Oklahoma Baptist Homes for Children

 
James Browning

stories from the book
by James V. Browning


Orphan's Home Stuff

John Henshall


I am John William Henshall and I am 72 years old. Today’s date is July 30, 1997. I spent nine years under “Baptist” care. This nine-year period was during the “Great Depression.” My generation at the Home could be called the “depression generation,” I guess. We didn’t necessarily know there was a depression; we did know most everyone was poor.

My father died in January of 1929. I had just turned four. My mother was 24, my older sister, Bertha May, was five, and my younger sister, Bettye Joyce, was nine days old.

My mother strove to keep our little family together, but her heroic efforts were in vain. (Her “efforts” would make a good story in itself.) Things seemed to worsen every year. My mother was not educated, but she was smart. We attended Kelham Avenue Baptist Church in Oklahoma City. By our good fortune, the pastor was Bro. R. C. Howard. He was a successful insurance businessman. If I’m not mistaken, Bro. Howard’s family donated most, if not all, the funding for one of the first cottages at the Oklahoma Baptist Children’s Home. Bro. Howard received no salary from Kelham Avenue. He preached my father’s funeral. He knew our family’s situation well. He made arrangements for my older sister and me to enter the Home. Since my younger sister was not in school, she was unable to enter at that time. However, she did come later.

My mother and my aunts tried to prepare us for admission day by telling us “You’ll have horses to ride,” “You’ll make many new friends,” etc. Although my sister and I were only seven and eight years old, we were wise enough to know what was going on. We knew we were not being abandoned, it was just something that had to be done.

The big day came in the middle of July of the year I was to enter the third grade, 1931. We rode to the orphanage in a one-seated car owned by a young couple in our church. The couple, my mother, and baby sister rode in the front, and my older sister and I rode in the trunk with the lid propped open. Interesting I used the word “orphanage.” The name at the time was Oklahoma Baptist Orphan’s Home. We kids had many discussions—being an orphan or only a half-orphan. The kids with both parents dead bragged about being a full and me being only a half-orphan. I never wished my mother dead, but sometimes I did wish I were “whole.”

We got to the Home in mid-afternoon. The place was not the “pretty park” my aunts had led us to expect. Really, it was very drab—the way movies depict old orphanages. All the buildings looked “run down” and as we were to find, were run down.

By looking around, you could tell the buildings and grounds at one time were first class. The “forty acres” was in a very good location to be in Oklahoma. There were not many trees, not much grass—very typical of Oklahoma. But with the rolling hills and the pretty skies, it did have a beauty, even if it was an acquired beauty. The terrain was elevated and we had a wonderful view of the skyline of Oklahoma City six miles away.

The main campus, located in the center of the forty acres, consisted of four permanent brick buildings: the “North Building,” the “Boys’ Building,” the “Girls’ Building,” and the “Dining Hall/Chapel.” These buildings had formal names, but in the nine years I was there, these names were never used. You could tell, if you looked closely at those buildings, that at the time they were designed and built, they were really quite adequate for the intended use. But by the time we arrived, they were, for lack of a better term, in “pitiful” condition.

The general campus pretty well matched the buildings. To form the campus, the four main buildings were arranged around an oval. The inner oval, we called the “parking,” was enclosed by a concrete curbing. You could tell inside the curbing at one time had been beautifully landscaped with built-in sprinklers, etc. Also there were two large 20 or 30 foot round concrete curbed flower beds. At one time these beds must have been planted to cannas, because they were referred to by the kids as the “cannon beds.” These beds had long been abandoned but the big curbs did make a good place to sit and play or have a conversation.

There were a number of out-buildings. The big “chicken house,” used for junk storage, the “potato house,” not used because the racks to store potatoes and onions were in the chicken house, the “milk house,” old and run down, housed the equipment used to process and store the milk from the Holstein cow herd. Upstairs over the milk house was where egg crates were stored and junk accumulated, the “shop building” contained the “shoe repair shop” (it had excellent equipment), a garage (Mrs. Majors, who ran the laundry, parked her car here) and the campus work shop. The second floor of the shop building stored more junk. The “laundry building,” built of hollow red tile, housed at one time, state-of-the-art equipment, but the equipment had seen its better days long ago. There were two large tumble washing machines—only one of them worked—a large spin ringer, two steam presses, a steam clothes dryer, a row of ironing boards (about five or six) and a mangle, heated by gas, to iron sheets. (All my life, I have judged my contentment and well-being by having two clean sheets to sleep between. We always had nice clean sheets.)

