Moving to “The Home”
When I was nine years old, I had to leave. It took me two and a half years to mess this one up, or so I thought. I didn’t understand what I had done wrong. Why were they taking me from my sister? I had to go live on campus at “The Home”.
My first night, we went to the Ice Capades. I thought it was pretty cool to do something like this. If we did this all the time, it wouldn’t be so bad. Not long afterwards, we went to see the Lipison Stallions perform, see a polo match, the circus and several other venues.
On the outside, I guess it looked pretty cool to live there and do all this stuff, but I lived in a cottage with eleven other boys and girls up to age twelve. My brother, Gene, lived in a cottage with ten or so other boys across campus and two of my sisters, Betsy and Annette, were in the “Big Girls” cottage next door. I was not allowed to visit with any of them. We would see each other across the dining hall and just wave. After dinner, we were supposed to go to the gym, but sometimes I would sneak over to my sisters’ place to visit with them. I really wanted to spend time with Gene, but they never allowed us to get together and I guess he never pushed the issue either; after all, I was just his little sister.
Just after I went to live at “The Home”, they started tearing up the sidewalk to put in a new one for the new gym they were going to build. Some of us were playing in the field, and, low and behold, I got clobbered with a dirt clod, landing square into my nose while I was playing chase with some other children at the other end of the field. I never knew a broken nose could bleed so much. They took me to Hermann Hospital; I was nine at this time, and believe it or not, it was more like a vacation. The nurses were really cool, and my mother was between jobs so she got to spend the night a few times with me. She even bought me some colors and coloring books. I got preferential treatment there. The nurses let me answer the call buttons for the patients when they needed juice or crackers, so I got to visit with some of them, and as long as I stayed on the floor, I got to go where I wanted, not that there was anywhere to go. I never met a stranger, so I made a lot of friends. The Deardans even brought me a mint candy tree. I shared with everyone that came by.
One of the patients there had been in a car accident. She was in a full body cast. I was curious about it. She told me that she had her left leg straight out against the floor of the car. When she had the accident, it slammed her leg bone structure up into her pelvis. Since then, I have never planted my leg straight. It is funny how some things will affect one’s actions later in life.
One time, someone donated a batch of blue tennis shoes to The Children’s Home. Everyone got a pair, including my sisters. On one of my visits to their cottage, I had to escape through the window to evade discovery and took off with Annette’s shoes instead. Needless to say, my feet were larger than hers, so the following morning, I had to go to school with the small tennis shoes on. By the end of the day, they were really hurting, but I couldn’t very well tell my cottage mother that I needed to go next door to get my shoes.
We saw a case worker every week or so, I don’t remember how often. This person was usually alright to talk to, but I found that nothing ever really got resolved to my satisfaction. Maybe I was just a bit too demanding, like spending time with my siblings or going back to the Willows and my little sister.
When we had to go to the dentist, eye doctor, or physician, there would be a person that would take us; it usually wasn’t a caseworker. One time I had the actor that played “Cadet Don” on TV to take me. Cadet Don was a popular children’s show that everyone I knew watched. I thought that was so cool. He took me to Alfie’s for fish and chips. I thought I was so special.
At Christmas time, all the kids at “The Home” put on a candle light service for family, friends and supporters. We walked in two by two with a lit candle each, singing “Oh Come All Ye Faithful” and wearing white robes. What a bunch of little angels! Yeah right, little did they know! I think we were just lucky that nothing ever caught on fire. After the service, our friends and family came back to our cottages for refreshments, and we could show off our clean and tidy rooms. Now bear in mind that we shared a room with one to three other kids, so imagine how keeping a room neat could be a bit of a challenge, but this day was special, so we all put forth our best efforts.
One year, my dad bought me my own little Christmas tree so I had it tucked into the very small space allotted me for this special decoration. I was so proud of this little Charlie Brown tree. You see, Daddy never found the fullest tree on the lot; in fact, he sought out the most scrawniest looking tree they had, so why should my special tree be any exception?
