Chapter 13 - Mary Miller

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"We worked all the time; each of us had a job at the Ramey Home. One of my jobs was to bathe the little boys who were too little to go to school.

I remember Chris Gilbert and Ronnie Adams and little brothers, Raymond and Ronald Ash.

"Our dad, Gordon Miller did not come often to see Cindy and me. Once he brought us a big bag of candy. After he left, Bettye Jane Sullivan took it away. We never saw it again, but we were so happy to see him, and to think he brought us some candy."

"Mom came once a month on the first of each month when it was visiting day. We sat around and talked in our rooms. That was it. We just visited. Once, when I was lonely and missed her so much, I wrote a letter to her begging her to come to get Cindy and me, but she never did. She'd say: Judge Hall won't let you. Recently, Cindy found the letter I wrote.

At some point, Mom came to the Ramey Home and took Cathy and Susie, and our little brother Charlie home with her, but she never came for Cindy and me. We heard it was because her boyfriend didn't want Gordon Miller's children around, but mother said it was because she couldn't afford to keep us all. Cathy and Susie have a different father. His nsame was Tom Kiser. It was complicated. After Cindy and Charlie and I were born, Mom took up with our father's best friend, and left our father. It caused bad feelings all around.

We've tried to talk with Mom about the reasons we had to grow up at the Ramey Home, but she changes the subject. We asked,  "We heard we were living in the cold for days with no food; is this true?"  She won't answer. She remarried long ago. Our mother comes over on Holidays to our home.

What we know is that she had a nervous breakdown more than once, and they sent her to Lexington.  Dad was an alcoholic, so we had no place else to go but to the Ramey Home.  Cindy and I were real little; too little to go to school the first time we went to the Ramey Home, and we stayed at the Home until Cindy left at fourteen, and I was twelve. Cindy ran off one day after Minnie Suttles beat her up and threw her against a hot heater. She came back that night but the next day, the social worker came for Cindy and me too, and took us both home to our Mom's house. Mom was not expecting us. She was not even home. She was out visiting with a neighbor. When she saw us and the social worker explained we were coming home for good, Mom said: "Well, you can help me clean house, my boy friend is coming over."  She didn't hug us or say anything like, 'Welcome home.'  It was 1976. Later they sent our clothes.

We came to understand our Dad was a binge drinker. I guess he drank when he was troubled. He kept up that habit until he died in May 2005. Cindy and I loved him. I don't know why. If he hadn't been an alcoholic, we might have had a decent home.

I remember Christmas at the Ramey Home. First, I remember that Cindy and I arrived there on Christmas Eve when we were young. We rode in a car with our mother crying, and our father was angry. I remember his loud voice. Then they left us at the Home. Miss Ramey put is in a little dark room over the kitchen, and gave us each one present. After we lived at the Ramey home for a while, we came to know Christmas was a huge celebration. At Christmas, WSAZ would bring their TV cameras to show us opening our presents. It was on the news. Before they arrived, Bettye Jane and Minnie told us not to say a word. They said, "If anybody asks you a question don't say anything bad." So we knew we couldn't tell anybody anything. We were scared."

When really bad things happened, we thought we couldn't tell. There was a big girl at the Home and she did bad things to Cindy and me, but I don't know why we thought we couldn't tell. We never did tell. We were taking a nap the first time and she got in bed with us, and I heard her telling Cindy what to do to her. She did it once to me, too.  Bettye Jane and Minnie beat us and talked to us hateful and mean, but this other big girl did bad things to us in bed every chance she got.

At Christmas, we received big showy bags of presents and we loved them. We'd open presents and enjoy the toys for about a week. Then when school vacation was over, we came home from school to find all our toys were gone. This went on every Christmas. What happened to our toys? To this day, I feel uncertain about this. Who took our toys?  And why did they take our toys. The community had toy drives for us, and I guess they never knew that someone took them away from us.

Cindy and I were never allowed to get a phone call or to write a letter at the Ramey Home, there was just that monthly visit; so I wrote a letter to my mother in secret in my room, and took my letter to school and gave it to another girl who lived near our mother. She gave it to my mother.

Many things traumatized me; one was watching Bettye Jane whip Tammy Taylor with a chain. It was like dog chain. It was awful.  These beatings still trouble me. These things I saw at the Ramey Home cause me to feel troubled and insecure to this day.

But, whom shall I blame? I make certain my daughters and their children know I love them. At Christmas, I make sure they have presents they can keep.

Shortly after Cindy and I left in 1976, we heard from our friends back at the Ramey Home that they made Bettye Jane leave. They told us Melissa Adams had gone to school with bruises on her legs, and her teacher reported her condition. In court, the Judge ordered that the children at the Ramey Home could not be hit or whipped by anyone. They sent Bettye Jane away in 1977 or 1978.

Tammy and Debbie Taylor were two girls in a black family of five who lived with us. There was Frances and Bob too. Cindy and I are still best friends with Tammy Taylor. She lives in Columbus. We love her like our sister. I don't know why the Taylor children were sent to the Home. They grew up there like Cindy and I did. But I heard their mother never married, but had her children with different men.

Miss Ramey was always in her room, and the others just took over and did what they wanted. I barely remember her at all, but I do know Bettye Jane and Minnie would not allow us to go to her room. Nobody was allowed to go see Miss Ramey.

Jim Stambaugh worked at the Ramey Home. He did bad things to the girls at the Ramey Home. He drank. His philosophy was that when something went wrong, and if no child confessed, every child was punished. He used a belt usually. Our crimes were picking apples or sometimes we had some kind of childish disagreement over a game. We felt scared all the time.

As we got older, we noticed things. We noticed the good food was kept in a room; we called it the 'good food,' such as the sausage and eggs, while we were eating oatmeal or dry cereal for breakfast. The way I remember, the ice cream was never given to us. I guess the adults ate it. One day Tammy Taylor and I grabbed a container of ice cream. Then Bettye Jane came storming up the steps, and I talked to her so she wouldn't go on up the stairs and find Tammy with the ice cream. After awhile BJ left and I found Tammy rubbing her stomach, because she ate the whole thing to hide the ice cream.

Minnie Suttles did not live at the Ramey Home all the time. She left, and I guess could not get along so she brought her son Michael to live at the Ramey Home. She was mean to him. Later he was shot and killed by his wife's in laws in a violent confrontation on their front porch.  He had a son, and that boy committed suicide when he grew up. 

Cindy and I, and Susie and Charlie were brought to the Ramey Home more than once. I was five years old, that first time, but I still can see the inside of our car as he drove along; Dad was angry that Christmas Eve, and our mother was crying. We stopped to visit with our grandparents, and then they just dropped us off at the Ramey Home and drove away. We each received one toy. I guess the other toys had been put into the big bags, so we did get a toy. That Christmas is one of my earliest memories of my family and the most puzzling. Why did our parents stop and visit our grandparents like a normal family? Then simply drop us off at a Children's Home on Christmas Eve?

A few years later, after Cindy and I went to live with our mother, she took a job at the Ramey Home working in the kitchen. I felt bewildered and hurt by her decision. To us it was a form of betrayal. I asked her, how she could work in a place knowing they were so mean to us? Then I asked her, what would you do if you saw a child being beaten at the Ramey Home?  Our mother said, "I'd turn my eyes away." 

Mary Miller - October, 2008

NEXT - Chapter 14 - Cindy Miller