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Let's come back to this country now for the latest installment of StoryCorps. We hear from it every Friday morning. The project has been traveling the country recording the stories of everyday Americans. Tens of thousands of people have taken part in this project. They've told their stories. And today we're going to hear from Ray Martinez. He tells us what it was like to grow up in an orphanage in Denver during the 1950s.

Mr. RAY MARTINEZ: In the orphanage, you really don't own anything. Nothing is yours. You don't have your own toy box, you don't have your own closet. Everything you did was shared. When you played outside, if it was cold outside, they'd bring out a table of coats in our age group and everyone threw on a coat. And every day you had a different coat.

And I remember that the orphanage had this practice, they would allow potential parents to check you out like a library book. They could take you home, borrow you for a couple of weeks and see if you were a fit for their family. And a couple of times I remember riding in the front seat of a car, leaving the orphanage with prospective parents, and I can remember them trying to make me happy, make me laugh, sitting in the front. But I never remember being at their home. What I do remember is riding back in the backseat of the car and no one talking to me. So I sensed, right then and there, that for some reason or another, they didn't like me. I didn't know why. I just felt it. And I can remember distinctly, riding up to the front of the orphanage and when I got out of the car, I can remember saying to myself, I never want to leave this place again. That to me was home.

When I was five years old, I was adopted from the orphanage and my parents, they said, we never brought you home on a trial basis because the orphanage said we think Ray is experiencing some rejection and we'd like you to just come observe him. So they came for several weeks just to observe. They were enamored with me, I guess, and they said, no, that's who we want.

And the matron came to my bed and she picked me up and she put me over her shoulder and she said, we're going to a new home. And when they sat me on the front counter, the matron did that night, my dad looked at me and my mom looked at me and I looked at them and my dad shoved this blue stocking cap over my head. My mom shoved this little toy stuffed dog in my arm, and they swept me off the counter and away we went. And they took me to my new home on Sycamore Street. And they took me to my bedroom and said this is your bedroom, this is your toy box, this is your closet, and everything was this was yours, and they never took me back.

You know, my mother died in 1994 on Easter night and my dad died in 2000 on Father's Day night. When my mother passed away, I went through her cedar chest and guess what I found? My stocking cap and the toy dog that they gave me, the gift, the very first things I ever owned, and to this day I keep them as a reminder where I came from.

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INSKEEP: This is Ray Martinez telling his story at StoryCorps in Fort Collins, Colorado. Mr. Martinez was mayor of that city from 1999 to 2005. This StoryCorps interview will be archived with all the others at the American Folk Life Center at the Library of Congress. And you can subscribe to the StoryCorps Podcast by going to npr.org.

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