The Life And Times Of Wanda Bruner Butler

by Wanda Bruner Butler
Copyright © 2000

Chapter 3

* The Pig is Out
* The Wedding and the Prowler
* Everyone living Together as a Family

* Linda and her cakes

The Pig is Out

In the mail we received a form asking what we raised on our land. I read it and then filled in the spaces. When Wes saw what I wrote, he had to laugh. I had written in the space for animals, 12 chickens and 22 children. I never heard from them again.

As fall set in and it was getting dark earlier, Wes ran electrical wire to one of the poles and fixed an outside light. On nice evenings the children could play outdoors after dinner. On rainy evenings there were puzzles, games, popcorn and candy making. I have warm memories of the girls trying new hairdos' and makeup, or discussing their favorite subject "BOYS." About this time we ask to have our license changed from 0-18, to 0-12 boys, and 0-18 girls. This was an attempt to prevent problems before they happened.

Alan bought a young pig and the older she grew the more of an escape artist she became. She would make her way up Alan's ramp, to his door, and root around until Alan, or someone, would see her and return her to her pen. (Alan would give her corn to get her back in her pen.) Carol hated the pig and was afraid of it. She wouldn't go near the pen. If the pig was out, she remained in the house until it was safe.

Carol was swinging the day someone yelled, "THE PIG IS OUT." Everyone but Carol headed for the pig yelling and throwing rocks. The pig darted around them and headed toward the front yard. Carol jumped from the swing before it came to a stop and ran toward the house as hard as she could run. She was almost to the door when she noticed Charline, her one-legged chicken that only had half a beak. (Carol collected disabled animals. Other than Charlene she had a paralyzed lamb that she was trying to help walk.) Carol darted between Charlene and the pig without missing a step, grabbed the chicken and continued to the house. After the pig was safely back in the pen and the pen repaired once again, I headed for the house to check on everyone. Right at that time we didn't have any small children. After making sure everyone was okay, I started looking for Carol. I had to laugh when I walked into the family room and found Carol rocking Charlene, who was wrapped in a receiving blanket, and reassuring her that no one was going to eat her. I don't remember what happened to Charlene but I do know she wasn't eaten.

My days were filled, caring for three or more little ones who were too young for school, plus shopping, cleaning, cooking and making beds. By now Wes had given up his job at the university, but even with his help it seemed we never really caught up. The laundry still gives me nightmares when I think of it. We sent the linens to the laundry and bought pampers by the case. We bought so many pampers that we received enough coupons to receive three high chairs. (At that time they enclosed coupons good for baby things.) Even with buying disposables it hardly made a dent in the laundry.

When our license was raised, Wes built another bedroom on the house and we bought more bunk beds. Curtis, Dick, Alan and Doug moved to the second house. The two younger boys shared a room and Alan and Doug each had their own room. It seemed the more rooms we had the more placements they made. By the middle of 1964 we were caring for 24, counting ours. Some months we had a turnover of 17.

Wes and I talked it over and decided to finish the third house. Wes and Alan were working on it at odd times but we needed it finished. The next day they started removing junk we had never had time to sort out. I told them to take everything to the dump as there was nothing I wanted to keep. Soon the house started looking like a home that could be lived in, and I started looking for help. The good Lord was smiling on me the day Elvira, a small, shy, young lady asked if we needed help. I told her the house wasn't finished but I really needed help and I explained that we would soon have the house ready. It turned out she lived within walking distance and didn't need a house so she started the next morning.

Elvira was heaven sent. She never asked what needed to be done. She arrived, on time, each morning, with a smile, and ready for work. Once a week Elvira would clean the boys rooms in the second house. She changed the beds, swept the floors and dusted. One day she came in the main house and said, "That does it, I refuse to clean Alan's room until those girly pictures go." Alan, being a teenager, decided to hang the pictures on all his walls so he had to clean his own room until he decided he'd rather have a clean room than his pictures. But he wouldn't give up without a fight.

On her first day to clean his room, after the pictures were removed, I heard her screaming. I ran out to see what was wrong and found her repeatedly hitting the bed with a broom. Every time she hit the bed, something black would bounce. I finally got her to stop hitting the bed long enough to let me see what it was. It seems Alan had hidden a big, black, rubber spider in his bed, knowing Elvira would be the one to change the sheets. He had to have the last word. Elvira definitely led an exciting life at our house.

