The Life And Times Of Wanda Bruner Butler

by Wanda Bruner Butler
Copyright © 2000

Chapter 2

* The Mansion
* Holy Cow, What Do I Do Now
* Two Losses in Two Days
* The Deal of a Lifetim

The Mansion

That night as we sat at the table I started telling Wes about what the agent said about the home. I also added that I sure didn't want to get involved in something like that. All of a sudden I became aware that the kids were listening and you could have heard a pen drop. Then Alan spoke up and asked, "Is there a place to raise a pig? I sure would like to get one." Then Curt and Dick ask if there were any trees where they could build a tree house. Carol said she wanted a lamb. Doug said, "Hey, I could get me a motorcycle." I reminded him that he was too young for a motorcycle and he said that was why he wanted to be in the country. Wes asked, "Why don't we just take a look at the place?" There wasn't much I could say as I was outvoted.

The next day I put off calling Mae until the afternoon. When I called, she started laughing and said, "I thought you weren't interested." I told her I was out voted. She gave me the number and after we talked for a while I hung up and called Mr. Woodman. He said Saturday would be fine to look at the house as there was no one living in it at the time.

On Saturday afternoon we drove out to see this "MANSION" the kids had built up in their minds. As we turned in the driveway no one said a word. There were no words to describe what was before us. Not only was the driveway full of pot holes, but the whole place was in a rundown condition. The paint on the house was peeling. The fences were hanging by rotted posts and leaning every which way. Weeds were everywhere; it was a fire hazard waiting to happen. There were a few fruit trees and all were in bad shape. It was hard to tell, with all the old lumber stacked between the rows, which were grown up with tall weeds, if the trees could be pruned and saved, or if they would have to be removed and replaced.

In the middle of all this stood a huge, old house with possibilities. It had two stories and there were several large shade trees on the north side. On the south was a grape arbor, attached to the house and hanging heavy with Thompson seedless grapes. Behind the main house was a three-bedroom house with three bathrooms but no kitchen; It had been used as a home for elderly men. Behind that was another house with two bedrooms and a bath. It was unfinished and so full of junk it was hard to walk through the rooms, and there was more old rotted lumber that was only good for a bonfire.

When we entered the main house, I was surprised at the size of the rooms. At one end of the large living room was a fireplace. The dining room was 24 feet long with two dining tables pushed together to make one table. At the other end was a sink and cabinets. The kitchen was equipped with two stoves and two refrigerators plus a dining table with two leafs. All of this, plus a large family room, three bedrooms, and two baths, comprised the first floor.

Upstairs were two more bedrooms. While I dreamed about what could be done here, Wes and the boys looked around outside. Alan found the perfect spot under a huge eucalyptus tree to raise a pig. On the north side of the house Doug, Curtis, and Dick found a tree that, according to them, reached the sky and there was plenty of lumber to build their own tree house. Carol picked a room upstairs, which looked out over the entire neighborhood.

On the way home, Wes, who was a hard-working, soft-spoken man, said he felt the soil was rich and would grow a good garden. The trees looked better than he had previously thought, and there was plenty of water to, even, raise a calf. In front was plenty of room for a huge playground, as the house was situated in the middle of the 10 acres. Then Wes turned to me and said, "If you're game so am I." That's all it took for me to give in. By then I was beginning to like the idea, as we had been promised we would only be licensed for six. And, heck, we always had more than that playing in our yard, and this way I would be paid for having a house full.

The following Monday I called Mr. Tucker and asked if they still wanted us, and explained about the house. I told him it needed a real cleaning. He transferred me to a Mrs. Johnson, who made an appointment to come out and see the house. We decided on a time to visit the place and a few days later I drove out to meet her. As I drove up the driveway, I thought she would never approve this rundown place; it sure needed a lot of T. L. C. As I sat there waiting for her, I had mixed feelings about the big step we were about to take. Could I cope with all the problems that might arise, and what direction would our lives take? Could I really love and care for all that might pass through our home, and how would it affect our kids -- being exposed to this type of coming and going? About the time I had talked myself out of even trying Mrs. Johnson drove up and the first words out of her mouth were, "OH, BOY! Just what we are looking for. It's perfect, lots of room to run and play and no close neighbors; when can you move in? We need you NOW!" As I drove home I was in sort of a fog, everything was happening so fast it felt like a dream.