  • Continued...
    All the laundry equipment ran off of one long shaft driven by a big electric motor. The equipment was connected to the shaft by flat leather belts, in other words, really old. Behind the laundry was the “slaughter house”—still used, but it had seen better days. The milk barn and feed storage, the large hay shed, horse barn, and a large farm building used as a truck garage were, when built, first-class farm structures.

    A nice, tall white wooden fence, the kind you find on Kentucky horse farms, separated the stock pens from the main campus. That fence was well-constructed, because at this time, it was still beautiful, but must have been built 20 or 30 years before. The fence was, in my opinion, the only thing on the campus that had any “class.”

    Then off in the west pasture was the sorghum press and “sorghum house.” To hear the older kids talk, this set-up had not been used for years. About the second year I was there, though, some teenage boys planted about 10 acres of cane, using our old team of horses, Dutch and Dobbin. They cut some of the cane and tried to make syrup by using Dutch to pull the cane press. They cooked the juice in the “sorghum house,” but as well as I remember, got no edible syrup.

    For most of the time I was there, the boys used the sorghum house to raise pigeons as one of their “pet hobbies.” The management was very understanding about animal pet hobbies. We had rabbits, fancy bantam chickens, regular chickens, fancy pigeons, dogs, cats, white mice, and a pony named Snazzy.

    With the dairy and hog operation, there was always abundant feed for the pets. We were never told we could use the feed, but we were never told we couldn’t either. We had an “understanding.” We had many “understandings” about many things. We may have originated the saying, “Don’t ask, don’t tell.” We figured it was easier to get forgiveness than get permission. For instance, the staff never asked where those prize, show pigeons came from and no one ever told.

    Back inside the buildings, the heating system in the three buildings that housed the kids consisted of old steam radiators. The ancient furnaces that generated the steam were converted from coal to natural gas years before. There were no gas “burners” as such, installed in the fire boxes of the old boilers—only a simple gas jet that belched out a big, noisy, inefficient flame. The boilers did not have automatic water controls, so the responsibility for keeping the water in the boilers fell on a teen-age boy/man. In the winter, this guy went around every morning about 4:30 or 5:00 to check the water level and light the three boilers. Than around 9:00 at night, he made the rounds and turned the gas off.

    The “boiler guy” was also the “bell guy.” He was responsible for ringing the campus bell. The bell, an old-fashioned cast-iron school bell, was rung at 5:30 a.m. on school mornings, 6:30 a.m. or so for breakfast, 8:00 a.m. or so to go to school, 4:00 p.m. in the afternoon for the milk guys and the kitchen/dining room help, 5:30 p.m. for supper, and 9:00 p.m. for lights out. The nine years I was at the Home, we always had a very dependable “bell guy.” We were never late getting up and none of the boilers ever blew up.

    The North Building, which I was in for the first three years or so of my stay, was very cold at 5:30 a.m. in the morning. We got up in the cold, but we never slept cold. Besides two clean sheets, we had adequate cover—all quilts. These quilts were made by wonderful women in the different churches and sent to the home. I don't ever remember sleeping under a blanket.

    The plumbing in the North Building was inadequate, to say the least. The one bathroom for the boys (we called it the “lavatory”) had two commodes, one urinal, two sinks, and a bath-tub. One commode never worked. You flushed the urinal by filling a two-gallon can at the bath-tub and pouring it into the urinal.

    The little kids at the Home lived in the North Building. Girls were on one side of the second floor of the building in a large dorm room, something like a large ward in a hospital. The boys were on the other side of the building on the same floor in the same type of large dorm room. The two rooms were connected by a wide hallway. Off the middle of the hallway was a medium-sized room. We called this room the “nursery”—don’t know why it was called the nursery, but we had a need to name everything.

