Picture it. 1937. A skinny little boy with big brown eyes lying on his bed wheezing. His father gently picks him up and rushes him to the hospital. He has pneumonia. In those days the treatment for pneumonia was to remove a rib. Yes, you heard right. The little boy undergoes surgery and is finally going to go home.
When it’s time to be discharged the doctors and nurses are puzzled. Where is the little boys father? No sign of his mother either. No-one has even visited. Having no other choice they call child services and he is placed in a Christian orphanage.
I can’t imagine how he felt. The confusion of why his parents didn’t come to see him or why they didn’t come to take him home. “Where’s my Daddy?” must have haunted his thoughts daily. The fear he must have felt in being in a strange place and only four years old must have been terrifying.
The staff at the orphanage wasn’t even sure of his real name so they gave him a name that was similar to what they thought his name might have been. His dad’s penmanship was greatly lacking. They assigned him a date of birth, too. Little “Claudie” went about trying to adjust. Christmas and birthdays were the hardest. The local community would bring gifts for the children but the gifts were for all the children to share. One boys bike, a red wagon, game boards were for everyone. There were no individual gifts. He never mentioned his birthdays or how they were. I didn’t ask.
One day “Claudie” was asked to follow the lady to her office. There was someone who wanted to see him. Claudie’s heart jumped and almost beat out of his chest.”My Daddy has come to get me,” he excitedly thought. But he hadn’t. It was a couple who had been told they couldn’t have children and wanted to adopt him. A nice couple they seemed to be. Claudie was with them for four years and adjusted well. He felt loved and cared for and finally seemed to settle in.
It was during world war two and times were tough for families. His new mother learned she was pregnant. “We can’t afford two children” his new parents explained and returned him to the orphanage. Hurt, anger, confusion, and feelings of bitterness and being abandoned again caused Claudie many problems. He lashed out in his anger, he fought with other children. He stopped trusting. His heart was broken and no one could fix it.
He remained in the orphanage until he was seventeen and with the staff’s permission he enlisted in the Air Force. It was good for him but I can’t imagine how he felt being stationed in Korea during the Korean War and everyone receiving mail but him. Not one letter. Not one card, not one “We miss you and hope you are safe” did he receive in five years. It would break anyone’s heart. Did he walk away and leave the mail call far enough away that he couldn’t hear the names being called? How hard was it to shove down the hurt as he tried to avoid not hearing his name called? He never said how he handled that. He didn’t like to talk about it.
He didn’t turn to drugs when he was discharged. He didn’t become an alcoholic or anything like that. He did get in an ocassional fight but nothing serious. He soon married a sweet young thing. Big mistake. She had a violent temper and he never knew when she would blow. They were married for five years and she said she was going to visit a relative and disappeared. He never heard from her or ever saw her again. Abandoned again with no idea why.
That didn’t stop Claudie. His favorite saying was, “I’m just a poor orphan boy who came to the big city to seek my fortune.” It wasn’t far from the truth back then. He enrolled in night school and worked his tail off and passed the law exam on the first try. He received his law degree but he didn’t become a lawyer to practice law and make the big bucks. He used it in his law enforcement carrier. He was a Deputy Marshal and worked his way up to second in command.
Twelve years after his wife disappeared he married again and this time he got a winner. Oh, she had her own issues to deal with but they were a perfect match. Like Claudie she had known betrayal. She knew what it was like to not feel loved. She, too had previously had a violent partner. She worshipped the ground Claudie walked on, so to speak. He loved her, too. They traveled, they had fun together, they laughed, loved and seldom argued.
When they got married, for his wedding gift she gave him his very own bike with a small license plate with his name on it. Oh, how he loved that bike! “It’s mine? All mine?” He grinned from ear to ear.
When Christmas came around she’d buy a package of socks and wrap each pair individually so he’d have lots of presents under the Christmas tree. The same with under wear or anything that could be divided up. She made sure there were plenty of gifts with his name on the tag. Claudie loved Christmas and he’d sit ripping open several packages laughing like a young child. She loved watching him and seeing the joy and sparkle in his eyes as he’d grab another gift and rip into it. She did the same for his birthdays, with a cake and candles. It didn’t make up for years past but it filled him with a sense of joy and love like he’d never felt as a child.
Looking her husband square in the eyes while placing his wedding ring back on his finger she would say, “With this ring I thee wed – until death do us part.” She’d quote that every time after a major surgery or some procedure the doctors said he had to remove his ring for. For five years, day in and day out, she cared for him during his debilitating illness. He had taught her what true love is. She wasn’t about to abandon the man God gave her as His special gift and she made darn sure he knew it! She was by Claudie’s side as he entered heavens gates and was greeted by the Savior.
The orphanage got his first name right as it turned out, Claude, but his birthday wasn’t what they told him. For years he had lived life with the wrong name and wrong date of birth. He just figured it was all part of life and moved on. He had stopped trying to find his relatives years before after so much disappointment and hopes dashed but he did finally find his original birth certificate – Claude Albert Cass – my beloved husband of eighteen years.
I hope they celebrate Christmas in heaven.