stories from the book
by James V. Browning
The Story of Jewel Correna Choate
Jewel Correna Choate
It was a cold hard winter in the middle of the “Great Depression.” Times were hard for everyone, but just before the daylight hours on October 5, 1932, I was born. I was the third child of nine children born to poor, but caring parents, Robert and Mary Choate.
My parents lost their second child, Roberta, and their fourth child, Gladys Marie; then there were five more children born--Billie Eugene, Edith Imogene, Charles Wesley, Johnny Lee, and Emilie Yvonne.
We were all born in the same house in Commerce, except Emilie. We moved to Hartshorne, out in the country, in 1942, where Emilie was born.
Our Mother left Daddy and seven children for another man about December, 1942. Daddy tried hard to take care of us, and keep us all together. Daddy, in earlier years, had worked in the coal mines and it had ruined his health, so he was not able to work. Needless to say, we were on welfare, and were living on $75.00 a month for all eight of us. We were very, very poor, but just about everyone was poor, so we did not know the difference in the Depression years.
Yes, we lived in the country, but Daddy always took us to Sunday School and church and most of the time, Sunday night services.
Well, everyone knew our mother had left us. As time went by, it was getting harder and harder for Daddy. I was having to miss school a lot to take care of the younger children not yet in school, so Daddy could go into town or over to McAlester to take care of business. I was missing a lot of my schooling, so Daddy started talking to our pastor about putting us in the Baptist Children’s Home in Oklahoma City. Our pastor helped Daddy get my three brothers, two sisters, and me into the Baptist Children’s Home.
We had an older brother, 14 years old. The Home would not accept him because he was too old at the time. When my brother turned 15 in November of 1945, Daddy signed papers for him to go into the Army.
The Baptist Children’s Home said I was really too old to be in the Home also, but since I was a girl and had siblings so young, they would accept me and maybe I could help with them. I think at that time, the age limit was 12 years old. I lacked two months being 13, but they accepted me anyway.
Our pastor brought all five of us to the Baptist Children’s Home on August 2, 1945. It was so hard on Daddy. He was heartbroken, to lose six of his children all at the same time. The pastor and Daddy thought it would be best and maybe a little easier on Daddy if he did not help bring us to the Home.
It was so hard for my younger siblings to adjust; it was a big adjustment for all of us. My two younger sisters would just sit out on the porch steps and cry, when it was play time outside. They were both in the little girls’ cottage. Emilie was only 2½ years old. So, after a couple of months of them sitting on the steps crying, the Home finally decided to put me to work in the cottage where my sisters lived, to see if that would help them adjust better. My brothers seemed to adjust a little better than my sisters. My sisters and I got to see each other every day. My duties were helping prepare the meals and cleaning up after we ate. Then when I worked upstairs, my duties were giving the little ones their baths at night, help them brush their teeth and tuck them into bed. In the mornings, I’d get the little ones up, help them dress, make their bed, help them brush their teeth, go downstairs to eat, bring them back upstairs to wash their hands and faces. There were two of us older girls that worked upstairs and two that worked downstairs. The ones upstairs always cleaned the bathrooms and the floors every morning. This seemed to help my little sisters to the new adjustment we were all having to make, just knowing I was with them. At night, we older girls were always at our own building. There were about a 150 kids living in three buildings with a dozen workers and we older kids had to help get the work done.
We had our jobs to do. They would change our jobs about every six months. I did them all at one time or another. I worked at both little girls’ and little boys’ cottages, upstairs and downstairs. Then when they built the junior boys’ cottage, I worked there also. I worked in the old hospital, and after the new hospital and nursery were built, I worked in them also. I worked in the Laundry, as one of the ironing girls. I worked in what they called the Big Kitchen, preparing meals for the big girls and big boys building. There were two of us girls that worked in the Big Kitchen at a time. The two of us would make biscuits every morning and I thought at that time that was a lot of biscuits. But the biscuits were all eaten every morning, since there were a lot of mouths to feed. There were also two of us girls that worked in the bread room, and each of us made 15 loaves of bread every morning.
On Saturdays, the big boys would kill and clean chickens, bring them to the Big Kitchen and we older girls would cut them up for Sunday dinner. I will never forget the summer before my junior year in high school, another girl and I decided not to go to Falls Creek camp. We wanted to stay home and earn baby-sitting money for our class pictures, class rings, etc., however we both forget that we would be the only ones left to cut up chickens on Saturday, so the two of us cut up one hundred and fifty chickens that Saturday. It took us just about all day, but we got it done. You wouldn’t think I would even want to see another chicken! However, to this day, I still like chicken. We did make some good money that summer since we did get all the baby-sitting jobs while the other girls were away at camp.