She had hardly recovered from the spider when Doug, our experimenting son, wired the closet with a speaker and a flash bulb and waited outside the window. Elvira always sang while she worked. Doug waited until he heard her singing, then started gagging and whispering, "Elvira, help me, I can't breathe." She kept asking, "Doug, where are you?" Panic was all over her face. She looked under the bed. Doug timed it just right and replied, "Help me, Elvira, I'm in the closet, hurry, I can't breathe." She heard where the sound came from and ran to the closet, almost ripping the door off its hinges. When she opened the door, Doug pushed the button. FLASH, the closet was empty and Elvira screamed. She looked in the closet, with eyes smarting from the flash saying, "Doug is gone. He's disappeared! Oh, my God, he's gone!" Then Doug started laughing and she knew she'd been had. I became aware of what was happening when Doug flew through the door yelling, "Mom, help me," with Elvira right behind him with a broom, telling him he was going to need help when she finished with him.

I don't know why she stayed with us, unless it was to see what would happen next. It wasn't long after this that she married her big Doug. Now we had two Dougs, her big Doug and our little Doug. His family lived back east, so we made him a part of our growing family. They say there is always room for one more and we were proving that to be true.


The Wedding and the Prowler

Big Doug's car was old and we feared it wouldn't make it over the pass to Reno for the wedding, so we let them use our new 10 passenger station wagon. They hadn't been gone long before Elvira came dashing in the door saying she had forgotten their wedding clothes.

By the time they returned, Wes and Alan had finished the third house. It was an attractive two bedroom house with a bath and a wash room. The rooms were good sized and it had a large yard of its own. We offered it to Elvira and Doug, free, with Elvira getting the same pay, plus free utilities.

Big Doug was an airman at Travis Airbase in Fairfield and since he still had time to serve I didn't have to worry about losing Elvira right away. Soon after the newlyweds moved into their home, the prowlers that had bothered us the year before, started coming around again. Wes said he guessed the warm weather brought them out, and the fact we kept teenage girls. The house set off the road and it was hard to see in the windows. The girls feeling safe, would leave the curtains pulled back and the windows open on hot summer nights. Whoever was prowling around never bothered anyone, just peeked in windows. We knew he wore cowboy boots and rode a horse because we would see boot prints under the windows and hoof prints in the plowed fields. We didn't own a horse, neither did any of our friends.

The morning Big Doug found where someone had dragged a lawn chair under his window, we decided that was enough; boot and hoof prints were every place. That night, using little Doug's walkie talkies, Wes hid in the dark well house, big Doug took one and hid on the roof of our three-car garage and I took the third walkie talkie upstairs where I could look over most of the ten acres. Alan decided to take his twenty-two rifle and hide on the balcony. We didn't have an exit door for the balcony, just a window to step through, with a ladder nailed to the side of the house.

We were all in place when little Doug came upstairs wanting to show me how he could send morse code by touching two wires together. I kept telling him to leave things alone but, as usual, he went ahead and touched the wires together. As he did so, Wes who was in the small, dark well house, hearing the buzzing sound, thought for sure a rattler had him cornered. When he discovered it was just little Doug, he was sort of upset, so we called everyone in.

About this time Carol came upstairs to watch T. V., in our room, with Curtis. Not knowing Alan was out on the balcony, she started screaming when Alan stuck one leg through the curtains. She dropped to the floor trying to get under the bed and all this time yelling for Curtis to go get Mom. Curt, knowing it was Alan, told her to get Mom herself if she wanted her. With Carol screaming and Alan laughing it was hard to make Carol understand it was only her brother.

After that we decided to let the sheriff handle the prowlers. We never did find out who it was, although about a month later little Doug came running into the main house saying that he was laying on his bed studying his Sunday school lesson when Trisha, (our dog) started growling. He said the hair on the back of his neck stood up, and when he looked up he saw a man peeking in his window. He was alone, as Alan was on a date with Vicky, and Curt and Dick were upstairs with Wes. We called the sheriff's department and they responded right away. The officer and Wes used flashlights to search the grounds and found boot and hoof prints under Doug's window and in the back field. As the officer was leaving, he turned to Doug and asked him what he did when he saw the man looking in the window. Doug looked kinda funny and said, "Since I only had my underwear on, I jumped up and put my pants on." The officer laughed and said if we had any more problems to be sure and call. That seemed to quieten down our prowler problem.


