Part I: Going Home
Lee Farrier felt lost as a little boy, always looking for home. When feeling lost or confused, most of us are dumbfounded and not sure which black hole we stepped in.
Lee worked hard much of his life to make sense out of what happened to him as a child. At one point, he began writing down his story as he remembered it. He double-checked some memories with older siblings. Lee did not know why he was writing it down, but he had to do it.
This past week, I interviewed Lee, and he passed his journal writings on to me to read and use as I saw fit. My sense is that Lee and I are co-writing the next four blogs. We start with 1932.
Henry Gibson, Lee’s father, was a driver of a coal truck. His regular run meant driving from Steele, Missouri, to Harlan, Kentucky, and back home to Steele. His wife Opal Gibson was with him on one particular run. Their two children, Billie Jean and Bud, were not with them.
When they came through Bowling Green, Kentucky, Henry had to pull off on a side street. They were about to have a baby! After a big commotion, a lady found a midwife, and a baby boy was born into this world, right there inside the truck. (They named the baby Otis Leroy Gibson.) Four hours later, his father pressed on to Steele, Missouri, where the family lived.
A year later, another baby was born to this couple.
The next year, the children's mother Opal Gibson died.
Lee Farrier, formerly known as Otis Leroy Gibson, told me of his earliest memories.
"My older brother Bud and I followed a horse and wagon with a long box on it. At the gravesite, someone lifted me up, saying, 'Take a good look. This will be your last look at your mother.' Then men put the top back on and hammered nails in the box. I watched them lower the box into the ground. Then, they started throwing dirt on top of it. That’s when my screaming began. Someone said I screamed for two days.
"Next came the feelings of being confused and lost. I felt like I was walking around in a dream world. Nothing seemed real. I wanted my mother. Then Jerry, my brother in diapers, was suddenly gone from us. Someone kept explaining, 'Littl'n (that’s what they called me), Jerry is fine. He’s staying in Steele with cousins who took him in.'
"That left my father and the three of us: my brother, my sister (the oldest), and me. My father had to go back on the road to make more coal deliveries. Without asking us kids, we were sent to an uncle’s house to live with him, his wife, and their kids. The family lived outside of Steele. Lots of cussing, fighting, and noise happened inside the house between the uncle and aunt. Everyone else walked carefully.
"While there, one good thing happened. A bright light came into the room one night where Bud and I were sleeping. It was my mother in a long, flowing, white gown. She told Bud and me that she loved us, and for me to be a good boy and to grow up to be a good man that anyone would be proud of. Then she said, 'I’ll see you again someday.' (This was verified for me 25 years later by my older brother Bud. It did happen.)
"In the middle of another night, a shotgun suddenly awakened us. Our uncle forced Billie Jean, Bud, and me to leave his house. He fired his gun into the air behind us, not allowing us to turn back to his house. His words were harsh, blaming us for his wife leaving him and his kids.
"We walked and walked until we saw streetlights. Billie Jean said we were at the edge of town, at the edge of Steele, Missouri. She was nine years old, and she told Bud and me what to do—we needed to lie down on the ground and cuddle together so we could get warm. Billie Jean remembers me yelling all that night, until someone came along in a car and discovered us. After that—the sheriff, a long car ride, a big building, and shelves of toys. Toys, a way to divert me, so they could take my brother and sister one way, take me another. I started screaming again….
"We three had magically become residents of the Southern Christian Home in Morrilton, Arkansas. We were on the same grounds, but we didn’t see each other. It didn’t feel right. It didn’t feel like home. I lived with lots of boys my age, but I was still lonely. Bud and Billie Jean were somewhere there with children in their age groups. I was with maybe 30 boys about my age. All logical to me now, but how my heart hurt…. Maybe we are what we love.
"I, Otis Leroy Gibson, better known as Littl'n in the family, was now only four years old, but I knew this orphanage was not my home. No matter what I was doing or who I was with, the only thing on my mind was going home. Something felt broken and splintered. The only way I could think to fix it, I reasoned, was to find a way to go home. I didn’t even know what that meant, but I knew I had to go home. Every chance I got, I would slip through the fence or go through a gate left open. I was going home. I’d run until the local sheriff Marlin Hawkins would grab me, spank me, hug me, and then ask if I’d like a chocolate milkshake at the drugstore.
"One day I ran away, and no sign of the sheriff. It grew dark…and scary. At last, lights of a vehicle. I figured it was the sheriff, so I just waited. The truck pulled up alongside me. It was not the sheriff, so I started running. The man grabbed me and put me into his truck. He asked who I was, where I lived. I told him nothing. To my surprise, he took me to his home in Norfork, Arkansas. There, I met his wife and his two young girls. The man's name was Jack Bonner.
"The next morning, the man dressed me up as a cowboy and started knocking on doors. He took me around town in Norfork, letting the townspeople meet me, letting me be a cowboy. One couple was named Eunice and Lillie Farrier.
"Later, we loaded up and drove back to Morrilton to the sheriff’s office. Next, the sheriff spanked me, hugged me, drove us to the drugstore, and ordered me a chocolate milkshake. Finally, he took me back to the orphanage where I was told at 8 p.m. I’d be punished with a strap. Seemed like a long, long time until 8 p.m. As promised, I got my strapping. After that, I decided I needed to find a new way to get home.
"Sometime around 1937, when I was about five years old, the children in my age group were told to go wash our faces and comb our hair. Visitors were coming. Next, we hurried outside and lined up, so they could take a look at us. You never could tell what this meant, but usually, a child would be chosen for a home-visit or even possibly be adopted. Three grown-ups were walking up and down the rows of children, looking at each one. All of a sudden, the lady said, 'That’s him, over yonder! I know that’s him!'
"Turns out I was the one she was all excited about finding. I would be going home with them to Norfork, Arkansas, for the summer."
Children have spoken and unspoken longings in their hearts. May God’s angels watch over all children, hear their hearts, and protect them from evil.
To be continued….
P.S. Maybe you or someone you know was an orphan. Please share this post far and wide. (You always have my permission to share any of my posts!)
Childhood photo of Lee Farrier.
Poetry Books by Pat Durmon