Oklahoma Baptist Homes for Children

James Browning

stories from the book
by James V. Browning

Funny and Sad Memories

Beatrice Robertson

Our mother's health was not good, and being a single mother, she had to work to support herself and four children. Our grandmother could help with two, but not four grandchildren. Our brother was sick, and our youngest sister was only 2 years old, too young to go to the Orphans' Home. My other sister was ready to go into kindergarten, and I was about to begin sixth grade. Mother had a very tough decision to make, and decided that my 5-year-old sister and I would fare better than the little one or the sick one, so she sent us to the Orphan's Home. She then moved to Claremore, with the other two, to be near our grandmother.

My sister and I were taken from our home in Wagoner, to the downtown office of the Baptist Orphans' Home in Oklahoma City. There we met Mr. Howard and Jimmy French. Jimmy was one of the “big boys” and drove the old bus that took us out to the Home.

It was supper time when we arrived. The dining room was in the basement of the girl's building. It had a low ceiling, and bare concrete floors. The tables had benches built on the sides. The dishes were metal (enamelware). There were approximately 150 or more people in there eating supper. The noise coming up from there scared us...we were already scared stiff! I have described what my sister and I walked into the evening of the second Tuesday in June, 1928.

Mrs. Mansfield met us, and introduced us to those at one table. One of those girls and I are still good friends, writing or calling each other frequently. You know, I don't remember another meal in that dining room. A beautiful new dining room with a chapel over it was being built. In it we had white table cloths, napkins, china dishes, and real glasses to drink from. And, oh yes! Chairs for 10 at a table. It was so nice and pretty. One afternoon before we moved in, many kids volunteered to wash the new windows (we got out of our afternoon quiet hour), we were two to a window; one inside and one outside.

The first thing they did was separate my sister and me. In the old North building, she was taken to live downstairs and I was upstairs. We were so crowded that they put us three to a bed. When it was “lights out,” and everyone was to be quiet, the girls in my room started telling these wild stories, whipped up for my benefit. I know they were meant to scare me, because the next week, we had another new girl in our dorm and those same stories were whispered again. That time, it was kinda funny. After a short time, I had made friends and things weren't so bad. I can't say I liked school at University Heights, but playing whip crack and such on the way to school was fun. One girl and I worked in the nursery and the kindergarten children were our responsibility. We were to take turns going home at noon and walking back to school with them. Rather than take turns, we both went every day and had each other for company and help. She was a fifth grader and we were good friends for many years.

Lots of friendships were made...a few not so good ones. It was established that we and only we could fuss among ourselves. No “outsider” better bother one of us! One day the first summer I was in the home, the matron had the day off, one of the older girls was in charge of us. There were probably 50 or more of us in the North building then. Anyway, this day another girl showed up wearing some beads that belonged to me, and we fussed about it. The girl in charge made us walk to and from the dining room holding hands for punishment. It worked, for we didn't fuss anymore.

One October day, during fire prevention week at Harding Junior High school, Uncle Leo, a clown demonstrated how we were to crawl out of a burning building. That very night, someone set fire to clothes in a closet in our dorm. We were in a room of four girls. Three of us were in junior high school, and slept three to a bed, while the fourth girl, who was still in elementary school had to sleep alone in the other bed. When one of the three of us smelled smoke, she woke the other two, and two of us started yelling FIRE! FIRE! and ran out of the building, while our third friend put her nose on the floor and crawled out of the building. Years later, we laughed about how we completely forgot the girl in the bed by herself. We thought we were special, sticking together, and sleeping three in a bed, while she probably snickered at us while she had a big bed all to herself. You know, kids can be cruel, but we really didn't try to burn her up! Another time, at Sunday dinner, Mr. Mansfield announced that they had a new Holstein bull over at the dairy, and we were not supposed to go near him. This bull was supposed to be a really mean fellow. Now, you know we would have never thought of doing anything to that bull, if he hadn't put the idea into our heads. It didn't take us long to get over there and inspect that really mean bull. He was taking a nap...standing there with his eyes closed, anyway. He was talked to and yelled at, but he continued to take his nap. God certainly was watching over us, because one of us tore a strip off the bottom of her pink dress and tied a bow on his tail. As always, no one ever told who did anything. The bull had a really good quiet hour, and the kids had fun...or at least we thought so.