On weekends, when I didn’t go home with my parents, we sometimes went to the movies. A couple, the Englemans, would come and load as many kids into the back of their station wagon and haul us to the Garden Oaks Theater. He gave us each a quarter to spend and don’t you know, I went after the largest pickle they had in the jar for a nickel and a soda. I think I saw Patton about five times, along with Cat Ballou, and other westerns; I looked forward to the big screen. Unfortunately, that also meant that I missed visits with my mother. She would sometimes call on Thursdays and say that she couldn’t come and get me and Joni because she wasn’t feeling well. In our later years, I think she finally figured it out that we just wanted to see each other (Joni and I) because Mother never really played with us anyway.
For a period of time, a couple, Mira and Walter O’Banyon, would come and take me to their house for the weekend. They were pretty cool. They took me to the zoo, movies, and just hung out at their house. They seemed to be the most normal couple I’d ever been around, with no kids. I had a great time and enjoyed being with them. I was hoping at some point that maybe they would take me in to be their foster child, but that never happened.
I can’t imagine what it is like to not be able to have children. Mira and Walter seemed to really care for me. When I went to church with them, I felt like part of a family again. I really wanted to live with them permanently.
After a time, my mother got jealous and put a stop to it, so I didn’t see them much after that until I was an adult. I didn’t know if it was something I had done or didn’t do. I couldn’t understand why they just stopped coming to see me. It wasn’t until I was in my forties that I found out why.
While at “The Home”, life went on, but with restrictions that I didn’t nderstand, like visitations with my family. I was never allowed a sleep-over with other kids at school. I guess I didn’t really have any friends that I can remember, outside of “The Home”, but some of the other kids talked about the fun they had at their sleep-over or birthday party, etc. I felt sequestered from the rest of the world. I wanted out of there. At one point, I even started thinking of ways to get out, running away, suicide, getting pregnant, acting totally crazy to get into a hospital or something. I guess a ten or eleven-year-old doesn’t think of all the pitfalls.
It wasn’t totally bad living there. We did some crafts and played in the gym. We had an art student from one of the local colleges come and teach us some crafts. One time, she showed us how to make silver jewelry. I made a ring out of wax and the instructor took them back to school to pour the silver. Someone stole it at our art show. I remember Annette made a clay sculpture. I got to do some ceramics again. I really enjoyed that the most. One time, a piano teacher donated her services to teach Annette and I piano. Annette didn’t like her too much. The teacher kept telling her to cut her nails. She quit after a couple of months; soon after that, the teacher quit on me. I did learn a little from her.
Pine Tree Camp was a lot of fun. We were usually there for three weeks and our parents would come on the weekends. This was extra special because we could see them more than just the once-a-month visits.
There were three sessions; the first session was for the boys and girls under a certain age, second session was for just girls over a certain age, then the third session was just boys over a certain age. I don’t remember the age requirement for each session.
We did all sorts of activities: fishing, swimming, hiking, crafts, singing, and of course, the campfire. For fishing, we had to catch crickets, and then we would go to Spring Creek and fish. I don’t really remember catching anything, but it was fun playing down by the creek. After lunch every day, we would gather on the steps in front of the dining hall and sing camp songs, and Poppa Joe would pass out mail. We loved getting mail. The dining hall had a very high-pitched roof so Poppa Joe would toss the letters up to try and get them to sail over the top. Once in a while, he would make it. Then we would go back to our cabins and have a nap.
Swimming was a whole different ball game. In order to swim in the deep end, one had to swim the full length of the pool. On Sundays, when our parents were in attendance, we would get our chance to try out for the deep end. I tried and tried, and finally one day I made it, and Mother was there to see me. I finally made it to the deep end.
One summer, my sister, Betsy, was my counselor. They had a small room off of the main cabin. There was a latch on the outside of their door. I had my bed next to the door and locked the latch so they couldn’t get out. I got ribbed for that by my sister. It didn’t matter that everyone else was afraid to do it so they egged me on to do it since she was my sister.
