The Life And Times Of Wanda Bruner Butler

by Wanda Bruner Butler
Copyright © 2000

Chapter 4

* Wes's Mother
* Holidays and Measles
* Giving up Placements
* The Place Looking Nice

Wes's Mother

Wes's mother, who was a small, quiet lady came to visit us from Redwood Valley California. She had raised a family of five boys and five girls (Wes was the 5th child), but this was a little more then she had expected. She was amazed at how smooth mealtime went.

For dinner that night, we had a large roast (We bought our meat from Armor Star packing house, paying the same as stores), fresh vegetables from Wes's garden, mashed potatoes, three pans of homemade rolls, a green salad and Okie gravy. All this was served with plenty of milk (the milkman brought the milk to the house and put it in the refrigerator, charging us the same as grocery stores were charged). For dessert I stirred up a couple of cake-mixes. We didn't have to worry about left overs as there was very little left. After dinner the teenage girls made popcorn as we always had a treat about 8:00 P.M.

The next morning 19 hungry eaters lined up for hot cakes. On one stove, I had two double griddles filled with batter cooking, while on the other stove eggs and sausage were simmering. On the table waited hot homemade syrup, butter, milk and orange juice. Everyone ate what they wanted, with plenty of seconds.

When they finished eating, each person cleared their places, scraped their plates and put their dirty dishes in the sink. Each had a job to do. Some swept the floor, others cleaned the table and the older girls took turns doing dishes. I had set up an allowance that they could draw from, the allowance fitting the job. This was good for our own children too. They were learning how to cope with problems that were foreign to them.

At first, I worried that it would be emotionally upsetting to Carol and Curt, seeing all the children taken from their parents and placed with us. Sometimes it was just overnight and sometimes for months. Small children were being brought into our home in the middle of the night, screaming for their mama's. With a constant turnover of placements, our children were never able to form a lasting friendship, but each had their own set of friends at school, who thought it was neat to spend a weekend at our place. There was always something to do, as some type of game was always in progress.

My sister and brother-in-law, Earl and Olean came to visit. They lived in Ontario, which is in southern California. They were like parents to me as they raised me from the age of 12, plus mother and I lived with them, off and on, after daddy died. Olean was a seamstress, who had her own shop called, "Olean's." She was a little fireball and one of the cleanest people I ever knew. She could find something to do even when there was nothing to do; and cook, that lady was the queen of cooks. I used to tell Olean that God put her on earth to keep it clean and shining and me to care for all the little children in need.

The first morning of their visit I stood at the door and handed lunch sacks to each as they went out. I would say their name and hand them either, peanut-butter, lunch meat or cheese sandwiches. I think I handed out about 17 that morning. As the last one left, Olean asked, "How did you know what everyone wanted?" I told her I had a secret and it was really simple. All I did was to go around of evenings and ask what they wanted; we tried to keep at least three choices. I would write their name on the sack and what they chose. (Our school didn't have a lunch program at that time.)

Olean was touched by the little ones and she became very upset when we had placements of young children. She couldn't understand how anyone could mistreat a child. Earl spent his days with Wes. He really enjoyed working in our garden as he used to be a truck gardener. When they lived in Tulsa, he would drive to Rio Hondo, Texas, and buy fresh vegetables to sell in his fruit and vegetable stand. Later he had a produce stand in front of his home in Ontario. He kept telling Wes what a good set up we had.

Wes's fruit trees were really doing well and producing large amounts of fruit. We now had apples, pears, peaches, plums, (good jam) figs and olives. Wes even learned to cure the olives. Besides all this, our (one) orange tree, and our lemon tree, which had lemons year around, (good pies too) kept us in fresh fruit. The walnut tree was doing pretty well too.

As Olean and Earl were leaving, Olean gave me a big hug and said she was so proud of me and thought she had done a good job raising me. After they returned to Ontario, she made all kinds of clothes and sent them to me so the little ones could have something nice to wear on sundays for visiting day. After about 20 years she asked if I ever heard from any of them. I did hear from some but most wouldn't remember me as they were too young.

