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A Fresh Start

Rags to riches story with the help of some soap.

By Mark GagnonPublished 5 months ago 5 min read
A Fresh Start
Photo by Leon Bredella on Unsplash

Living in the year 1819 meant only one thing for a large segment of the population—poverty, and despair. There were no government subsistence programs, unemployment checks, or homeless shelters. During this time in our history, the country was in the middle of a severe depression and everyone had to fend for themselves. It was certainly not a good time to be a ten-year-old boy abandoned by his parents and living in the streets of Boston. That, however, was the situation young Raymond was in. Added to his problems was that he was born with a club foot.

Raymond was the oldest of seven children, and the child most likely to survive on his own. His first night alone, he took refuge in the doorway of an import/export company. The crotchety old man who owned the business woke Raymond with a kick and demanded he leave his property. As spring turned to summer and the weather warmed, less shelter was required. Sleeping under the stars was a viable option.

Early most mornings, Raymond would be found washing the grime from his face and hands in the lagoon at the Boston Common Gardens. When he was reasonably clean, he would limp to the financial district and beg for change to buy food. Most of the wealthy bankers and business people preferred tossing bread to the pigeons than giving a street urchin food, but occasionally he was lucky.

Raymond’s afternoons were spent at the docks. He tried to find work unloading ships, but the older, stronger boys got most of the jobs. One afternoon, Raymond saw a man walking toward him. As the person approached, Raymond realized it was the man who had kicked him out of the doorway.

“Excuse me, sir. Might you be looking for someone to work for you? I can write and I’m very good with numbers.”

The old man stopped walking and looked condescendingly down at Raymond.

“You again! I thought I told you never to come back here. Numbers, where did you learn numbers?”

“From my mother.”

“Oh, really! What’s five times nine?”


“Three times seven?”


“Maybe I can use you, after all, boy. Come to my office in the morning—and clean yourself up. I have an image to maintain.”

“Yes, sir! Thank you, sir. You can count on me, sir!”

For the rest of the day, Raymond continued begging for coins and scrounging for food in the trash cans behind restaurants and hotels, but he did it with a smile. He had found a job!

It was nearing five o’clock when Raymond passed a store that sold soap. He totaled up the coins he’d been given. Now he had a decision to make; buy food or a bar of soap. He chose soap. The proprietor’s eyes stayed glued to Raymond as he searched the store for the cheapest bar of soap. Even the lowest-priced bar cost more than he had.

“Excuse me, ma’am, but can I buy half of a soap bar?”

The woman looked at the dirty street urchin with disdain, but her hard shell melted the longer she stared into his bright, hopeful eyes.

“What’s your name, boy?”

“Raymond, ma’am.”

“I’m sorry, Raymond, but we can’t sell soap by the half bar. Why do you want to buy soap instead of food?”

“I have a new job starting tomorrow, but my boss said I need to be clean to work for him.”

The woman hesitated, then said, “Stand there and don’t touch anything. I’ll be right back.”

She disappeared into the backroom and returned a minute later with a partially used bar of soap in her hand. “Take this, Raymond, and good luck with your new job.”

That night, Raymond washed himself and his clothes in the Boston Common Lagoon, being extra careful not to be seen by other people living in the area. In the morning, he donned his clean, but still damp, clothes and walked to the warehouse, the bar of soap in his pocket.

Raymond waited at the door until the man arrived.

“Good morning, boy! I see you can clean up after all. Well, don’t just stand there. We have work to do.” After a brief pause, and in a friendlier tone, “What’s your name? I can’t keep calling you boy if we are going to work together, now can I?”

“It’s Raymond Cotton. Might I ask your name?”

“My name is John Richmond. You may call me Mr. Richmond or sir.”

The old man showed Raymond around the warehouse and explained his duties. Having no children of his own, Mr. Richmond felt awkward around Raymond at first. As the day progressed, he warmed to the boy. He was about to lock up for the night when, as an afterthought, he asked Raymond where he lived.

Sheepishly Raymond replied, “I live in Boston Common. It’s not a terrible place as long as it doesn’t rain or snow.”

The old man paused, door key in hand, and said, “I need a night watchman, someone that can alert the authorities in case of a fire or break-in. You’ll be staying here from now on.”

“Yes, sir! I’ll take good care of this place for you,” replied Raymond gleefully. The boy now had a place to call home.

Raymond worked at the warehouse for the rest of his life, eventually assuming ownership after his benefactor died. The bar of soap was kept in a glass case, front and center on his desk. When people asked why it was there, Raymond would explain, “This is magic soap. It washed away all the hardship from my childhood and gave me a fresh start.”


About the Creator

Mark Gagnon

I have spent most of my life traveling around the US and the globe. Now it's time to draw on these experiences and create what I hope are interesting fictional stories. Only you, the reader, can tell me if I've achieved my goal.

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