The Orphanage: A Place I Once Called Home
I have done the dishes, folded laundry, baked a casserole, opened and closed the door for the dogs umpteen times. I am Queen Busy. I do this when I’m trying to figure something out.
I’ve made the decision to share a poem here from Women, Resilient Women, my new book.
But now, it’s a question of choosing a poem. It matters to me. (Reality: I know all blog readers will not purchase the book, so which poem do I offer?)
I look through my book again. Okay, decision made.
A little history to go with the poem.
In the summer of 1959, eight brothers, sisters, and I were placed in the Bottom’s Baptist Orphanage (later called Arkansas Baptist Children’s Home) in Monticello, Arkansas.
Yes, a big family joining more than a hundred kids and adults.
In those days, the campus in Monticello included the Main Building with a dining hall, the superintendent’s home, a gym, 2 two-story dormitory-like buildings, and three large cottages. All together, they housed children ages 3–18.
I had brothers or sisters in every building except the Teenage Boys Cottage. My new house would be the Teenage Girls’ Cottage. I no longer shared a bed with my sister, and there were 15 other girls in my cottage.
Still, I was the Big Sister in my family and felt responsible for the Bland clan. And now, we were spread all over the campus.
I kept in touch with siblings at the big dining hall where we shared meals or when I visited the Duplex to see, laugh, and play with the four youngest ones who ate all meals in their cottage.
Each of us, safe and fed three times a day. Almost inconceivable. Every floor of a building or cottage was parented by at least one adult, sometimes two.
Safe for me to let go of my weighty role and be a teenager.
In the Sixties, most of the “Home kids” graduated from high school and then moved on to a college, business school, vo-tech program, job, or married. A few returned to relatives. I was offered a scholarship to college. I took it and shouted Hallelujah!
“The Home” gave my family a sense of safety, belonging, love, hope. I was fifteen years old. Young, but old enough to realize we were being blessed.
I tell you this bit of history because most folks are not familiar with orphanages or children’s homes. Oh, they’ve heard the term but never lived in one.
Women, Resilient Women. It’s about girls becoming women and about women being women.
The Orphanage, A Place I Once Called Home
You lived on campus with me
I rode the blue Baptist Home bus with you
You lived in my cottage
I saw you as one of the cool girls
You were at the other end of the hall
I cut and styled your hair
We shelled peas and shucked corn under a tree
You listened to the radio daily
I denied my worries
You cleaned the bathroom in the cottage
I dusted furniture in the Main Building
You understood geometry
I read Emily’s part in Our Town
You chased me down the hallway with scissors
I slid and bumped my head
We laughed at ourselves
You had major menstrual cramps
I shushed 14 wordy girls, so you could rest
You mailed a letter to your mother
I wondered where my mother might be
We ate side by side
You loaned me your favorite skirt
I walked the circular drive when I felt sad
We jumped puddles as we ran to the bus
We used the same washer and dryer
We danced to American Bandstand
We laughed at ourselves
We graduated together
Tonight wherever you might be
I said a prayer for you
Each one of you
~ by Pat Durmon, writer, poet
Poem from Women, Resilient Women, by Pat Durmon, available at Amazon.com
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Photo of a print of the Arkansas Baptist Children’s Home campus in Monticello, Arkansas, as it was in the 1960s. The artist is Danny Coston, who now lives in Fayetteville, Arkansas.