My Nanny and a Lee Avenue Flash Back

I was telling Cameron about Nanny being a wet nurse for children born during World War II and next thing I knew I was crying.

It all started today when I was taking Cam bowling and listening to J ack L Egrand of at GEE EYE BEE fame on the radio. He mentioned the late Bro. Cecil, and that got my mind a whirling. (They were replaying of one of his sermons.)

So I had to tell Cam the story of Cecil and how it ended up with Nanny….

Cecil was an older, slightly handicapped gentleman who was a member of G len I ris. He was a little on the short side, but lean and lanky and always dressed to the nines. He most often had a hat on and sometimes colored suits when everyone else was in gray or black. Subdued colors mind you, but colors none the less. And he was quick to let you know that his ties always came from Blach’s. (Not withstanding the facts that Blach’s had been closed for years, because Cecil took care of his ties.)

He had a touch of cerebral palsy and he stuttered especially when he was excited, but he was pretty sharp and quite a conversationalist. He was also very opinionated, which I enjoyed. Sometimes the church staff would irritate him on purpose, or maybe they were just tired of dealing with him. But I never thought they respected him enough, which always bugged me. But that’s another story.

Cecil rode the bus to church with the handicapped people, most of whom were more severely handicapped in physical and mental areas. So Cecil came across the street and went to church with the rest of the congregation instead of attending “special church.” He had a surprisingly nice baritone voice and when he sang, he sang out and never stuttered.

He loved the Lord and loved to talk about getting saved and being a lost sinner when he went to the Episcopalian church. He appreciated many of the nice people there, but he enjoyed good hard Bible preaching. Back then you could get on occasion at GEE EYE BEE.

Cecil also loved to call in to “A Fter Church Fellowship” a call in radio program for shut in or just anyone who wanted to call and fellowship after church on Sunday nights. During one show I happened to be tuned in and the host , Bro. Jack, asked him about his parents and Cecil said “I’m a foundling, I never knew who I was or where I came from. They found me on the steps of the Lula Mae Foster Home for Boys.”

He went on to tell how he was “just little” when he was left and the only memories he had were of the ladies who worked at the Home and an older boy who was always good to him and took care of him.

Then a few calls later, an older man called, his voice filled with emotion. He had heard the radio show by chance and he too had been raised in the Lula Mae Foster Home for Boys. He was sure that he was the older boy that Cecil remembered and was able to fill in some gaps in Cecil’s life story

He told of Cecil coming to the Home as a toddler and being what they called tongue tied. Cecil couldn’t talk and of course had a hard time walking due to the cerebral palsy. The caller stated that the Boys Home arranged for a surgery and Cecil was finally able to speak. He spoke of “one lonely boy” taking another under his wing and how it helped him during those years, to have someone to help take care of. He remembered helping Cecil learn to walk.

It was a tear jerker of a story, no matter who you were, but it hit me especially hard. My grandmother had worked part time at the Lula Mae Foster Home for Boys during the Depression. So when I heard the radio show that night, I thought of all I knew of her gentle and kind ways. How possible and even probably it was that my grandmother had taken care of Cecil. I took a great deal of comfort in that, for Cecil’s sake. And for anyone’s sake that she cared for, because she was love and kindness and gentleness personified. So of course I had to call the show and tell my story about the Lula Mae Foster Home for Boys.....

As the depression ended, the Lula Mae Foster Home wasn’t needed as much. Indeed, all the boys either aged out or were adopted. Some even returned to homes where the parents could now provide for them. The Home was boarded up, but then World War II started. And a less well-known aspect of war times brought my grandmother back to the Lula Mae Foster Home, but this time as a resident.

Seemingly overnight women left the home and entered the workforce, the factory and the office. Extra marital affairs started while husbands were away fighting and babies resulted. The women who became pregnant while their husbands were away at war needed wet nursing and foster care for their illegitimate babies. The operation was sort of hush hush, and I don’t know just how many babies Nanny kept and nursed during that time. I do know that the space was much extended between the birth of my aunt in 1940 to the birth of my uncle 7 years later. (This photo is of my grandmother and that same uncle's sweet wife, and my little cousin Zach, who is now about 13.)

The war babies were adopted out, usually sooner than later. But one little girl baby stayed with my grandmother from the time she was born until she was four years old. She was a part of the family, and was loved as a daughter in every way. But after the war, the birth mother convinced her husband that he could learn to love this little girl. The mother and daughter were reunited and a family was born.

Losing that little girl, especially after all that time, hurt my grandmother deeply. And while it was hard, she always believed that it was best for her to go to her mother. Nanny never forgot that baby and for many years they mother brought her back to visit with her “first” family. Even when I was a child growing up in the ‘60’s, that little one was often remembered.

The War ended and my grandparents purchased the old Lula Mae Foster Home for Boys. My dad was raised there for most of his childhood. I even lived there for a short while as a baby while my parents were “getting established,” as they called it back then. Most of my boy cousins were half way raised at that house after the departure of their first mom and the death of their second mom.
My dad often spoke of summer Sunday afternoons at the old house. The trolley would clang to a stop at the end of Lee Avenue and they’d soon hear the quick footfalls of young men coming to “get a look” at the “old home place.” The footsteps would slow and the children of my grandmother would run around the bushes and out to the sidewalk to invite the “boys” to come up on the porch and sit a spell.

They had happy times there.

I loved visiting my grandparents there as I was growing up and if my brother or sister were writing this, they’d tell you the same thing. We played with cousins and visited with extended family like Uncle Pat and Aunt Ruby.

We had happy times there.

The house is gone now, as are most of the people who ever had anything to do with it. And that made me cry today, driving down Highway 280 in the thunderstorm.

But tonight I smile, thinking of the happy moment when Death is no longer the victor, when I am reunited in Heaven with those I hold so dear and miss so much.

We will have glorious times there.

1 Corinthians 15:51 ¶Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed,

52 In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.

53 For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality.

54 So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory.

55 O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?

56 The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law.

57 But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.