stories from the book
by James V. Browning
The Face in the Window
Carolyn (Case) Yokley
The little girl crept silently into the small locker room, climbed up onto the window seat and took up her vigil as she had done for as long as she could remember. She lived in the little girls’ cottage, just one of the many cottages she would inhabit over the next 16 of her growing-up years. She was almost 5 years old now, with beautiful blue eyes, blonde hair and the round sweet face of a cherub. On this particular Sunday, the wintry wind blew and as she pressed her rosy cheeks against the windowpane, her breath left a fog that she wiped away with the hem of her “everyday” dress. She had already hung in the closet her “Sunday” dress.
She fixed her eyes on the spot where she knew her mama would emerge from a car that would bring her to see her children once a month. Her mama always looked like she belonged in a magazine with her two-piece suits, high heels, hose that had lines going down the back and a hat perched on her carefully coifed hair. She knew her mama did not always come in the same car, but she didn’t know why. Years later, she would come to know that her mama never did learn to drive a car, and so on these special days, had to depend on the kindness of friends and family to transport her to and from for these special visits. This was also the day she would be reunited with her three brothers and one sister. The security she had known as the youngest of these siblings had been ripped away for reasons she did not understand, and she basked in the happiness she felt at seeing them. There wasn’t much time, so they jockeyed for position to receive their mama’s attention they so hungered for. This hunger planted a need so deep in the little girl that for years she would wonder if she was even worthy of the love she sought. But her story is not about blame.
My name is Carolyn. That little girl is me. Fifty-three years have passed since I was brought to the Baptist Orphans’ Home. I say “Orphan” because in 1945, it was not called the Baptist Children’s Home. Much to our dismay, we were branded with the name orphans, even though many of us had parents who, for one reason or another, could not care for us. The term “orphans” was almost cruel, and I felt like I had been slapped every time someone called me that. Orphans were treated by the outside world as if we were crippled or defective, and this treatment created a shame that followed me throughout my life. But a lot of water has run under the bridge in these years and the memories are seared in my mind forever. Many of them are happy ones and some of them are disturbingly sad and, when summoned to the surface, still evoke tears that cannot be held back.
I was perceived as a happy child, but when I look into the little face of the pictures that is me, I see a child with no smile and eyes with no sparkle. It is a contrasting difference to the pictures of my own children and grandchildren that I study from time to time. The difference is obvious and painful. Sometimes I wonder what happened to the little girl when she was too little to remember. But I can’t remember and so I wonder if whatever it was that I can’t remember made me the person I am today. I am full of wonder about my life, and though I have total recall of some parts of it, there is always that unknown that shakes my curiosity, especially when I look into that mirror today and still see the little girl residing in the aging body of wrinkling skin and bones that have begun to weaken and ache. My heart still yearns to understand why, in God’s great plan, I did not matter.
“God is good, God is kind.....” That was probably the first thing I memorized besides, “Jesus loves me, this I know,” and I believed it. I still believe it today, but it wasn’t until I was grown that I began to question a God who would take away my father, separate me from my mama and put me in a place where the people were not my real family.
After years of wondering, years of counseling and therapy coupled with reading volumes of self-help books, I came to my own kind of understanding. I realize now that it was not God’s plan for me to lose my daddy. He did not plan for me to be raised in an orphanage because my mama was sick and unable to keep me. God gives people free will and some of us make wrong choices in our lives. Sometimes these choices create painful and sad repercussions. It was through these choices that my life was altered and deeply affected. I cannot blame God, although I’ve wanted to many times. I’ve wanted to know, why me?
I have come to the understanding that it was through God’s grace and his love for me that I was fortunate to be raised in the Baptist Children’s Home. It was there I found structure, education, food, clothing, Christian influence, Bible teaching and life-long friendships with enough good memories to outweigh any bad.
I was only 2 years old when my father died, leaving my mother with five children to care for. We had moved to Corpus Christi, Texas two years earlier where he found work as a refrigeration mechanic. My father suffered a stroke and lay ill for one year before he died at the young age of 42. My mother was devastated. She was away from her family and very ill, after having nursed her husband through his long illness while trying to maintain order and balance the care of her five small children. She was only 30 years old and her world, as she knew it, was ripped apart.
The year was 1944. My uncle drove us back to Oklahoma City and the family decided that we would be well-cared for at the Children’s Home while Mother regained her health. None of us knew then that we would live there until each in turn grew to the age of 18 and graduated from high school. Mother eventually regained her physical health, but the heartache of being separated from her children was ever present. She never remarried and was never able to eke out much of a living for herself, let alone five growing children who had everything they needed and more at the Home.
