stories from the book
by James V. Browning
Like a Real Home
My brother, John, and I were placed at the Baptist Children’s Home by our cousin, Gene. The State of Oklahoma relinquished our custody to him. We were not juvenile delinquents or car jackers, we were orphans. Our mother died in 1963, our father in 1972. We arrived at the Home May 23, 1972, turned into the gate at 3:00 p.m.—a big yellow school bus was in front of us—it was the last day of school for Oklahoma City.
I remember being scared and I turned to John and said, “When they open the car doors, let’s run for it.” John, being two years older, looked at me and said, “Sissy, where would we run to?” Over the years, I thought about that statement a lot. Where would we run to? I knew no one in Oklahoma City, did not know how to get back to Pawhuska, and even if I did my folks were dead. Where would I go? So, I stayed.
The Home became my home. My childhood memories that I now share with my children involve the Home. The Baptist Children’s Home was very good to me, I had the best houseparents anyone could ask for, John and Lillian Fite. They loved all the girls, they took care of, listened to and prayed with anyone that needed it. We shared their children and the births of their grandchildren, Todd, Stephanie and Andrea. I had predicted the twins.
I remember one night when we were all in the TV room, a new girl was ranting and raving about how “she was going to run away.” Mrs. Fite overheard her, walked in and said, “You want to run away, go pack your bags and when you’re ready to leave, let me know so I can lock the door behind you. We will not keep you against your will and the rest of us don’t want the doors to be unlocked all night.” Mrs. Fite turned and went back downstairs. We all sat there with our mouths open. Then we began to talk. The Home had no guards, no watch dogs, no fences, no spot lights, no ball and chains on our ankles. If we didn’t want to be there, we could leave. That was the day I realized how much our housemother cared for us. The girl did not attempt to leave, but decided to “give us one more day.” She wound up staying one year and then going home to her family.
I stayed until I graduated high school, I was already at “home” with my family. They were Sarah, Retha, Betsy, Maribel, Vicki, Deatris, Becky, Joyce, Mary and if I’ve forgotten someone, sorry, but it has been 20 years this May that I left the Home. I cried harder leaving than I did going.
Mr. & Mrs. Fite, we all loved you and we still do—you were the best—you were the mother and father many of us did not have, but needed.
Mr. Browning, you have always been a big inspiration to me and, John really respected you.