Rose knows first-hand what it’s like to experience homelessness and abandonment. Through her triumph over adversity, she finds solace in art, giving back to those with limited opportunities and in a friendship that developed in the most unlikeliest of places, a state-run Home for neglected children in Texas.
Rose was born in 1940 in Texas to parents who were uneducated migrant farm workers who traveled from state to state in the south mostly picking cotton. Her family lived in barns, trailers, under bridges and actually inside a railroad car for a season.
“We were extremely poor, always cold, hot or hungry. We rarely went to school. We didn’t like living in a town because people always called us ‘white trash.’ When I was seven years old, my dad went into town to gamble and our mom took us to the neighbors to beg for food. That is when a welfare worker came and we were taken from our parents.”
Rose was taken to the Waco State Home for Neglected and Dependent Children, an institution similar to an orphanage. Much to her great dismay, two of her siblings were adopted from the Home, completely separating the family. Another younger brother was placed in the same Waco State Home but the boys and girls were kept separately. Rose recalls waving to her brother from across the campus while experiencing intense pangs of loneliness and confusion as life in this Home was incredibly difficult.
“We lived sparingly, only basic necessities. We washed our hair with Tide detergent and rinsed it with vinegar, as those things were donated. We had to sew our socks. We wore like prison uniforms with gray and white pinstripes for a time. I got quite a few spankings that left bruises but I never knew what I had done wrong. The boys had it even worse and were often hit with shaved down baseball bats. We felt helpless. It was all very confusing and hard. I was sad and missed my family. It was a terrible place in a way.”
After unexpectedly being separated from her parents and siblings, Rose grew incredibly close to the other girls in her dormitory. “I missed my siblings my whole life. I wondered what their lives were like. These girls became like family to me.”
One such friend, Lavonne, arrived to the home in 1950 a year after Rose was taken there. Lavonne has her own incredibly sad story of poverty and abandonment and the girls became close friends quickly.
Lavonne was cross-eyed and had other physical challenges, causing her to be ostracized and made fun of by others, but Rose was kind to her and they developed a friendship, even dressing alike on occasion. Lavonne has fond memories of them square dancing, swimming, skating and working in the cafeteria together. The two even tried to escape together on more than one occasion.
These friends share a history of joy and pain that is only known by very few others in their lives. They supported each other through the many tears of their childhoods and have maintained a special, unique friendship. They talk by phone every month and have exchanged cards in the mail for years. They desired to catch up on life over the past 56 years and to rekindle the friendship that helped them to survive their very difficult childhoods.
“It would be great to see Lavonne again. We could talk about the Home and old times, get to know each other again and how we have lived. I have a nice apartment with affordable housing. It would be so much fun to be together again after all these years!”
Despite a very difficult childhood, Rose has consistently looked to bring some purpose to her pain by helping others in her community. She has volunteered in orphanages in NJ and Mexico. Rose has found a great deal of healing through art and creatively uses her talents to benefit the lives of others. To do this she volunteers to do art classes in schools that don’t provide regular art classes anymore due to decreased funding. As an avid painter, she donates some of her paintings to a women’s shelter. She holds poetry readings and storytelling sessions for her fellow residents in her affordable housing apartment.
Rose and Lavonne could barely contain their excitement when they learned that Wish of a Lifetime, in close partnership with GHC Housing Partners, would be bringing these old friends together again so many years after their time at the Waco State Home for Neglected and Dependent Children. In August, Lavonne flew from California to Texas, her first trip to the west coast, and spent an unforgettable week with her dear friend Rose.
“When we saw each other for the first time, we had a big hug. We talked a lot about the Home.” It was quite emotional.”
Instead of sadness and loneliness, this time these two remarkable women, who are more like sisters than friends shared tears of joy and stories of triumph and survival.