Mother was a devout Christian with more faith than anyone I have ever known. It was through her walk with God, her daily prayers and the knowledge that He would provide that she was able to find some peace and be content with the life she lived. So you see, those Sundays were the highlight of her month, and our time to shine for her. We basked in each other’s love and absorbed it as surely as we absorbed the sun.
When I grew up and left the Home, I married a childhood sweetheart, and immediately had two children of my own. We were much too young and so, we two children committed to raising two children. I’m sure I made many mistakes along the way, but we are still together, still trust in the Lord, and those two children have given us seven grandchildren, to whom we are just as committed. I thank God for them each and every day. I carry with me good memories about my days at the Home and my grandchildren never tire of asking me questions about my growing-up years. This is some of what I tell them.
I remember the first day of swimming every summer. On this day, we would fly with our little bare feet as fast as they would carry us and jump into the icy water to dive for quarters that some benevolent old gentleman made it his tradition to give.
I remember Sunday dinners, huge plates of fried chicken, mashed potatoes, gravy, home-grown veggies, fat dinner rolls and home-made pies of every sort you could name.
I remember the “big dining room upstairs” where we trekked each year on Christmas for plays and programs that we ourselves put on for the other children. There was always a huge Christmas tree and presents with our names on them. I can still feel the excitement as I waited for my own name to be called and I was handed a box that held a doll or something of equal desire to me. I remember when it came time to decorate and what fun it was to pop corn and string cranberries for our “own” tree.
I remember Irene Huffman, my housemother, making drapes for our building and making some of our clothes. I remember kitchen duty under her tutelage, and the freedom she gave us to be creative so we could and would learn to cook.
I remember cold wintry holiday nights. We bundled up, loaded the bus to go Christmas caroling. Much planning and scheming went into those bus trips to insure that we got to sit with the boy we had the latest crush on. Our enthusiasm was reciprocated with the boys scrambling to seek us out as well. I probably held my first beau’s hand on one of those excursions. I’ll always remember the hush that came over the bus as one of us would lead into a Christmas carol resulting in some of the most beautiful harmony I’ve ever heard, to this day. We were trained to sing and we were good—another one of the benefits of being raised in the Home.
I remember Mildred Gilliam and Edith Stinson taking us girls to town. Montgomery Wards. Those marathon shopping sprees were the highlight of getting ready for Easter Sunday, the first day of school or summer vacations with our sponsors. It was on these forays into town that we would pump the ladies for grown-up information about boys, love and sex. Of course, the only thing we learned was that boys were bad news until you were “old enough” to fall in love and the sex part somehow got diluted into “you’ll learn all that when you get married.”
I remember when I was finally old enough to baby-sit. How grown-up I felt, and responsible. I had my “own” money for a change and some of the children’s parents asked specifically for me. How special I must have been and what an impression I must have made to be asked for by name. Of course, we had the best basic training in the world for entertaining the children of others. We understood what they needed when it came to time to play. We also understood when they didn’t want to go to bed. I gloried in that little bit of authority that I meted out to my charges.
There are so many things to remember, and when I conjure up memories of my life, I realize there’s a lot of good, happy things to be thankful for. When observing those less fortunate than I, the thought, “but for the grace of God, go I” is ever real to me. I realize I loved some of those people who raised me. They became my role models and I know some of them must have loved me, because we kept in touch until they died. I loved the extended family of brothers and sisters I grew up with and I wonder what happened to them. There are so many names of children I wonder about and yearn to see and know what happened to them. People like Wanda Sloan, Peggy Neice, Rene Andre, Anton Chase, Doris Epperson, Ann Rogers, Gary Toodles, Ida Rogers. The list could go on and on and 53 years later, I would love them just as much today as I did then if they walked into my life. That is what love is. So if they are out there and they read this, just know that Carolyn Case never forgot you and always carried you in her heart and memory all your lives. It’s a love unceasing and full of wonder, just like God’s love for all His children.
My mother is 83 years old now. Six years ago, she was diagnosed with cancer and her time here was thought to be very short. But her faith and prayer, her courage and strong will to be here has given her a strength that astounds her doctors and health-care givers. Even they have had to admit that it is the hand of God. They did all they could do. Her life with us is ongoing, because God is not ready to call her home. That little mother with her weakened body, heart of gold and a love beyond compare now sits at the window, eyes fixed on the spot where she knows I will emerge from my car that has brought me to her and will continue to do so, for as long as it is God’s will.
Thank you, Baptist Children’s Home, for who I am today, what I stand for today, and what I will be in the future. Thank you, God, for sending Your Son to die for me. How special I must be and oh, how great your love is for your children. I love you, Lord. I love you, Lord. I love you, Lord.