I never had time to treat myself to the luxury of a trip to the beauty shop, so one day the girls said, "Mom, next time you go to town, if you will buy some hair dye, we will give you the works." Well the next day when I was in town buying supplies, I spent some time picking out the color I thought would perk me up. That weekend I sure felt pampered as they trimmed and dyed my hair. While waiting, the girls would come in one by one, check my hair and say, "Oh, my," then run to the others and whisper. After about the third girl did this, I demanded to know what was wrong. They just said, "It's okay, don't get upset." Well that did it, I started to get up when they all rushed to me saying, "Mom, you'd better hear this from us, your hair sorta turned green, we're really sorry." When they saw the stricken look on my face, everyone started laughing. My hair wasn't green, at all, but after a few washings it did turn a brassy red. After a while I went to the shop and had it cut real short and kept it that way until it grew out.

One night Maria, who was 17 and Charlotte, 16, came running up the stairs, taking two steps at a time, and fell across our bed crying, "I'm sorry, we'll never do it again." I had no idea what they were trying to say. (When I had retired at about 11:00 P.M., everyone was in bed and since we had no little ones, I had dropped off to sleep immediately.) I turned the light on to see what time it was. It was hard to see in the bright light, but I saw it was 2:00 A.M. As my eyes adjusted to the light and as I was now fully awake I could see they were dressed. I told them to calm down and tell me what was going on. When they had their breath, I heard their story.

They were both very upset and shaking. Maria started telling me how they had planned to run away. She said they waited until around 1:00 A.M. to start walking to town. Our driveway was long and there were no city street lights, so it was very dark. Maria said, "It was terrible, we were walking and heard a noise and thought you had sent someone after us, so we jumped in the ditch and started crawling on our hands and knees." Charlotte took over and said, "Mom, I was so scared, I heard this heavy breathing and I asked Maria why she was breathing so hard. Maria said it wasn't her, so I looked behind me, and this huge black dog was trotting behind me."

I started laughing and asked, "How do you know it was black? It's pitch black tonight, not even a moon." Maria looked at me and said, "Hey, we just know it was black, it even sounded black."

True to their word they never tried to run away again, but the next morning we had a nice talk and I made sure, when their probation officer made her next visit, they told her their story.

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Holidays and Measles
The holidays were big events. Valentines day was spent cutting out heart shaped cookies and icing them. Seems they ate them as soon as they were out of the oven and iced. Somehow we managed to save enough for dinner.

At Easter time, I turned the job of boiling eggs over to the older girls. They would dye some and then start mixing colors to see what colors they could come up with. When Linda was with us, we could depend on one of her cakes. She would make the icing on top, green like grass, then add little nests made of icing and top it off with jelly bean eggs. Easter morning, Alan and Little Doug would slip out and hide the boiled eggs. Curtis's job was to keep the dog "Trisha" inside so she wouldn't give away the hiding places.

Sue and Jerry would bring Debbie, Vicki Sue, and Steven out for the big hunt. Steven loved to play on the pedal car and he would spend hours peddling around the yard. Debbie and Vicki always headed for the swings. Everyone seemed to have a good time. Sometimes we would find eggs weeks later where they had been missed.

Fourth of July was a big day, the weather was always warm so we would roast hot dogs and have a big outdoor picnic. At dusk, Wes and Jerry would build a big bonfire, so it would have time to die down to hot coals. The fields had been cleared and water hoses were handy. We would buy a few fire works to go with those that Jerry and the neighbors brought. Sue and the rest of us would gather all the food and carry it to the tables that the men had set up. After everyone was full and the left overs returned to the house, we would gather up the younger ones and sit them on quilts spread on the ground. Neighbors would start gathering, bringing chairs or something to spread on the ground; by now it would be dark. Wes and Jerry would start the fire works and we all enjoyed the evening. When things were over, we had to carry the smaller ones in and get them ready for bed as most had fallen asleep an hour or so before.

