To tell this story, I need to start at the beginning…duh. Back in 1967 Mom was a homemaker and Dad worked at General Motors (Fisher Body Division). Dad made a decent wage for the time, but he was an alcoholic. He and Mom attended many Alcoholic Anonymous meetings and in a way they helped. But Dad was not your normal alcoholic…he was a binge alcoholic. At that time he might go a year without drinking and then he would go on a drunk and within a very short period of time he’d have to go the hospital to “dry” out. So family life in our household was difficult, not necessarily unhappy, just difficult.
The Last Straw
The last straw for Mom and Dad’s marriage actually involved me (or at least this is how I remember it). Dad got drunk and got mad at me for something…I remember him grabbing me, an 11 year old boy and throwing me up against a wall. Mom either saw it or found out about it and the next thing I knew we are leaving Michigan and heading to Blytheville, Arkansas.
My oldest brother came home on leave from the Navy to help with the move. My Mom and my youngest brother took a bus to my Grandmother’s house (My Mom’s Mom) in Qulin, MO. My oldest brother drove me, my middle brother and our dog Rusty down to Qulin to meet up with Mom and David. The plan was for my Grandmother to sell her farm and her and Mom would move to Blytheville and open up a restaurant…so after about 2 weeks in Qulin, MO (2 weeks of not going to school)…we headed to Blytheville.
I remember we moved into a house on Fulton Street right in front of the High School. Almost immediately Mom and Mammaw (my Grandmother) opened the restaurant. Mom would work from 4am until 3pm every day and Mammaw would work the night shift from 2pm until about 6am…we were open 24 hours a day.
Mom got us enrolled in school…I think we all went to Central Elementary School. I was in the 6th grade, Kevin was in 3rd grade and David in the 2nd grade. Tommy had returned back to the Navy after being on leave. Mom hired a couple of nannies to help watch over us during the day after school and weekends, and we even had one or two live with us…we also had babysitters from time to time. Mom tried hard to make sure we were supervised, but unfortunately I was a pretty resourceful delinquent and that caused problems.
I began to skip school…in fact I began to skip school a lot. I even remember a truant officer calling me once on the phone and threatening to “put me on a train that would take me to reform school in Morrilton” if I did not start going to school. Even that didn’t work though…I still skipped a lot of school. And although I’m not proud of it…we began to steal little things like bottles (we got money for pop bottles), food out of vending machines and even breaking in the high school gym and I stole a stopwatch! (NOTE: My Uncle Sonny found out…and made me break back into the gym and return the watch – then he tore my ass up).
We were pretty much out of control…and even though Mom tried hard to keep us in line…the trauma of divorce, moving to a new place and then Mom working all the time was just not enough structure in our lives. I’m not making excuses…we knew right from wrong.
Then one day me, Kevin and David went into TG&Y to look at the fish, turtles and gators in their pet section. Yes, we stole from TG&Y before too, but this day we just went in and looked around. We had not discussed stealing anything. As we left, we exited out the door without any worries until we heard this booming sound of the manager of the store bolting out the door after us…I don’t know (you see it on the TV show COPS all the time)…but when I heard the noise and saw him coming after us we BOLTED!!! When he caught David (the youngest), Kevin and I stopped too. He took us into his office and asked me to empty my pockets…nothing! I wasn’t worried because I knew that we hadn’t talked about stealing anything. Next he asked Kevin to empty his pockets and still nothing. Then he asked David to empty his pockets…and out came a balloon. A penny balloon! A simple little ONE PENNY BALLOON!! But, it was still stealing.
So this manager decides he is gonna try and scare us (I didn’t know that at the time)…but he threatens to call the police, and me trying to be the brave one never broke down. Next he said, no I don’t think I’ll call the police, I’m gonna call your parents! He asked who my Mom and Dad were and I told him they were divorced and then he asked who my Mom was…I told him and he said he was gonna call her and get her to come to his office. OK…being big went out the door and I started crying…so much for being the big macho thieves.