    The boys’ dorm room had seven or eight double beds (sometimes we slept three to a bed) and I guess the girls had the same number. In the nursery were nine large baby beds. These were metal beds with a sliding side bar. The side bar was always down. In this nursery is where my life in the Home began. I was always short for my age, so I was given a baby bed. The first night I had a hard time getting into bed. On the foot rail of my bed hung a pair of pajamas which I was to put on. So what’s the problem? The problem was a teenage girl in the room. The other little “toots” put their pajamas on, but I was going to wait until that girl left. I decided she wasn’t going to leave, so I started unbuttoning my shirt. Everyone else had hopped in bed with their heads bowed— “Five little angels around my bed, one at the foot and one at the head; one to watch and one to pray, and one to carry my sorrow away.” I wondered what was wrong with “If I should die before I wake.”

    I got my pajamas on but wished I could have slept in my clothes. I climbed into bed and laid down. I think that girl came over to see if my feet were hanging out the end of the bed. They weren’t so I guess she thought “the bed is just right for him.” Seems like I would never grow enough for my feet to hang out. Didn’t take me long to really wish to move into the dorm so I could sleep in a real bed.

    We had one adult woman in charge of the kids in the North Building. She was not a housemother, she was a matron. Our matron at the time was Mrs. Riney. She and the six or eight teenage girls cared for the forty to fifty kids in the North Building.

    Here is how we bathed—or at least, how the boys bathed. The nursery boys bathed first. The baths were given (we did not take a bath, we were given a bath) twice a week, on Wednesday night and Saturday morning and every once in a while on Saturday night). We had one problem that was never solved in the time I was in the North Building. The water heater would not provide enough hot water. So when the dorm boys were ready to be bathed, the big bath-tub was filled with hot water, if the hot water held out. If not, it was topped off with cold.

    Two boys hopped into the tub, two teenage girls got down on their knees beside the tub and usually stayed that way until bath time was over. There was a gallon can between them with “gel-type shampoo” in it. Actually, it wasn’t shampoo, but a concoction of melted bar soap. The girls dipped two fingers in the can—meanwhile the boys had dunked their heads and had their wet hair waiting for the shampoo. Two fingers worth—rub, rub, rinse—stand up, get washed all over with a soapy washcloth, back down—rinse, rinse, rinse and out you hop. You shuffle over to the “towel girl” and she helps you dry. Two more in the tub and out. When did they change the water? They didn’t! When everyone was finished, they drained the tub, sometimes with great difficulty. The hard water and the coagulated soap—but enough of that.

    It seemed that I spent a short lifetime in those bath lines. We knew there must be a better way, but we accepted this ritual with the more or less fatalistic attitude that helped us not only to cope with, but maybe accept this life with a half-way healthy attitude. The girls that took care of us rotated their jobs every 30 days; in fact, all the kids who didn’t live in the North Building were rotated jobs every 30 days.

    The “front office” staff, composed of a husband and wife team, Mr. and Mrs. Mansfield, made out the monthly work rotations. The last week of each month after our supper meal at the announcement time, they would read out the work rotation list. There must have been 12, 15, or more work stations that were changed each month. As a kid in the North Building, I was interested only in the names of the ones who would be our care givers, or who would be our friends and helpers or our disinterested, got-a-job-to-do-get-it-done type.

    We were a tough little group, even early on, we knew we were not in this situation because of our own doing. We were happy a lot more than we were sad. We were proud of ourselves, we were proud of each other. We were survivors. We knew things would get better, and for most, it did.

    Anyway, as I got a little older, 10 or so, I was still small for my age (I was still standing in the bath line). A girl, Betty Lee Boles, my age, was called to rotate to the North Building as her work assignment. Betty Lee was assigned to the boys’ bathroom bath detail. I was in the bath line again. I got my bath, Betty Lee had the towel chore. She threw me a towel and said something like, “dry yourself.” If humiliation like that doesn’t destroy you, then it has to make you stronger. I guess it made me stronger. Betty Lee and I made it on through junior high and into high school. I classified her as a close, dear friend in high school and to this day a cherished friend. So much for the bath line.

    The off-campus superintendent was E. A. Howard. He took over in the 1920’s or before, in rather prosperous times. Our wonders why Baptist people, no different than they are today, would not have stepped in and kept the Home a first- class institution.