We closed the deal and rented out our new house. Sue and her husband were renting our house across from the high school, so now we had two rentals and a big headache waiting for us. We would have to work fast as they wanted our license to begin the first of September 1963. That only gave us less than three weeks to clean the house and get set up.


"Holy Cow! What Do I Do Now"

On Saturday, August 24, 1963 we moved in. Our license was to start on September first. I don't remember all the details, except on the 26th, Doug fell out of a tree. A trip to the doctor showed no broken bones, just bruises.

On the 25th day, with half our boxes still unpacked, we received our first placement. Neighbors had reported an eight-year-old boy was being kept in a chicken coop in all kinds of weather. He was small for his age, dirty and ragged. I ask about the scares on his head. The placement lady said from what she could find out, the step brothers would hit him over the head with a belt buckle if he didn't do as they said.

After the social worker left, I found some clothes that looked like they would fit and proceeded to scrub Johnny. That was quite a job. I don't think he had been bathed for some time. Then came the job of teaching him to use a fork and spoon, instead of his hands. Within a week he was helping make his bed and helping me around the house. He was always telling me he loved me, and I could tell he was starved for love. He loved being free to run and play. At night either Carol or I would rock him and read to him, or play games. He was really a neat little fellow but in the month he lived with us, we never could break him of the habit of catching and eating flies.

By now Curtis and Dick had the platform of their tree house built. (Doug had cooled to the "Tree House" idea after falling from the tree.) They wouldn't let Johnny up the tree saying he might fall. Johnny got even by taking the ladder and hiding it. Alan heard all the commotion and went out to check. He came to the door laughing and said, "Guess you'd better come see what the boys have managed to get themselves into this time." I felt like leaving them up there but I told Alan to give me a hand placing the ladder against the tree. A few minutes later I heard the boys nailing the old wooden ladder to the tree. Dick came in the back door and said, "That will never happen again, we really nailed that old ladder to the tree."

On September 3rd, a 16-year-old girl was placed. Her foster parents were going overseas so a new home needed to be found. She was a very pleasant person and enjoyed living in the country. I was starting to relax. This was a snap. I didn't worry as we were licensed for only six. Just think, I would be paid for having a yard full of children. I spent my days painting, cleaning, and sorting. Most of it was trash but some was worth keeping. Wes was slowly cleaning outside. It was starting to look like a home.

One afternoon as everyone was helping to burn trash in a bonfire, Doug yelled at Curtis to duck, as he tossed an old hardened paint brush into the fire. Instead of ducking Curtis turned toward Doug and was hit on the forehead with the hard, stiffened bristles of the old brush. Off to the doctor again, a few stitches and he was as good as new.

Our home had been open ten days when we received a call from the department, asking if we would take a family of five. They ranged in age from an 11-month-old to a 14-year-old. I ask about the license, as we already had two placements. I was assured there was no problem as they had received a waiver and it was O. K. to have more than six. I said, "Sure, I guess so." I didn't know that those little words would open a floodgate that would be hard to close. When the worker arrived, she apologized for not having any clothes for the children. The baby had a piece of torn dress for a diaper, and none of them wore underclothes or shoes. There were two other children that were taken to a foster home.

I had problems with the older girl from the first. On October 3rd, things reached a point where she was placed in juvenile hall, but not before she grabbed the fire extinguisher and threw it against the wall, covering the wall with foam. Boy, that was a mess. As I started to leave the room to get a shovel, she tried to push me down the stairs, saying I had poisoned her food. She used a few choice words while telling me this. The rest of the family remained with us quite a while as foster homes, for two or more, were very hard to find. An emergency home is for placement for 30 to 60 days. That gives the workers time to either find homes or in some cases, time for a court hearing to see if the parents would have the children returned to them.