The older girls could go into private homes and baby-sit for people. I met some very, very nice people that I baby-sat for. The summer before going into my junior year, I got a job in a department store downtown. So, during my junior and senior years, I went to school a half a day, then I would ride a bus to downtown Oklahoma City to my job. Then I would ride the bus home at night, do my homework, get everything ready for the next day. I had a very busy schedule--no dull moments.
I got into some trouble one time in the six years I was at the Home. When I was in the tenth grade, I ditched school one afternoon, so I was put on punishment for a month. The only things I could do were go to school, Sunday School and church. I could not baby-sit, go to movies or date. That was the only time I was on punishment for anything. I tell people today I was a good girl, the Home did not have any problems with me.
During the summer we could go on one two-week vacation with a family member, and one two-week vacation with our Societies, which were usually the WMU of the Baptist churches all over the state. Our Society was the group that bought our clothes every six months. I was very lucky, my Society was Trinity Baptist Church in Oklahoma City and that is where I went to church and Sunday School. So, a couple of ladies would come and get me and take me shopping. I got to pick out clothes that would not be like a lot of the other girls’ clothes. Most of the Societies were from out of town, so they would either send clothing in for the child or they would send money to the Home for whatever child they were clothing. The Home would take a group shopping for clothes. There were several kids that would get clothes just alike. Some of those girls envied me because I got clothes that were different. From time to time, some of the girls would want to borrow some of my clothes. I would let them, but I had to stop letting them borrow my dresses, since most of my dresses had to be dry-cleaned and the girls would not pay for the dry-cleaning, so I just quit loaning my clothes. My Society was very good to me and I enjoyed going shopping with them and getting to pick out my own clothes with their help.
I went to Falls Creek Camp three summers, went with my Society every summer for two weeks, and I went on vacation with my Aunt Jewell every summer for two weeks.
Daddy would come every month to see us kids, weather permitting, and Aunt Jewell would come with Daddy. We kids would look forward to seeing Daddy and Aunt Jewell. We went to Vacation Bible School every summer for two weeks. The Home put me in charge of the ones that went to Trinity Baptist to make sure everyone got on our bus. I think there were about forth-five or fifty kids that I had to keep track of.
The Home also put me in charge of the kids going to the dentist once a week until we had all had our trip to the dentist. When taking only fifteen to twenty-five kids per week, it would take most of the summer for all the dentist trips. This was all an experience for me.
I graduated from high school in May, 1951. I went to live with a Sunday School teacher for about a month, until one of my girlfriends and I could find our first apartment closer to our jobs downtown. My brothers and sisters were still in the Home. I would go back to visit them or see them at church on Sunday. I was in the Home for six years; my brothers and sisters were there for ten years.
Soon after graduating, I met and married my first husband. The marriage lasted for nineteen and a half years. From this marriage, I had four children: Deborah Kaye, Hugh David, Michael Dean, and Brenda Elaine. I worked as a waitress most of my married life to my first husband. In all, I worked as a waitress for thirty years. I also have four granddaughters: Kimberly, Christy, Jenny, Melinda, and one grandson: Michael Wayne.
I married my second husband and retired from working. I was in a bad car accident in June of 1989, resulting in a lacerated liver. Luckily, my husband was not in the accident. However, he passed away in March, 1990. There have been several accidents and obstacles in my life, just like a lot of other people I know. But that is life--we have to go on with our lives.
I would always take my children to the Baptist Children’s Home at Reunion time in July. Sometimes Daddy and Aunt Jewell would also come and go to the Reunion with my children and myself. I have gone to all of the Home Reunions except for one year. My oldest daughter, Debbie, and her husband, Dan, were living in Illinois in 1988. They came home for a vacation that year, so I had a big backyard picnic. I think there were about forty or forty-five people. We all enjoyed the time we got to spend together.
I don’t have any regrets for my five siblings or myself being raised in the Baptist Children’s Home. If it hadn’t been for the Children’s Home accepting the Choate family, I really don’t know how we would have survived, or where we would be today. I thoroughly appreciate everything the Children’s Home did for my family. Thank you.