    E. A. Howard would visit the campus only very seldom, usually a Sunday at the noon meal. He would tell us about the first time he toured the campus, finding broken windows with snow blowing in on the beds. “There are no broken windows now,” he would say. There were no broken windows, but we could not find anything else he had fixed, if indeed the windows. He was talking to a skeptical, hard, “survival smart” audience. He did not convince anyone of his greatness.

    I was privileged to attend at least two Oklahoma Baptist General Convention meetings. We would sing as a group. The “cute” ones would sing solos and recite little poems. In his oral report to the general assembly, he would say “The Baptist Orphan’s Home is within its budget and is completely out of debt.” To be facetious, if someone had asked us boys what we needed, we could have said, “Do you think you could get us a two-gallon can? The one we use to flush the urinal leaks?”

    When Howard was replaced with Dr. Andrew Potter, things began to change. Although the times were at the deepest part of the Great Depression, the on-campus leadership changed and the general staff of workers was enlarged. The resident superintendent, Brother H. Truman Maxey, came aboard. He, his wife, and young son moved into a house that was moved to the campus sometime about then. They faced a very skeptical population of “survivors.” No one was rebellious, but there was a great deal of skepticism.

    The Maxeys settled in and went to work. Brother Maxey was all over the campus all the time. He was a hands-on guy. He gained total respect and confidence in no time flat. He didn’t have any broken windows to fix to keep the snow off the beds, but he and Dr. Potter started a campus renovation program you wouldn’t believe. (Remember there was a depression going on.)

    The first thing, all the old furnaces were changed out and the steam heat system was made safe. All the “bell guy” had to do was check to see if everything about the furnace was working.

    The remodeling, planning, updating, thinking, fund-raising, constructing, innovating, planning, planning, working, working has not stopped to this day.

    Back to the 1930’s. The transport for the children was two one-and-a-half ton stake bed trucks. One of these trucks was constantly on the road, visiting each and every small Baptist church in the state. Paul Dennison, who was raised in the home, was the truck driver and Brother Dan Curb, a middle-aged man, was the Home representative. In the summertime, Brother Curb would take a group of kids in a small delivery-type van with no windows in the back. In the van were two wooden benches, one on each side, seating six to eight kids.

    Very happy memories took place riding in that little hot van. Number one, we were going some place, number two, we were learning Oklahoma geography first-hand, number three, we were away from the hum-drum routine of institutional life and number four, we got to meet lots of nice people and stay in the homes of very generous people. Some homes were very modest and some beds did not have two nice clean sheets. All in all, it was a very happy time and I could go on with numbers five, six, seven, eight, and more. Life was good.

    The truck with “Oklahoma Baptist Orphan’s Home” on the doors, driven by Paul, had a tarp “jerry-rigged” to keep things dry. When the truck or van left the Home for the “trips” (we called the three-week or so ride in the little van a “trip,” the truck carried only boxes of empty fruit jars. The churches were notified ahead of time and usually a respectable group would show for the short presentation by Brother Curb and the boys and girls. We would perform, visit, load the produce, and groceries on the truck, and trade empty fruit jars for full ones. Things were good!

    The other truck, which also had “Oklahoma Baptist Orphans Home” on the door, took us every place we went. After Dr. Potter and the Maxeys took over, the Home had a four-door Ford car, always a Ford. The first one was a hand-me-down from Dr. Potter’s office in the Baptist Building in downtown Oklahoma City. They were beautiful cars. When several kids needed to go to town, we got to ride in this car—quite a treat.

    One night after I had moved to the “boys’ building,” there was quite a commotion in the front hall of the building. My room was upstairs and the stairs led down to the front door. I started down the stairs and got a grandstand view of the commotion. Standing there all bloody was the hulk of a big, healthy teenage boy. He had just staggered in the front door. He was babbling about someone kidnaping him in the Home’s nice blue four-door Ford car. He said he had grabbed the steering wheel and caused the car to crash into a big tree about a mile from the campus just before they got to our elementary-junior high school on 63rd Street. Boy, was that excitement! We had a hard time getting to sleep that night.

    The true story: the big, healthy teenage boy turned out to be Donald Clark. After a little detective work, Brother Maxey found Donald had taken the car for a “joy ride.” He had lost control and had totaled the car by crashing into the tree. Donald was not punished. I guess Brother Maxey figured he was punished enough with his cut-up face, sore ribs, and other aches and pains. The car was towed back to the campus and sat under a tree by the dining hall for a long time. The incident died with hardly a whimper. By the time Donald’s cuts had healed, everything had settled back into routine. Life was worth living.

