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The Oven Cleaners
A tear slowly falls down my cheek matching the rain drops outside on the cold window pane. Today was the worst day so far, all that was keeping me going was the small Victorian frame with the one picture I had of my family. We were all on the beach and I still remember it clearly, the salt water blowing up in our faces, the sand between our toes, we were all smiling and laughing together. This picture is the lasting preservation of the last day I spent with my parents; my last day of happiness before my world came crashing down around me.
“Maggie! Get your butt down here, I don’t care if you’re ten, twenty or thirty years old, the day’s not over yet.” I pulled myself out of my memories and slowly walked down the narrow, creaking staircase to confront my worst nightmare, Ms. Van der Wall, the angry owner of the small orphanage. “You know you have to clean the oven every night after dinner! Dinner was two hours ago and that oven is still not clean. Get to it! If that oven isn’t clean by the time I come in to check it’s not going to be pretty!” I don’t say anything as I slowly walk past the horrible women and enter the dark, uninviting kitchen with its flickering light and aggravating dripping faucet.
To my surprise the cook, Ms. Winters was on her hands and knees scrubbing the filthy oven. This wasn’t the first time this had happened but it was only now that I had the courage to ask Ms. Winters why she was doing something nice for me, when nobody else at the orphanage seemed to know who I was. “Why are you cleaning the oven?” “It sounded like you had a hard day, I saw those God-awful kids treating you completely like their maid, and heard Ms. Van der Walls just now and I thought you may need a break.” I was completely blown away,
“That’s a nice thing to do, why are you being nice to me?” I asked her this in a suspicious tone, because after six months at the orphanage this was the first time I heard anybody wanting to do something nice for me. “Believe it or not Maggie when you got here your blue eyes, blond hair and politeness weren’t masked by your hand-me-down-never-washed uniform, and I thought you deserved a break from cleaning and those terrible children.”
With her response the dark, musty kitchen suddenly became much warmer. The flickering light bulb warmed the room like the sun and the dripping faucet wasn’t annoying, it was playing a song like a piano. The whole atmosphere changed in the blink of an eye, to something warm and cozy. Unfortunately that was when Ms. Van der Walls decided to walk in.
When she saw the cook on the ground cleaning out the still-warm oven and me not working she became furious. Her pale face slowly turned red, reminiscent of a ripe tomato, and her breathing reminded me of a train chugging, coming in short, quick bursts. “ Maggie what is going on here? Why is Ms. Winters cleaning the oven? Did you threaten her?! I bet you’ve threatened her thousands of times!” With that Ms. Winters interrupted her rant “ I chose to clean the oven, Maggie didn’t know until she walked in.” But Ms. Van der Walls would not be calmed, “Go to your room, I’ll deal with you in the morning! Ms. Winters and I must have little talk about your place in this orphanage.”
As I opened the door to my four foot by two foot sleeping space under the stairs I heard the argument start. “Why would you even think to clean the oven for that…thing! The other kids hate her and the teachers are of the same-mind.” That was Ms. Van der Walls alright. “no one hates her, you work her so hard that she doesn’t know anybody and the other kids think she’s a maid! And there hasn’t been one day when she actually went to class!” While they were waging their war down in the kitchen I was waging my own in my room, wondering if anyone would ever love me again, if I would ever be liked again, or at least respected again. Somehow I just didn’t think so, and I fell asleep with all of this on my mind.
In the morning I woke up to loud banging on my door. “get up you horrible child, we have some issues to discuss.” Knowing full well that Ms. Van der Walls came up with some horrid punishment I tentatively opened the door and walked out into the hall. To my surprise there were three people there. Ms. Van der Walls, Ms. Winters and a man who introduced himself as Mr. Gugletti. I must have looked bewildered because Ms. Winters assured me that I wasn’t in trouble and that I was about to hear some big news. “Maggie as you probably hard last night Ms. Van der Walls and I had a large argument over how you should be treated. This argument resulted in my deciding to quit and move my services somewhere else.”
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing, I was completely and totally shocked. I had a friend in this horrible place for twelve hours and now she was leaving me to work who knows where! I urned away so that nobody would see my tears and Ms. Winters continued; “Since I no longer work here I can legally adopt you, if you would like, that is why Mr. Gugletti is here. We can fill out the papers right now and you can come home with me this afternoon. I was so happy I started jumping up and down “Yes, yes, yes, please take me out of here!” Nothing anyone did or said could take away my happiness, not the kids’ rude remarks not even the sour look on Ms. Van der Wall’s face when she found out she would have to find a new cook and someone else to do all the chores. Over lunch Ms. Winters explained that normally it would take up to a year before I could be adopted, but since she explained the circumstances in which I was living
Mr. Gugletti agreed to come down personally and oversee the papers being signed. By the end of lunch all of the papers were signed and it finally clicked to Ms. Van der Wall that no one would be around to clean or cook, and she ended up having to be restrained as I packed up my one wooden box of belongings and left in Ms. Winters car.
When Ms. Winters saw that I had only one little box, she said “Well I guess we’re going shopping today.” With a smile she drove to the mall and I got to pick out 5 new outfits! As we were riding back to our house I realized that my little picture would no longer be the only happy memory I had, and that this would be a new beginning for me, a happy beginning.
With my experience at the orphanage I realized that no matter how bad everything seemed, somebody would always care and love would always find its way into my life, whether through someone adopting me, or a simple gesture, like somebody cleaning the oven.