Joan was not the only one that helped us see that showing you care can make a difference, Roberta, we will call her, never lived with us as a foster child but she had four siblings that did. In Roberta’s life it was 24 hours that made a difference for her.
While her siblings lived with us, we got to know Roberta when her parents would come out to visit the kids at the house. We didn’t get to know her well since the visits were short but there was something about Roberta that kindled a friendship. This connection later helped her in her decision of where to go when she ran away from home.
The parents had a bad drinking problem and horrible tempers that went with it. They drank the welfare money and any money the children earned picking moss from the swamp. The oldest son, of the 11, had been beat so badly he was mentally handicapped. He later ended up in a mental institution.
Back then the laws were more lenient. Many lessons have been learned about the right way and wrong way to handle abuse in families.
The second oldest girl, Deanna, had lived with us for four years by the time her two little brothers came to us. Deanna was so glad to be with her brothers again. She had been their caregiver, and caregiver to the other children also, at their home before Social Service took her away.
Deanna had experienced way more than any child ever should. I remember her telling me a story that happened to her when she had lived at home. She was putting her baby sister to bed one night when her mom and dad were gone. The baby wouldn’t stop crying so she was rocking her. The baby wasn’t very old just a few weeks, as she held her little sister she quietly died in her arms from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. Deanna was only about 8 or 9 years old at the time. She said she cried and cried for that baby sister.
Deanna’s life there was not easy. She was expected to do cooking and cleaning and take care for all her younger children, of the 11 she was the third oldest. She was also beaten both verbally and physically. But she loved her siblings like she was their mom and she would try to protect them from her mother. You can imagine how glad she was to see her brothers and to have them live with us also. It was a blessing for her. She got to be their sister not their mother and still be with them.
They were all glad to work on the farm. They had to work harder picking moss from the swamp at home. At least on the farm we all worked together. It was hard work but good work and Dad always worked right beside us on the farm. Dad never asked us to do something that was beyond us but he did give us the chance to learn.
Mom worked with us in the garden and guided the house crew as we did our respective cleaning chores.
But when it came to baling hay, it took the whole family. Mom ran the bailer; Dad or one of the older kids would run wagons back and forth to the barn for unloading. Dad or an older kid would be throwing the bales on to the hay stack for stacking. Where the younger kids and either Dad or an older kid, would place the bales and make sure they were stacked tight so they would not fall. As the kids got older, Mom didn’t have to help as much. It was hard on her. She grew up in the city and farm life was hard. She would bring us lemonade and sandwiches for lunch or snack. They were always a welcome sight.
Once hay is cut down and begins to dry it is important to get it off of the field and under protection from any rain or it will rot over time. It takes about 24-48 hrs of good hot sun to dry hay enough well enough to not heat up in the barn after it is stacked. Damp hay is known to cause fires. So once the morning dew dries from the hay and the rake has gone over the hay and put in windrows, it is time to start baling. If there is rain coming that meant you had only a small window of time to get the hay bailed and in the barn.
There were times we would be working away and the sky would start to get dark as the rain clouds began to roll in. Once we seen those coming, even us younger ones knew, we had to move even faster to save the hay. It was a feeling of banding together against the elements putting our all into our work to beat the rain. It was like a team in full force and pushing with all we had. The adrenaline rush was incredible sometimes.
We knew we had to get as much of the hay baled and under cover as we could before the sky opened up. Once the wagons were in and the bailer tucked under cover we had won. The rain was just starting to come down. As we stood at the end of the pole barn watching it being to rain harder and harder we would celebrate the victory. We rejoiced and laughed, and sometimes even ran out in the rain and jumping around laughing, we made it. The release of joy and adrenaline was incredible. The rain washed off the sweat and chaff as we stomped around in the puddles. Dad and some of the older kids stood in the door of the barn watching and laughing. It was a great feeling.
Sometimes we got caught in the rain. We continued to push on to the finish, driving as fast as we dared with the wagons loaded with hay heading for home. Those days we got wet, so did the hay. Most of the time we could set it to the side and feed it first to the animals, as long as you fed the hay right away it was still good and cattle love fresh baled hay. That way it wasn’t completely lost.
That was the kind of team we had become. Deanna was a big part of that and so were her brothers. Then one day Mom and Dad got a call from Social Services, their parents had been making an effort to change and Social Services were going to give them another chance with their boys. They were going home. They were excited. They figured life would be good back home, mom and dad had changed.
We had grown close to the boys, Tom and Sam, we didn’t want them to go and we didn’t understand why they wanted to go. But the boys wanted to be with their natural mom and dad. Even though they had been beaten and treated badly they still had hope that their natural parents would love them and care for them.
