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
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
There was no private life insurance or Social
Security widow's and children's benefits for my mother in 1929, during
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
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.
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
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
Happy Mother's Day Mom
In memory of Laverne Henry -- God's new angel
We love you,
Debbie and Amanda