I fully realize that the laws for child custody and adoption are much more complex than represented here. The real laws are frequently counter-productive and in many cases provide less support for children — rather than more. Several people have suggested that I change the time of the story back to when the bureaucracy was smaller — but for obvious reasons I wanted it generally in the current time frame.
So with poetic license and the forgiveness of my readers, I give you this story. I offer specific apologies to the Sedgwick County Department District Attorney's Office of Child Protective Services for impinging on their professionalism with my liberal use of artistic license (that is a colloquial term used to denote the distortion or complete ignorance of fact).
Thanks to RoustWriter for his edit and comments on an early version of this story. And thanks as always to Techsan for his great editing.
Such a tragic scene - two kids stranded in the rain.
I'd gone to the train station in Newton, Kansas, to pick up my mom — she was coming to stay with me for a few weeks for Christmas. The roads were bad and I was running late. A cold winter storm - this was almost the middle of December - had moved in. The temperature was hovering a few degrees above freezing and the rain had occasional flurries of sleet mixed in with it. Even with the four-wheel drive of my Range Rover I expected to find the roads treacherous.
This may be a surprise to some but Amtrak doesn't set up its schedules with the folks in Newton in mind. The eastbound train usually arrives early in the morning at 3:01 and the westbound arrives a few minutes later at 3:25. I say arrive — this is a whistle stop so the arrival and departure times are as near simultaneous as Amtrak can possibly make them. If there are no passengers or freight to pick up or drop off the train doesn't even slow down.
My mom was coming from Princeton, Illinois, where she lived with dad on the family farm. I'd checked the train status before I left home and found it was only running two minutes late. Glancing at my watch I'd figured I'd make it okay after all. I pulled into the station just as the eastbound was pulling out.
I parked and poured a large cup of hot chocolate from my thermos and wandered on out under the edge of the roof to watch for Mom's train to come in. I was bundled up pretty good in a fairly new sheepskin jacket - the kind with the big furry collar - and mused a bit about my failed marriage with Eileen. It was a not uncommon story: married too young with a wife that wanted to "experience life." I guess Mom was coming out to console me and make sure I ate right. Once a mom, always a mom.
I heard a noise, almost a whimpering sound, off towards the end of the platform. I couldn't see anything through the heavy, cold rain so I walked a few paces down the track. I saw a huddled mass kind of tangled together but I couldn't see clearly what it was. As I walked closer, I could see two small kids, one largish, cardboard-like suitcase and what I heard was out-and-out crying, not whimpering. I guess the strong biting northwest wind had muffled the sound.
I stood there looking down at the kids, my heart giving a lurch as I took in the sad pair before me. The two kids were poorly dressed, a light jacket on each. There was a girl of maybe six and a very small boy that looked about three... but turned out to be four. Both were emaciated and the sneakers they were wearing were falling apart and wet from the rain.
I'd never seen such a tragic scene - these two kids stranded in the rain, half frozen from the cold. Apparently someone had dropped them off during the brief stop. A chill colder than the rain came over me - it dawned on me that someone had deserted these two beautiful, bedraggled children. I saw the lights from the westbound train and heard the lonesome whistle as it resonated with the pain in my soul at seeing kids left in this state.
I grabbed the kids and took them under the overhang. I ran back for their suitcase, hoping it would wait to disintegrate until I could get the kids taken care of. I sat the kids on the wet suitcase, took off my coat and wrapped the heavy warmth around them. They looked like they were in shock and didn't say anything - they just sat there, startled out of their tears, looking at me with eyes large and round.
When I saw the kids I'd poured the hot chocolate back in the thermos. Now I poured a half-cup and tried to get them to sip a little bit to warm them up.
A loud squealing of brakes announced the arrival of the incoming train. When it came to a stop my mom stepped down, a porter close behind her putting her two small bags on the wet asphalt. It was getting slippery; the temperature must be dropping. I took her bags and led her over to the kids.
"Land sakes, Ben. What's this?"
"I don't know, Mom. When I got here a few minutes ago they were at the end of the platform sitting together trying unsuccessfully to stay warm. Their clothes are soaked so there wasn't much chance of that. I guess they came in on the eastbound and someone on the train dropped them off. Let's get them into the station and get them warm, then we'll figure out what to do."
Just then, the station agent walked out, locking the door behind him. I went over and talked to him, pointing to the children, and explained what I thought had happened.
"I'm sorry, Mister, ain't nothin' I can do to help. I got a mare ready to drop a foal and I gotta get home. You live in Wichita, right? Whyn't you take them to Child Protective Services - they're part of the Sedgwick County District Attorney's office. Sorry again, mister, but I gotta run."
With that he was gone. Mom and I quickly talked it over and decided the best thing was to get them warm and fed. We put the kids in the back seat of the Range Rover and put the luggage in the back. We drove to my small ranch, ten miles or so northeast of Wichita. I bred miniature horses as a hobby while working for what used to be Beech Aircraft, now Raytheon, as an Aeronautical Engineer. Mom sat in the back with them and got them to drink a little of the now not-so-hot chocolate.
When we arrived at the ranch, Mom put the kids in a hot tub of water to warm them up. I looked through their suitcase to see if I could find a change of clothes. On top of what few clothes that were there was an envelope - I put that aside while I looked for something for them to wear. At the bottom of the meager few clothes was a threadbare nightgown for the girl and a pair of oversized pajamas with holes in the knees for the boy.
I took the clothes into the bathroom and gave them to Mom and asked if the kids had said anything.
"Not a thing. These poor little tykes... just look at them. They are pretty nigh starved."
I went back in the kitchen and fixed some more hot chocolate and warmed up some soup. Mom brought them in and they ate the soup ravenously, along with the oyster crackers I'd put in a bowl on the table.
SEARCHING FOR LOVE
While they were drinking their chocolate I was able to get their names from the girl. Her name was Anna and she spoke in a broken but only slightly accented English. The boy's name was Pasha, which I found out later, was the Russian familiar name for Pavel.
Mom got the kids asleep on the pullout sofa in the den and she went off to her room, looking a little too tired. Pouring a large brandy, for "medicinal purposes," I opened the envelope to see what I could find out. There were two letters; one in broken English and one written in what I assumed to be Russian; for sure, it was written using the Cyrillic alphabet. There was also a photo of the two kids with a small, dark haired woman who looked about thirty. She was pretty in a hard-edged way with short dark hair and had a tired look to her. From the size of the kids I guessed the picture was about a year old.
I looked at the short letter first:
To a good person,
My name Ludmila Serova. Come from Russia to get married. It was a trick and they made me bad woman. I can take no more, no more! My kids need home — no have family. You good person take my kids love them. They you kids now.
I no can take more I go way. Kiss hug my kids. Tell I love them. The man on train he sees me. No good for me no good save kids.
Goodbye good person god loves you.
I was crying by the time I finished reading this sad missive of pain. Reading between the lines I could see some of her hard life and problems. I washed my face in the hall bathroom and came back to look at the birth certificates. They did confirm that Ludmila was their mother but both were marked as "father unknown." The ages were four and six and one item grabbed my attention: Anna would be seven on Christmas Eve!
This was Saturday and I would go into town Monday morning to talk to the authorities to see what I could do. There was nothing in the envelope besides the letter. I was sitting on the sofa sipping another brandy when mom came in to talk to me.
After looking at me for a long moment — I guess to gauge my mood — she asked, quietly, "Do you want to talk about Eileen?"
Avoiding looking at her, I snapped, "No, I really don't want to talk about her."
Mom was silent for a while, then put her hand on my arm and kissed my cheek, "Okay, son. I'm going on to bed."
.... There is more of this story ...