Thursday, May 16, 2013

Orphanage Discoveries

Looking for corrections and facts that i can hang my hat on, I called the Children's Home of Reading, PA, seeking solid dates for my presence there. When did i enter? When did I leave? What about my brothers?

There were some surprises. I was not there as long as I thought! I believed my entry occurred in my third year of life and it did. I was three years and four months old. I thought I entered on my birthday. I entered with my older brother who was seven. I have no memory of that, which probably means that we were separated immediately on our arrival. He was sent off to the boys' wing, i suppose, and I saw him mostly at meal time. My younger brother arrived on his third birthday.

My brother remained in this place for only eighteen months, and then was sent to Hershey Industrial School, a different environment entirely. There, cottage living with two "parents" assigned to a small group of boys felt more like a family unit, and while he did not thrive there, he was manageable.

My younger brother was there for three years, when we were both removed to join out mother and her new husband and the baby they shared together. So that means I spent four years and seven months in the orphanage, longer than my siblings. My older brother, though, in total, spent many more years in an institutional environment than we did. Closer, i think, to ten or eleven years. And he was far more negatively affected.

Life in the orphanage was essentially good, as i recall. What was missing, as i have said, was Mother.
I asked in my phone call today for the name of my Matron, a woman who afforded me much comfort and support, took me under her wing, taught me how to pray, helped me memorize scripture verses and kept me diverted and entertained when missing Mother was overwhelming.

But she could not protect me from the assails that all of us experienced: sharing new clothes brought by other relatives....there was a common closet....and having the identical haircut, which meant lots of long curls of many colors littered the cutting floor. We dug shoes that fit from the common brown box container of donated used shoes. Shoes other kids had outgrown. Shoes that fit poorly. Most of us there never saw these things as problems, though when my aunt took me shopping for a Christmas program was red velvet with a large lace collar...that dress was placed on the small body  of another little girl. I never wore it. And I remember it.

I am surprised at the interest in this subject, probably because it is my history. I understand that it is not the norm for children today. But that orphanage today can claim help to eight thousand children in that state, who, though the needs are different, and the care provided is greatly expanded, today children are launched into the world better equipped and better placed.

So I will continue, for a while, to tell this story of how little children coped in a time of tragedy.  WW II would add to the list of needy children missing a parent, finding respite and safety in such a place across the country.

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