Preparations for the Move
I really don’t remember getting into too much trouble or skipping school too much between the time of being caught stealing and spring break. But on spring break Mom loaded us up one day and we took a trip to Pocahontas. On the way over I remember Mom making a reference to checking this place out for us to go during the summer break from school. When we arrived at this huge house (5 bedrooms), it was a brand new built home and only had a small family living there. At the time, we just thought it was someones house. We looked around, the place was big, had animals, a barn, 2 ponds and 40 acres of wooded land. The people were nice enough too, but that’s all me and my brothers knew about them.
On the way home Mom said we might have to spend the summer there because finding supervision for us all day long every day would be too difficult to do with the way we were behaving. So when she asked how we liked the place and I responded, “a nice place to visit, but I wouldn’t want to live there.”
Taken Away Screaming
Fast forward a couple of months later and then one day a station wagon backs up to the front of the house, quickly all of our clothes were thrown into boxes and we were hurriedly placed into the station wagon without explanation. Mom was hugging one of the posts on the porch and bawling her eyes out. As we drove away we were literally pounding on the back glass and screaming and crying for Mom. It was a fear and terror we had never experienced before. I can still see Mom clutching that porch post and sobbing as we got farther and farther away, both literally and figuratively.
A couple of hours later we arrived at “the home” that we had previously visited. To say we were traumatized is an understatement. It all happened so fast that we had no idea of what had really happened, other than our world was turned upside down. Deep down, I knew that we caused most of this to happen because of acting out. I’m sure that being thrust into this situation and not knowing what was going to happen clouded the events of the next several days. Luckily Me, Kevin and David were placed into the same bedroom…we were together and that helped tremendously and created a strong bond that is evident even today.
So after a few days and becoming settled in, I had done something wrong. I don’t remember what I had done, but when I was scolded I let my “smart” mouth get in the way again and I sassed Nova (the house Mother). Whatever it was, I hit a nerve or maybe it was just time to set the record straight, but Nova shook her finger at me and said, “Young man, you better learn to listen and learn to behave! You are NOT here for just 3 months, your Mother signed the papers and you will be living here until you are 18 years old”. I was in shock! I had no idea we would be there until we old enough to be on our own. I thought we would only be there through the summer until school started (which was bad enough), but to find out the reality of how long we’d be there was like a life sentence. Furthermore, Nova also let me know that Mom would NOT be allowed to see us for 3 months so that we could become “adjusted” to our new home. I know I cried…I just don’t remember how often I cried, but it was often.
I think the very first thing I learned while at the Children’s Home was that when you eliminate uncertainty, it makes facing reality a much easier thing to do. In other words, I thought we would be at the Children’s Home for only 3 months or less, but I wasn’t for sure. Nova took the uncertainty away when she told me that we’d be there until we were 18 years of age.
After 3 months, Mom was allowed for the first time to come and visit us. She was allowed to visit the first Sunday of every month from 1pm till about 3pm and at first we given no rules. So Mom comes to see us the very first time and of course the reunion was extremely emotional and lots of crying by everyone. At one point Me and Mom walked towards our barn (out of earshot of the home) and whatever I was saying and doing was even more upsetting to both myself and Mom, so that by the time we got back up the main house we were both basket cases. In fact, as Mom got ready to leave, I jumped in the car and would not get out…WRONG MOVE on my part.
After Mom left, Nova sat me down and told me that if I ever upset myself or my Mother again, that she would limit or stop the visits. And she also told me that all further visits would be in the living room of the home…and that I was not helping my Mother, my brothers or myself by acting that way. Lets just say I was smart enough to know that I was beat and had to do things the “Nova” way from then on. The visits after that were much more enjoyable and went much smoother.
So over the next few years at the Children’s home things went smoothly and Nova and Buster molded us into more responsible and non-thieving kids. There was no more skipping school, no more cussing, no more stealing and for sure, more well behaved boys. We adjusted well in school and had lots of friends. We worked hard tending our garden and mowing a huge lawn. We were just biding our time until we all turned 18 and could leave and “go home”, although that seemed liked an eternity.
After a couple of years, a “counselor” started to visit, his name was Brother Balcom and he started coming by once a month just to talk with all of the kids at the children’s home to see if there were any problems or issues he could help us work through. He was later to become the executive director of the Paragould Children’s Homes. I guess he was a certified counselor or something but I never liked the guy for some reason. I just didn’t trust him, not that he wasn’t nice, but I always sensed there was something about him that made me suspicious.
