March 25, 2011

Part 2, my father's story

Before writing part 2 of this story, I called my father to get more details about his time in the orphanage. What I thought was going to be an informational and interesting conversation turned out to be so much more...more than I had anticipated. My Dad opened up about his father. You have to understand, this is a big deal being as I am 40 years old and this is the first time in my life that my Dad has spoken a word about his father! It is true that my Dad's father never had him or raised him a day in his life. However, I about fell on the floor when my Dad told me he saw his father once or twice a year until he was 6 years old. When he was 6, his father moved out of state and that was the last time he ever seen or heard from him. I had no idea! I grew up thinking my Dad never met his father. The visits he had with him were not heart warming or special. My Dad did share some details that just broke my heart! I asked if he remembered what his father looked like and he said "no, nothing". I just wanted to clear up, and amend what I wrote about his father leaving at the time of his birth.

And so...picking up where I left father was shipped off to Hershey Orphanage for boys. He said he really cannot remember the details of how he got there but, he thinks his uncle may have drove him. An interesting Dad was 13, about to turn 14 in one or two weeks...once a child turned 14, they could not get into the dad got in just under the wire. Once a child got into the home, they could stay there until they graduated high school. At that time, they were given a brand new suit and $100 dollars.

The orphanage at Hershey was started by Milton S. Hershey in 1909. We are all familiar with Hershey chocolate, and this is the Hershey I am talking about. Milton Hershey and his wife Catherine were not able to have children of their own, so they started a school and orphanage for boys.

Here is a picture of the original homestead that housed the first orphans. Later there was a whole building and school for the orphans. My father did not come to this school until 1949. I have searched the internet for old photos of the orphanage or school and cannot find any photos from back then. The school is still there today and helps underprivileged boys and girls get a good education. It is no longer an orphanage.

The orphanage was on a dairy farm and daily life included chores. The children woke early every day at 5 am and worked the farm before school.

They milked the cows and cleaned out the barn before they even had breakfast. After breakfast they would clean up, change clothes and go to school. As soon as they came home from school, they returned to the barn to milk the cows again. At last after milking and other chores they went in to eat dinner. After dinner they had one hour to do their homework, and then would have an hour of free time to themselves to do what they wanted. Bedtime followed free time and then it would start all over again in the morning. It was a very structured life. Everything was scheduled by time.

On Sundays, the orphans children rode a school bus into town and were permitted to wander around for one hour. They each received an allowance of 40 cents per week, and were able to spend their money as the wanted. My father told me, "you know, you could get an ice cream cone or whatever." I can only imagine how much that time meant to them. Can you imagine, 40 cents and 1 hour of free time? It's definitely a strict life and I wish that kids today would have such an experience.

When I think about the over abundance children today receive compared to what children received back is no wonder this generation feels entitled to everything! It's really astounding when you really think about it! Older generations are more thrifty and conservative...they save everything and make the most of everything they have. It's the more recent generations that have dumped every possession they have into the landfills because they were just bored with it, or it wasn't the right color, or they just deserved a new one. As I write this, I am incredibly humbled and ashamed. Even now, I am learning from my Dad.

My Dad did not like living at the orphanage at all. He said he felt very lonely. It was hard work, but it was honest work, and they were compensated for their labor with a roof over their head, food, an allowance and an education. He never said he was mistreated there, just that he did not like it...and I can undertand! My father was there for about three or four months before his Grandmother sent him money for a train ticket back to Pittsburgh. He took his money and ran away! He did not tell anyone he was leaving! He stole away to the train station, and for $5.24 he bought a one way ticket to Pittsburgh. re-creation--not actual ticket

From the train station in Pittsburgh, he proceeded to take a street car (trolley) the rest of the way home. The street car cost 10 cents to ride, and you paid when you got off. All my father had left in his pocket was a penny! But here's the best was an old silver penny! He was hoping to pass off the silver penny as a dime because that's all he had! When the street car stopped, he put the silver penny in the machine and ran like the wind! He doesn't know if it worked, and he didn't stick around to find out. He just laughs when he tells this story, and I love it!

