Thursday, July 5, 2012
The Family Name
The Family Name
“Gather around children. You have a decision to make,” Harvey Wilson called out to the youngsters he and Margaret were in the process of adopting.
“Mr. Crowley just called. The adoption will be official tomorrow morning. We will be going to Greensboro first thing to meet in the judges chambers. Does anyone have any second thoughts?”
“No!” they shouted in unison.
“That's good because Grandma and I can't wait for the adoption to go through.”
Margaret spoke up, “Our hearts adopted you a long time ago. We are family already. Aren't we, children?”
“Yes!” they shouted again.
“I told you there was a decision to make. I would like very much for you to carry the Wilson name. It is a fine name, even though I did my best to besmirch it for many years. Your names are Warren. Your father's name was Warren and he wore it proudly through his short life. I will understand if you would prefer to keep that name. The judge has the authority to change your names legally. Mr. Crowley said it would be best if we decided before we appear before him just what you would like to be called in the future. You may keep the name Warren or you may change your name to Wilson.”
“I want my name to be Ralphie Wilson.”
“Alright Ralphie, then I want to be Lulu Wilson.”
“Children, I'm not asking you to decide right this minute. I want you to think about it and talk about it with your brothers and sisters. Bobby, you have had the Warren name the longest. I'm sure it would be strange to give it up now,” Harvey said.
“The younger children may wish to be known as Wilson while the older children remain Warren. You could also keep your name for the present time and change it later if you wish,” Margaret added.
“We will leave you alone for a while and let you discuss it without us listening in.”
Harvey and Margaret left the children alone.
“Golly, I never thought about changing our name,” said Bobby. “I don't know if I could get used to Bobby Wilson. It sounds strange.”
“What about Willa Wilson? That is even stranger.”
“I like it Willa. It's lyrical.” said Callie.
“Would Papa be mad if we weren't Warrens anymore?” Stevie worried.
Teddy said, “I think Papa is happy we are being taken care of and that we are all together. I don't think he'd care what we called ourselves. I want to be a real family like we were before Mama and Papa died. I want to change my name. The rest of you don't have to.”
“I want be whatever Bobby wants to be,” said Callie
“Let's take a vote.” Bobby said. “We will write our choice on a piece of paper. That way we won't be influenced by what the others think.”
Willa went to get some paper and pencils. She walked by Harvey and Margaret who were trying to act inconspicuous in the sitting room.
“We are taking a vote,” said Willa. She was so serious the Wilsons had to stifle their laughter.
She walked through the sitting room again carrying a chalkboard, seven pencils and seven pieces of paper.
“I hate to say this Margaret, but I'm hoping they will chose our name. I know it's foolish of me but I would like to be able to pass the name on to future generations.”
Back in the parlor, Willa handed out the pencils and paper while Teddy set up the chalkboard and carefully printed the name Warren on one side and Wilson on the other. Everyone voted. There were six votes for Wilson and one vote for Warren.
“Does that mean one of us will still be called Warren?” said Willa looking directly at Bobby.
“No it doesn't. We are all in this together. We will all keep the name Warren until we all agree to change our name,” said Bobby.
Callie began to cry. “I voted for Warren because I thought that Bobby would. I love our new Grandma and Grandpa Wilson and I wanted to be Callie Wilson but now we have to wait because of me.”
“Don't cry Callie. We don't have to wait at all. Please get more paper Willa, we need to take another vote.”
Willa walked out of the room. She glanced into the sitting room. “We are taking another vote.”
“I guess they aren't in agreement after all,” Harvey said with a worried look on his face.
Willa walked back through. “Don't worry, it's just a formality.”
This time Harvey and Margaret couldn't contain their laughter.
Another 10 minutes went by. Lulu came to the door. “Grandma and Grandpa, we have reached our decision.”
They walked into the parlor and written on the chalkboard was We Love You, signed: The Wilson Children.