    Back to the truck, one of the first times I remember riding in one of the trucks was a pleasant time I won’t forget until I die. I had been in the Home only a few months. It was winter, very cold and rainy. The truck was backed up to the front steps of the north building, so you could just walk into the back of the truck from the steps.

    The driver was Johnny French. I was in the “herd” of kids waiting to get in the truck; but for some reason, Johnny picked me up, and while carrying me to the cab, told me, “Tillie wants you to ride in the front with us.” Tillie Morris was Johnny’s girl friend. When the truck door opened, man, it was warm inside! Johnny French was a fine, healthy, handsome young man raised in the Home. Tillie was a beautiful senior in high school. Tillie reached out and took me in her arms and snuggled me in her lap, held me close and pulled her sweet-smelling coat around me and warmed my shivering bones. Johnny drove me to school. Life couldn’t get any better than that.

    Most of the time with the truck, things weren’t that memorable. I know I spent more time standing in the truck than I did standing in the “bath line.” I guess I learned about as much about life standing riding in that truck as I did in the “bath line.”

    Late one night when Paul Dennison and Brother Curb came home from a “trip,” we all unloaded the truck as we always did. They brought something that was to change my life, not for the better, not for the worse, just not the same. This was a boy just my age. His name was Carl Parker. Carl was hungry, so they fed him. I was in the boys building by this time. Mrs. Foster was our housemother. (Notice the term “housemother,” not “matron,” one of the terms changed after the Maxey’s—though some of the time, “housemothers” still acted like “matrons.”) Mrs. Foster paired Carl to sleep with me. All the beds were double and slept two boys.

    Carl was a “proud” boy, not too easy to get acquainted with, but not too “standoffish.” I do not think he thought much of me at first sight, but he was polite. He was part American Indian, you could tell at first glance. When he got into bed, he crawled in on his knees and rubbed the bottoms of his feet together to get the grit off. He said, “My mother taught me how to do that.” As well as I remember, he never mentioned his mother again. He did continue rubbing the bottom of his feet together and so did I.

    A lot of us had nick names. Carl’s name became “Blackie.” Whenever you talk to someone in my older generation about Carl, it is “Blackie Parker.” We tried to connect him with Quanah Parker, the famous Indian chief, but he did not speak much about his folks. This was not strange as most kids did not talk about their kin.

    About this time, I acquired a nick-name. They called me Johnny all the time. One night at the supper table, an older guy at the head of the table said, “Johnny, you need a nick-name.” He picked the name “Andy” out of the blue and the eight other boys sitting at the table agreed. From then on, I was known as “Andy.” When my wife, who is a doll, (we’ve been married 47 years) is in a certain reflective mood, she will refer to me as “Little Orphan Andy.” I wear the label “orphan” proudly, even if I am only “half.”

    Back to the old truck. Blackie and I became real close, close enough to develop a sibling rivalry-type thing. Blackie was intelligent, but he had missed so much school, he was a couple of years behind. I went to high school in Britton while he remained in the elementary/junior high school. High school kids rode in the truck since it was a little far to walk, and the other kids walked a mile to school. Each school morning, as the truck slowly traveled the quarter-mile lane from the campus to the 63rd Street, weaving in and out among the kids walking, some of the guys would run alongside the truck and talk to us or flirt with the girls.

    One morning, a clear, warm, beautiful Oklahoma winter day, Blackie was running alongside the truck. I was standing by the old rickety sideboard right over the dual wheels and Blackie held onto the bed of the truck and was trotting along. I guess we were talking or maybe he was talking to one of the girls. Blackie had a way with the girls that kind of irritated me. He was tall, dark, and rather handsome and things with girls came easy for him. I, on the other hand, was nothing to look at and I was short to boot. When I did luck out once in a while and get the interest of a girl, Blackie would revel in coming between us. That is neither here nor there.

