The Life And Times Of Wanda Bruner Butler

by Wanda Bruner Butler
Copyright © 2000

Chapter 6

* Watermelons and Poker
* The one I didn't Meet
* P. K. U.
* Doug's Visit

Watermelons and Poker

Wes and Jerry decided to plant watermelons. To make it interesting they decided to make a bet, who could raise the largest melons. Sue and I decided to get in on the bet. We would show those men we could raise melons as large as theirs.

Jerry picked a plot of ground to the north side of the third house. He worked the soil until it suited him, then he borrowed a pickup truck from a friend and hauled a load of sheep manure from the Amour Meat Co., where he worked. He made about three big hills with plenty of sheep manure, and planted the seeds. Sue and I bought our own seeds and chose a spot on the south side, in the garden area. Wes threw some seeds under his fruit trees.

Every night Jerry would baby his plants. I would look out the kitchen window and see him measuring his plants to see if they had grown since the day before. I would grab a few minutes every day to check mine, as the melons started filling out and the days grew hotter. Wes pulled weeds and covered his, Jerry, Sue, and I kept ours weed-free.

As the days passed I knew something was wrong, mine weren't growing. Wes's was growing by leaps and bounds, Sue's were doing O.K., but weren't going to win any bets. Jerry's were beautiful and weed free, but didn't hold a candle to Wes's. I just couldn't figure out what I did wrong. One day Wes looked at the package I had on a stake at the end of the row and started laughing. I sure did receive a lot of razzing when Wes told everyone that Ma had bought MIDGET size, single-serving melons to enter a contest. Wes's melons won first place, Jerry's second, Sue's third and I don't know what I won, except good eating.

When all the melons were ripe we literally had tons of them. Sue and Jerry kept loading the trunk of the car and driving into Dixon and begging people to take them. Just how many of Jerry's "manure fed" melons were given away is unknown, but it was years before Sue could eat watermelons again.

By now the house on East A street was finished. Sue and Jerry would be moving within a week. They had only bought a few things to use until the house was ready. One of Jerry's co-workers called and asked if I would mind if they gave a burn out party for them. He asked me to try to keep it a surprise. That was a tall order, with so many people around. I guess we did a pretty good job because when over a hundred co-workers, friends, and relatives, showed up with food, drinks, folding tables and chairs, they were overcome and said they never expected anything like that. Some came with gifts, others with money. We really had a good time. The last guests didn't leave until after dark, staying to help clean up. (And I didn't have to cook or do dishes) Sue said it sure made her feel good to know so many people cared for them. Jerry's employer, (Amour Meat Co.) also donated to the money tree.

Without Sue's help I was once again back to day help. It was hard to find help and harder to keep. I decided to go through the employment office. They sent a lady that lasted a few days before giving notice. When she quit, she said she never knew who or how many she was caring for. "I never know," she said, "If they belong here or to a neighbor, and heaven only knows how you keep track of everyone. I can't take the constant turnover."

I contacted the office again, this time asking them to please explain to the ladies what to expect. A few days later a lady came out. After being run into with a walker and nearly run over by some five and six-year-olds, chasing each other to see who could get to the swings first, she said, "There isn't enough money to pay me to work in your crazy place." Shaking her head, she left. That ended our search for help. Maybe we were crazy but I liked - - No, I loved our crazy place and all our children.

One day as I was doing dishes, the fire detector activated the alarm. I had always instructed everyone to evacuate, no matter what they were doing. As I ran to the panel to see what part of the house was involved, a teenage girl came running out of the bathroom with a towel, sort of draped around her, and shampoo dripping. Other girls were grabbing smaller ones and heading for the yard. The panel light for Doug's area was lit. I grabbed a fire extinguisher on my way to the second house. (Each area of the house had an extinguisher of its own.) I expected to find everything in flames, so you can imagine my surprise when I opened the door to find four or five 10 to 12-year-old boys sitting in a circle, with their hands behind them, trying to act innocent. All the doors were closed and the drapes pulled, but they forgot to turn the hall thermostat down and the excess heat had activated the alarm. If I hadn't noticed the poker chips, I would have though it was an accident. They went to a lot of trouble to hide the fact they were having a poker game, only to have the alarm give them away. You may have guessed by now that the guilty one, who instigated the whole plot, was Doug.

