Cedar Park, TX
Submitted on: May 18, 2011, 12:33 pm
(Resident of the Waco State Home 1947-1956)
I was born in Greenville, Texas, in 1940. My father left when I was born so I never knew him. My mom married another man and had my two brothers. He didn't stay around either. When I was about six or seven a guy showed up, and Mom told us they were going to get married. We moved to a logging camp in the mountains where he had a job cutting down trees. We lived in a two-room cabin that the company provided the workers. We had no bathroom or water. We had to carry our water from a well up the road, and our bathroom was an outhouse behind the cabin. The outhouse sat on the edge of a canyon, which was about 30 or 40 feet deep. My stepfather was always getting drunk and beating on my mom, and we were all scared of him. My mom told us that she had told him that he could beat her up when he got drunk but if he ever hit us she would kill him when he was sleeping. I guess he believed her because he never did hit on us. She told us she was trying to get us a ride back to Greenville, Texas, where we had family.
My brothers and I were talking to two boys who were older and lived two cabins down from us, and we told them about our stepfather always getting drunk and beating up our mom and we didn't know what to do about it. One of the boys, who was just kidding, said we should push the outhouse over the cliff when he was in it.
The more I thought about it, the more I liked the idea. I told the guys that my brothers and I were not big enough to do it by ourselves, but with their help we could. They agreed to help so we planned it for the next morning. He always went to the outhouse before he went to work. Just as it was getting light, we were ready and when he closed the door, we all ran over to the outhouse and pushed it over the cliff. I think I could have done it myself, it was so easy.
Some men from the company got him out and took him to a hospital in a town on the other side of the mountain. I heard later that he had broken bones all over his body and was unconscious for a day or two. We never saw him again. About four days later the company got us a ride out of there.
A few years later when we were living in the Home, an aunt and uncle came to visit and told us our stepfather had beat up a guy so badly that the guy died or came close to it and he was in Huntsville Prison. I understand he died in there. I waited a long lime for some good news.
Before we got to the Home, I remember being hungry at times. We didn't always have all we wanted to eat. Mostly it was beans or bean soup. Grandpa would come home from the farm he worked on and would bring a rabbit or squirrel.
My brothers and I were taken to the Waco state home in 1947 or 1948 because my mom, being a single parent, could not feed and take care of us. When we arrived at the Home, all three of us were scared to death and crying. We were taken to the hospital for a checkup. After a few days my brothers were taken to the baby cottage, and I was taken to a dorm.
The first few years were all right. Our mom, uncles, and grandparents would come to see us and we didn't feel that we were abandoned. They could see us once a month.
When I wasn’t working I went to the baby cottage on the weekend to see my brothers. One day in 1951 I went there to see them and found out that my youngest brother was gone. I was told he had been adopted and was not coming back. I was 11 years old and my baby brother was gone, and I didn't know what to do.
I went to Ben S. Peek’s office in the Administration Building, walked right in his office and demanded to know where my baby brother was. He got madder than hell and wanted to know who I thought I was to demand anything. We never got along again after that, and I was in trouble from then on. And I did not see my baby brother again for 40 years.
I truly believe when my mom found out her baby was gone, her health went down from there. She died in 1963 at the age of 40 and before she died, she asked me to keep looking for my baby brother.
In 1952 I ran away with a boy named Bobby Lamb. We went to El Paso where he said his mother lived. After the third day I thought we were going to die. We were so hungry, but some kind people picked us up, bought us some food and gave us some money. We made it to El Paso just when it was getting dark and got on a city bus to find where his mother lived. He couldn't remember, so we stayed on the bus a long time. El Paso had a curfew of 10 p.m. for kids, and after 10 p.m. the bus driver must have called the police because they took us off the bus.
The police found Bobby's mother. She came and got us and we stayed with her for two nights, and she bought us cowboy clothes, cowboy hats, and cowboy boots. After two days they put us on a bus back to Waco.
Peek picked us up at the bus station, and when we arrived back at the Home everyone was glad to see us. Peek was all smiles and telling everyone we were glad to be back. One of the kids asked him if we were in trouble, and with a smile on his face, he said, no we were just being boys. They took Bobby away, and I went with Peek to his office.