    Blackie was holding on to the truck as it came to 63rd Street and turned onto the blacktop without stopping. The truck gained speed and Blackie started running faster. At about this point, any of the “dare devil” type would let go and pull off to the side, but Blackie held on. The truck shifted gears and gained speed. I was yelling, “Let go!” and others were yelling, “Let go!” We did not realize what was causing the situation. Blackie was yelling something to us, but we could not understand him. He had a pained look in his eyes. We had not gone far when Blackie fell, but still did not let go of the truck. Kids were banging on the truck cab to stop the truck, Blackie was trying to keep away from the dual wheels and was being dragged on his toes and knees.

    The truck finally stopped. Blackie got up rather slowly, still holding on. He looked up and yelled something to us. We still couldn’t understand, so we all leaned over farther trying to hear. We didn’t realize that our leaning was what was causing the trouble. When the panic subsided, someone with a clear head saw that Blackie’s ring finger on his left hand was caught in a hole in the metal truck bed and a piece of metal fastened to the sideboard was pinching his finger. The guy with the clear head said, “Everyone pull back to the center of the truck to shift the weight of the sideboard.” Easier said than done because the truck was stuffed with bodies, as it usually was. Finally, we were able to pull the sideboard in enough for Blackie to get his finger loose. Meanwhile, Paul Dennison, the truck driver who had brought Blackie to the Home several years before, was not pleased. Blackie tried to explain, but Paul, with his hand on Blackie’s shoulder, turned Blackie half-around and with the side of his foot kicked him on the seat so hard, it lifted him off the ground.

    By the time Blackie’s finger was healed, the incident was closed, folded deeply in that mysterious, but merciful cloak we all wore and had been weaving since the first time we set foot on the forty acres. Blackie went on to finish high school. He served in the Navy during World War II. We corresponded some. After the war, he went to college and had a very successful career with NASA. Blackie died a few years back. I loved that old sibling rival, I miss him very much.

    I am not through with the truck, yet. I guess it was the crudest type of transportation you could imagine since the horse and wagon. Yet, perhaps not too proudly, we took the truck with the sign “Oklahoma Baptist Home” to scout jamborees, to Oklahoma City Indians (a Texas league) baseball games, to the best movie theaters in Oklahoma City, doubled parked on the busy street in front and unloaded out the back of the truck. We never had to take the truck to church though. The four churches we attended sent out a bus to pick us up. There are many stories here, also. I hope someone includes some.

    Brother Maxey managed “by priority.” I know, because of the very, very limited financial resources and I know he was always thinking. One morning, it was very, very cold. We loaded the truck from the north building front steps, as usual. I think “Pop” Hall, a very fine man, was driving the truck. Just before the boys loaded the big old metal lunch box and “Pop” Hall put in the tail gate, Brother “Hands-on” Maxey stepped in the truck. Gosh, it was cold! I was riding with my back to the wind, therefore I faced the back of the truck. Brother Maxey stood in the back with his face to the wind. He had on an overcoat with a short collar, nothing on his ears and his usual dress short-brim hat. I knew he was cold, yet he faced the wind. His eyes watered and ran down both cheeks. I don’t know what he was thinking, but I guess it was something like this: “I know it is bad riding in the back of this old truck, but is it bad enough to move ‘getting that bus’ up the priority list?” I’m sure he rode back to the Home in the cab. Maybe “Pop” Hall and he talked about getting a bus. The next school year, we did have a nice, new Dodge school bus. Goodness, I admired that man and my admiration and love grew through the years for both Brother and Mrs. Maxey. I hold them in such awe, I still have to call them “Brother and Mrs. Maxey.” So much for truck stories.

    Now, when I came to the Home in the middle of the summer in 1931, there was talk about the “Quance Picnic.” They were trying to say “Kiwanis Picnic.” Not a day went by without somebody mentioning the picnic. I did not know what they were talking about, but I knew it must be good.

    Sometime around the first of August, I had been in the Home three or four weeks, we were all taken to the Oklahoma State Fair Grounds. Here, in one of the open fair pavilions, the Kiwanis Clubs of Oklahoma City had set up the most beautiful sight my little six-year-old eyes had ever seen. There were tubs and tubs filled with ice and Nehi soda water (orange, lime, red strawberry, chocolate and grape), several containers with dry ice full of Eskimo Pies, and tons of hot dogs.

    Our Home was not the only one invited, but I do not know which others were there. We ate and ate and the nice men begged us to eat more. There was playground equipment and such. I knew all about this part of the park, because I was living in easy walking distance of the fairgrounds for several years before I went to the Home.