Everyone Living Together as a Family

Our home was open to every nationality. We didn't have problems as everyone did their part and was part of the family. It wasn't unusual to have Mexican Americans, Blacks, Chinese, Japanese, Filipinos, Italians, Indians and other races, all living as brothers and sisters. What was important was that we were able to fill a need in their lives.

Pat was a cute, blonde teenager. She was engaged to be married, but wanted to finish school first. Since she was planning to marry in June, she was allowed to remain with us instead of being placed in a foster home. She was very naive and the girls were always telling her what to expect when she married and she believed everything they told her. They would laugh and say, "Pat, you'd better learn more about the birds and bees before you marry."

Rebecca, a beautiful redhead, was our cleaner. She would scrub the kitchen until it would shine. When Elvira came in, in the mornings, she would say, "Must have been Rebecca's turn in the kitchen last night, couldn't find any hidden pans." Rebecca lived with us quite a while. That summer some of the girls found work in Winters, cutting peaches. Rebecca met a young man, who also had a summer job helping put sulfur on the cut peaches before putting them on trays in the dehydrator. I was worried when she came home one night, saying she had a date for that weekend. Not only was she pretty, but very trusting. The night of the date was so foggy you could hardly see the end of the driveway. I was hoping he would change his mind or couldn't find the driveway, but no such luck. He not only found the driveway but was on time.

Dating at our house was something, I'm sure, the young men will always remember the rest of their lives. You didn't just drive up and pick up your date. You came in, not only to meet me but to be checked out by many little eyes peeking around the corners. No matter how hard I tried to keep things normal for the ones that were dating, there were always giggles and curtains moving as everyone tried to get a peek. I shouldn't have worried about Rebecca as she was home early. As she came in the door, everyone looked. She smiled and said, "I'm home, he was either reaching for popcorn or me, so here I am." That ended my worries about Rebecca's dates.

About this time 16-year-old Bessie, and a couple of days later, Brenda were placed with us. Bessie was wanting to lose weight, so I decided that a long walk, every day, would help her reduce. As time passed, it became obvious that she was gaining, instead of losing weight. I had a fit when I learned that the other girls were buying her one, and sometimes two, milkshakes a day.

Bessie was my life saver the day a small black girl was placed. I proceeded to bathe her which she really enjoyed. By the end of the bath, we were both wet. I decided I might as well shampoo her hair while she was in the bath so I removed all the pigtails and gave her the works. When we were through, I wrapped a towel around her and carried her to her room. After drying and dressing her, I started trying to comb her hair. Bessie and Brenda always cared for their own hair so I had no experience doing black children's hair. Every time I made a pigtail it would pop out, and I had trouble combing her hair. I was beginning to wonder what I was I going to do when I looked up and saw Bessie standing in the doorway, smiling and shaking her head. She said, "Mom, I thought you could do everything." She took the comb and showed me how to blot, not rub the hair. Next she got her Vaseline and put it on small strands of hair and the comb easily slid right through. It looked so easy, watching Bessie comb and then braid tiny little pigtails all over her head; and they stayed, not one popped out. In our four years at the home I was never able to make a pigtail stay in unless I put a rubber band on it.

Brenda was tall and slender and would have made a beautiful model. She was the one who taught me to straighten hair. They used an iron comb with a corn cob handle, set it on the flame until it turned red hot, then put pomade on their hair and combed through it. It left their hair soft and ready for sponge curlers.

We almost had a disaster the day Carol borrowed Brenda's straightening comb. She had copied the older girls when they ironed their hair with an iron, but this was different. Each time she would touch the red-hot comb to her long, silky hair it would sizzle and burn off whatever hair it touched. Luckily, Brenda walked in and saved the day.

Sometimes families of three or four, or more, would be placed. Early one morning the phone rang and as I turned to answer it, I saw it was almost 3:30 A.M. I knew that was the end of my sleep. It was the Fairfield police saying they were on the way with a family of four. I ask the ages and some details as we now made it a practice of not taking abused children until they had been checked at the county hospital in Fairfield. After the officers filled me in, I woke Wes and told him that we needed to fill both bathtubs and get set for the placements. The chief of police came in first carrying a crying, 18-month-old boy wrapped in a blanket. I had never smelled a human smell like he did. The officer returned to the car for a 3-month-old girl as two other officers came in with two more little boys, one three and the other four.

