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Saturday, August 13, 2011

Children's Home

A woman in a group I was out with recently mentioned Christian Children’s Home in Cleveland.  I said my father had grown up in the Akron Children’s Home.  “Oh,” she said, “Don’t you think children’s services are so much better now?”

I answered I had no way of comparing.  We are both the same age;  maybe our parent’s were not. If I hadn’t been so startled visualizing the hundred year gap between today and my dad in the Children’s Home I might have asked her something more about then and now.  My dad was born in 1907.  I marveled he had been born with aeroplanes and motor cars and saw a man on the moon, and more.
My dad always seemed distant to me.  Mom, too, in a some ways.  They didn’t mess much in our lives.  They were the adults.  (Although, if you did something bad on the way home from school, your parent knew about it before you got home.)

My relationship with my dad was the stories he told, not the things he did.  He became physically unwell when I was eight years old and remained so for the rest of his life and mine.  That was just another part of Dad.
Dad told wonderful stories about sled riding down Sherbondy Hill.  His grandmother’s head touched the top of the door frame. He was jealous of his cousin who always got new shoes and every other cousin, himself included, wore hand-me-downs.  Uncle Taps, whom I never met, suffered a paralyzed leg from polio and always needed special shoes for his leg braces.  Dad told stories about the Sisters at school.  He told us stories about a man called Sarge who was a radio operator in the Army, who packed his radio equipment on mules.  He told us stories about another man called Sparks who was the radio operator on cargo ships on the Great Lakes.  We were enthralled.  Then the story would end and we went to do our homework or go out to play.

I’d heard all the stories by my teens; my brothers probably had, too.  I don’t remember any more then, old or new.  I wonder if Jan heard the stories?  I’ll have to ask.  When I was 17 my mom was teaching me to drive somewhere in Akron and said, “That’s the old children’s home where your father grew up.”

Talk about smacked up alongside the head.  I  remembered going to a “reunion” there.  I remember my younger brother was walking, but I don’t remember my youngest brother, so maybe I was four or five.  We waded in a concrete pool with a fountain in the middle.  There were lots and lots of children in standard underpants, wading.  I saw my brother face down on the bottom and picked him up.  He sputtered and snorted.  We kept on wading.  That is the small memory I had of the Children’s Home.  Mom said we attended reunions of the children in the 1940’s, but she didn’t recall that incident.  I know I was in my teens before I realized my Dad was Sarge and Sparks.
I got more information on Dad’s childhood, but from Mom.  He didn’t answer questions.  He told stories.  Dad was born in 1907, in Coalmont, Pennsylvania.  He didn’t have a birth certificate, but a handwritten letter, in pencil on lined paper, from the midwife who birthed him.  His father was a coal miner/schoolteacher.  When Dad was young the family returned to Akron to be near his mother’s family.  He was the oldest, then another brother, then three sisters.  Somehow his father wound up in prison.  The story is for not supporting the family.  Mom said Dad said it was engineered by the Catholic priests.  His father was out of prison eventually and left without a word.  He died of tuberculosis in the southwest; his family was contacted because of a faded and creased letter from his daughter, found in his wallet.

My Dad’s only stories in the first person were very early, before the Children’s Home.  Only one story included his father.  They lived in a small home in Coalmont, cooking and heat were the wood stove.  They had a wood pile.  Someone was stealing from the woodpile.  His dad augered a hole in a log, filled it with gunpowder, plugged it.  He instructed his wife, “Maime, see this log.  Don’t use it.”  Someone’s cook stove blew up.  No more logs were stolen.

My dad in the checked outfit, with his brother.  Probably about three years old, probably in Coalmont.  Probably a bandaged foot.
In Akron he lived in a house with his Mother, brother, and three sisters on Bisson Avenue, tucked in between houses with his grandmother and various aunts.  He went to Grace Elementary School.  We heard some stories about Grace, but not much about life on Bisson Avenue, except Taps new shoes.  His mother worked as a domestic, but just couldn’t keep the family together.
So, Dad grew up in the Children’s Home, together with his brother and the oldest sister.  The two youngest sisters were parceled out to relatives.  But, when you turned sixteen, you were too old for the Children’s Home.  He said he was eighteen and joined the Army.  He became a radio operator and rose to the NCO rank of Sergeant.   He was in the Army about fifteen years.  Ulcers and a failed operation that removed part of his stomach got him mustered out.  In the darkest depths of the Great Depression.  He found a job as radio operator on a Great Lakes shipping line.  When he was in port he didn’t have many meals unless he was in Cleveland and could take the trolley out to his sister and brother-in-law’s house in Independence.  Good garden eating out there. 

Probably in 1939 he took his accumulated savings and enrolled at Tri-State College in Terre Haute, Indiana.  He took as many courses as he could fit into a day.  All his college books I saw were math—algebra, calculus, geometry.  He did tell a story about a poor college student who was the captain of the basket ball team.  All the students on the team were poor fellows who knew they were better off studying, but on Friday nights they diagramed out their plays for next day’s game before they went to bed.  They knew how to play basketball, they just couldn’t.
By the end of 1941 his money was gone.  But he had lined up two job interviews, one with Babcock & Wilcox and one with Goodyear Aircraft.  He would get into Cleveland on  Christmas Eve and go stay with his sister and brother-in-law in Independence.  They knew he would get into town too late to take the trolley to Independence, so Uncle Frank asked a friend of his if his brother-in-law could spend Christmas day with his family and come on to Independence the day after Christmas.  Uncle Frank’s friend was my Uncle Hank, and that’s how my Dad met Uncle Hanks sister, my Mom.  There’s a great story there, too, but it deserves another post.

And that’s all I know about the Children’s Home and Children’s Services.


  1. I loved this, Joanne. All of it.

    During the Depression my grandmother was forced to give her second-to-oldest child (never found out why not the oldest) to the farm just a few miles a way -- they couldn't afford to feed him. At 6, he didn't see them for over a year. He never fully forgave his parents for that.

    Hmm. I am reminded to be thankful for what I have...


  2. These stories are so big—Dad’s sister at the home with him hated her younger sisters, “the babies”, who were parceled out to relatives. I had a relative in Michigan who took in boys as you described below and raised them up on his farm. Your grandmother probably kept the oldest as being more help to her. They were hard, hard times for a lot of people. So glad you enjoyed it. I have a lot more—before I forget them, as I have forgotten so much I was told and then ran out to play.