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Set Another Place at the Table

You would think 12 would be enough — children, that is. It was crowded sitting around that long picnic table that served as our dining space in the kitchen. And it became more challenging as my 11 siblings and I grew. Of course, there was always a child in the high chair which left a little extra space on the benches. Yet, even when we juggled for space at the table, there would be an extra face or two joining us. Neighbor kids just followed the crowd from the backyard to the kitchen when the dinner bell rang. Sometimes it would take a few minutes for our mother to even notice the extra mouths she was feeding. She would simply shrug her shoulders and add another plate.

At dinner time, a gallon of whole milk was consumed quickly. In the wintertime, extra gallons were stored in a cooler on the outside back porch. White bread and butter would be consumed by the loaves. Somehow we always managed to have enough to eat although it wasn’t fancy dining by any means.

Around the holidays, we would be introduced to a child from the Children’s Home. It was located a few blocks away from our house. Our mom would host a child from the Home to join us for dinner or playtime.

In those days, many of the children who resided at the Home were actual orphans for a variety of reasons.

This was a concept so difficult for us to comprehend. After all, we were overflowing with siblings and had both our parents under the same roof each night. I’m afraid, as curious children, we asked way too many questions of these guests. It was a humbling learning experience for everyone involved.

Recently I was reminded of those orphaned children. Today, there are hundreds upon hundreds more children in foster care or institutional settings through no fault of their own. They are the smallest and most vulnerable victims of the opioid drug epidemic that has been sweeping our country, hitting hardest in our own backyards.

Children removed from their irresponsible, drugged-out parents never fully comprehend the situation or the feeling of abandonment. The fallout is heartbreaking.

Maybe this holiday season will spur one or many of you to consider setting an extra place or two at your table, and welcome some youngsters in need of a true sense of family. It’s what mom would do.

Heather Ziegler can be reached via email at hziegler@theintelligencer.net.

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