By Halloween, the weather had cooled down and I wasn't about to tackle the job of taking so many into town, so I dressed them up and we had a party. We had quite a few trick or treaters so everyone took turns answering the door. There was plenty of candy, as the drug store in town donated enough for everyone.

Christmas brought some happy times but also some sad times, with so many families being apart. We always decorated a large tree, some of the ornaments being purchased and some homemade. Anyone, who made an ornament, had the honor of placing it on the tree. We always kept extra gifts (thanks to the churches and others) as it wasn't unusual to have placements on Christmas eve. I remember one little boy being placed Christmas morning and he received gifts the same as everyone else. We had a Santa that came every Christmas Eve to visit and bring gifts. We never did find out who he was. The younger children didn't care who he was, as to them he was Santa. I'm sure it was someone who knew us as everything he brought fit. The girls always received nylons and the boys tee shirts. There were games and toys and many other things. Christmas dinner was something to see. Linda's cakes always had a place of honor, plus I spent hours in the kitchen. The usual dinner consisted of two turkeys, a roast, and baked ham and all the trimmings. We invited parents out and if they were able to come, I made sure the parent received a gift from their child.

Our youngest placement was a three-day-old redheaded little girl. Mama was up on a drug charge and daddy was overseas in the air force. She was brought directly from the hospital to us. What a darling little thing! We moved the bassinet into our room as the nursery was downstairs and with the soft little cry she had, I would never have heard her. Wes fell for her charm. He was a six-foot-tall man, but one coo or smile from her and he would melt. I'd find them on the bed, with her asleep across his chest. Sometimes he would be watching T. V. and sometimes they were both asleep. At the end of three months she was placed in a foster home and I felt like one of my own had been taken away. Wes was lost without her. For quite a few nights I'd wake up to check on her. Sometimes Wes would raise up in bed to check on her, only to find she wasn't there. Every time a social worker came out, we would ask how she was doing. When she was about six months old, we received a phone call from her foster mother asking if we'd like to see her. Boy, did we want to see her?

We made arrangements for that weekend and when the car pulled up, we all made a dash to greet her. The foster mother said she almost didn't come as the little one was so fussy. She looked fine and had really filled out, her hair had grown and was a deeper red and she was just beautiful. The older girls and I took turns rocking and loving her. Wes took her out to see the chickens and Alan's pig. Then the foster mother decided they had best go as it was nap time and she was becoming fussy again. I hated to see her go, but felt better seeing how she had adjusted to her new home and was well cared for.

The next morning I received a phone call explaining why our little redhead was so fussy, she had the measles. As I replaced the phone, I sat there looking at all my little ones wondering what I should do. A call to our doctor didn't really help. He said we could be in for an interesting time and to keep him posted. As time passed, I started to breathe easier, thinking we had escaped getting the measles.

One morning I felt tired and had a headache and my eyes sure did burn, but I attributed it to the fact that we had a lot of new placements and I hadn't had much sleep. I put a couple of one-year-olds in the high chairs and started breakfast. Linda came downstairs, stopped at the high chair and talked to the one banging his tray. She then came on into the kitchen and started laughing. She said, "Mom, have you looked at your face?" I ask what was wrong and she said, "Just go look in the mirror." Well, I can tell you I sure didn't expect to see what I saw. I had red spots all over me.

I sat at the table and wondered what I would do. I had 19 to get off on the school bus and Elvira wouldn't be in for at least another hour or two. I went to the phone and called her and explained the situation. She said Big Doug would be leaving for work in a few minutes and she would be in. When she walked in, she started laughing and said she was sorry, but I looked a mess. She ordered me to bed and, bless her heart, she stayed all day and even helped Wes get everyone to bed.

Well time passed and I recovered, but now we were back to waiting. Days passed with no new cases so, again, we thought we had won. Then one busy morning the phone rang, early, and it was Elvira. Between sobs she said, "Mom I'm spotted all over, I've got the measles." I told her to stay in bed and rest, Wes and I could handle everything. On about the 14th day I told Elvira I really thought we had won but, to be on the safe side, Elvira reached over and knocked on wood. That must have worked as no one else caught the measles.

