It took time to watch operations and learn about things. As the children were called to the dining rooms one teacher was on duty in boys' room, another on girls' side. These were supposed to keep order and at close of meals all were dismissed by another drum beat. Such had been the custom.
So many problems presented themselves to us at every turn, each needing attention that the days and even half the nights were not sufficient to cope with all.
At this late day it seems unbelievable for such to have been the case but when we remember the time-the late nineties, no money to spend, retrenchment everywhere, debt on the orphanage (so they told us), every one clamoring for attention, even the know-it-ails of today would have found a few hills to climb.
We gradually began to see a little light on the horizon. The drum was discarded, brothers and sisters were seated together, the double doors between the rooms left open and conversation encouraged.
Only one teacher was needed to stand at the center to listen to wants and to direct the small dining room girls waiting on the tables as assistance was needed.
The long, narrow tables seated ten and sometimes twelve or more. The tops of the tables were made of narrow planks having sharp edges. The tablecloths were of white oilcloth. These were constantly being torn over the rough corners and presented a most untidy appearance. The boys seemed to take delight in rubbing the cloths up and down whenever the teacher's eye was turned. With one hundred boys in each room eating, they found time for many such acts.
The smaller girls waited on tables, having their meals before the others came in, and were ready to wash the dishes and reset tables for the next meal.
A large girl sat at head of a table and a boy at the opposite end. When we innocently spoke of the foot of the table one day some boys said, "We don't want to sit at the foot of the table." "I'm not going to either," said another. Neither would the girls at the other end be called "at the foot." So we mildly compromised and said, "No, indeed, we will say the ends of the table." "Mary, you sit at one end and John will take the other end." All peaceful again.
Only those who registered good behavior and showed a spirit of leadership were asked to sit at the "ends" and serve the food. It became quite an honor to be asked to occupy these seats. Sometimes a rather boisterous and troublesome child was invited to take the place of an absent one for a day or two. He often showed such leadership in the group that he soon had another chance and developed qualities of character quite to his advantage adding much to his prestige among the other children.
The food problem was a difficult one, too. Cereals were introduced for breakfast. Oatmeal was disliked by nearly everyone, probably because they had never eaten any before. One boy was most outspoken in his dislike, "Tastes like lye soap."
After many pleasant talks with him and others on the subject, this was too much for me, and turning to him quietly, I said, "Well, I don't know how lye soap tastes, but if you do, this food will be far nicer tasting."
Years after, this same boy returned for a visit and I reminded him of our conversation. "Yes, and I don't like oatmeal even now." He was so cordial and so pleased to return that we all enjoyed his visit. He had been in Baltimore for some years teaching shoe repairing at some school. He had received training in shoe repair work while at the orphanage.
"Don't like it." "Can't drink the stuff." All were supposed to drink some, at least at break fast. The old saying, "You can lead a horse to water but you can't make him drink," came to mind. We must use diplomacy. "Don't you think you could drink a very little at a time?" "Suppose you try." "I wonder if you would promise me to drink just a half cup for a few days." "Yes," they would try. Soon we would see cupfuls at their places. No more trouble from that family on the milk question.
Some new arrivals turned down all the food. "We are not hungry," they said. Remembering to be diplomatic, we said, ""You don't like cereals or milk or meat, what did you eat at home?"
"We had chicken," was the answer.
"Chicken! Why that is expensive food. If you lived like that, why were you sent here?" Not until the next summer while riding over the mountains and seeing the tiny cabins nestled among the trees did I realize that having no land for crops, only space enough for fowl to roam, with no expense to keep, how the children must miss their wild free life, their tiny two by four cabins and the "chicken."
As soon as the four cottages on the left were completed the girls were transferred from those tiny narrow rooms on second and third floors of main building to these new cottages. Imagine the relief afforded! Now the girls had room and plenty of fresh air.
In the early days school classes were held in a few rooms on the first and second floors of the main building, then the rooms vacated by the girls on third floor were made larger by taking out partitions, making long narrow rooms to be used by the school. Desks had to be placed too near together for comfort or convenience and even so one grade was placed in Masonic Hall, or at first girls' cottage.
With the exception of a very few girls ready for advanced work, the rest of the children were ungraded. A few were being excused from school work, obviously the backward ones. Some workers thought they could not learn anything from a book and made no provision for teaching them by any but the usual or accepted method.