But over time, we began to communicate more freely with Brother Balcom and to talk more about our futures and how we wanted to go “home”. Strangely, once we passed the first 3 months at the home we never asked to leave again because we always thought we were just stuck there until we became 18 years of age. However, in the spring of 1970, me and my brothers decided we would tell Brother Balcom at our next meeting that we wanted to go home. This would be the first time we asked to go home in the 3 years we were at the home.
So when Brother Balcom came to visit us the next time, he asked us if we had any problems to discuss or was there anything on our mind to discuss, I spoke out that me and my brothers had talked it over and we wanted to go home. As I told him our desire, all 3 of us brothers broke down and began crying. We all 3 were crying and I was trying to tell Brother Balcom how we had decided that we wanted to go home, he began to laugh which infuriated to no end and made us cry even louder. The fact that he would laugh while we were so emotional was confusing, belittling and empowering…all at the same time. I asked him why was he laughing when we were so serious about our request…and he said, “well, its funny you should ask because your Mother called me today and said she wanted to bring you boys home”. When he told us about his conversation with Mom that day the tears REALLY began to flow and the sobbing grew louder! “BUT” he continued, “its just not that easy”, and my heart sank again. He said we would have to do a trial weekend before the final decision would be made and that during Spring Break weekend we could go to Blytheville to see how things went and ONLY THEN would a decision be made as to whether we could go home for good or not.
By this time, my oldest brother Tommy (9 years older than me) had just gotten out of the Navy and back from Vietnam. He came and picked us up for our weekend visit during the spring break. It was great and we had a great weekend, but when Sunday came around and it was time to come home. I told my older brother Tommy, “I’m not going. I’m not going back!!” Tommy had a long talk with me and told me how I had to go back to have any chance for us to be able to come home for good. I finally quit crying and got my act together and we headed back to Pocahontas to the Children’s Home. Honestly I cannot remember if the next 6 weeks went slow or fast…I just remember us loading up a small U-Haul trailer and Tommy driving us BACK HOME to Blytheville, AR…and BACK HOME to Mom and the beginning of a new life.
Finally, there are a few footnotes to this story.
First and foremost, my Mom did a courageous thing and me nor my Brothers EVER thought of Mom as “giving us up”. There was NEVER a question about her love for all four of her boys. Not a single doubt…ever.
Nova, Buster and the entire Crain family as well as the Pyburn Street Church of Christ MUST be credited with turning our lives around. We weren’t hardened criminals, in fact I don’t feel we were criminals, we just needed some positive re-direction. Their discipline and life lessons changed our the course we were following in life. Nova and Buster was our pathway to avoid becoming really bad kids and without them, I hate to think of what the outcome might have been. Me and my brothers are forever indebted to their love and kindness and GUIDANCE throughout those 3 years at the Children’s Home.
My brothers and I are all in agreement that when we look back on our years at the Children’s Home these memories are with great fondness and appreciation. We continued to visit and correspond with Nova and Buster up until they passed away and attended the funerals for both. They were just GREAT, GREAT PEOPLE.
There are many stories to be told from those 3 years, a few sad stories, many funny stories, lots of happy stories, and some life experiences.
Apology Not Warranted
And finally…sometime back (like the early 90’s), I was still living in Blytheville but had gone to Searcy to visit Mom. One night it was just me and her in the den, watching TV. She began to cry for no reason. I had no idea what she was upset about, and when I asked her what was wrong, she told me, “Wally, I loved you boys with all my heart, but I am so sorry I had to send you to the Children’s Home, I didn’t know what else to do”. I smiled at her, and told that we all loved her too and our love and admiration for her was never in question and that she did not need to apologize to us. I continued on and told her that we needed that guidance from the Crain’s, and we wouldn’t have changed a thing about our life. And the last thing I said was, “Mom, thank you, THANK YOU for sending us there”.
Mom is gone now, and I still feel so strongly about it…I’m so glad we had the experience and I am so glad I had a loving Mother that did what she thought was right for her boys, and I’m so glad that we were given a second chance with Mom…it created a bond that NO ONE could ever break.