    After we had stuffed ourselves and played to exhaustion, these wonderful men lined us up at one end of the grounds and we walked through, picking up all the litter. The long row of kids stayed together to the other side. We all turned around and a man at each end of the line had a big bank bag full of shiny new quarters. They gave us each one. I knew then that living in an orphanage was not to be all bad.

    The second year at the picnic, I met two of my friends I had run with before I went to the Home. I gave them all the hot dogs, pop, and Eskimo Pies they could eat. I think they wished they lived in an orphan’s home. The picnic was the first great thing I remembered.

    This is the next nicest thing I remembered. One Saturday morning, “the girls” said, “Get your Sunday clothes on.” So after our baths, we got dressed and sat on “the steps.”

    To digress, the “stairs” were the boys’ lounging area. I sat on the steps longer than I waited in the “bath line” and stood in the old trucks put together. The stairs led up to a landing, turned a corner, and ended on the third floor. The steps we sat on faced the nursery. The boys were lucky to have steps to sit on. The girls sat on the floor and leaned against the wall down the hall just to our left of the nursery. So we sort of faced the girls down and across the hall.

    I sat on the steps for years. The second floor containing the nursery and two large dorm rooms had only one or two chairs; these had woven cane bottoms. The only ones to sit in them were “the girl of the day” or the matron. One “girl” was appointed to sit in the hall while we sat on the steps. There were no tables. When we sorted clean clothes or embroidered our numbers in our clothes or the like, we did it on the floor. We had nice oak floors which we kept waxed and clean. Very seldom could we play table games. I don’t think I learned as much “sitting on the steps” as I did in the “bath line” or standing in the truck. One thing we did learn was to have great respect for Henryetta Grindstaff. I guess when strange things happen, you remember them. Most of the time, things did not happen on the steps.

    One Saturday morning, though, the boys had all finished their baths and were sitting on the steps. Some of the girls had finished their baths, but not all. We heard a commotion in the girl’s bathroom. The first thing we could hear clearly was a little girl’s voice saying very loudly, “NO, MA’AM, I DIDN’T DO IT.” The next voice we heard was our matron, Mrs. Hensley, who said just as loudly, “YES, YOU DID.” “No, I didn’t!” Then, bursting out of the girls’ bathroom, came Mrs. Hensley dragging a skinny little, black-haired girl named Henryetta into the matron’s room. We heard Henryetta, through the door, say, “You can do what you want to do to me, but I’m not going to say I did something I didn’t do.” I’ll remember that statement forever.

    Everyone loved Henryetta, but that day, love took a back seat to pure admiration. Henryetta grew into a beautiful young woman, full of poise and self-confidence. I sure would like to meet her today because I never told her how much she was admired. I am sure there is a good lesson there someplace. Most of the time, we just vegetated on the steps.

    Back to the story of why we had worn Sunday clothes on Saturday. One of the “girls” said, “We are going to a wedding. It is going to be Johnny French and Tillie Morris.” My mind drifted back a few months and to that nice ride in the warm cab of the truck. I thought, “What a lucky guy Johnny French is,” but I don’t remember much about the wedding. So much for the stairs.

    Brother Maxey was always walking the campus. We had a hard time with our dry trash. There was no garbage or trash pick-up, so we burned the dry stuff. We had no incinerator at the time, so trash was burned in a pile in the west pasture. Sometimes we guys for a past-time would start a small fire near the trash pile and fry stuff. One afternoon, we were frying some crawdad tails and potatoes. The crawdad tails were turning red and the potatoes were frying nicely, when Brother Maxey turned up. He surveyed the situation and said something to the effect that if they served food like that in the dining hall, we would report them to the police. But he said it in such a neat tone of voice, as though he would not mind eating some with us.