Only one school register could be found to furnish information and only one term for one class was recorded there.
Examining and grading the pupils was begun at once-very imperfectly at first with no notes to help and opposition from some of the workers. We insisted that each child old enough must attend school part of each day. So much work to be done in the different departments made the task harder: the cooks, dining room girls, those who worked in laundry sewing rooms and shops must be on duty part of each day as well as in school.
Programs were made out with frequent revisions as needed. Records were kept of all grades. "So unnecessary" many workers remarked.
In these first year's several of the workers resigned for different reasons -- dissatisfied with changed conditions as is usual at times of changes in management. Conscious of her own superiority each had been a law unto herself. Those who remained were for the most part amenable and submitted readily to all requests; among them are some whom I call my dear friends today.
There were some unpleasant incidents during the early years. The following one I am telling for the first time except to my family some years later. A crowd of girls were out walking one day when a man stopped them and asked how they liked "that Massachusetts woman up there." A girl answered, "Why she's the best friend we have." The man himself told me of this incident.
The school rooms were very poor as to lighting and heating. We had small old style coal stoves that held only a shovelful of coal more or less. The stoves had to be watched or some one would fill above the brim and the door would open to spill the live coals. The girls at the office made the rounds of the rooms each night to see that fires were safe to leave. They would report to me any they thought unsafe to leave. Then we would have to take extra shovels and tongs to remove the overflowing coals to the yard, pouring water upon them and leaving until morning. I always made the rounds myself either before or after the girls (they never knew when I went) to be doubly sure teaching them to be careful. We rejoiced each year when warm weather came and no fires were needed.
We had new hats, dresses and heavy wraps made for the girls. Such a good time we had selecting materials and having them made up in our sewing rooms. The shoe shop made all the shoes worn; brogues, the children called them, and they surely were brogues of the most crude type to me after being accustomed to the shoes made in the New England factories. I came to understand later that they were the best fitted for wear in the red clay and mud that was everywhere tracked into cottages and buildings: Imagine what it was like on rainy days l Nothing but sticky, slippery red clay on the down grade paths all over the campus.
Cleanliness was insisted upon but how could floors be kept clean with thirty-five to forty boys and girls tracking in from outside many times a day. It was some years before Colonel Hicks succeeded in getting grass to grow under the oaks, and many years later still when in 1918 and 1919 amid great rejoicing cement walks were laid around the grounds and in front of the cottages.
One very severe winter with drifting snows quite unusual it was said - found us with a low supply of coal but a carload on the way unable to reach the town. Our Superintendent was quite disturbed and drastic measures were put into force. All fires possible were curtailed, every scuttle of coal and stick of wood was watched carefully, the children remained at cottages to save school room fires. Imagine thirty to thirty-five children in a cottage all day to be taught or entertained and often but one fire in the house. The rising bell rang an hour or two late and we had only two meals a day. Some of the directors suggested that several trees on the campus were ready to come down if necessary, and one wrote that the old boys' building down across the field, not then in use as the occupants had been transferred to their new cottages some time before, could be torn down and used for fire wood.
Fortunately the car of coal came in time to save the building which was taken apart later and used on a building nearer the cottages. However, Colonel Hicks said in his jovial way, "I believe the Old Boy is still around there as I see his tracks occasionally." He was a wonderful superintendent, one to give advice and counsel when obstacles were encountered and complications arose at every turn. He would often say, "I'd know what to do if at the penitentiary but we will have to work this thing out."
No one could resist his quiet friendly talks. If antagonistic at first, the attitude of most children changed after hearing one of these talks and their conduct improved. But children were constantly being received, sent by the Masonic Lodge of their home town.
Environment was preached by some educators as the all-important consideration in child training but after years of strain and worry during which I often said, "Surely Job was never at an orphanage," we knew that heredity figured largely in the lives of some children at least.
Only the needy ones were received, often from homes where no training had been given and bad habits were already formed. Some had depressing memories of home life that would handicap them for years. Others who had never been to school and didn't want to learn came with preconceived ideas of what they would find here. "Don't you mind those people." "You do as you like." "Let us know if you want to come back." These instructions had been given the children before coming we discovered in order to gain their consent to leave home quietly.