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Giving up Placements

It was always difficult for me to give up the little ones when homes were found or the courts returned them to their parents. Sometimes it was hard not to cry, after all, they had become like our own, but within a day or so another battered, half-starved child would be placed in my arms, and we would start rebuilding another life.

When a child is placed with his tummy so bloated it's almost the largest part of his body, with toothpick legs, knobs for knees, dark circles under his eyes and only a whimper instead of a cry, then you know why you keep going. It was a joy to see them start filling out and running instead of wobbling, and best of all a good old-fashioned temper tantrum with lots of screaming. Then you knew things were coming around. I would, then, call the social worker and tell them our little one was on the road to recovery. The only bad thing was, they would start looking for a placement for them.

One day a probation officer (who was a favorite of mine) dropped in to check on some of her placements as some of her cases had court hearings coming up. As she was leaving, she turned to me and said she was worried about our home. She looked so serious that my spirits fell and I could just see someone coming to our door and saying our home was closed. When she saw the look on my face she smiled and said, "Two of our runaways called and offered to turn themselves in if I promised to bring them to Butler's." As she turned to go, she said, "Keep up the good work."

One night the police brought us a small baby girl, she was so young they didn't even have a name for her as she found in the back seat of a car in the parking lot of a tavern. She had to be listed as "Baby Doe." The police tried to find the mother, or whoever left her in the dark parking lot, but didn't have any luck. When they contacted headquarters, they were told to bring her to us. She was well dressed with a new, clean blanket around her and she seemed well cared for. Once again, we had a small one to love and care for. We guessed her age at about six weeks, give or take a week. Wes carried the bassinet upstairs to our room, and started spoiling her. I couldn't understand why anyone would go to all the trouble to care for her so well, and then leave her where she was found. She didn't even have a diaper rash and her bottle was clean with fresh milk in it. She was found at 2:00 A.M. A few days later mama showed up. I remember her coming out to visit, she would always ask how she was doing but would never hold her. She acted scared and would only stay a few minutes. She had the most beautiful fur coats and wore very high heels. I guess that stands out in my mind because I was always dressed for work and always felt kinda dowdy after she left. I don't remember what happened but I think our little "Baby Doe" was finally adopted.

The older ones were staying longer as foster homes were harder to find for teens. More of them were dating and the usual complaint was not having anything to wear. Wes used to tease them, saying he had a can of green paint and he could paint them. Then, if they stayed on the lawn, no one would notice what they had on. One day Debbie, my granddaughter, (Sue's oldest daughter) who was about four or five, came into the house holding a small girl's hand and saying, "Grandma, she's green all over." Some teenage girls were watching T.V. and one looked up and said, "Pop didn't?" meaning, had he painted her green? We all had a laugh after I got all the paint off. Thank goodness, it was flat paint and a good bath fixed everything. She even thought it was funny. After getting things under control I went looking for the one who did this. Well it seemed the boys had found Wes's can of green paint and was taking it up the ladder to their tree house when it snagged and dumped on the little girl. They had failed to fasten the lid after peeking in the can.

About this time someone gave us some bantam chickens which we gave the run of the place. One hen decided to use the ladder to check out the tree house. I guess she found it to her liking because she made a nest, out on a limb, laid eggs, and started sitting. The boys kept a close eye on her and when the eggs started hatching they gathered the mother and babes and put them in a pen. After a few days they turned them loose and it didn't take long to find out that was a big mistake, as chickens and gardens don't mix. We talked about fried chicken, chicken and dumplings, or a fence. After drying a lot of tears we chose the fence. It was a long time before Carol, Curtis or Dick would eat chicken without counting their pets.

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The Place Looking Nice

Wes spent a lot of time disking the fields as it was a constant battle trying to keep the weeds under control. He worked hard and it was starting to pay off. The place looked nice, with a new coat of paint, a new roof, the lawn well kept, and with all the fruit trees pruned and bearing fruit. It gave a feeling of being at home.