When we got to his office, he closed the door, grabbed me by my shirtfront and threw me across the room. I landed on top of a desk next to the wall and broke some glass objects on top of it. This made him a lot madder and he got his wooden bat out and came after me. I crawled under his desk and he swung at me and hit the desk and his bat broke in half.
I jumped up and ran out and stayed hidden the rest of the day. They took our cowboy clothes, hats, and boots away, and we never saw them again. I sure did like those boots.
After my brother was adopted, my mom must have caused a lot of trouble because Peek would tell me he was getting tired of listening to her ranting and raving about her son. When she didn't show up on her monthly visit, I found out Peek had turned her away. He told her she couldn't see us. He would wait until she rode the bus from Greenville to Waco instead of writing to let her know that she couldn't see us that month. I heard he did that to other parents, too.
One of the things l thought was mean was that they made the kids who wet their beds carry their sheets across campus to the laundry so everyone could see us. About five of us boys wet the bed when we were in the younger dorms. I don't remember the other kids making fun of us or being mean about it.
I remember one time a group of boys had brought a truckload of hay from the farm, and we were putting it in the barn. The man who was in charge of both farms (I don't remember his name but we called him “Farmer”) had to leave to check on something, so we climbed a tree behind the barn. This was a huge tree and this was where everybody went who wanted to smoke. We all got in the tree and got out cur cigarettes or our grape vines and we lit up.
Later after we went back to the farm to get another load of hay, Farmer said, “You boys are not fooling anybody by climbing up that tree and smoking. There was so much smoke coming out of the top of that tree it looked like it was on fire.”
I laugh about that every time I think about it. Farmer was one of the good guys.
As I got older I was moved from dorm to dorm, and one day I arrived at Whigham’s dorm. I was putting up my clothes when he came in. He just stood there and looked at me a while, then said, “I heard you're a troublemaker.”
I didn't say anything, just looked at him. He said he had a lot of experience with troublemakers and then he left. I guess he was just letting me know he was watching me.
I guess 1954 was my worst and best year at the home. I ran away three times that year. Once I made it to Bellmead, outside of Waco, and was spotted by a staff member from the Home. The second time I ran away on my motor scooter, which I had won in the soapbox derby, and ran out of gas. The third time, a boy who used live at the Home came to visit his brother there, and when he left he gave me a ride to San Antonio, Texas. When they brought me back, Peek didn't have time to do anything to me, I think he had his hands full trying to save his butt from the officials in Austin.
School was out, the vegetable garden was in full swing, and we had a lot of chores to do on the farm, plus hogs, chickens, and steers to butcher. We also had to start working on our racers for the soapbox derby. The local race was in July so we didn’t have much time. Whigham had been on my case all week for different reasons mostly because I was late for baseball practice two or three times. We had a lot of chores to do and I couldn't get them all done.
Baseball season was almost over, and we were in first place and had one more game to play. I was a pitcher on the team, and he wanted to win real badly. He would let you get by missing one practice but that was it.
I guess he thought about it overnight and the next morning he gave me a spade and told me to go out to the pasture at the end of the campus and start digging up dirt. He said he would be watching and to not stop until he said to. I turned over dirt all day with no lunch or water to drink and it was very hot. I think he forgot about me. I had taken off my shirt. It was getting late in the afternoon and I was getting light-headed, and the next thing I knew I woke up in the campus hospital. The nurse had ice packs on me, trying to cool me down. The sunburn was so bad I had to sleep on my stomach for the next four or five days. I missed the last game of the season, and I told Whigham I was not going to play ball anymore. I found out later that Whigham told everybody that I had wanted to spade up dirt because I wanted to build up my muscles for football season. He said he didn’t think I would be so stupid to stay in the hot sun all day.
I had told Whigham I wasn't going to play ball for him anymore but I changed my mind after talking to rest of the team. We wanted the championship real bad. We lost 1-0 because of two wild throws. I never played ball for Whigham again.
The soapbox derby race was approaching and we were trying to finish our racers and do all our chores when Whigham invited the Waco Pirates (a farm club for the Milwaukee Braves) to play us. I reminded him that I had said I would never play for him again and he couldn't make me. After that incident, I was his go-to guy for all the crappy jobs that came up.
