chain in Mexico City, and they agreed to give her some of the food they did not sell. My grandmother was so relieved because she had many mouths to feed-children who were counting on her. So two times each week, my grandmother and Father Bernardo drove to a local store and picked up most of the food that would feed Abuelita's growing family.

And they all lived happily together at Hogar Dulce Hogar for several years. Still, my grandmother wanted to take in more children, but they had no more room. My grandmother was really getting worried and she was so sad when she had to turn children away.

But one day another miracle happened to her; a very different miracle than when she found Moses. Some kind people from a local charity donated quite a lot of money to my grandmother because they knew what a good thing she was doing for many needy children in Mexico City. Guess what she did with the money? She bought another house next to hers so that more children could come and live with her! And these were children who would be living on the streets if it were not for my grandmother. By this time I was thirteen, so I could much better understand how much good my abuelita was doing for others. (Illustration of the two houses standing side by side.)

"Abuelita," I told her. "I'm so proud of you for taking in so many ninos and caring for them."

My grandmother smiled at me. "I'm doing what I love, Cecelia, and I'm thankful to you and your parents for helping me care for my new family."

At that she hugged me tight against her big bosom and it felt so good, even if I was thirteen and kind of over the 'hugging cuddly stuff.'

When the new house was painted and ready, tiny Carlos and his sixteen-year-old mother, Yolanda, arrived. Next came Estephania and her baby brother, Juan Carlos. They were both covered in dirt. A social worker had discovered them all alone in a cardboard shack without anything to eat or clothes to wear. Everyone started to cry when they arrived and we all hugged them and gave them some food and a warm bath.

Then Victor arrived. They found him wandering the streets of Mexico City all by himself. The officers kept him at the police station for two months, but no one came to pick him up. When my grandmother saw the frightened, dark-eyed boy at the station, she just had to bring him home. Needless to say, Abuelita's new house was also getting full.

Finally, a social worker dropped off another little angel-Angelita. Abuelita thought she was about two years old. She was crying and wouldn't let anyone touch her since she had been left at a church by her mother, and remained there for several days, all alone, until the priest discovered her sleeping on a bench. My grandmother even got tears in her eyes when she saw the frightened little girl. But still, she picked her up and held her close. And it wasn't long until little Angelita was smiling and happy.

That same night, after everyone was asleep, you will never believe what happened! Someone left another bundle on Grandmother's doorstep. The next morning, she discovered a brand new baby boy, whom she named Issac. (Illustration of the new children being welcomed by the older children.)

I'm now fourteen and almost grown up. But I continue to visit my grandmother's orphanage as often as I can. For I love Hogar Dulce Hogar. There's always a surprise waiting and so much love to be found. Even though there are now thirty-four ninos at the orphanage, I'm sure more children will arrive in the days to come. For my grandmother still has a very big heart. She has so much room for love in her life. (Illustration of Abuelita inside a big heart and surrounded by all the children of Hogar Dulce Hogar.)