One case I remember so well: a tiny boy and girl came with their mother late at night. They had never been separated before, the boy was placed in one cottage, the girl in another baby cottage then the mother went to a hotel. She came early the next morning to see the children and the little boy said, "Mother that teacher kissed me last night." He felt, she said, as if he were with a friend. That boy finished our school in time, went through college and is now a successful business man with a home and family of his own. I wonder if he has kept that lovely spirit through all the years. I am sure he has and maybe will recognize this sketch. The teacher has passed to the "Great Beyond" but her memory is still fresh in our minds and will surely be a benediction to the many boys and girls whose lives she touched.
In the early years Colonel Hicks made many trips to Durham. He was met at night by a boy with the carriage to bring him home. The grounds were dark, pitch dark, no lights, and it was difficult to see the driveway. One night Colonel Hicks felt the horse and carriage going up on higher ground, thinking they must have gone out into the field by mistake, he stopped and found that the horse was trying to go over an immense mound in the center of the driveway, which had been placed there years before we went to Oxford, as an ornament, I suppose. A clear straight drive would have been much more serviceable, as carriages always had to drive to right or left of mound going and coming. Needless to say that mound was leveled the next day never to be seen again.
Near midnight on the last day of the year 1899 a few friends gathered with the family on the lawn at the superintendent's cottage to await the change from the nineteenth to the twentieth century. The night was cool, no breeze stirring, no sounds to be heard, just a quiet conversation as we waited for the midnight hour.
Would there be any unusual manifestations in the sky to usher in the event? A feeling of awe crept over me at the thought that we were about to witness a scene which no one of us living would be able to view again. Surely we were at the beginning of a new era. Suddenly out of the stillness a clock chimed the midnight hour and all the bells in town began to ring joyously as if to welcome the new century. Congratulations and good wishes followed as we listened to the bells. No more would we live in the nineteenth century. Henceforth we would write 1900 and live in the twentieth century.
At times the mud became unbearable and we would ask for sand to be spread over the walks and drives around the main building. The farmer often complained that as fast as he added sand the ladies would have the children sweep it off in cleaning the yards. Not deigning reply, we waited silently and patiently. One day a good supply was thrown on the grounds. A high wind came up and the next morning not a grain of sand could be seen. No more complaints. Why waste breath when we knew time would vindicate us. In winter melting snows caused small rivers to. run down paths by cottages. No shoes could withstand ice water. Thirty-six children in a cottage, with soaking wet feet must be dry and warm before retiring. Grate fires going in both study rooms and even later in furnaces, when they were installed, were hardly sufficient to meet demands.
Never let any child go to bed until thoroughly dry and warm was the rule; omit study hour if necessary. Heavy shoes were often placed too near the fire. Then we heard from Mr. Hill at the shoe shop; "John and Susan have burned their shoes." "Well, we did our best and what did it matter if two shoes were to be repaired?" But Mr. Hill didn't have charge of a cottage of thirty-six children drying shoes. He was for saving the institution money. Economy again!
The sewing rooms which we found located over the old laundry later were moved to Masonic Hall to be nearer main building. One day I saw some girls weeping. Mrs. Meadows, the matron, said, "I had them rip out some poor work and do it over, now they are crying about it." "I told them my grandmother always used to make me take out poor work and do it over," she added.
"Well," I said, "girls, my mother told me one day she had taken out her work so many times that she did not mind it at all."
On leaving the room, I said, "Mrs. Meadows between your grandmother and my mother the girls should learn to sew." They did. Some learned to cut and fit clothing.
As soon as the deep well was drilled, Colonel Hicks had a building erected near and both laundry and sewing rooms were moved to new quarters.
The mending and repairing of clothing each week took time. Clean clothes sent up from the laundry had to be looked over, repaired and returned to cottages, to dining rooms and hospital.
A visitor said, "Why cannot girls do their own mending at the cottages?" "Children have to be taught to mend," I said. In those early days, the one in charge of a cottage had to attend to the housework, also the bathing and training of thirty-six to forty boys or girls, besides teaching a half day in school and often being called up at night for a sick child. "Tell me, what time had she to see to mending?"