Now I knew why they were wrapped in blankets. Wes tried to remove the diaper from the 18-month-old boy, but every time he would try to remove it, the boy would scream. We found he had the most severe diaper rash I had ever seen. He had puss bags on his bottom and dried B.M., and that was why he cried so. The chief of police knelt by the tub, lifted the little one up and placed him in the warm soapy water. He worked, ever so gently, until the diaper was loose, all this time talking very softly to the child. By the time he was finished the little one was half asleep. I fixed him a warm bottle after putting some diaper cream on him and laid him in a crib where he slept the rest of the night.

The baby girl's only clothing, besides a dirty diaper, was a milk encrusted tee-shirt that was rotted. She must have worn the shirt for a month or more; I'm sure it had been at least that long since her last bath. As I tried to remove the tee-shirt, it came off in pieces. There was rotted milk under her chin and neck and the poor little thing burped soured milk for over a week. It was such a rotten smell, it would make me sick. I had to turn her little head every time I burped her. She had a diaper rash, but not as severe as her brother. A good bath and a warm bottle and she was fast asleep. The older boys were in better shape, dirty and hungry but otherwise they looked reasonably good. Soon they, too, were asleep.

As we sit at the table filling out reports, we heard part of their story. The 4-year-old was caring for them as best he could. They ate what they could find and gave the baby milk until it was gone. The neighbors called the police when the crying wouldn't stop. The children's father was overseas on duty, so the welfare department contacted Travis Air Base to arrange for emergency leave. A few days later the father arrived home, and made arrangements for his parents to take the children and care for them. We never did learn why the children were left alone. In our business, we seldom knew the reason for placements. Sometimes the children would talk about why they were placed but we never ask, one reason being that we were too busy caring for them to worry about why they were there.

Sweet, shy, 16-year-old Linda joined us and she had a natural love for little ones. Many a night she would get up when the phone rang, asking if she could help. She would rock the little ones while Wes and I cared for the older ones. Some nights she would take a two or three-year-old girl to bed with her saying, "It's ok, Mom, she's just scared." Linda and the older girls would choose a little one and be their play mother. They would be responsible for bathing, dressing and combing their hair. At night they would read or rock them. I don't know which girl thought this up, but I was surprised how it would soothe, not only the younger ones, but gave the girls a feeling of self worth. We were so full, most of the time, it was hard for me to give all the love they needed. Sure, I saw to their needs, but a child that has been through what most of our children had been through, and then to be taken to a strange house, knowing no one there, needed more than a quick kiss and hug.

Cooking was something else, which consisted of three or four chickens at a time, two cake mixes, and huge bowls of potatoes. It wasn't long before Linda became famous for her cakes.


Linda and Her Cakes
Everyone that had a birthday would tell Linda what their favorite flavor was and she would make one of her super-duper cakes with fluffy icing piled high. Linda had one fault, she didn't like to clean up her mess, which could be quite extensive. It took some time to make a cake like hers. The funny thing was, she had so many volunteer helpers they had to draw straws to see who the lucky ones were. The lucky ones got to lick all the leftover icing from the bowl. (Linda always made sure there was plenty left.)

After a few months, the social worker called to say a foster home had been found for Linda and she would make her first visit that weekend. Linda was quiet the rest of the week. On Friday she was picked up in the afternoon and taken for the visit. As she went out the door she kissed me on the cheek and said she loved me. Saturday afternoon, a car pulled up out front. I went to see who it was and when I opened the door, there stood Linda. As she headed for her room I ask what happened as she wasn't to be home until Sunday. All she said was, "I'm not living with anyone who smokes and drinks beer." Linda and her social worker came to an understanding and Linda stayed with us.

About this time she met Tom and they started dating. She attended church with him and his family. As time went by she became like a daughter to me and the sister Carol craved. Many a night Carol would slip downstairs and get in bed with Linda, Brenda, Becky, Bessie or whoever had a spare spot. Sometimes when I would go check on them, it would sound like they had the whole town of Dixon in their room. Then someone would yell, "Everyone asleep, Mom's here." Things would get really quiet, then someone would say, "Darn, I spilled milk and cereal in my bed." I'd laugh and go back to bed. I sure was going to miss all my girls when they left.