September 13, Susan came to live with us. When she moved in, so did Hoss, who was her T.V. friend. We all had to be careful not to sit on him. That was hard as Susan was the only one that could see him. I had read stories about children with Downs Syndrome, and most Physicians recommended that they be placed in an institution. But, now that I had met Susan, I couldn't understand, as she was so sweet and kind. She was small for her age and had dark hair. The day I took her to town for a haircut she refused to get in the chair until Hoss had his hair cut. Thank goodness I was only charged for one haircut. She was always singing and when Lassie was on T.V. you would find her and Hoss watching. She lived each episode to the fullest. It was hard for her to see, so she had to set close to the Television. At night she would slip into the big girls' room and tell them to "Toot over." In the morning I would act like I couldn't find her and would start saying, "Where is Susie? I can't find Susie." She would giggle until the bed would shake, then pop up and say, "Here I am." As I picked her up, she would wrap her legs around my waist and off we would go to her room. I couldn't resist stealing a kiss along the way. Susan lived with us almost a month before we received the dreaded call saying a home had been found in Sacramento and they would be after her in the morning.

Dick came into the kitchen that evening to remind me about the cub scout meeting. I had so much on my mind I had forgotten. Wes worked the evening shift, now, so the only thing I could do was to load up the old station wagon that we had bought for hauling wood. By the time ten children were loaded, the front wheels were off the ground, so back to reloading we went. I had all the heaver kids get in front and the lighter ones in back. That worked pretty well, so off we went. We did receive a few strange looks when we arrived and 10 kids crawled out of a 6-passenger wagon, but everyone had fun and Dick received his pins.

A few days later Dick came running into the house screaming, "Mom, hurry, Curt has a stick of wood sticking out of his hip." I ran outside to find Curt holding his hip and crying. It seems he was sliding down one of the ramps and fell and had a redwood splinter sticking out of his hip. It was quite a job getting him in the car, on his knees, as he couldn't sit. Thank goodness Wes was home and only minor surgery was needed to remove the splinter, and 12 stitches to sew him up. Dr. Gullick said to keep him quiet for a few days and he would be fine. By that night he was bouncing all over the house, and the next day he was back up in his tree house. I gave up and let him be and everything healed with no problems developing.

On October 10th, everything was quiet so I took Olivia to Woodland to shop. I stopped to pick up Mae as I didn't have much time to visit with her, except to call her once in a while. After a nice relaxed day I felt ready to tackle the world again. As I stepped in the door, Wes said, "Welfare wants you to call them." About that time the phone rang and it was welfare wanting to know if I would take a pair of three-year-old twins and a five-year-old brother. I said, "Sure." The mother was having surgery, she was alone with no family close by, and would need placement for at least three weeks. I was looking forward to a pleasant, fun-filled three weeks.

The next morning, the social worker arrived with the cutest, blonde-headed three-year-old boys I had ever seen. They were so adorable and I was sure nothing could go wrong. BOY, OH BOY, was I in for a rude awakening. I couldn't leave them in the same room alone or they would have killed each other. They would bite to the bone, scratch, slug or anything they could think of to do to each other. That was a long three weeks.

Up until now, except for a few episodes, they kept our case load within reason. In reading my notes for Monday, October 14 1963, I have to laugh. It's funny now but it was scary then. However, compared to later, it was just a drop in the bucket. This is what I scribbled: "BOY, what a day! I have Kathy, Ernestine, Denver, the twins, Bobby, and now they have brought me five more, a baby of three weeks, one that's one and a half, a two and a five-year-old and one that's 12, all boys. That makes 16, counting ours. What happened to that nice little figure of 6?" HOLY COW! WHAT DO I DO NOW?


Two Losses in Two Days

We had lots of old trees behind the house that needed clearing out. Wes said they would make good firewood for the winter, so he and Alan rented a chainsaw. They worked all day clearing the trees and cutting them into pieces that would fit the fireplace. Doug and the other boys loaded them into our old station wagon, then Doug drove it up to the house and everyone stacked the wood in the shed.

That night Wes and Alan talked it over and decided it would pay to buy our own chainsaw. There was more wood than we thought there would be. Not only that, but we knew people that wanted trees cut on shares. Wes said there was one on sale at Wards. He was sure the large old house would be cold and drafty in the winter and with so many little-ones playing on the playroom floor we should plan now how we would heat it. There was no way the fireplace, in the living room, could heat it. We had forced heat but the heating bill would be out of this world, as it would have to run day and night. So we bought a chainsaw.

About a month later we were visiting in Ukiah when Wes's youngest brother, Donny, said he could get us a good deal, at the hardware store where he worked, on an Ashley heater. So when we left Ukiah we had our heater and everything needed to install it. Wes and Alan worked the next weekend getting it ready for the fire inspector to check. As time went by, the chainsaw and Ashley heater proved to be good investments. Between the chainsaw and the Ashley we stayed toasty warm in the winter.

