The Life And Times Of Wanda Bruner Butler

by Wanda Bruner Butler
Copyright © 2000

Chapter 5

* Three Weddings
* A Raging Inferno
* A Terror on Wheels
* Baby Jimmy

Three Weddings

Linda, who by now had been with us a year and a half, was late returning from a date with Tom. She would soon be 18, had been engaged to Tom for some time and had court permission to marry. All the girls were getting caught up in Linda's wedding plans. They only wanted a small church wedding, nothing big, just family. I fell asleep while waiting and then the phone rang. I glanced at the clock and was surprised to see it was 1:00 A.M. For a change it wasn't the police with new placements, it was Linda. She said, "Mom, it's me, everything is O.K., we are in Nevada and we are married." I couldn't think of anything to say except, "You had better be." She teased me for years saying, "And just what would you have done if we hadn't been married?" I don't know why I said what I did unless it was because I was awakened suddenly from a sound sleep.

Kitty, our little French girl was the next to marry. I was late getting to the church, in Davis, but found she had waited for me. She was so beautiful in her long, white wedding gown. The sun was shining through the stained glass window making her gown glow with every color of the rainbow. Kitty has been in and out of our lives for the last twenty years. Things haven't always gone right for her but she now has a good hold on life. She has two teenagers, one lives with her and the other makes his home with his father.

Marlene, a cute perky blonde, with a shape that would put a model to shame, was only with us a few months, but was very dear to us. She was so in love with her sailor boy. Soon after leaving our home she turned 18 and married her beau. She wrote that she was practicing what I taught her, never to send a child to bed to punish him, as he would associate going to bed with punishment.

After Elvira left, we tried using day help. The first lady I hired seemed to fill our need, until she showed up for work. The first day she arrived on time, walked in and sat down in the rocking chair. I thought she was just waiting for me to show her what I wanted her to do so I gave her a tour of the house explaining what I expected of her. After the tour, I said she could start with the beds in the babies' room, working her way up to the small children's room, [The teenagers cleaned their own] then to start the laundry. I didn't want to overdo it the first day. I felt if she could change all the beds and do a few loads of clothes it would sure take a load off me. I showed her where to look for the mark that showed which clothes belonged to the home. If they didn't have a mark in the neck, she was to fold them and place them on the bed in the children's room and I would put them away. [We really appreciated the clothes that were donated to the home as most of the younger children were placed with what they were wearing, only.]

After she finished the beds in the nursery, she returned to the rocking chair. As I walked through the living room and saw her sitting and rocking, I said, "Boy, you are a fast worker." She said she had finished the babies beds and asked if there was anything else I wanted done. I ask if she had finished the toddler's room. She shook her head, no and said, "Oh, you want that too." We made it through the day with me telling her each thing I wanted done. I might as well have done it myself. I was sure things would go better the next day thinking she just needed time to adjust. But as the first week drew to an end I found her rocking more, with me doing the work I was paying her to do, so I had to let her go. Wes and I carried the load until I decided to try an ad in the paper.

Well a lady answered the ad and we arranged a date for her to come out. She arrived on time and everyplace she looked she saw children of every size, shape and color. She turned to me and said, "I've worked in a lot of crazy places, but this place, no thanks." So, it was back to just Wes and I again.

A few weeks later, I was in town for a doctors appointment with a couple of girls who had follow ups. I parked the car around the corner near the library. When we finished at the doctor's office, we had a few minutes free so we walked down to the dime store to do some shopping. As we left the dime store we heard the siren of a fire truck. I stood there on main street trying to see where it was going. It was coming down main street heading south and just as it passed us it turned east on A street. I looked around the corner and saw smoke and told the girls it must be the Catholic church on fire. About then Mister Woodman, who sold us the children's home, came up to me and said, "Now don't get excited, Mrs. Butler, but your house across from the high school is on fire." I didn't get excited, I panicked. Sue and Jerry lived there with the three grandchildren.

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A Raging Inferno

I started to run one way and then the other. I couldn't remember where I had parked the car. Mr. Woodmen took my arm and said he would drive me. [Sue and Jerry had rented the house from us the year before.] When we pulled up in front of the house, the firemen were unrolling their hoses. I jumped from the car and started screaming, "My grandchildren are in there." I ran up the steps, but before I could pull the front door open, a fireman grabbed my arm and pulled me back telling me not to open the door or it might explode in my face.

There was a large picture window in front and a French door. Chief Peters came up to me and ask if Sue and the kids were in the house. By now the house was a raging inferno and when the firemen opened the front door the window and door exploded. I just knew the firemen wouldn't find them alive. One fireman came to the door, looked over at Chief Peters and shook his head. I didn't know if they had found them dead or what? Two other firemen ran from the back and yelled they had found something but it turned out to be a doll wrapped in a blanket. A neighbor held me and wouldn't let me go any closer.

About then I heard a car pull up and Sue's voice and Deborah crying. I ask where she had been and she said she was shopping at Parde's market when the fire truck went by. She didn't pay any attention to it until someone told her that her house was on fire. I became aware that she didn't have Vicki Sue with her and I asked about her. Sue had a stunned look on her face and said, "Oh, my God, I left her in the shopping cart at the store." (Vicki was 6 months old and Deborah was 3 years old.) About that time another lady drove up and handed Vicki to Sue.

