Charlie W. Johnson
of Navarro County, Texas


Biography Index

Charlie W. Johnson, a former State Home kid, remembers the trials of the Great Depression. This photo, taken in 1925, shows Charlie Johnson's mother, Nettie (pregnant with Charlie at the time), Aunt Lena, Uncle Ogle and Aunt Veta. COURTESY PHOTO

5/11/2003 A MOTHER'S DECISION: Widowed mom made tough choice to put children in an orphanage

EDITOR'S NOTE: The following is a compilation of remembrances submitted to the newspaper in honor of Mother's Day.

The year of 1925 was a year of prosperity and optimism as my father had experienced a good cotton crop in 1924 with the sharecropper agreement he had with my grandfather Johnson on that blackland prairie farm. Because of that bumper cotton crop that sold for 7.7 cents per pound he was able to buy a new 1925 Touring Model-T for $295, made in black only.

But that happiness, prosperity and optimism on that Central Texas farm began to fade with the boll weevil infestation in the cotton plants in 1928. Then my father died in January 1929, at age 36, leaving my mother a widow at age 27. That same year the Stock Market crashed Oct. 29, 1929. "Wall Street Lays An Egg," headlined a theatrical weekly.

My mother and father had married when my mother was only 19 and he was 28. After four children and eight years of happy marriage, my father died of pneumonia on Jan. 19, 1929. The children were ages 7, 6, 4 and 2, when on Dec. 29, 1929, my mother had settled three of her older children in the State Orphans Home in Corsicana. The State of Texas didn't accept children younger than age 4, so my youngest sister, Adele, was shuttled from relative to relative. During those 11 months following my father's death, mother sold the family's 1925 Model-T Ford touring car, the household furnishings, cows, horses, pigs and chickens.

There was no private life insurance or Social Security widow's and children's benefits for my mother in 1929, during the Depression.

Before marriage, my mother had dropped out of school at the sixth grade level to help support her family by picking cotton. After we were placed in the orphanage, she worked for $5 a week as a domestic, and as a migrant farm laborer she followed the cotton harvest, picking or pulling cotton on her leather-padded knees from the Rio Grande Valley to the plains of West Texas ... for about $2 a day in the 100-degree Texas sunshine.

Looking at the photograph of my mother, she seems to have a peaceful introspective manner. And wasn't there an old wives' tale that a pregnant woman carried a son high?

Once, during my graduation year of 1943, my mother asked me: "Son, if there is really a God, why would he take my handsome, loving husband and father of my four children away from me?"

I replied: "Mother, I can't answer that question, but I want you to know that the decision to place my sisters Jewell, Amalene and me in the orphanage was the best decision that you could have possibly made. I received 12 years of academic education, 14 years of vocational training and 14 years of loving care and was fortunate to have many loving and caring institutional mothers."

I don't think that my mother ever accepted my answer because of the guilt she carried throughout her life on placing her three older children in the State Orphans Home in Corsicana, only about 16 miles from our birthplace in Pursley. Our State Home is now known as the Corsicana Residential Treatment Center.

As Edna Pearl Gardner Carrington, class of 1946, wrote in her memoirs, "Home was an orphanage": "I just wish more people would write their story. Wouldn't that make a wonderful book to leave for future generations? To know that at one time in the past, there was a home that did some good."

Note: My birth mother finally found a second husband after 11 years as a widow. He provided a good secure home for my youngest sister, Adele. My birth mother lived to the age of 74, after being widowed for the second time. She was buried beside her second husband, Fred Watts, in Hamilton-Beeman Cemetery in Corsicana.

Written by Charlie W. Johnson, who retired from the Dallas Post Office 23 years ago. He is 78 years old and lives near the beautiful Rainbow River in Dunnellon, Fla. He still plans to move back to Texas when he gets old.