    Another time, Brother Maxey was walking the campus and I was on kitchen duty and in the milk house with one of the other kitchen guys. We were to carry milk for supper. The windows were always open in the summertime. The big aluminum two-handle pot milk was stored in was heavy and very hard to get out of the wooden refrigerator. I was expressing my frustration with a string of very vulgar but, I thought, descriptive words. I heard this voice through the window, “Johnny, is that you?” It was Brother Maxey. At first, I thought it was the Lord and it scared the heck out of me! “Why don’t you meet me at my house when you get that milk to the kitchen.” When I got to his house, which was right there near the kitchen, he was waiting on his front porch with a bar of Palmolive soap. He cut off a chunk about as big as the end of his thumb, and said something like, “why don’t you suck on this,” handing me the chunk of soap, “and see if it won’t clean up that mouth of yours a little,” So I sucked on the soap and he went into the house. Now that’s psychology!

    I lived in the Home for nine years from the third grade through the eleventh grade. The summer of the year I was to enter the twelfth grade, I had the good fortune of going to live with a nice young couple and more or less worked my way through the twelfth grade. I was still under the auspices of the Home, in that they furnished my clothes, school supplies, etc. All in all, this was a very beneficial, but bitter-sweet year.

    It was during this year at Christmas vacation time, that my beautiful 18-year-old sister, who was attending business school in Enid, was killed in an automobile accident. It was also the year that the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. I did go on and finish school, though.

    There were two “things” that I attributed to my earthly salvation. One was living in the Home and the other was World War II. I was drafted in the first “18-year-old” draft, spent four years in the Army Air Corps as an airborne radio repairman. I was working for Civil Service at Tinker Air Force Base outside of Oklahoma City before I was drafted.

    When I was discharged, I had the option of a career in the Air Force, Civil Service at Tinker (a guaranteed life-time career with all the benefits, etc.), or to use my G.I. Bill and go to college. I chose college and have never looked back.

    I am not very scholarly, but I started college at Oklahoma Baptist University; met my wife, Elizabeth, there; and attended OBU for three years. Elizabeth’s dad was a Baptist preacher—but I married her anyway.

    After three years at OBU, I transferred to the University of Oklahoma in Norman. I finished there two years later with a Bachelor of Science degree in Industrial Education and with a four-month-old baby boy.

    We moved to Kenedy, in south Texas, in the fall of 1952, tried farming for four years, and had three more babies. We couldn’t make a living on the farm which was 350 acres that belonged to my father-in-law.

    We moved to Beeville, thirty miles away, and I took a job teaching math, engineering, drawing, and wood shop. We had one more baby by then. The starting salary was $2,805 per year.

    In the twelve years I was in the Beeville Public Schools, I earned a Master of Science degree in Public School Administration, and raised five kids. Beeville was building a junior college at this time. I figured if I could earn counselor certification, I stood a good shot at working for this college.

    To make a long story short, Elizabeth, the five kids (Jack, Jan, Jean, Jim, and Joyce) and I packed up and camped all the way to Pullman, Washington, where I attended WashingtonStateUniversity for one academic year and earned my counselor certification.

    I was hired the next year at BeeCountyCollege as a counselor. I spent the next wonderful 17 years helping young people and old find the way to their educational goals.

    I retired at 60, and Elizabeth, who had retired from public school, and I (the five kids were all out and married, starting their own families) went back to the farm. We have passed the last 12 years, the best 12 years of our lives, getting this farm back in production.

    Elizabeth’s father deeded the place to her and her sister, Mary. We bought and traded other assets for Mary’s one-half share.

    We have built our own house on the place, smack dab in the middle. We designed it one story with a floor plan where we could keep Elizabeth’s dad with us. Unfortunately, he died before the house was barely started. The 350 acres is now in permanent pasture (Coastal Bermuda), fenced and cross-fenced into nine pastures, four stock ponds, and cattle working pens. Elizabeth and I run from 60 to 90 cows. This is truly a “mom and pop” operation.

    We have had as happy a life as anyone could expect on this old earth. We have always been active in the Baptist churches, had no trouble tithing, before any deductions. Elizabeth has always been active in the church’s music programs. What’s best is our children and their families are also active in their respective churches. I attribute what success we have enjoyed mostly on the time spent in Baptist care back in the Great Depression.

    I share this for what it is worth. My closest friend, for whom I served as pallbearer this last year, and with whom I worked as a colleague my entire time spent in education, said to me a few years ago, as seriously as could be, “John, you sure are lucky. All your life, you have just had everything given to you.” And I guess I have. It has been a beautiful ride that started in the trunk of a one-seated car and the back of an old one-and-a-half ton truck.

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