There were hugs all around.
“I am proud you will be carrying my name children. You haven't been to my old house in Greensboro. Your grandma and I have been talking about turning it into a safe place for children to go when they have lost their families.”
“An orphanage?” Bobby winced at the thought.
“No Bobby, not an orphanage. It will be a home for children who are on their own. Remember how you were willing to live in a tent just to stay together? Families will not be separated. There are two wings. Boys will be in one wing and girls in the other. That will be for sleeping. All other times the boys and girls will be together. They will go to school and the older children will be allowed to work in Greensboro if they wish. We haven't worked out all the details but Reggie Blackburn has asked a good friend of his, Ernie Black, to help renovate the house. After the court proceedings tomorrow, we thought you might like to see the house and maybe tell us what you think it will need. There is one more thing. Your grandma and I would like to name it Warren's Hillside Villa in honor of your parents.”
“Oh Grandpa, they would be so proud. Mama was always so kind to the children who lived on the streets. She always made a little extra supper and dessert so she could share our meal with them. The children would stand by our front door waiting for her to give them a small bowl of food.”
Margaret's eyes filled with tears for this kind woman whose children ended up homeless just the same as the youngsters she tried to help.
“Tomorrow will be a very important day. Maybe we should all think about getting ready for bed.”
Harvey's heart was as full as the new family home. He was so grateful he had a second chance at happiness.
The next morning the Wilson family boarded the train for Greensboro. The judge spoke to each one of the children individually. He had a soft spot for children and was delighted to approve the adoption.
The Wilsons celebrated with lunch in the Greensboro Hotel. It was the first restaurant meal some of the children had ever had. From there they went to Harvey's mansion. Even Margaret was in awe. The grounds were beautifully landscaped. The birds were feasting on the few apples that were left on the trees. Bobby was interested in the orchards and asked if he could look at the trees before they left.
“I arranged for us to stay overnight at the hotel but if you would prefer, we may certainly stay here. It will give Mrs. Hildebrand something to do since I haven't lived here in several months.”
The children all walked into the house with their mouths wide open. “Go ahead boys and girls. Run through the house if you'd like. This old place can surely use some activity, it's like a tomb in here.”
Mrs. Hildebrand appeared in the doorway. “Mr. Wilson. You weren't expected today,” she said sternly.
“I should have called you Mrs. Hildebrand, I apologize. We are here now. I would like you to meet my wife, Mrs. Margaret Wilson. We have just adopted the youngsters who are now running through the hallways.”
“Mr. Wilson. I was assured when I accepted this position five years ago that you would be the only inhabitant of this house. I find it quite unsettling that you have brought all these strangers with you. You certainly can't expect me to care for all those children.”
“I don't expect you to care for any of those children, Mrs. Hildebrand. However, after renovations, this house will be open to as many youngsters as space will allow. You see, we are about to become a home for orphaned and abandoned children. You may stay on as head housekeeper or we may part ways today. I would suggest you greet my wife with the respect she deserves or pack your bags and be on your way.”
She glared at Margaret, turned on her heel and walked to her room. She returned in just a few minutes wearing her coat and hat, her arms folded in front of her.
“I will take my salary and severance pay now, Mr. Wilson.”
Harvey was already writing out the check. “Thank you for your service Mrs. Hildebrand. I trust you will keep in touch.” He chuckled.
Without another word, Mrs. Hildebrand was out the door.
“That was easy,” said Harvey. “I was wondering how I was going to get rid of that old sourpuss. The only problem is now we can't stay here since the beds aren't made up.”
“Harvey Wilson, the children and I are quite capable of making our own beds. We will look through the kitchen and I'm sure we will be able to find something for our supper. Don't forget. We are a family now and families can weather any storms. Even a thundercloud like Mrs. Hildebrand.”