Mama's hands

There are a lot of things that I notice about my mom when I look at her. Her smile, her hair (that has less gray than mine), and her sweet spirit. But I think when I look at my mom the thing I notice the most about her, is her hands. Many a time, she has held them out, shaking her head in disappointment and saying, "Mom always told me to take better care of my hands. But I didn't listen. Now look at them." And even though she saw wrinkles, an age spot or two and the skin getting thinner as she aged, I saw something different. When I look at my mama's hands, I see gentleness ... like the kind that was present when she held my babies for the first time. Just as with my brother's children, as soon as she picked them up, the hands of experience, love and care, was so apparent. I would almost say, blindingly so. But when she held our little ones, it seemed a little different from when she held all the other babies she had practically raised. Because these babies were her grandbabies, it was just, different. I notice her hands as she rubs my dad's back when he is worried and tired. The reassurance they have when they give him an encouraging touch. They are the hands that have cooked many meals, swept many floors, baked many cookies and yes, scrubbed many an oven and toilet. She felt that was her job as a wife and mother. A job she took very seriously and did with great pride. They are the hands that just the other day, showed my 7 and 4 year old, the gentle way in which to pet and hold a 6-week-old puppy that had just joined the family. They are the hands that I watch every Sunday, hold the Bible. Sometimes where I sit in the pew, I can only see her hands. And I always notice when the preacher says, "If you have your Bibles with you today, I would like for you to turn to ...," those hands always, so confidently, so lovingly, so proudly, turn to the directed scripture immediately; And more often than not, one hand has to turn the pages because the other is cradling my little boy who has made it to her lap and is fast asleep.

They are the hands that I have seen on several occasions fix my 83-year-old grandmother's hair ... the care her hands take in washing, curling and brushing the thin, white hair. Her hands treat that thin, white hair as if it were a super model's or a big Hollywood star's signature mane.

I have also noticed over the years, how these same hands never put the person they belong to first. They always seem to do more, go the extra mile for others; these tools of care-taking, always putting the needs of others before her own. I have seen her tired hands at the end of the day find renewed strength and vitality to do for someone in need, no complaints.

One of my favorite memories growing up was watching her every Sunday morning make my dad's favorite; homemade biscuits and gravy. I would stand there watching as she mixed the dough, pinched and shuffled each biscuit in the palm of her hand and place each one in her favorite black iron skillet. I always thought how she could do it blind folded if she had to. My biscuits pale in comparison to mamas. They are the hands that hug me on days I am down on myself and the hands that hold my dad's as they take a walk. I have seen her hands hold many a fevered head as well as hold many a scared, unsure and trembling hand, waved many a courageous good bye and wiped away the tears of others, some happy but mostly sad. She's always near in those times of need. These hands taught me how to cook a hearty meal, plant beautiful things and clean house where you wouldn't be afraid to eat off the floor. They taught me how to take the lost art of short hand and French braid hair. They are still, after 17 years, patiently teaching me to master a homemade pie crust! They never tire of teaching, if young hands are eager to learn.

My mama's hands may have never touched a rung on a corporate ladder, patted the back or shook the hand of someone influential in the community so she could get that donation for a huge charity event; but they showed me how to be gentle yet strong, caring and forth coming. Her hands showed me that being stem was okay as long as it was for the right reasons and never in anger. Yes. If you ask me what I notice the most about my mama, it would be her hands. The Lord made the world with His, my mama molded my heart with hers.

Happy Mothers Day Mama,


Mandy -- the blessed daughter of Sandy Shipman

Gifts of Love

May 11th is Mother's Day, a day to celebrate Mother.

The one person whose given you love, a love that can match no other.

She was there when you cried your very first tear, she's there when you cry now, too.

For no one else could ever replace the mother God gave especially to you.

Mothers rise to the call of duty, they go far beyond and above.

They give us precious gifts, and the greatest of them is love.

Happy Mother's Day Mom, I miss you. It's been four months since you passed away.

I miss your smile, your tender touch, with each moment of each passing day.

I want to tell you "I love you"; you are forever intertwined in my heart.

And knowing I'll see you in glory is the most encouraging part.

Happy Mother's Day Mom

In memory of Laverne Henry -- God's new angel

We love you,

Debbie and Amanda



Navarro County TXGenWeb
Copyright March, 2009
Edward L. Williams & Barbara Knox