It’s always good to receive Christmas cards containing personal news that includes events making the past year a happy one. I especially loved one from Pat Crisp, who included photos of four beautiful, blonde children who had been adopted by her granddaughter. From the sound of it, those siblings were having a great time with a couple of young, loving parents. As a bonus, the children also gained a Great Grandmother who obviously loves them as passionately as though she had given birth to them herself.
Not all children are that lucky. During the Great Depression, there was a shack by the railroad tracks on Milton Avenue in Marianna. Mother drove past it almost daily, and after seeing two small children playing the yard next to the tracks, she began noticing something amiss. There was never a parent supervising them, and the children, a little girl and her brother, wore the same clothes and seemed to get dirtier with every passing day.
Alarmed, she stopped the car one Sunday, when she was driving us home from church, and asked the children, “Where are your mother and Dad?”
The little boy pointed at the tracks behind him and said, “They went that way.”
“Are they coming back?” Mother asked, but the children ducked their heads and fell silent. Mother took the liberty of looking inside the shack and saw that there was nothing inside, no food, no beds, nothing. “You’re coming home with me,” Mother told them. “I think you need something to eat, and you could use a bath too.”
After a good scrubbing in a tub full of warm, soapy water, children we first thought were brunettes, turned out to be cute, little blondes. She found enough of our out-grown clothes to fit them, although loosely. She said their old clothes would fall apart if she tried to wash them, so they would have to be burned. I thought they looked just fine. “Can we keep them?” I asked.
Mother looked sad, but said it was illegal to take children who didn’t belong to you; she would have to report the situation to the police, who would try to find their parents, and if they could not be found, the children would be transferred to a state adoption agency.
“I’ll put a note inside the shack,” she told me. “If the parents come back, they can call the police, who will return them to their parents, but I don’t think they will come back. A lot of children are being abandoned these days. Their parents aren’t able to feed them or give them a home.”
The knowledge that parents sometimes abandoned their children was terrifying, and I spent a few, restless nights worrying about it. However, it seemed to me that we always had plenty to eat. Mother raised chickens and kept a garden, and Daddy raised livestock, hunted and fished, so we never went hungry. I knew that our house was no palace, but Mother won it in a Ritz Theater lottery, so it was ours- free and clear. I gradually regained my sense of security, but I never stopped worrying about those two children, and to this day, I wonder what happened to them and pray that they survived somehow. The children only knew their first names so there was no way their parents could be traced.
I was curious about how many children were abandoned during the Great Depression and learned that at least 1.5 million were. Even worse, a great many children were sold. I read about five siblings who were separated and sold to different families, most of whom used them as child labor. Their living conditions were horrible. One of the children was so abused that he ended up in a mental institution. I realized how lucky I, my brother and sisters were to have two parents who truly cared for us, and to live in a town, which was a great place for raising children. It still is. Every time I read the TIMES, I’m amazed at how many school, church and community activities there are for children and teenagers.
Pat Crisp also mentioned in her Christmas card that she found it depressing that some people whose businesses were destroyed by Hurricane Michael were considering not rebuilding. As Marianna is such a great place for families, I would hate to see that happen. My husband and I have experienced two earthquakes, one tornado and four floods, so I know rebuilding is not easy, but we’ve never been sorry we did it anyway. We found inspiration in a poem by John Greenleaf Whittier, an Abolitionist, who wrote:
When things go wrong as they sometimes will –When the road you are trudging seems all downhill.
When the funds are low, and the debts are high -And you want to smile, but you have to sigh.
When care is pressing you down a bit- REST IF YOU MUST BUT NEVER QUIT.
Life is queer with its twists and turns-as everyone of us sometimes learns,
And many a failure comes about- When he might have won had he stuck it out.
Never give up, though the pace seems slow- YOU MAY SUCCEED WITH ANOTHER BLOW.
Often the goal is nearer than- It seems to a faint and faltering man,
Often the struggler has given up-When he might have captured the victor’s cup,
And he learned too late when the night slipped down-HOW CLOSE HE WAS TO THE GOLDEN CROWN.
Success if failure turned inside out-the silver tint of the clouds of doubt,
And you never can tell how close you are-It may be near when it seems afar,
So, stick to the fight when you’re hardest hit. ITS WHEN THINGS SEEM WORSE THAT YOU MUST NEVER QUIT.