He tore out the old fences, but instead of replacing them he planted walnut trees down both sides of the driveway. With shade trees planted around the play yard the children had a wonderful, safe place to play. I love flowers so I planted them everyplace I could find a spot that wasn't walked on. Wes graded the long driveway, hauled gravel and spread it out to make a parking place for families to park on sundays, the day we picked for visitors day.

With more and more children being placed the need for more parking increased. People started parking on the lawn and near the play equipment. Someone told us where we could get some old telephone poles and Wes decided they would be just what we needed to keep everyone in the parking space. They worked wonderfully, so now the children had free access to enter the play yard without being in danger of being run over.

One day Wes came in to get a drink of water and said, "Wonder where the boys are, I'm missing a motor to the rotor tiller." After Wes returned to the garden, taking a hoe with him, I started dinner. About then a young boy burst in the door yelling, "Mom, hurry, quick, Little Doug was pushing Dick, the go-cart tipped over, caught fire, and Dick has a bloody nose, HURRY." He was so out of breath and so excited I had trouble following what he was trying to tell me. As I ran out the door, I saw the two boys, slowly walking up the driveway. Little Doug was pulling the homemade go-cart and Dick was lagging behind. When they came into the yard, I ask what had happened and if Dick was hurt. "Oh, he's not hurt," Little Doug explained, "Nothing to get excited about. He just jammed on the brakes, causing the fan belt to catch fire and then he got scared and tried to jump out and then the darn thing tipped over, don't think the go-cart is hurt." I said, "Talking about a fire, I think you boys would be wise to return the motor because Wes is looking for one that looks just like that." They looked at each other and headed for the garage. Later Wes said the rotor tiller was returned in good shape with the engine intact.

It wasn't long after the tiller incident that Wes got a good deal on a go-cart from his brother, Art. The ramps made good starting points and they would push the cart up the ramp and coast down. They could pick up quite a bit of speed and go quite a distance.

We were given a double license when we started the home so we could keep Dick. The receiving license is a temporary license and Dick's license was a regular foster care license. Now the department decided they needed the extra space. Dick would be 12 his next birthday. I reminisced about the 7-year-old, tow headed, scared little boy, who came to us wearing those worn out cowboy boots with the "run over" heels, torn jeans which were way too short for him, and that old cowboy hat that was his pride and joy. It was some time before he would give it up even after we bought him a new one. After about six months I found it in the trash. When I mentioned it to him, he replied, "That old piece of junk, don't want it anymore." He was feeling more secure with us and didn't need anything from the past.

Our home was overflowing. By now they had other small homes, but none could take families as most were licensed for one or two children. They were taking more of the babies and we were getting more teens.

Dick's social worker decided he should live with Eva in Fairfield. I had no objection to the family as they had given Eva a good home and she had responded to their love and care. If Dick must leave, I'd rather it be with someone we knew.

Two weeks before Christmas the social worker called to have him ready the following week. I ask if he could stay until after the holidays. The answer was no. He was practicing every afternoon, after school, for the church Christmas play. I pleaded that he be allowed to stay but to no avail. I ask if we could drive over and pick him up, so he could be in the play and then return him. Even our minister offered to pick him up and return him but the social worker felt it was best to make a clean break. Dick didn't make it for the play but on Christmas eve we drove over as a family with his new cowboy boots to put under the tree. It was a sad time for all of us, as he was a brother to our children for almost four years.

