My childhood was unique in many ways. I was in Foster Care for several years after my mother passed. The last Christmas before my emancipation was spent at a children’s group home, otherwise known as an orphanage, the Ethel Harpst Home, in Cedartown, GA.
Christmas that year seemed bleak. I did not expect to be able to go visit with my grandparents because they were ill. A hundred miles away and there was no expectation that any family would be visiting me. There would be no siblings, aunts, uncles, or cousins to reunite with this year.
I have been reading a lot of posts about holiday time and the hardships and humor of dealing with family members during the season. You may not fully appreciate how much family “makes” the Holiday until you don’t have any.
At the Harpst Home, I had a roommate, Darlene. She and I were both fifteen years old, certainly too old to be adopted. Adoption at that age was rare. People were quick to take in small children, but older kids were thought to come with too many issues. It didn’t matter that we had straight A’s in high school, had never been in any sort of trouble, and tutored younger children in math and reading…we were undesirable by an age standard. Darlene and I were on the “Family Unit” where smaller children and older children were housed together. The younger ones looked up to us and we were considered role models.
Back to Christmas.
On this particular year, Santa came to the Harpst Home, as usual. He brought lots of presents for the little girls. With enthusiasm, they gleefully ripped into their small gifts. Shiny bows and ribbons became hair accessories. They laughed and played, and it had special meaning to see them having so much fun.
Darlene and I were trying to be mature, but we were both holding back the tears when all of the presents were passed out and there were no gifts for us. We were helping the smaller ones set up their Lincoln Logs and put their puzzles together, building with tinker toys and playing with Barbie dolls.
Our house parents, who had gone down in the basement, came in wheeling a pair of bicycles for Darlene and me. Our frowns turned upside down and suddenly we felt included. We were most grateful. The bikes weren’t brand new, but they were ours, or so we thought.
It turned out that these two bicycles belonged to the weekend house parents who relieved our regular house parents. For a week, Darlene and I had been all around the neighborhood on those bikes. We were flying up and down hills feeling the freedom of the wind. We took long rides to other neighborhoods meeting other kids our age. We went downtown to the store for candy and other treats to share on the unit. The weekend house parents came in and saw how much joy the bikes had brought to us and would not let us give them up, even though we offered the bikes to their rightful owners.
Today, I was stumbling through the garage tripping over six bicycles that we have not ridden in years. What couple needs six bicycles? We gathered up four of the bikes and tossed them into the truck. We took them over to the Russell Home for Atypical Children. We may give the other two away next year. It felt really good.
If you are tripping over excess, and there is a children’s home near you, clean up, and make the trip.
It’s worth it.