About this time, Kitty, our 16-year-old French girl was placed. Her dark hair and eyes complemented her mischievous smile, and mischievous she was. Some days I ate on the run and this was one of those days. As I went to answer the phone, I laid my ham sandwich on the cabinet and when I came back, it was no where in sight. I said, "Okay, who stole my sandwich?" One of the small children said, "We're not supposed to tell you, but Kitty's in the bathroom eating it." I walked to the bathroom and could see Kitty through the smoke-colored glass door. I tried the door but it was locked. So, in what I hoped was a firm voice I said, "Kitty, you open that door right now." Kitty, by now, was not only enjoying teasing me, but was enjoying my sandwich. There was nothing I could do but watch her take bite after bite, all the while telling me how good it was. When the sandwich was gone and all her fingers licked clean, with lots of sound effects, she walked out as though nothing had happened. On her way, as she passed me, she stopped and gave me a kiss on the cheek saying, "Love ya Mom." As an afterthought she added, "And I love your sandwiches too." After that I kept my sandwiches with me.

I had to replace my old green rocker the day that Kitty, Pat and Linda raced to see who could sit on my lap first. I think it was a tie as we all ended up on the floor and the rocker in the fireplace. I loved that old rocker. It was a gooky green but had a special squeak that could soothe a fussing child in a few minutes. My new rocker was beautiful, but lacked that special squeak, so I resorted to singing. The girls got their point across by saying, "Mom, if you will stop singing we'll clean house, even go to bed early, anything you say, only 'PLEASE,' don't sing." I still can't carry a tune, but over the years I found the threat of singing worked wonders.

I remember one family of three, Frank, a boy of about 14, who was tall and very thin and very good looking and his two sisters, Katrina and Maria, who were nine and eleven. At the first meal, he kept asking if they could have all they wanted. I assured him they could. He ate seconds and thirds, then said, "Boy, that was good." About two hours later he said he was starved. It was the same at each meal. I tried to see that everyone had plenty to eat, as so many of the placements were malnourished. This was happening every day with Frank and there didn't seem to be any way to fill him up. One evening I made a huge pot of stew with lots of meat, and fresh vegetables from Wes's garden. I was determined to fill him up one way or the other. Wes warned me not to go overboard, but I made a double batch of corn bread, and a huge salad. When I set the table, I put a large bowl in front of him and told him to eat until he was full. Well, eat he did. I never knew anyone could hold that much. When he pushed back from the table he said, "That's the first time I ever remember being full." After a few days his appetite was almost normal.

The next week when his social worker made a visit, I explained what had happened. She said, "When you know the background it helps you to understand why things like that happen." Then she told me a little of the family history. The parents were from a small country overseas and kept a lot of the old world ways. The father was a hard-working man, but had difficulty finding a job. He didn't have a car so that made it harder. He found a job at a small snack bar at the university in Davis and he hitchhiked to work and home each day (10 Miles each way). The job didn't pay much but he was allowed to bring home leftovers if there were any. Sometimes their menu for the day would be donuts, sometimes potatoes. They were good people but it was hard to make it in a new world where everything was different. After a few weeks with us, Frank's lanky frame started filling out and he didn't need to eat so much. He said, just knowing there was plenty to eat, even for the next day, gave him the feeling everything was okay and he didn't need to eat so much.

I don't remember if Katrina and Maria went home or not but I do remember that Frank went to a foster home in Dixon. I saw him often and watched as he turned out to be a great high school basketball player. As he grew tall and filled out more he became even more handsome. I didn't see the girls after they left our home, but years later when Carol was going to college in Sacramento (We lived in Duluth, Minnesota, and she lived with Alan and Vicky in Dixon.), she called home and asked me if I remembered Maria. I assured her I did. She said she had met a new friend named "Maria," and they started talking. Maria ask Carol where she lived and Carol said, "In Dixon." Maria said, "I used to Live in Dixon." Carol told her that her parents had a children's home between Dixon and Vacaville a few years ago but lived in Duluth now and that she had came out to live with her brother Alan. Carol said that Maria jumped up and said, "I used to live with you. My brother was the one who ate so much." Carol said she was a very nice looking young woman, and worked hard at her studies.


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