A few people really didn't like the Home. Now I can't say I liked it, but I really disliked it when people said they were sorry for us. We had so many people that cared for us. We had “Societies,” who clothed us. These were WMU's or Sunday School classes from churches in Oklahoma. My “Society” was good to me...everyone thought theirs was the best. Know what? I knew mine was best. They sent me nice clothes. Most of my dresses were hand-made, but always new and fit really well. Mrs. Mansfield measured each of us twice a year and sent that along with a list of what we needed early in the Spring and again in the Fall. We got birthday and Christmas presents from our Society. When I graduated from high school, Corinth WMU (the church is now Burn's Flat) sent me a large box of scarves, tea towels, pillow cases, and quilts made from the scraps of dresses they had made for me over the years. More than 50 years after graduation from high school, I was retired, and living in Granbury, Texas, when a couple transferred their church membership to my church. They had grown up in my Society's church. The lady told me that her mother had been one of the ladies who made clothes for me and worked on the quilts they had given me.

  • Continued...

    Most of my friends have stayed in touch over the years. Not many of those are still living now. We lose one or more every year. Four graduated from high school when I did. We were in the sixth grade at University Heights together. There are two of us left...not bad, I guess. It's been more than 60 years since we graduated.

    In the fall of 1960, I went to work in George Cottage at the Baptist Children's Home in Oklahoma City. I arrived in the afternoon thank goodness, the houseparents were a couple I already knew! But when Mr. Browning and I talked about my signing the papers needed for me to be an employee, I asked him to let me spend the night and see what supper and breakfast would be like. My job would be cooking for those boys. Well, I decided to give it a try. And believe it or not, I loved the work and the boys. They were a great help to me.

    Funny and sad things happened there, as with all life experiences. Receiving mail was something the boys really looked forward to. One evening, soon after I started working there, a letter came from a boy who had graduated from high school, and had left the Home. It was addressed to Larry, one of the boys there in George Cottage, and he read his letter aloud at the dinner table, while everyone was still at the table. He began, “Hello, Mildred.” The boys all laughed, and only later, I learned that they assumed that their mail was “pre-read,” or censored. Anyway, after reading the letter, he began to remember a time several of them ran off. The boys pooled their money and bought candy. The letter writer, being older, was their leader. He had them all sit down in a circle and he divided the candy...one for you, one for me...one for you, one for me...and around the circle. As he told this story to the younger ones at the table, it dawned on Larry that the older fellow got lots more candy than any one else, and then it was really funny!

    My first Thanksgiving there, my daughter's husband was away in the military, and she spent the night with me. On Friday after Thanksgiving, the Christmas Tree at Penn Square Mall was to be lighted at 7 p.m. We took the boys who were there to see the lighting of the tree. About half of Oklahoma decided to do the same thing, and the traffic was all jammed up. Jane was fairly fresh out of college, and asked the boys if they were willing to try a little game. Of course, they wanted to. She asked them to get out of the car, one at a time, and walk to the back, look up in the sky, and call another one to look. They all six got out, one at a time, and looked up. As soon as other people started getting out of their cars, Robert (we called him Tonto) jumped back in the car and said, “Now, go!” The kids were loaded quickly, and we had the road to ourselves, while all those other people got out of their cars and looked up. We've laughed at this story lots of times.

    It was a sad time when one of the boy's dad died. Really touching when he asked the houseparents and me if we would sign the memorial booklet in the family section he had no real family but us. Well, I stayed two and a half years, then left for a few years. I went back in 1970 as a supply worker. Didn't like that at all. Finally (really only a few months later), I became the cook in Spooner Cottage, where the little girls lived. That was fun, the girls and housemother were all so cooperative. We had lots of fun times at the dinner table. One little girl, when it was her turn to ask the blessing, asked God to help Mrs. Robertson as she “repaired our food.”

    Then, I moved to Rinard Cottage. It was really different. Four big girls were my responsibility, plus cooking for the little boys and girls upstairs. Most of the time, it was like a large family. The little ones wanted to hug and be hugged. The big girls wanted to be loved, respected, and not touched most of the time. But sometimes, it was their idea to hug and tell me their problems, present and past. But as we all had those problems, we learned to ask God for His help and sometimes we received answers, when we listened. Devotional time was a help each morning after breakfast and before school. It was good seeing some of the girls accepting Christ and growing in their ability to behave, but sad when others just rebelled at most every rule in life.

    Now, in the twilight of my life, I often thank God for all the good memories I have of my childhood in the Home, and later, of my days as a member of the staff at the Baptist Children's Home.

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