Memories are interesting things, for even when two people live through the same experience, their stories can often differ in many ways. We Were Not Orphans: Stories from the Waco State Home records the first-person accounts of dozens of former childhood residents of the Waco State Home, a Texas institution that provided care for children whose families could not do so. Sherry Matthews, inspired by the fact that her three brothers spent years as residents, presents the stories, accompanied by photos and some historical records from the decades that the institution was open.
Be prepared for an emotional read, for these are heartfelt memories, both positive and negative. As the title states, the children brought to the Waco State Home were not orphaned, as most had at least one living parent, but their families were simply incapable of taking care of them. Whether they were brought to the home by child protective service representatives or by their family members themselves, for so many, the home provided the basics of shelter, abundant food, and an education that they would not have had with their families.
But basic care was often not enough, and so many of the stories address the lack of emotional support and compassion from the adults in charge of the children’s care. While some teachers are mentioned by multiple alumnus in happy tones for their efforts to provide a strong education, the individual memories of severe physical punishments add up to a dark history of system-sanctioned abuse that persisted for decades. Following the former residents’ stories, Matthews presents evidence from historical records and communications between Home administrators and the Texas State Board of Control that supports the many individuals’ accounts of horrific abuse.
It’s impossible to read these accounts and not feel saddened for the hundreds of lost childhoods. While the Waco State Home arguably kept many of these children alive at a time when their families might not have been able to do so, it’s shameful to consider the lost opportunities to provide actual compassion and care to individuals in great need. Read We Were Not Orphans as a testament to the strength of so many children to survive in the face of such adversities.
While Dawn usually opts for lighthearted fiction, she appreciates a piece of nonfiction that makes her think and feel. Her own thoughts and feelings are regularly expressed on her blog, my thoughts exactly.