Oklahoma Baptist Homes for Children

James Browning

stories from the book
by James V. Browning

Just One of the Boys

Mitzi (Boldin) Pearsall

NAME: Mitzi Boldin

ADDRESS: Boys Ranch Town...That was the question, that when answered, always elicited an unusual expression. The explanation could never be uncomplicated, because it was my life. So from the very beginning, I knew my place of residence, my home, my address was unique. And how I delighted in that specialty. I am proud to say that as far as I know, I was the only person to be born and raised (until they were 18) at the Ranch. So that address was as normal to me as some random house number with an awkward sounding street name.

My Mom tells a story of bringing me home from the hospital, shortly after my birth on Christmas day, and one of the boys saying, “Well, I guess since she is a Christmas present, we can’t send her back.” What a pain it would have been to find the cash receipt!!! I am sure I was anything but a Christmas gift to the boys at that time. My parents were living in one of the cottages with 15 boys. The only other girl was my sister, who was 11 years older than I. We continued to live in the cottages with the boys for another two years, until someone realized anyone having two daughters needed his own house....I think what they meant was that any man should never have to share a bathroom with more than one woman!!!! I look back and realize had we not moved into our own home, even though it was on campus, our family would never have survived the “lack of privacy.”

Our home was located in the center of the campus, on top of the hill. Late at night, the rich breezes would blow and mix perfectly with the hum of the semi-trucks from I-35. You had the best of both worlds; the sounds of civilization and yet the great taste of wonderful “well water” to drink. I say our home was private, well, at least some of it. We had two front doors. One door opened directly into what was my Dad’s office, which also had a door leading directly into our hallway. The other front door was seldom used. Its use was reserved for guests and boys that were meeting my parents for the first time to take my sister or me out on a date. Most generally, everyone used our back door by the kitchen. It’s ironic about people having a door by their kitchen table, they usually grow up with interrupted meals. Interruptions: there were many, either the phone ringing, or a boy needing to come have a “conference” with my Dad.

These conferences usually took place in my Dad’s office. Mom and I soon realized you could perch yourself right outside the hallway office door and hear the “events” with at least 95 per cent accuracy. It wasn’t that we were nosy, it was just curiosity. Perhaps one of the most common forms of punishment was “the conference” with Mr. Boldin. Don’t think for one minute that these “one-way communicative chats” were only reserved for the boys...yes, my sister and I also endured these “chats.” But as we all realized years later, my Dad’s words were wise and almost every “chat” ended with a reminder of his love and faith in you. Despite the good warm fuzzy feelings at the end, I am sure all of us would have rather had something quick, less time-consuming, and even less painful. I always noticed the longer the conference, the more labored the gait of the boy as he left. This limp was not from what the uninformed person would assume, but just the result of the length of time one would sit and endure the “conference.”

On rare occasions, I even got to be present during these “conferences.” During one such time I noticed a pack of cigarettes in the boy’s pocket. I left the room, told my Mom and she wrote my Dad a note which we delivered to him. I was not a snitch. Many things occurred which my parents never knew. In contrast, I was the same girl who years later, told the boys that my Dad had given up his ban on smoking and was going to put in a cigarette machine in the gym. How I loved chaos!!! My Dad’s view of smoking was years ahead of his time. Smoking then was such a social issue, the James Dean era, the Marlboro man. Smoking was a definite “no-no.” Many memories surround the smoking issue. When the Ranch would go to community events on the bus, my Dad would smell the boys’ hands as they got back on the bus. I would have given anything to see the boys lined up in the restroom, prior to loading the bus, scrubbing and scouring their hands, only to be outwitted by my Dad’s keen sense of smell.

Going to special events was only one of the many advantages I had growing up. Not many children get to grow up on a 160-acre Ranch with horses, cattle, pigs, sheep, chickens (which actually laid eggs), two ponds, a woodshop, an automotive shop, a pool and yes, a three-legged water tower which eventually sported the initials “BRT.” Just imagine if that water tower could talk, what tales it could tell. I always knew I was close to home, when I would see it peering in the distance. I often lay awake at night wondering, if it fell, would it hit our house. The view from the top must have been unbelievable. I am certain at least one Ranch boy knew the view from the top. Whoever you are, please let me know how delightful that sight was. I regret not taking advantage of those opportunities which surrounded me--even climbing up to the summit of that water tower. I was terribly afraid of horses, never raised a calf, or learned to craft something from wood, or learned to change the oil in my own car. I did manage to gather some eggs, appreciate the taste of home-grown beef and jump off the high diving board at the pool.

The pool was my refuge. It was the biggest bragging right I had with my friends. My girlfriends and I would get to swim separately from the boys, if we wanted, and we usually wanted. The women at the Ranch would swim before the boys swam in the afternoon. This time was very special, much like a “quilting bee” in pioneer times. How I loved those summer afternoons; that was the only time I felt like one of the girls!!! Summer also brought the summer missionaries to the Ranch. I guess all of whom I had crushes on at least sometime during the season. These were older college boys that came to help during the summer. I would anxiously await their arrival and dread their departure.

Some might think I would have had volumes of romance. This was rarely the case—at least with boys from the Ranch. Most of the boys, as I approached my middle and late adolescence were younger than I. I only went steady (in junior high school) with two boys from the Ranch. This was quite different from my sister’s years. Most of the boys were her age and a lot of her girlfriends dated “Ranch boys.” I look back at them and realize they were the “James Deans” of the time. The present contacts I have with boys from the Ranch are ironically the ones who are older. Time fades the differences of age. What seemed awkward at ages 17 and 7 seem comfortable at ages 50 and 40.

With family privacy at a premium and interruptions a way of life, life was never dull and certainly unpredictable. Sometimes we would get a call in the middle of the night that a boy had run away. My Dad would then call all the cottages and have them do a “bed check.” I would always lay in bed, wondering how the boys got away and what adventures they experienced. My Dad almost always found them...and some he chased on foot. I recall my Mom often saying that my Dad would know he was too old for the job, when a boy outran him. I suspect he quit chasing before that occurred.

Even though privacy was at a minimum, family was all around. The staff at the Ranch all adopted me and tolerated me. Knowing myself now, I am sure at times I acted like the boss’s daughter. This sword is two-sided. With the title of being the Boldin’s daughter also came immense responsibility of “being good.” This pressure was for the most part self-induced. My parents reputation was critical to me. My greatest fear was for someone to say, “Yeah, the Boldins do wonderful things for boys at the Ranch, but they sure can’t control their daughter.” I believed I was special and the staff was some of the most important people in my life. Someone would always be at school to pick me up. I might not have known who, but someone from the Ranch would be there. They were always there to look after me, and pick me up when I fell.

I remember growing up and believing that my Mom didn’t have a job. Ha! Yeah, right, much like Hillary Clinton doesn’t have a job. My Mom did everything from supporting my Dad in every decision, to filling in for a cook that had quit, to tutoring the boys in their homework. Without her love of people, my Dad could never have stayed. She made it all seem normal. No, she made it all seem special. She loved the Ranch every bit as much as my Dad.

Would I change things in my childhood???? You bet!! I would have taken more chances. I would have tried more things. I would do some things more and some things not at all....but would I have changed where I lived???? Never!!!

NAME: Mitzi Pearsall

ADDRESS: Presently living with a husband, three sons and still just one of the boys.

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