I didn't see Dick again until the following spring. It had been raining for days and all the fields were flooded. That evening the wind was blowing from the north and it found every crack in our big, old house. I was thankful for the roof, at least no need for pans to be set out to catch the drips. This was the worst storm we'd had for a couple of years. Wes and the boys were kept busy bringing in wood for the fireplace and the Ashley heater. Wes had made a box for firewood in a large closet next to the fireplace. He had lined it with heavy plywood and usually he filled it once or twice a day. But today was different, they had a hard time keeping it full. The winds were so strong they made the house shudder and the windows rattle and, even with both stove and fireplace going, it didn't seem warm. The boys filled the fire box one more time before they scooted to their rooms. The girls said they were going to bed and read. The smaller children were all asleep so I thought this would be a good time for me to do a little reading. About then I heard a sound at the door, at first I thought the wind had blown something against the house as it was really whistling through the trees. Then I heard it again, only harder this time, so I thought I'd better check it out.

When I opened the door there stood Dick, soaked to the skin, muddy and shivering with cold. He was wearing only a light jacket. I ask him in and took his wet jacket off. After hugging him I sent him to take a warm shower. By the time he was out of the shower I had found some warm clothes of Little Doug's that would fit him. After he dressed, we sat at the table and talked. I ask if he was hungry and he said he sure was. While I made a sandwich and hot chocolate, he started telling me what happened. I ask if his foster parents knew where he was, and how he got so wet. He said, "No they don't know," as he had left school early in the afternoon. He was afraid someone would see him so he hid in the fields until dark, then came here. I told him I would have to call the police to let them know he was safe. He said, "Yeah, I figured you would have to." Then to ease things I told him to remember we were an emergency home, and I was sure they would let him spend the night.

The sheriff's department thanked me for calling and he didn't see any reason why he couldn't spend the night. They would make arrangements to pick him up in the morning and return him to his foster parents. The only vacant bed in the house was a hide-a-bed so Dick and I pulled it out and I told him to hop in. It was getting late and I was tired. As I was tucking him in bed, I heard a car pull up in front. I walked over and opened the door and saw it was a sheriff's car. I knew right then what they were there for, "DICK." The officer apologized and said he was sorry but when he called in to probation, they ordered him to pick the boy up and transport him to juvenile hall. I hugged him and said we would try and see him more often. The next morning, the same officer called and again apologized. He said he wanted me to know that Dick had been returned to his foster parents and everything seemed O.K.

We didn't see him again until the following May Fair. Carol and Curtis saw him and visited with him for a while. He was in the band and had come on the school bus. He told them he had moved to Vallejo (sounds like Va-lay-ho) and had let his new foster parents adopt him. We never did find out what the problem was or why he moved.

Years later (about 1975 or 76) Dick tracked us down through Alan who still lived in Dixon. Alan gave him our phone number and I received a call one day saying he was in Porterville and would like to bring his wife and son over to meet us. It sure was good to see him. He was still blonde and very nice looking and he had a very nice wife and a cute little baby. We visited for a while and he said he had tried to find us. I told him we had moved from the Dixon area to Yakima, Washington and then on to Duluth, Minnesota, before returning to California. They couldn't stay long as they had to get home. He said he worked for a food company that delivered food to airlines. I ask about Eva and he said he didn't see her often but she was doing O.K.

I came to depend on Elvira more as we starting having more placements with severe behavior problems. In the time she worked for me I never had to remind her what to do. The refrigerators and ovens were cleaned routinely, the floors stripped and re-waxed, the walls were wiped down, and every morning all beds were checked and beds were changed that needed it. You can imagine how I felt when, one morning, she said, "Mom, I need to talk with you." We sat down at the kitchen table and I ask what was on her mind. She replied, "I don't know how to tell you." When she spoke again, I felt my world fall apart. It seems Big Doug had received his orders and they had sat up all night talking and trying to decide what to do. He had parents in New York, and he had a thirty-day leave coming. He felt they should go back and let Elvira meet them as he wanted her to stay with them while he went to the Philippines. The plans were for her to follow him as soon as he could find a suitable house. They would be leaving in a few days.

It was hard to adjust our life without her help. Something was always coming up that I wanted to share, or one of the girls needed help with their hair. In the year and a half she had been with us, we just kinda took it for granted she would always be there.

Pat married Ruben, her true love, at the end of school and we kept in touch for years. She and Ruben stayed in Dixon, and the last I heard they had three boys.

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