My story begins in 1948 when, as a 3-year-old, I was enrolled at Tabor Home along with my sister Carol, who was seven years older. My four remaining siblings were farmed out to relatives. Our family, living in Lacy Park, PA (near Willow Grove), had fallen apart and our parents essentially abandoned us. My rather unstable mother was unable to cope with the care and feeding of six children.
At that age I was not prepared to live in an institution, no matter how well equipped it was to deal with children from dysfunctional families. And Tabor Home was not. My first memories were being scared to death and hiding under tables to avoid being seen. I was assigned to the "baby" room along with two other 3- or 4-year-old girls.
Today I would probably have been diagnosed as having attention deficit disorder (ADD), an affliction that was not recognized in the late 1940s. Instead I was branded as unruly, and duly disciplined. I spent many hours in isolation because of my spirited personality and dislike of authority.
I remember Sisters Emma and Jenny, who supervised in the girls' dormitory, as being sweet and kind, but I cannot say the same about Sister Wilma, the head administrator. I was always fearful of her and considered her cold and rather evil. There is some irony that my sister Carol was one of her favorites. I observed her behavior to a number of children and did my best to avoid her.
Although I was never a good student, I was glad when I became old enough to attend the elementary school in Edison, about a half-mile south of Tabor. I thought the teachers like Miss Ruth and Miss Young were great, as well as Mr. Hearn in the sixth grade. I never really felt smart in school but I appreciated the interest the teachers showed in me.
As a child I was often in trouble due to a rebellious streak I possessed. I could never be described as a "special little angel." For some reason, I really despised being controlled and I felt rules were just guidelines that could be broken as long as you didn't get caught. I would leave the grounds without permission when I wanted, play hooky from school or go night sledding after curfew. In the last example, I was caught by Sister Wilma and her German Shepherd dog and was confined to my room as a punishment.
Change was always a most difficult process for me, and transitioning from elementary to junior high was especially traumatic. My self-image was one of a tough girl from Tabor Home but the challenges of higher learning were quite daunting. It didn't help that I considered myself stupid.
I distinctly recall an incident that has haunted me my entire life. I was waiting to be picked up by my family for a short vacation. Sister Wilma saw me and asked me if I knew where Anna Beagle was? When I told her she was up in the woods, she sent me to fetch her. I replied that Anna wouldn't listen to me. I was told not to return without her.
As expected, Anna ignored my directive to report to Sister Wilma now. Fearing that my failure to carry out my mission would result in punishment, I picked up a stick in frustration and hurled it at the obstinate girl.
As bad luck would have it, the stick contained an embedded nail and it struck her in the face. With blood and tears flowing, Anna dashed from the woods seeking first aid.
Punishment came swift and sure. Vacation was cancelled and I was awarded one week in isolation. The only visitor was Sister Wilma's dog that I was deathly afraid of. Whenever the "killer" would wander into my room, I would hold my breath and pretend to be asleep until he departed. A very traumatic week for me!
Any time my family (older sisters and aunts) would take me away on weekends or for short vacations in the summer, I would hate the thought of having to return to the Home. My relationship with Sister Wilma continued to deteriorate as I got older and finally she directed me not to return after a summer visit with my mother and stepfather. I had assumed my mother was informed that I was no longer allowed back at Tabor. But when I told her that I couldn't return, the look on her face indicated otherwise. She was not ready to have a 12-year-old rebel invade her one-bedroom apartment she shared with her new husband.
My new environment did not result in stability or normalcy for my teenage years. Between a shortage of food and being constantly behind in rent payments, I thought I'd have been better off staying at Tabor where I was assured of clothes and meals.
Now, in looking back at nine years at the Home, I have mixed feelings. I am thankful because it kept me alive. I do not think I would have survived otherwise. It developed a self-reliance that was a great benefit later in life. I loved the security and the "happy times" such as Christmas, sing-alongs and campfires. On the other hand, it was distressing that I had so little control of my life. Children had no rights in those days. I am thankful that society has changed for the better regarding that.
Postscript: I dropped out of Abington High School, married at 19 and had three girls. I was way too young and immature for marriage, and it ended in divorce. After a second failed marriage, I went back to school, started therapy and turned my life around. As I approach three-score years, I can honestly say I like who I am, realize I am quite intelligent and am an advocate of disadvantaged children. My girls have all turned out well and I am very proud of them. So, perhaps, all's well that ends well.
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