One thing the girls did have to do, however, was to mend their own stockings. But the boys! That was a different matter. One hundred and fifty pairs of hose to be darned each week! As I look back it is unbelievable how we ever did it, but it was done for years in the boys' sewing room besides making the clothing which the boys wore. Imagine the relief when the hose darning and patching machines were installed many years later. It was truly a subject for prayer and great rejoicing.
A glance into the girls' sewing room showed them cutting, fitting and planning dresses from materials donated - this was before the days of "Ready-to-wear." By this time former girls living in their own homes wrote that the training received was of much value to them as they could now make their own dresses.
Christmas was a time of great rejoicing, but to select a gift to satisfy two hundred and seventy-five or three hundred children was not easy to do. Finally Colonel Hicks simplified matters considerably by deciding 'that each child should make three choices of things he or she would like to have, any one of which would be acceptable. They must understand that with all the children to have a gift, none of them could be expensive. No price limit was set. It was left to the children to choose wisely. If too costly a gift was chosen, another choice was allowed.
Lists were to be sent to the office by December first. Boys studied catalogues of books, consulting together so that no two would ask for the same thing, then during January there was quite a circulating library from cottage to cottage as in those days we had a very small library. Another frequent choice by both boys and girls was a picture of Colonel Hicks. So many of these requests for photos came every year that arrangements were made with a photographer to furnish all asked for at a price which could be paid. He was beloved by all the children old and young, including the faculty. Requests for pictures came for years.
Bringing home the Christmas trees was a gala event. The farmer had located a tree weeks before much as one would locate a bee-tree and a day or two before Christmas would bring in the tall beautiful tree; one at first, in later years always three, to stand on the rostrum. Boys would bring running cedar and holly to decorate the chapel and mistletoe for the cottages.
One never to be forgotten year three large holly trees loaded with berries were selected; those trees against the rose-colored chapel walls formed a picture that will always be a glorious memory. They were too beautiful to be romoved after Christmas so we let them remain several weeks for the children to enjoy.
Colonel Hicks' family came in to help decorate the trees, hang the gifts and divide the candies. The older children soon learned to give efficient help and enjoyed the Christmas season.
Some children had never seen a Christmas tree and as the little ones came into the chapel and saw the laden trees adorned with popcorn, tinsel and stars their eyes were big as saucers.
As each child's name was called he went forward to claim his gift. Then a pound box of candy, an apple and orange were distributed to each and all marched out smiling laden with toys, drums, whistles and games. Years after when the former boys and girls returned they said, "We just had to come back to see those trees."
Parties were given in the big lodge hall over the dining rooms during the holidays. Games were played, refreshments served and a jolly time experienced. One game was always called for and no party was complete without it. The only name given was "Bounce Around" and surely no better name could have been found, it fitted. The children would cross arms, clasp hands and hop, skip or "bounce" around the
room in a big circle. I never saw one too tired to engage in the play. One hundred and fifty children "bouncing" around was a sight to be remembered. Where the game originated, we never knew. It belonged to the orphanage, and since no one had ever played it before coming, we considered it must be indigenous to the soil. Finally it bounced itself out and the children were willing to learn other games.
Usually paper sacks were filled beforehand containing a sandwich, an apple, cakes and candy which were passed to the crowd seated around the big hall. As the number of children increased there were two parties; the young ones came in the afternoon and the older ones at night.
"May I go at night?"
"No, you will come in the afternoon."
"I am as large as Mary and she is going at night."
Finally matters were adjusted to the satisfaction of all.
"Wait till you see the 24th of June celebration," the children said, "You'll see some thing then;" as if I hadn't been seeing things all along. The day came and with it such crowds of people. As we went to breakfast I saw covered wagons, real old fashioned boat shaped covered wagons come winding slowly over the hill on the North road loaded with people from the surrounding country coming to picnic at the orphanage. Soon the grounds from entrance to main building were full of vehicles of all kinds; old farm wagons with planks placed crosswise for seats, surreys, buggies and wagons drawn by one and two horses, even mules and maybe some oxen. All brought lunches which were eaten anywhere they chose; in the chapel, private rooms, or in the grove which wasn't a campus then but carpeted with red clay everywhere. It was like a migration. They felt privileged to go anywhere--a cheerful, merry crowd bent on having a good time seeing the orphans, asking questions and visiting with each other. Even the towns people, many of them, kept open house for the day. In the late afternoon horses were untied, harnessed to the numerous vehicles and the crowds slowly wound their way homeward with pleasant memories of the day, but leaving behind them remains of lunches, paper sacks and banana peels.