One day a bunch of us were sitting outside the dorm playing a board game when Whigham came up to us and after watching a while said we didn't know how the game was played. I could tell he was in a bad mood. One of the guys said something I didn't hear but Whigham slapped him so hard he later told us his ears were ringing and he was seeing stars. Everybody scattered, and before I could stop myself I called him an SOB or a bastard. I don't remember which. He grabbed me by the arm, and we went to his truck by the gym to get his strap.
As we went into the gym I turned around, and he hit me in my stomach with his fist and I fell on the floor. I puked up water and it was red with blood. Seeing this I guess he thought he had hurt me badly, because he ran outside and got a couple of guys to help get me to his truck. We went to the hospital on campus. The nurse was looking in my mouth and said I had bitten my tongue and that was why it bled so much. The nurse said, “You boys need to quit playing so rough before somebody gets hurt.”
I guess we know what Whigham told her.
July came and we had the soapbox derby race in Waco on Waco Drive. I won the local race, to my surprise, which meant that I was going to Akron, Ohio. The national race was in August. I had asked the head of the squadron at Connally Air Force Base to go with me to Akron as my guardian, since they were my sponsor. But Peek said he was my guardian and that he was going. There was a big stink about it, from Connally back and forth to Austin. I guess Peek had his way because he went.
I had a great time in Ohio. I met a lot of guys from all over the world. I raced against a boy from Pennsylvania and one from Germany. I came in second. I didn't see Peek or his wife once on this trip, on the train, in Ohio, or on the way back. The night of the banquet we were all sitting on the stage and the parents were sitting at tables below us. Each boy was asked to stand as his name was called. They announced where they were born and asked the parents to stand also. I was the only boy who didn't have anybody to stand for him.
Sometime at the end of 1954, Peek was fired, and James Lands was made superintendent. I believe it was around this time that a group of us boys beat up Whigham. We were tired of his abuse. Things had been building up for a few days, and it came to a head one night. I don't remember the boy’s name, but I think it was one of the twins who lived in our dorm.
There were about seven or eight of us involved, and we jumped in after Whigham hit the boy in the side of the head with his fist. We all took a hold of an arm or leg, hanging on while some were punching him all over. This happened outside of Whigham’s room at the top of the stairs. During the fight Whigham was trying to get away from us, and he stepped off the top of the stairs and fell all the way to the bottom. Later on I saw him with a cast on his arm and a bandage above his eye. I don't ever remember being punished for what we did but they did have a meeting with us and said something about getting along and that our tempers had gotten to best of us. I think it was downplayed and not much was said about it.
Not long afterwards, I moved to the big boys dorm, and I was surprised because I was only 14 and the big boys’ dorm was for 17- and 18-year-olds.
Lands was superintendent for less than a year, then Herbert Wilson was appointed in 1955.
The soapbox derby was held in July of 1955, and past champions were invited to go down to the track to open the race. The champion from 1953, and I opened the race and that was a lot of fun.
My brother W.C. and I got out of the home in late 1955. I went back in 1956 to see some of the guys and have not been back since.
It was not all bad at the Home. I had some good times. I did not mind the work, I just thought there was too much of it for kids our age. We had two farms plus the huge garden at the Home to work. We also milked 30 cows, made ice cream, butchered hogs, chickens, and a few steers, and that didn't leave much time for play. We did go to camp at the end of summer. The young boys and girls would go to camp in the early part of summer and the older boys after all the hay was in the barn in late summer.
I loved Camp Val Verde. It had a swimming pool and a river with fish. We rode horses all over the place, made wine from wild grapes, and smoked grape vines. We were living the Huck Finn life.
The Home was the best thing for most kids. They had more food than they ever had before, a place to sleep, and clothes. That was more than they had with their own families. They had a better chance for a good life than they would have had with their parents. The Home just had too many house parents that were hired off the street and had no experience with kids.
I am very bitter at the state for adopting out my brother and the pain it caused my family. My youngest brother suffered, too, despite the nice rancher and his wife who adopted him. Until he found me about ten years ago, he lived most of his life believing our mother didn't want him. There is no way to get back the lost 40 years, but we are making up for lost time in our later years. We talk every couple of weeks and go on trips every year. If he would only learn to snow ski better, he could keep up with me.