The other day while rummaging through some old papers I found a diary and the story – part of the story – of a boy’s life. My parents took this boy into their home when he was twelve. He stayed with us until he was a little past seventeen. Life was not a particularly happy experience for him. His mother died when he was only four or five. His father was a gambler and a bootlegger who ran off and left his children and his second wife in order to escape jail. The story I found must have been written by Tommy one of those times when he was in the dumps as he put it. It begins with about the earliest things he remembered and ends just before he came to live with us.
Here is his story as he told it. It was written February 9, 1938 when Tommy was fifteen.
“It was eight years ago that a crowd of people came to my home. Then six men came out of my home with a gray box, and one of my playmates said, “Your Mother is in that box.” I asked my father where they were taking my Mother, and he said, “They are carrying her to a place, and it will be a long long time before you will see her again.” I didn’t understand what he meant. Then I went into the house and saw my four brothers and my sister and a neighbor crying. I didn’t see so much to cry about so I asked them what was the matter, and they somehow made me understand that my Mother was dead.
“The next day they had her funeral, and I wanted to go, but Father said, “No”, so I did not go. I went down town and hung around on street corners, and late that evening on my way home I jumped out into the street and that’s all I knew for some time. A bus driver picked me up after the car had hit me and took me home. My Father thanked him and I expected to get a beating but did not, but he kept me in the back yard when I was out of school, but I always would run away, and then I’d get another beating. Shortly after my Mother died my Father put me in a home, but then he got married and came and got me. Two of my brothers lived with us. My step-mother was mean to me and made me work hard.
There was a lady who visited us who was very good to me. She took me home with her for Christmas, and then she wanted to adopt me, but my father would not let her do it. She said, “Goodbye” to me, and I have never seen her since.
Our neighbors began to take notice of how I was being treated and two or three people came to our home and asked me if they were beating me or treating me mean, but before they came, my step-mother dared me to tell the truth, and the people always left without knowing the truth.
Our next move was to the country, and for a while we were happy, but then my father began to sell liquor and to get drunk. His small store would be raided by officers and they would find liquor enough to put him in jail, but as soon as he was out of one jam he was in another. Finally to keep from jail again he left us, and then my step-mother was meaner to us than ever.
She made me steal. When the people next door went to town and she sent me in their house and told me to get anything I could --- such things as: beer, food, things from the kitchen, cold cream, lip stick, finger nail polish, rouge, powder, paper, perfume, books, hairpins – most anything that I could carry easy. She would always beat and kick me if I said that I did not want to go. She beat me so much that I ran away and slept in the woods two nights. A poor couple said they would take me but couldn’t give me very much. I stayed with them six or seven months. A little later I left them and went to live with another couple. They gave me cigarettes, and one night they took me to a place where they were going about 25 miles away from home. They got drunk before they got half way and gave me whiskey and made me drunk. That night I spent part of the time on a pile of sand and the rest of it on a pile of cornstalks. I soon left them and went with a family who could give me right much. I stayed with them a year but had to leave because the lady I was staying with was sick and couldn’t look after me.
I then went to live with my aunt in Colorado; she did not want me so I soon left there and went back to the place I had come from. Here I am living with a good family and going to school, but I am not happy, and I know I shall never be until I can work for myself and have my own home. The last time I saw my step-mother and my half sister I spoke to them, but she wouldn’t speak or let my sister speak to me either. I haven’t spoken to them since I left six years ago. I am not going to look back any more, but I am going to look to the future, and if I can ever help them I am going to do it.”
This is his story until 1939 – part of it. Half the hardship and the brutality he endured he left out. In 1941 he joined the Navy. He saw action in both the Atlantic and Pacific areas. He was home in the spring of 1945 for the last time. He had seen a great deal of action, extremely nervous and partially deaf he was in no condition to return to duty, but he did and stayed until the war was over. Now things were easier gone was the fear of bombings, of shell fire, of submarines now men could think of home, but in September came the warning that a typhoon wa approaching. The ship was ordered to another port, and so she limped out to sea with one engine not in operation. The last report came at 11:40 P.M. on September 16. The typhoon struck and out of the deep there was silence and later a telegram, “I deeply regret to inform you --------------------- that he lost his life as result of typhoon ----- while in the service of his country. Sincerest sympathy ………”
The search for security was over, the aimless wanderings had ceased. It maybe that in a larger life he has found that greater security and that greater peace for which he so much longed. God grant that it may be so.