It was said that their parents had “changed their ways” and were getting better. Deanna was afraid this was not true and though she did not have to go or really want to leave, she decided to go back with Tom and Sam to protect them. I remember asking them why they wanted to go back to a place where they are beaten. I still remember their answer to this day, “But they love us.” “So do we!” I replied. “We know but we want to be with our real mom and dad.” They answered. They had lived all but a short time that way and it seemed to them the life was supposed to be. They were still young, just out of 4th and 5th grades. They couldn’t understand how their own parent’s way of ‘loving’ them was not right. Sadly the parents wanted the welfare money not the kids. This proved out in a short time.
When all three returned to their natural mother, she didn’t wait long to pick up the old habits. This time she began by destroying all Deanna’s things that she had worked so hard for and gotten as gifts over the 4 years with us. Her record collection and clothes she had bought with her own hard earned money from babysitting, allowance from the farm and selling sweet corn. Her mother took those records and flung them like Frisbees into a fire. She didn’t beat Deanna anymore she knew Deanna was now stronger than she was. But the verbal abuse and destroying what was good in her life was more than Deanna could take. She had finally come out of her shell and was happy before she went back. She didn’t want to lose that again. Deanna had learned, at our house, that there was a better way to be treated. You didn’t have to be called horrible names, be run down and verbally destroyed.
Deanna decided to run away she knew she couldn’t stay; her brothers seemed to be okay and she had to get away from her mother. Her sister, Roberta, wanted out too. Having no idea where else they could go that was safe, they ran back to our house. Mom and Dad knew the parents would be looking for them. They called the police shortly after the girls got there. Their parents didn’t take long to figure out where they went. They showed up in the driveway before the police got there. Dad did not let them come in. He knew from past experience that with this couple it could too easily become ugly and it wasn’t going to happen on his watch.
Once the officer arrived the parents and the officer came in. Deanna and Roberta were tucked up in the bedroom with the rest of us kids while we all wait for the outcome. They were safe for the now. But none of us knew how the night would end. All of us kids were scared. While we waited Deanna and Roberta told us what had been happening. It was hard to imagine a mom being so mean to her own daughters.
After a long conversation with the officer and the girls’ parents, the officer told Dad to tell the girls they had to go home with their parents. Dad refused. He was not going to be the one that told those girls they had to go back into the hands of that woman. Dad told the officer, “You have jurisdiction, you tell them to go with her!” The officer, who was familiar enough with the family and the situation, thought for a moment and said, “The girls can stay here until court.” He didn’t want to put them back in harm’s way either.
The girls’ parents left and the officer left soon after. It was three days until their case was heard. We went on trying not to let the pending day worry us. The girls had no idea if they would have to go back to their parents or not. They were scared but we kept busy and that helped all of us not think about it so much.
The day finally came; Mom, Dad, Deanna and Roberta went to court. The court decided the girls did not have to go back. Deanna was to choose if she wanted to go back to our farm or to a different foster home in town. She told us later that she wished she had gone back to the farm but the in town living sounded easier. She said it was the worst decision she made. It was easier, too easy. Unfortunately, they had too much free time on their hands and a lot of hurt in their hearts and were looking for someone who cared. They began going out and staying out. They were no longer welcome at that home.
Deanna’s decision impacted Roberta’s choices. Sadly, later the girls were spilt up. Roberta ended up in a home that should never have been allowed a license. Her foster father gave her drugs and alcohol. Eventually, Roberta ended up pregnant. Social services did not learn there was a problem until she was pregnant.
Years past and we didn’t hear from either of the girls. Deanna had graduated and would touch base from time to time. She had got married and had a child. They had struggles but were trying to make it. Roberta had not been in touch since she left. Even Deanna didn’t know where she was much of the time.
Several years had gone by and we had not heard from either of the girls. My brother was having his wedding reception at the farm where we all grew up and Roberta decided to ‘crash’ the party. It seems she lived closer than she knew and when she seen the announcement in the paper, she realized she was just a few miles away.
She surprised many. When she got to the farm she went looking for Dad. He happened to be in the trailer getting more food from the refrigerator. She came in behind him and said, “Hi, Harry” Dad turned around and looked at her with an unfamiliar look on his face. She said, “You don’t recognize me do you?” He replied, “No, I am sorry I don’t. Should I?” She told him her name was Roberta Smith, Once Roberta Thompson. Dad’s eyes lit-up and he threw his arms out to her as a father would. She ran to him and like little girl jumped into his arms throwing herself around him and crying. They both laughed and cried as she told him that he had no idea what it meant to her that night he protected her from her parents. She knew she had worth. It took her many years to realize it before she got out of an abusive relationship. But because Dad stood up for her she had made the choice to move on to a better life. She had met a man that treated her right and they had been married for several years now.
We do not know what impact we can have on another person’s life. For that young girl it was one act of protection that later helped her make a choice that may have saved her life. Sometimes we get to see or hear what our positive input does. Other times we just have to trust it made a difference.
For me these two incidences have helped me many times when I think I am getting nowhere in helping a young person I remember what I seen at home and how those young women were changed. It gives me strength to keep going. Even with my own kids.