The fire was almost under control when Jerry arrived. At first, he didn't see Sue and the kids. He almost panicked until Sue ran to him. Her first words were, "I just cleaned house and now look at it." She was expecting a visit from her stepmother, Joyce, and had worked two days making sure everything was just right. That morning she made a list of last minute things she needed from the grocery store and tossed the last load of laundry in the dryer before heading out the door. According to Chief Peters, the fire started in the wall behind the dryer.

When the Chief gave permission to enter, we walked through the house in shock. Sue would stop and pick up a toy or one of the children's shoes. Jerry just kept saying, "I don't believe it, I just can't believe it." The house was a mess, the refrigerator had exploded, plastering the walls with once-frozen foods, ten pounds of potatoes baked in the bag and burst open. A chicken that was left in the freezer was so well done the meat fell off the bones. A new recliner in the living room melted and the foam stuffing spilled out. A beautiful wool-braided rug that had taken me two years to make would crumble to the touch and the drapes were hanging in shreds.

Even though the fire was a disaster to all of us, it solved one of my problems, help for the children's home. I offered the third house to Sue and Jerry in exchange for Sue helping three or four hours per day. The children loved to come see grandma, with all that space to run and play and the park-like playground. They talked it over and said it sounded O.K. to them. I called Wes to let him know what had happened and to tell him that Sue and Jerry and the kids would be spending the night with us.

When we arrived home, we went through the clothes and found enough things to sleep in. The next morning, Wes and Jerry started fixing the third house. I had the heating oil tanks filled and found enough pots, pans and other things they would need to start housekeeping again. We were set up like a grocery store so we found everything they would need. We moved one of the cribs so Vicki would have a bed and Debbie slept with Carol for a night or so. The bed and some furniture, which we had furnished Elvira, was still in the house, so with some extra sheets and other bedding they were ready to move in.

We both had good insurance, so no one would lose money, but there are so many things you can never replace. In the end you lose more than money. The next day Sue and I went to town and finished getting what they needed. Friends donated a bed for both children and other things they needed until the insurance paid off. Slowly we resumed a fairly normal life.

The sheriff's department called to inform us that someone was on the way with a one-year-old boy. It was almost dark when they arrived. I walked out to meet the car and as the officer opened the door, I offered to take the child. The officer pulled the blanket tighter around him, saying, "Better keep the blanket wrapped tight, he has a problem I don't think you care to share. Hope you have plenty of warm soapy water, he's going to need plenty."

While filling out the papers, they brought me up to date on what happened. One officer laughed and said, "Boy, if you think he's a mess, you should see what mama will find when she returns to their mobile home." They went on to tell us how the little one had painted everything he could reach. Since he was now smelling to high heaven, I told Wes to take over with the intake paper while I tried to scrub some of the smell away. A few days later the court returned him to his mother, saying she had been punished enough. Just cleaning the walls, bed, curtains and dresser was enough punishment for anyone. He was well cared for otherwise. We never did hear why he was alone or how he was found.

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A Terror on Wheels

Of all the babies, ( besides our little red head) Jim Bob was the one that hurt me most when he was taken from us and placed in a foster home. Jim Bob was about a year old when he was brought to us. I don't remember the details of the placement, but I do remember how small and weak he was. He could sit alone, but was not interested in anything. Toys were pretty to look at for a few minutes, but nothing held his interest very long. Sometimes he would pick up a toy and stare at it then drop it. I took him to Dr. Gullick, who started him on a good diet. The doctor felt when the malnutrition was cleared up that Jim Bob's interest would pick up. I was worried about petit mal seizures but he said to wait and not borrow troubles.

On the diet, it didn't take long for Jim Bob to start gaining weight and strength. He would pull up in the play pen, throw back his head and laugh and shake the play pen until I was sure it would fall apart. I bought a walker for him and Carol would try to stimulate him by pushing him, or try to get him to come for a toy that she would hold out to him. This was funny, he wouldn't budge, but if Carol got up to leave he would start crying. One day he took out after her and our house was never the same.

By now he was strong enough to be a terror on wheels. He got so he would tear through the house, nothing was safe. We had a small, black girl who was a favorite with everyone. When the social worker placed her she came right to me and never cried for her mother. She was very pleasant and easy to please. One day I heard her crying and ran to the play room to find Jim Bob astride her, with the walker pinning her down. He had a tight hold of her hair and wasn't going to let go. I had worked so hard on her braids and here he was pulling the rubber bands off one by one. After I rescued her and kissed the hurt away, I sat and rocked her awhile.

This had gone far enough, so I decided to ground him by taking the walker away for a while. Boy, did he howl? It wasn't long until someone gave it back to him and the terror on wheels was back. One day he rammed the T. V. screen, hard. I yelled, "No, Jim Bob, no." I started after him but he was getting smarter and faster. With me right behind him he grabbed the tablecloth, scattering silverware all over the floor. When I caught him, it was back to the play pen with orders that no one was to give it back to him for the rest of the day. He tried the tears again and I softened long enough to give him a hug and kiss. Someone handed him a cookie and that healed all hurts. After having to do the same thing the next day, I told him if he wanted to get around, he would just have to walk.