Anyhow, the orphanage did call the next day to say that he was gone. His Grandmother informed them he would not be coming back. My father told me they didn't have a phone until he was 17 years old, so I am assuming the call must have been made to his uncle's home.

At this time, my father went back to school and life continued on as usual. Living on welfare, my Dad's grandmother received only $30 dollars a month to live on. In my Dad words, "We had zero...nothing". He remembers going to the welfare office for his clothes. He would go up to the counter and they would hand him 2 pair of pants, 2 shirts and underwear. He describes the pants as something like "Dickies" work pants. I asked if he got shoes from them as well...he doesn't remember...but he assumed he did, because there wouldn't have been any other way for him to get shoes. His memories of the clothes are not good memories. He really despised those clothes! As he told me the other night, the clothes were "plain jane garbage". He said they were made of very cheap fabric and very poorly made. The pants and shirts were navy blue. He said he kinda feels like his clothes caused some of the problems he had in school with the other kids. He was very self conscious about his clothes while the other kids had "nice stuff like blue jeans". He said his clothes stuck out like a sore thumb! Now let me tell you, for my Dad to open up about feelings like this is astounding in itself. I am so glad that he shared being self conscious about his welfare clothes. It just makes me love him all the more. And to think when I was a teenager, I complained about not having expensive designer jeans such as Gloria Vanderbilt and Jordache! I had no idea of what it meant to have nothing!

As I write this, I'm getting choked up a little and tears are forming in my eyes. We grow up thinking our parents are this tough brick wall and cannot be crumbled...strong and sturdy...and they are...but we don't really think about who they were and what they felt like as a child...that they had hurts and wants as well.

end of part 2...stay tuned for part 3 of My father's story


  1. Gosh, it really is so interesting and humbling! Did the milk from the cows go in the chocolate?

    Can't wait for part 3! x

  2. Bonnie. .this is an awesome tribute to your dad. .and will mean so much to your family!! I'm glad you are getting this opportunity to enjoy your dad!! It's a great story too!! I have a 14 1/2 year old and a 13 year old. .and I can not even imagine how weird it would be (for them and me) to put them someplace else to raise them. .even if was only for the sake of being able to keep us alive. What a heart wrenching decision that must have been for your grandma too!! Keep it up!

  3. This is such a special story, I'm so glad you're sharing it! I live near the Hershey farms/factory, so it's a little extra interesting to me! (Mother of Purl, yes, the milk from the cows goes to the chocolate!)

  4. I love reading about your dad. I read it to my husband and he said it was a very sad story. We hope it gets better for him. I'm waiting for part 3!

  5. Bonnie, Oh my goodness! What wonderful memories. I mean, having him tell you such detail. You are so lucky to have your father still with you. I'm so glad you had the forethought to talk to him and get all of this information. This is really great information to pass down. I remember talking to my dad and him tell about how hard times were. We really have no idea how to wive without.

  6. I absolutely salute you for your attention to the details. Our family histories are so important (yep, I know you get that!) and what you have written is a wonderful tribute to your Dad.

  7. Milton Hershey school is less than an hour from here...I know several people who worked there, but never knew anyone who lived interesting to hear how they lived...I feel for your Dad, being so lonely, etc.

    You are right...our generation thinks it deserves everything..right now!

  8. Oh Bonnie, this is turning out to be quite a journey for both you and your Dad. I'm so glad you are writing all this and sharing it with us. You're so lucky to be able to have this conversation with him. My dad passed away when I was in my early 20s. But I'm living vicariously through you. So looking forward to Part 3. Loving this.

  9. Bonnie, this is such a great story! My grandmother was also an orphan, her mother died from the german measles when she was about 5 years old and her father couldn't take care of her. He put her in an orphanage. I will have to ask my mom if she knows anything else about her mothers life growing up in the orphanage. I do have alot of great memories with my grandmother and I'm sure the reasons she did things the way she did had something to do with the orphanage. Thank you again for sharing your story :)