About this time the welfare department decided to raise our license to 12, legally. It would mean 300 dollars more per month, which we surely could use. We only received $70.00 per month for teenagers and $50.00 per month on those under 12. We got less for babies but I can't remember the exact amount. With groceries now costing about $600.00 per month, the extra money would pay for some repairs that we had put off -- like a new roof. It would be nice not to have to run for pans every time it rained. I called Wards on November 7th about the roof. They promised to be out the ninth; sure looks like rain, hope it waits.

November 10th, my 36th birthday, I decided to take all the kids to the show to see the movie, "Under the Yum Yum Tree." How was I supposed to know it wasn't a Walt Disney movie? We had to leave early as it wasn't suited for children.

On November 14th, Wards called to say they would be out as soon as the rain quit. While we waited for the roof, we decided to take a weekend off. Mrs. Ayres arrived with her "Goodie bag," to take care of the place while we were gone. It was filled with fun and games, wigs and makeup, and books on the latest hair styles. Everyone loved her and she never had problems, not even with new placements. She even laughed about the young boy that flooded his bed and soaked her feet when she placed her hands on his bed to wake him up. We almost lost her the night Carols cat jumped on top of her about 2:00 A.M. We had forgotten to warn her about putting it out at bedtime. When the cat landed on her face, she grabbed it, throwing it against the wall as hard as she could. The poor cat yelled so loud it took her an hour to get everyone back to bed. The cat disappeared while the workmen were fixing the roof. Each night the men would find him asleep in the back of the truck. I don't know if they became tired of removing him or if they didn't see him that time, and took him for a ride.

Carol and Curtis always looked forward to our time away. Sometimes we would visit family in Ukiah, and other times we would rent a motel. Carol always asked for a swimming pool and Curtis would ask for a color T.V. We didn't find out until they were grown that they had plotted so they could have both, knowing we wanted to please both of them.

November 20th was Doug's twelfth birthday. We had planned a big party, the cake was finished and we were waiting for Sue and her family to arrive. While I was looking out the window, the phone rang. It was Art's wife, Nevie, calling to tell us that Wes's dad had passed away about an hour before. The joyous feeling of the party faded. When Sue and family arrived, we served the cake but my heart just wasn't in it. Afterward, Sue and Jerry said they would come out and care for the home while we went up north.

The morning of Nov. 22 1963, we left early. The drive was only about three hours but by the time we arrived in Redwood Valley everyone was thirsty and hungry. We pulled in to a little store at the edge of town, (Pop. about 500) and I ran in to get some lunch meat and cold drinks. While there I heard the radio announcer say, "Oh, my God, he's been shot." I stood there a moment to see who they were talking about. The next words froze me. I couldn't move as I heard the words again. "Oh, my God, Kennedy's been shot." I paid for the things I had picked out and returned to the car. Guess I looked kinda pale as Wes asked if I was O.K. I reached over and turned on the radio and told Wes what I had heard. By the time we arrived at Arts, we knew President Kennedy was dead. We stayed overnight and went to the funeral the next day and returned home. It was a sad time for all of us, two loses in two days.

When we returned home, Sue had a house full waiting for us. We had a Mexican American family who was placed ever so often. The mother was young and alone, and sometimes things got too much for her. She never left the children alone but didn't always pick the best baby-sitter. They would leave the children alone and neighbors would call the social worker. She would pick the children up and place them with us until the mother, Rosie, returned. The children were never abused, always clean and well fed. After a few placements, within a couple of years, we became friends. She would come out on sundays {our visiting days} and help with the children. Sometimes she would call during the week and I would invite her to come out and spend the afternoon. She would make tortillas for everyone, rock her babies or brush her daughter's long hair. All her children were happy and easy to care for.

On the third placement, she called, and said, "Hi, It's me, Rosie." I laughed and asked how she knew the children were at my house. She said when she returned home and the children were gone, she prayed they were with us. A few days later the children were returned to her.