Ernie Black arrived at the house early the following morning. He was living in New York City with his new bride, Beverly Mills Black. He didn't mind the commute to Greensboro and was pleased his old friend Reggie had recommended him for the job. He thought it would be just another renovation of an old rich family's home and was very happy to hear what the house was going to be used for. He had a number of suggestions. The children shared some of their own ideas and both Margaret and Harvey approved. Ernie said he would draw up plans and present them tomorrow.
The summer had ended and the children were in school. The Wilson children started in their new school. Surprisingly enough, they weren't far behind the other children their ages despite not attending classes for the last several months.
Evelyn Keys was very supportive of the children. Before being named principal of Camden Corners Grammar School, she taught in orphanages in New York City and Maryland. She was very happy to hear the Wilsons were establishing a home for unwanted children.
“Mrs. Keys, would you have any interest in overseeing the Warren Hillside Villa? I know how well respected you are in the community here in Camden Corners but with your background, I wonder if you would consider it?”
“Mr. Wilson, I am honored you think so highly of me. I am a widow with no family ties here. As much as I have enjoyed living in Camden Corners and my position with the school, I am very interested in such a challenge.”
The school children and their parents were sorry to see Mrs. Keys leave Camden Corners but knew she would be a perfect fit for the villa. An interim principal was named and Mrs. Keys was on her way to Greensboro and her new home.
It was a busy month for her. She hired an assistant to help her and between the two of them they interviewed and hired people to fill every position. Harvey was a very generous employer making it an easy task to attract good people for the jobs. He wanted to be sure every child was given as much attention as they needed. Two months later the facility was open for business.
A reception and open house was held. The Warren Hillside Villa was impressive. The bedrooms were large with four beds, dressers and wardrobes in each. The girls rooms were decorated with frilly window coverings and fancy bedding. The boy's rooms were very masculine. There was a nursery with cribs for the littlest children. There was a large open room with sofas and chairs, a game room filled with puzzles, games and a ping pong table. A library stocked with books for every age, a large dining room faced the apple orchard. The kitchen was massive with several ovens. Outside was a horse stable with horses, a baseball field and a playground. There was ample room for the children to plant a garden and flower beds all around. Tire swings and playhouses were built in the trees. A large pond for ice skating in the winter and swimming in the summer was equipped with rowboats.
Word of the facility spread quickly. By the end of two weeks, every bed was filled including the four cribs. There were children of all ages. No questions were asked when the children were dropped off. One family of six with twin babies came through the doors. Evelyn Keys noticed a woman hiding behind a tree watching them. Evelyn's heart went out to the woman and hoped she would return for her children when she was able to provide for them herself. Most of the stories were similar. The mothers were left alone to fend for themselves and their children after the father died or abandoned the family. Many were around the age of twelve. It seemed that was the age they were sent from home because there was only enough food to feed the younger children. It wasn't Evelyn's job to judge any of the parents even though she would have given up her life before she abandoned her children. Her husband worked for the railroad and was killed when he was accidentally thrown from the train. They had only been married a few months and had no children.
It took some adjusting for all the children. Most had never had their own bed to sleep in. Upon checking on the children before she went to bed herself, she would find sisters sharing a bed while the other bed lay empty. All of the children had a difficult time trusting the staff at first but most were beginning to come around. The older children went to school during the day. College students from the university were hired to tutor those having trouble with their studies.
The most difficult thing for Evelyn was turning away the children because there was no room for them. If it had been up to her she would have put up cots for them but the state had limited them to a certain number of residents.
During a visit by Margaret and Harvey, Evelyn said it was too bad there weren't more people like them who were willing to adopt some of these children.
“Maybe we should start a campaign,” said Margaret. “This experience has been wonderful for us. I don't know what we ever did without those children in our lives. They have been a pleasure.”
“Ladies, I think you have something there. I'm glad these children are off the streets and have a safe place to live. I know you and the others care for each and every one of them but wouldn't it be wonderful if we could place them all with a family of their own?”