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The One I Didn't Meet

Of all the children placed, the only one I didn't meet, was a small boy about three years old. Solano County called, saying a social worker was on the way with a placement who would only be with us until the next day. Then he would be moved to Yolo county to be placed in a foster home. His mother had moved and wanted him nearer to her. I had gone into town to buy groceries but Wes was home when they arrived with him. [Since we no longer had help, one of us had to be home at all times.] Wes gave the worker the papers to fill out for placement and when she completed them she, once again, explained that he would only be there until tomorrow. After she left, Wes fixed him a sandwich and a glass of milk. He was almost finished eating when the door bell rang. It was the worker from Yolo County to pick him up. Wes said he was a neat little fellow and begged to stay longer so he could play on the swings. I was sorry I had missed him.

There was no way we could accept all the placements that were offered to us. At first we were able to carry most of Solano County's load, but for the past year we had to turn down, at least, one call each night. The officers would ask what they were supposed to do and I just didn't have the answer. In the past few months the Welfare and Probation department had licensed several small, emergency homes. Each was licensed for two or three but none of them was set up like we were. We heard rumors that the old county hospital, located in Fairfield, was going to be remodeled and used as an emergency home. The old hospital, the probation department, and juvenile court were all on the same grounds. When I asked about the rumors, I was told, yes, that was the plan for the future, but there were no funds for now.

Two brothers were placed. The 18-month-old had huge, black bruises on his body. He was very quiet and did very little fussing. The four-year-old was in better shape. I requested the younger one be checked out as I was still concerned that some parent would try to say the child wasn't like that when taken for placement. It was best to have a report in my files from a doctor. Travis Air Base had reported the abuse to the Probation Department. The father was overseas on duty and the mother was a frequent visitor to the medical facility, always with the same child, sometimes with a broken arm or broken ribs, or sometimes a cut across his face. The four-year-old said she hit him with a wooden spoon.

The father was contacted and arrangements were made for his return to the states. The mother was turned over to probation for investigation of child abuse. Before the father arrived, back in the states, the mother took her own life. We were told that she hung herself in their garage. Rev. Mayhall came to visit us and upon learning of the tragedy, asked for the father's phone number. I referred him to the boy's worker and I later learned that Rev. Mayhall had offered to give the two boys a home until the father returned to the states. We saw the boys often and I was glad they had someone to love them and help them over their grief.

Each year the County Grand Jury visited our home. They were always polite and friendly and we opened our home to them answering their questions as best we could. [We weren't fancy, but always clean.] One year, when they made their yearly visit to our home, a lady in her 60's, dressed in a full length fur, with lots of diamonds, asked some pointed questions about finances. (She looked very out of place and made sure she didn't touch anything.) Looking right at me and said, "You know, when we give you public funds, we have to be very careful how they are spent." I'd had a hard morning and the way she said "PUBLIC FUNDS" really upset me. She made it sound like we were receiving welfare. I drew myself up and replied, "Madam, you aren't 'giving' us anything, we earn everything we receive and more." She said, "Well, I never heard the likes," bounced out the door and sat in the car, waiting for the men to finish looking at Wes's garden. I'm sure I received a black mark, from her, that day.

Carol was wonderful with the young ones. A two and a half year old girl was placed because she had been left strapped on a potty chair each day while her mother worked. As a result she had lost the use of her legs. Her mother, who was alone, didn't earn enough to pay a sitter. She would strap her on the chair each morning as she left for work, returning at noon to feed her. Then she would restrap her before leaving for work again. She said she didn't want her to mess in her crib so there she sat, all day, with no chance to learn crawling and walking skills.

Carol worked with her for hours, rubbing and exercising her legs. At that time I had never heard the words "range of motion," but I'm sure that is what Carol was doing. Whatever it was called, it worked. One evening, while I was making lunches for the next day, Carol let out a squeal, "She's walking, hurry Mom, come see." When I entered the room, Carol explained that she sat her on a stool, held out a cookie and told her if she wanted it she would have to come and get it. She got up and took two steps before falling. Carol was with her every minute she was home, holding her hand as they walked all over the yard. It didn't take long for her to master the art of walking, even if it was sort of a funny little duck-like walk; she kinda rolled from side to side. She was with us a couple of months before going to a foster home.