On the fourth, and last, placement the social worker called saying she was on the way with Rosie's children. She arrived with five, but this time there was a new one. I asked about one of the little boys. She said she had just received the case load and it had stated five. That was what she found in the home and that's what she brought. It seems Rosie now had six. Rosie made contact in a few days and picked up her family. That was the last placement at our home, but we did hear from her later. One of the girls received severe burns on her face, from a fire caused by lighter fluid, and the doctors said it would leave scares. She was very upset and kept repeating, "I was home, I was home with them, Mrs. Butler." It was important to her, for me to know they weren't left alone.

The next spring Wes decided to buy a tractor to keep the fire danger down. I started watching the paper for one we could afford. It would have to be very cheap as we couldn't afford much. I spent way too much on placements, but I couldn't stand to see them doing without.


The Deal of a Lifetime

One night I saw an ad for a tractor and it was just what we wanted. When Wes arrived home from work, I showed him the ad and said we had better drive over in the morning as it wouldn't last long. Wes said he didn't care what it looked like just as long as it ran.

The next morning we drove to the other side of town and found the man that had it for sale. It was a deal that was too good to be true. He wanted to retire because of a severe heart problem. After talking for a while he said he had heard of the work we were doing, and since he was a foster parent for years, he would give us a special deal, $500.00 for the works. It was a nice running little tractor with disk, seeder wagon, harrow, plow, scoop, and many odds and ends. We accepted the offer, paid him the $500.00 and returned home.

After all the fields were disked, Wes decided to make a baseball diamond in the front field. When the diamond was finished, everyone large enough to play baseball would gather, and soon the neighbors would drift over, and a game would be in full swing.

One evening after a game Wes noticed the little ones watching. There really wasn't that much for them to do. We had an old swing set that had belonged to Carol and Curtis when they were young. It had survived a lot of hard knocks but still had a few good years left. It only held two swingers at a time and the slide had been laid to rest at the city dump some time before.

The glider brought back memories of the time when Carol was two and a half and Curt a year younger. Carol came in the back door and said that Turty was bloody. I followed her to the back yard and found Curtis sitting on the glider holding his head over so the blood would drop

in the sand. It looked awful and the blood was really pouring. Without thinking, I grabbed him in one arm and Carol in the other and ran the three blocks to Dr. Gullick's office. I didn't realize I only had on shorts and a blouse but no shoes, until I reached the Doctor's office. He laughed and said it looked like mama needed a doctor more than Curtis did. After a stitch and a band-aid we returned home, only this time everyone walked instead of me carrying them.

Wes said we should see about putting in a play yard for the ones that were too small to take part in ball games. I said, if we were going to that expense, we might as well have a play yard for everyone. I didn't have the slightest idea where to look for that type of play equipment, so I started asking around. One day when I was in Wards to pick up an order I ask if they had any idea where I could buy some park type swings and other equipment. [We bought almost everything at Wards as they gave a discount.] The lady said, "Right here," and she handed me a booklet with pictures and prices.

That night, Wes and I made out an order for the pieces we wanted. The next day I called in the order for a large swing that was 12 feet tall with six legs and four swings, a teeter-totter, a basketball hoop and ball, and a tetherball pole and ball. All of this came to a little more than $600.00. That would have to do for now.

I still remember the day the truck delivered the equipment. All the children gathered around to see what it was and were very disappointed when they saw everything was in boxes. That evening Wes and Alan worked for hours putting the swing together. The next evening Wes backed the tractor up to the swing, Alan hooked a chain to it and they slowly pulled it up into place. Once in place Wes poured cement around the legs to anchor them. Now the waiting started. Everyone was so excited that every few minutes someone would run out and test the cement to see if it was dry.

A few days later Wes and Alan put the teeter-totter together, poured cement around the legs and the waiting started all over. Slowly the play area started looking like a playground. Within a month Wes had cement poured for the basketball pad with the pole and hoop in place. Next was the tetherball pole. We had to make sure enough space was provided so the ball wouldn't hit someone on the other equipment. One day a probation officer offered us a large slide that was stored at her house. That weekend we drove to Fairfield and picked it up. Soon, Wes and the boys had it assembled and set in cement. Now we had a play yard for everyone.

Wes and others would start a ball game. Other neighbors would come sit on the side lines and watch. People in town started bringing clothes, and everything you can think of. The churches in town got involved and when kids were brought in with nothing, they would bring things for them. At Easter time different churches would buy new clothes for everyone and even come and get them for church. Christmas time was out of this world, even Santa would come to the home with gifts. We kept so much for them to do we had very few problems.