On a recent Friday afternoon an old friend shared stories of pain. And joys too.
Amid the happy coffee-shop commotion Loraine Beckett (now Cluley) caught me up on the (gasp) many years since our Andrew Lewis High School graduation. (Our chat continued via email.)
She also told of growing up at the Lutheran Children’s Home of the South. Even though I had visited her and the late Diane Long there, I was kinda oblivious about what All That meant. (I regret being shy / clumsy / fill-in-the-blank.)
Loraine came in from Tennessee for the annual LCH reunion, attended by about 50 alumni from around the country. She anticipates many more will attend its 125th anniversary next year, and hopes it will be held on the old grounds. (Once the site of Elizabeth College, the land now holds the YMCA, Salem’s water tower, part of Roanoke College, etc. She hopes that folks take care of the old brick buildings: “They were our homes.”)
That Sept. 14th weekend alumni enjoyed dinners at Billy’s Barn and The Roanoker. Conversations continued at Jo Cobb Hughes’ and Dale and Annie Foley Smith’s homes (they and other local alumni Joyce Story, Millie Wingold and Loraine’s sister Millie Steen “[keep] the reunions going along,” Loraine emailed).
Some got together for breakfast and “the church of their choice” on Sunday; few attend College Lutheran as they did as children, she said.
Significantly, Lutheran Family Services welcomed alumni all day Saturday to look at and get copies of their records. Alumni could also request copies from among the hundreds of photos.
Loraine figured that she and Debra Waggy Clements were the youngest attending. Some, she wrote, never return; one late friend “preferred what God granted her as an adult.” Another — encouraged by his wife — came back for the first time and was emotionally overwhelmed.
As with most reunions, alumni eulogized the deceased. They had been close to these departed: their “LCH brothers and sisters.” There was also intense laughter over “old stories told from someone else’s point of view,” she wrote.
Her own memories? Tough times amid the good: “After all, how many of my peers can say they had to pluck 50 chickens on a Saturday morning … [while someone fussed] because you missed some … pin feathers under the wings? Or… had to scrub a concrete dining hall floor with lye soap and a broom, mop, rinse, mop, dry mop, replace table and chairs, set the tables and be ready in time for lunch?” Or after school shovel snow off the sidewalks, take down and scrub the screens and windows “while we [froze]” — for a visit by the Board of Directors?
To be alone she hid in a Japanese cherry tree or some old remains of Elizabeth College. She envied her “normal” school friends — with “parents, a home, new clothes, birthdays, you name it. I didn’t know back then that they also had problems.”
She appreciated kindness from the Thomas family: “Fantastic role models” Gary and Eloise, and their sons Eddie, Bobby and Andy. And from classmate Anne Lee Stevens’ mom, Dottie. Debbie Brugh’s mom even let her have her own bedroom — and acted maternally: When the girls were late getting back home (“probably the day we were at your house, looking at my scab in your dad’s microscope”), Lois let them know “in no uncertain terms that [tardiness] would not be tolerated.”
Loraine also loved Walter Robinson’s ALHS English classes. Assigned to “write a memory,” she recalled arriving in the LCH parlor. “I knew I would want to remember those emotions, exactly” — so she was distressed when an overzealous staffer threw out the essay and other keepsakes stored at LCH.
She had been a ward of South Carolina from age six months. She, sister Millie and brother Lawton spent eight years with a loving, Christian woman they called “mama.” Then they were “ripped from [their] home” and sent 400 miles away. She stayed from that “very traumatic” 1956 event through ALHS graduation (“Class of ’67, The Best”).
Many children tried running away from LCH, she wrote. But they were “found before they got too far…. Being at The Home was harder on some than others, but for all of us, it provided a safe haven, three square meals a day, a place to sleep, a public and a Christian education. We all learned skills that would take us into adulthood.”
Indeed she learned. She graduated from Roanoke College; ran her own daycare center (158 kids; 14 staffers); led three Girl Scout troops at the same time; served on a Board of Education in New Jersey; had a business career; and finally taught high school special education. She even designed a curriculum and was teacher-of-the-year.
Now she and husband Norman travel the country, and share time with her daughters’ families (another grandchild is due this very month!). Next year she wants to visit the Salem Museum (especially the Lakeside stuff) and stroll her RC alma mater.
Still, she thinks about The Home, those times and those records — say, why her case manager “didn’t think it would be in my best interest” to be adopted.
“I hope [people] never forget the needs of children who don’t have loving families and the work that Lutheran Family Services and other organizations continue to do for God’s children,” she wrote.
Me, too, old friend. Me, too.