(Editor’s note: Patsy M. Stuckey, 94, of Alliance, Ohio, wrote this letter in response to Hugh Earnhart’s Feb. 20, 2020, column, Orphan trains carried at-risk youth west)
By Patsy M. Stuckey
Do you remember hearing or reading about the orphan trains? This event took place in the late ’20s. The New York streets were home to many abandoned and orphaned children. They were gathered up and placed on trains that traveled to our western states.
People who were seeking a child to adopt met the trains at many stops along the way. They were mostly farmers and ranchers. Some children were lucky and were placed with loving families, while others were not so fortunate because they were forced into a life of hardship and had to work in a harsh environment.
I was an orphan, too, during that era, but my life has a totally different twist. I had lost both of my parents before age 5. My mother passed away, and her written will instructed that I was placed in the care of my maternal grandmother.
I lived in her home, but I was fortunate to have many loving aunts and uncles who often took me into their homes for a period of time. It was “love” that brought me to them because they really wanted me in their lives. In the caring homes of my relatives, they made an effort to give me much encouragement, guidance and discipline. This helped me make the right decisions throughout my life.
In reality, after the deaths of my parents, I learned I had to fight for every advantage in my life and to never give up. My schooling was a challenge. I’m sure you’ve heard old timers tell how they had to walk 3 miles to school each day. Well, that part was true for me, and it was over the craggy-wooded-hills of West Virginia.
The one-room school that I attended sat at the top of a steep hill surrounded by a dense forest. This might sound like a hardship for a young child, but I learned to enjoy each passing season. In the winter I braved deep snows. Aided by a stout tree branch, I could slide down those hills as though I had skis on, which I did not.
In the spring and summer, I gorged on wild berries, and in the fall my family never knew when to expect me home after school. I carried a little cloth bag of salt and had found this special smooth stone on which I could crack the bounty of hickory nuts, black walnuts and butternuts I found. Today they still remain a special treat.
History was a favorite subject of mine, and yes, just like we read in our history books that the 16th President Abraham Lincoln studied by the light given off by a blazing fireplace, so did I. It was either that or trimming the wicks and cleaning the blackened globe of an oil lamp for light to do my studies.
During childhood days, my kinfolk made an effort to keep the memories of my parents alive. I was often reminded how my mother had been an excellent seamstress, and that my father, besides being a farmer, also served in the West Virginia National Guard and was a gifted speaker; he had aspirations to be a Methodist minister.
I married shortly after graduating high school. During those early years of our marriage, money was sparse, an inheritance I had received from my deceased paternal grandmother, helped me purchase a Singer sewing machine. I spent many years creating garments for my family.
During the time I sat at this machine, my talent for sewing blossomed. I made everything from layettes to school clothes, coats and hats; then during our daughters’ teenage years, it was prom dresses and eventually wedding dresses. Sometimes I felt as though I could feel that presence of my mother peering over my shoulder as I sat working at the sewing machine.
Yes, even though losing my parents was a life-changing event, I’ve had a good productive life. I have met challenges beyond any of my expectations. As an orphan, I feel one never loses the sadness that is created with the loss of one’s parents, but life has its continuity, and we must always keep fighting and never give up.
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