It wasn't long before I wished I had never put the idea in his mind. I don't think he walked but a very few days until he was trying to run. He would run till he fell, then crawl to a chair, pull up, and take off again. Wes had to fix a guard on the screen door where he kept pushing it out. We installed a gate between the kitchen and the dining room. The girls decided to keep their makeup put away instead of on their night stands. I was loving him more every day and dreading the day they would move him.

At night, after his bath, he was ready to be cuddled and rocked. He looked like a little angel asleep in his crib. This couldn't be our little terror on wheels. After about four or five months, or maybe longer, I received the call that we all knew was coming. The day had come to place our little angel in a foster home; they would be after him in the morning.

The next day as each one left for school, they would stop by his high chair and tell him goodbye. A couple of the older girls wanted to stay home, but I kinda wanted the time to be alone with him. I had very little to pack as he had come with nothing but what he wore. The welfare department had provided him with a few things and I sorted through some clothes, that I had, and found a few changes that would fit him. All of this totaled a small box. About this time Sue walked in the baby's room and said I might as well give up cleaning the playroom until he was gone. The faster I picked up the toys the faster he threw them out. It was almost time and I was getting nervous. I told Sue to take a break, as I wanted a little time alone with him. It wasn't long after Sue left that I heard a car drive up.

The social worker came in and signed the release papers. We talked for a while and she told me about the home he would be going to. It sounded nice and I was sure they would give him plenty of love, but it didn't make the hurt, I felt, any less. We had come so far and it didn't seem fair to take him from me now. The worker said, "Well, young man, it's time to go." I walked out to the car and placed him in the lap of the lady that came to help. After blowing him a few kisses I felt the tears well up in my eyes. I didn't make it to the door before I was crying. I went inside and had a good, old-fashioned cry. It just didn't seem fair.

As it neared time for the school bus, I pulled myself together and started dinner. I prayed that no one would come home with a real pressing problem, as I didn't feel up to handling anything. Dinner was extra quiet and that was unusual as dinner time was sharing time, with everyone trying to talk at once.

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Baby Jimmy

We didn't have a chance to grieve for Jim Bob very long. The next afternoon the police department called. They had an 18-month-old and were on the way with him. The officers arrived with the most pathetic looking human I had ever seen.

The officers had answered a disturbance call and when they arrived at the apartment they found a party in full swing. There in the middle of all this was little Jimmy. From what the officers could find out, his diet consisted of juice and whatever booze was on hand. The parents said it didn't hurt him and kept him quiet.

The poor little thing's stomach was the largest part of his body. He could hardly hold his head up and had difficulty focusing his eyes. His head was normal size, but the skin was stretched tight over the bones, giving the appearance of a little old man. He had large eyes and he made very few sounds. I kept looking at him to see if he was still breathing.

By now I had handled just about everything and was starting to think of myself as a pro. We never turned down a call unless we were full, but this was something different. After talking to Wes, I told the officers we couldn't accept Jimmy until he was checked out by a doctor and a statement was signed concerning his condition. The officer said he understood, and would phone in for instructions. After calling his office, they were told to take him to the county hospital in Fairfield to be checked out. After the doctor checked him and signed papers describing his condition, with orders to return in a day or so, he was returned to us.

They also sent a couple of cans of special formula, and specified no solid food, as his system was unable to tolerate solids. Because of his condition, we would have to move slowly, just as though he were a small infant. I fixed him a warm bottle and got him to take a little. I knew he must be hungry but he was so weak he could only suck a few minutes. I was able to get about three or four ounces down him and he was ready for bed. Wes took his bassinet upstairs to our room. I wanted him close by where we could hear him, and I could feed him every two or three hours. After a few visits to the doctor, he said we could start baby cereal, and if that worked, we could go from there, adding more solid food as he was able to tolerate it.

Jimmy was slowly starting to gain weight and strength. It wasn't long before he could sit up in a highchair and bang on the tray with a spoon. One day I found him trying to pull up in the playpen. I knew, then, that it was time to bring Jim Bob's walker out of storage and put it to use. By now Jimmy had been with us a couple of months. He was 20 months old and was eating regular table food. His eyes were becoming brighter and he was more alert. He still had a long way to go, but every day he was getting stronger.

The case had been turned over to probation for investigation. The parents had a hearing and it was determined Jimmy should be placed in a foster home when his health permitted. The day he discovered he could make the walker move we started hearing the familiar words, "No, Jimmy, No." I knew his days were numbered when I reported he was trying to take steps. He wasn't fast like Jim Bob but he could make it to the toy box and throw toys around the room.

Most of our babies didn't remain with us very long as there were always homes willing to take a baby. Sometimes the parents received custody after a court hearing. So it didn't take long to find a home willing to take Jimmy once the doctor released him and said it was O.K. I've often wondered if any permanent damaged was done and if he ever caught up with his age group.

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