The children who had been mingling with the crowd all day with no supervision began to pick up stray articles and coins scattered about.
Thus ended my first 24th celebration and it was some days before things assumed their normal appearance. As the years went on the 24th of June crowds grew more orderly, plans were made beforehand which helped to improve conditions.
The Grand Lodge held their semi-annual meeting in Masonic Hall every 24th of June. Colonel Hicks was always very particular about the arrangement of the room: the placing of small platforms, columns, tables, emblems and chairs which we ladies were not supposed to view before the meeting. I think his idea was to impress upon us the dignity and impressiveness of the Masonic order and its members, for which we already had the greatest respect.
I never heard of any objections being made to the thorough cleaning of the hall either before or after the ceremonies.
All the children were expected to stand in a long line at the foot of steps as the Masons came down from their meeting to the exercises on the lawn. The girls dressed in white, the boys in dark trousers and percale waists marched in double file separating to right and left of the walk leaving space for the Masons to walk through on their way to the stands erected back of the boys' cottages under the big oaks; one stand for the Masons and one for the children. I often noticed Masons placing a hand lovingly on the head of the little ones as they passed along the aisle. The girls followed the Masons in marching order down to the stands, being careful to make square turns.
All this marching from cottages to steps required much practice, so for several nights after supper we all assembled to go 'through the program. Some one must represent the Grand Lodge marching down between the lines, but some of the men were always on hand to officiate in that capacity. We ladies were often amused as none of us were ever selected, (we would have considered it a great honor). No indeed! There must be full-fledged Masons for that part of the rehearsal.
The program began with a hymn, "America," by the children. Then came at intervals other hymns "The Old North State" and "Dixie." Introduction of the speaker and address by the orator of the day. At close of exercises the children marched off their platform going directly to the dining room. The Grand Lodge officers were served in a smaller dining room. The crowds of the 24th celebrations were often estimated to be from ten to fifteen thousand.
One day a visitor on the grounds chanced upon a boy walking on his hands, feet straight up in the air,
"Boy, come here, here's a penny for that." Another boy was soon seen doing the same stunt.
"Here, boy, here's a penny for you, too."
Continuing his walk whichever way he turned boys were walking upside down as if it were the easiest and natural thing to do. Soon the visitor made a trip to the office as his supply of coins became exhausted; several bills were changed for him to the amusement of the treasurer. Upon his departure many boys
were a penny richer and the visitor had learned the resourcefulness of the small boy. Colonel Hicks had a fund of stories and reminiscences which he told to friends of the faculty at different times.
An old friend of his walked into his office one day and said, "well Colonel I see a number of your boys are leaving." Some boys had given trouble by running away so the Colonel was all attention. "Yes," continued the visitor, "they already have a number of bags raked up."
He told us also that when Sherman's army came through Raleigh, he went to the Commander and asked for a guard to protect his home and family. A soldier was sent and nothing was disturbed all the time the army remained in the city.
Talking one day in his office about mistakes I felt sure of making, he said, "Yes, Miss Bemis, we all make mistakes," then added smilingly; "If you ever see a man with a patch of hair growing in the palm of his hand you will know he never makes mistakes."
Colonel "Hicks' secretary was talking over the reply to a letter one day and said he believed he would write thus-and-so. "Yes," said Colonel Hicks, "that's it, that's it. Make it full and complete and strictly non-committal."
When Mr. Bose, this old friend of the Colonel was in New York one Sunday he attended services at three different churches. At all the services it so happened that the scripture lesson was, "Peter's wife's mother lay sick of a fever." Crossing the ferry the next morning, the passengers wondered why the church bells began to ring. Mr. Bose quick as a flash remarked, "I think Peter's wife mother must be dead, I heard three times yesterday she was sick."
At another time while walking down Fifth Avenue past a then fashionable residence, he saw the owner sitting on a lower step mopping his brow with one hand and holding his beaver hat with the other. Quickly he dropped a few coins in the hat. The owner. was indignant and called after him to come back. "Oh, no, no," said Mr. Bose, "that's all right, that's all right," and hurried along. Imagine the chagrin of the dignified gentleman; but perhaps he saw the joke and later enjoyed it.
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