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Probation called, asking if we would accept a family of three young boys, the youngest of which had Phenylketonuria, [P. K. U.]. I had heard the word and knew it involved the body's inability to utilize protein. (A simple test at birth can detect the problem, and with proper diet the chances of damage to the nervous system can be lessened.) Since we were down to eight placements I said I would accept them, if they thought we could give proper care. I said I had never cared for anyone with P. K. U., and had no idea of what diet to follow. They reassured me a diet would come with the child that was easy to follow. They said the poor little thing wasn't receiving care at home. He was eleven months old, his mouth was cut and bruised, and he was unable to sit alone. When placed in the crib, he would flip over to his stomach, constantly hitting his mouth on the mattress, causing cuts on his lips from his teeth. I tried to sit him in the high chair but he would fall sideways. I tried tying a diaper around him, which seemed to work pretty well as it anchored him. Now I could have him in the room where I was working.

I gave him toys, and a spoon to bang on the tray with. His balance was way off but he seemed to do O.K. otherwise. The other two boys were about five and eight years old. All three had red hair, and except for being behind for their age group, they seemed in pretty good health. They were only with us for a few weeks, before homes were found for them. I never did hear an update on them.

It wasn't long after this that the welfare department called, asking if I were willing to accept a hydrocephalic two-year-old child. I said I didn't have the slightest idea what that was. The lady laughed and said it was nothing to be afraid of and that she would bring some information, when she came out, and I could read up on it. She went on to explain that Tina was what they called "arrested" and she would explain more when they arrived, then if I felt it was too much, they would understand. Tina had been through so much, the worker went on to explain, that she had spent most of her life in a hospital. After hanging up the phone I called the school nurse and she explained that it was the medical term for "water on the brain," and most children now had a shunt to carry the fluids from the brain to the kidneys. If it worked, the head didn't swell and they could live an almost normal life.

I relaxed and was ready to accept Tina. I would do a few things to ensure she didn't dislodge the shunt, the part that did kinda worry me. [I took some old, soft baby blankets and wrapped around the edges of the play pen.] When they arrived, she looked normal and in good health, and she could walk and talk pretty well. The worker said the reason for the placement was that the mother had let her fall off the bed and sofa several times and the tube was, often, dislodged. The tube had been replaced again and they wanted her placed while they worked with the mother, trying to help her understand the importance of protecting Tina, and not leaving her lying on the bed, unattended.

I asked about the tube and she showed me where it ran just under the skin down the back of her neck, barely visible. As time went by I begin to relax and enjoy her, but it did bother me when she cried. I guess you could say I spoiled her, but she was easy to love. I don't remember what happened to her but I'm sure she was returned to her mother.

In the spring of 1967, Doug decided he wanted to visit his father's brother who lived just outside of Yakima, Washington, in a small town named Selah. Jim was like a brother to me. Wes and I tried to keep the boys in contact with the Barbers as we felt it was important for them to know Wayne's side of the family.

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Doug's Visit

I called Jim and explained that Doug wanted to come up for Easter vacation. Jim called back the next day, saying he and his wife, Beverly, had talked it over and thought it would be a good idea. When Easter vacation arrived, we took Doug to Sacramento to catch the bus to Yakima, Washington. Doug called the next day saying he loved it up there. His uncle lived on a large ranch and he was very excited about having so many acres to ride his cousin's horses on.

A few days later he called to ask if he could stay until school was out. [He would attend school there.] This wasn't part of the deal so I told him I would have to think on it. After Wes and I talked it over, I called and spoke to Jim and explained that, if it was O.K. with him, Doug could stay, and we would come up on vacation, when school was out, and bring him home with us. Carol and Curt were excited about two whole weeks of vacation. The most we had taken was just a few days here and there, usually about every two or three months.

When Alan and Vickie were married, Wes and Alan had remodeled the second house, making it into an apartment with three rooms and a bath. Doug had moved in with Curtis after Dick moved, so for the first time in Curtis's life he would be alone in his room except for Trisha the dog.

Vickie came in one day, asking if I would consider renting the third house to her brother and sister-in-law. They had two small children and had to move from where they were living. I talked it over with Wes, wondering if we could work out something, like giving them the house in exchange for helping me, and to take over while we were gone. That was the one black cloud in our trip, having someone dependable to run the home while we were gone. Wes said we couldn't expect her to run the whole place just for the rent on the house, so we set a salary we thought was fair.

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