A Christmas to Remember At the Ethel Harpst Home

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.

30 thoughts on “A Christmas to Remember At the Ethel Harpst Home

  1. Great advice there. My parents have a bunch of bikes that they’re trying to figure out what to do with. Though two of them are from when they were in their 30’s. I’ll definitely suggest this.

    1. Excess anything really, clothes, toys, shoes.

      Two of these four bikes were from Greg’s former spouse. She did not want them. I don’t even know where the other two came from. The kids at the Russell Home have Down’s Syndrome, developmental d.o., behavior d.o., or some other other mental disturbance. I am certain they will enjoy the bikes.

      1. We actually give routinely to Big Brothers, Big Sisters. Last time they showed up, we had 17 bags full of stuff from my grandmother. They were warned, but I still wish I was there to see the pick up guy’s face.

                1. When we consolidated households, we had real good luck moving quality merchandise with a two weekend Estate Sale. What didn’t move went on Craig’s List, and the more unique items went on EBay. I was glad Greg knew about those things because I was clueless.

  2. Generous gift to give, and it’s nice that you know how much it will mean to them. Your post makes my heart ache for my grandson who will be 5 in a few days. It’s a tangled tale, but the end result is he has no one who knows and loves him through these special days.
    I love this pastel pink beach scene…did you take this photo? Beautiful!

    1. I pray your grandson has people who can come into his life and make a difference for him. So many strangers made my world a better place.

      I wish I could take credit for the pic. It is a wallpaper pic I chose because it reminded me of the early mornings over the Atlantic. It probably is, but not one I took. I looked at all of mine, but most were too blue/green and I loved the soft peach and lavender of this one.

    1. Sometimes you just don’t realise how much E.X.C.E.S.S. you have until you try to clean up.

      Funny thing that I didn’t add to this post. The next year I ended up marrying the brother of the weekend house dad. Shot my role modeling down in an instant, but went on to have a most productive and successful life.

      I met a lot of interesting people at the Harpst Home, people who had traveled the world and achieved a great deal. Most all of my experiences there were positive ones.

  3. That’s so awesome to be able to help others by knowing first hand how it feels to get something when you have nothing. And believe it or not even though being on the receiving end that Christmas, made you aware how great it is to give. Great post!

    1. Thanks! I feel that it did.

      You know, we had the opportunity to revisit the Harpst Home in April, right after I published my book. We took gift packages with journals and pens, glimmer body lotion, perfumed body spray, and chocolates. It was the first time I had spoken publicly about my book. The 20 or so girls ages 14 and older made a terrific audience and we felt so well connected. Those kids need to hear success stories, that there is always hope, and how to follow your dreams.

    1. Thank you, John. Those pains are softened by age and experiences. I feel bad for my sister though. Her pains seem fresher and deeper to me because she fails to see anything positive in our experiences there. I am glad for the lessons learned.

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