Betsy was a good sport about everything, even when Poppa Joe played her singing across the loud speaker during parent’s visitation singing “Dem Bones”. I remember her running up to the dining hall from way down at the front of the camp. She sang so well and Poppa Joe really admired her. She was always had such a happy-go-lucky attitude.
One summer, when I was at the all-girls session, they played a movie, “I know who you are and I know what you did”. They found out that it was not the type of movie to show a bunch of young girls in the middle of the woods. We were all so scared that we doubled up on sleeping arrangements.
There were enough spooky stories at camp that we didn’t need a spooky movie too. There was always a story about someone creeping up on the cabins at night and looking in. We had to rake the sand outside of the cabin every day so we would sometimes see footprints behind the cabin and fingerprints on the ledges. This fueled the stories even more.
Going to camp was a chance to get out of “The Home” for a short time. We would load up on the bus and sing songs most of the way there. “When all those Pine Tree Campers fall in line, we’re going to have a happy jolly time.” It was so much fun. At meals, the set up was much like at “The Home”, with each cabin having its own table and two kids helping out in the kitchen, acting as waiters. One time we had grits and there was no apple butter on the table. I can’t stand grits and we had to eat a tablespoon of everything.
Adding apple butter to the grits was the only way I could eat them. Ms. Minnie, in the kitchen, came out personally and brought me the apple butter, “I’m sorry about that, Miss Mabelle, I know you need this to get the grits down,” she would say to me. She was the head cook at “The Home” and I think she liked me. We all just loved her to death. She was always so sweet to us.
Our family was one of two families at “The Home” that had a large number of kids on campus. Ms. Minnie would always tell me that when the Hynes were all gone, then she would retire because there would be no more kids there that she really loved so much. It was almost true because just a few years after I left, the concept of the living arrangements at “The Home” changed and they were no longer housing as many kids there. Most of the cottages got torn down and there were more satellite clinics for families. All of Houston could get help now.
When I was eleven, my mother got married again, to Irvin. He was alright and had a cool cat. He didn’t have any kids and really seemed to love my mother. They had been dating for a while, and we had even spent time with some of his family. Wow, a chance at some normalcy! I had hoped that I’d get to go home as soon as they got married, but that didn’t happen, not right away.
At the home, the rooms were set to sleep two or four people. We each had a desk, closet and a drawer. We kept our suitcase above our closet. There were a couple of shelves above the desk for nick-nacs or whatever. We had to keep our space clean and tidy so our cottage parents would come up with inventive ways to keep us interested in keeping it clean. The prizes varied; it could be an extra nickel in our weekly allowance, a choice of what we would hear at nap time, or an extra dessert at dinner one night.
It was not always easy to keep ones space tidy with a roommate that was a slob. When I had only one roommate, she and I would get into a fight and start throwing stuff back and forth. It was definitely a challenge. We had a little more room than the room with four, so there was more stuff to throw and more room to keep cleaned up. No matter which room we were in, the bed always went up next to the window. I was afraid of lightning, so I would put my head under the covers until it passed. This is where I really started praying for God to stop being angry and stop the lightning. Gene got to go home to live with Mother and Irvin. I was so jealous. I wanted out of “The Home” so bad. It wasn’t until a year later that I went home.
I found out later that they had asked Annette and Betsy to come home first, and they both declined since they would be getting out soon when they turned eighteen. I got to go, and, boy, was I glad. The summer before my sixth-grade, I was tested and found to be dyslexic. When school started, I went to a different school to attend a “Reading Clinic”. It was really just a speed reading class. It helped a lot, but I still hated to read and avoided it at all costs. Unfortunately, my grades were not the best in such subjects as English and History.
They required a lot of reading, and I still had trouble comprehending what I read; the teachers weren’t all that interesting. It wasn’t until I got into high school that I got interested in the subjects because I had teachers that really cared and made the classroom experience interesting enough for me to put forth the effort to do well. I began to really love history.
This elementary school was new for me and I didn’t know anyone there. It was also good in a way because nobody there knew that I lived at “The Home”, so I wasn’t treated like a pariah.