(This is part of a series. For Table of Contents go here)
During my interviews with Dorothy, we began moving into the Christmas season. Dorothy mentioned how much she enjoyed riding around at night to see the Christmas lights that people put out in their yards. We took a drive one evening after dark to see some of the lights on display, and later during the holiday season my wife and I took Dorothy to see the “Zoolight Safari” which is a big and colorful holiday event put on by the Birmingham Zoo in which the entire zoo is decked out in Christmas lights.
Since it was the holiday season, I was curious to know what holidays were like for Dorothy at Partlow State School. Following my questions, Dorothy shared some of her recollections.
“On holidays, like at Christmas they would give out brown bags. You might get a doll, and you would get two apples and two oranges, and a piece of candy, and that was about it.
“On the Fourth of July, they would have barbeque, but they didn’t cook out, they cooked it in steam cookers in the kitchen.
“For Christmas, they would ask you what you wanted, and then they would write it down and send it off to whoever filled the sacks. They’d have paper bags and they’d write your name on them. Then whatever you ordered, well you usually didn’t get what you ordered, you’d get something you didn’t want, and then they’d have two apples and two oranges, and a little bit of candy. Sometime they’d give you a little sack with a few pecans in it. Sacks were handed out in the Day Hall in the Number 1 Building. They’d get all the ones that worked in the laundry and bring them over to get their bags – you didn’t get much in them no how – and what little bit you did get they’d take them up and put them in a wooden box out on the porch. You didn’t get it until the next day, and if you ate it all up, well that was the end of it. They wouldn’t give you no more.”
On another occasion, Dorothy talked about family visits. Family visits were important for many of the residents at Partlow. As I have mentioned in previous posts, Dorothy did not have much family for support, but she was grateful for one uncle who showed some care and concern.
“My Uncle Roy and Aunt Gladys came and they took me home for a vacation for a couple of weeks, then later they came and got me for Christmas for about three weeks. My Aunt Gladys took me back and then I never did see her no more. My Uncle Roy, he really loved me. He would get me anything I wanted, no matter what it was. My Aunt Gladys got mad because he wouldn’t get my Uncle Will’s children nothing, but he told her that I was his sister’s child and they weren’t. I was the only one born to my mother. They said I had two sisters, but I never did see them. They were older than I was.
“I remember one time I was at the laundry and I knew that my uncle was supposed to come. I think it was around Thanksgiving. The phone rang in the laundry and I ran out the door. Somebody tried to catch me and they told me to come back and I said “I’m not coming back, my uncle is supposed to be here and I’m going to see him.” I got to the building, alright, and when I got up there, they told me that nobody was there to see me. They took me back to the laundry. I remember they had an old man named Hood Ball (they called him Senior Hood). He worked in the laundry then. He told me I shouldn’t be so hot-tempered and run out of the laundry when somebody told me to come back. I wouldn’t even pay him no mind. I was so mad and upset because I thought my uncle was up there.
“My uncle was supposed to see me but something happened. He had fell 128 feet down a well and I didn’t know it. He lived long enough to get to the hospital. I think he died after he got to the hospital. That was my Uncle Roy. He would get me anything I wanted. One year he got me a satin housecoat. He would always come to the bus station in Sylacauga. I thought he really was at the Girls’ Building [that day]. I went tearing out up there.
“Later I got a letter from my Aunt Lula. She said he had gone to be with Jesus. She wrote a poem that said, ‘there is one vacant chair at the end of the table.’ ”