Neighbor: Raymond Ledford, a
Published 12:00 am Friday, June 30, 2000
boy with nothing and everything
By JAINE TREADWELL
Growing up, Raymond Ledford didn’t have anything but he had everything.
He spent 10 years of his life at the Baptist Children’s Home in Troy and, if he had a chance to live those years over, "I’d come back the same way."
Ledford has only fond memories of life at the Children’s Home and, on Saturday, he will gather with hundreds of other former residents and staff members to remember those good ol’ days at the biggest homecoming ever held on the campus.
The anticipation of being together again with so many members of his "family" has seemed to slow the ticking of the clock for Ledford.
"I’m very anxious," he said. "I’ve been looking forward to this homecoming for a long time. It’s going to be a great day."
When the Children’s Home campus closed in Troy in 1997, many thought there would be no more homecomings but the "children" refused to forget the place they called home. And, as long as they remember, there will be homecomings, Ledford said.
Homecoming 2000 will be special because a commemorative statue will be unveiled marking, forever, the happy homeplace of thousands of displaced children.
"It was a happy place," Ledford said of the Children’s Home. "Nothing is perfect but 99 percent of the time there was good."
Ledford was 8 years old when he came to the Children’s Home. He remembers the drive down shady North Three Notch Street with his younger brother by his side. The next memory is of the faces of his two older brothers who came out of the big boy cottage to meet them.
"Because my older brothers were there and because we were all four together, I didn’t have a hard time – even at the beginning,’ Ledford said.
Ledford and his younger brother took up residence in the little boys cottage and quickly became part of a family of 24 "brothers" and, just that quickly, they got in step with everyone else.
"My first assigned chores were sweeping and mopping the hall of the cottage," Ledford said. "Then, ironing all of the Sunday pants became my responsibility."
Ledford said each resident was expected to pull his weight and living at the Children’s Home was like living on a big, family farm.
"We had a dairy and we had to milk cows and we had chickens and we had to gather eggs and catch chickens and carry them around to the cottages to be killed and cooked," he said. "We had a big vegetable garden we had to tend. We lived a real farm life – a real good farm life."
Ledford said the children at the Home were actually more privileged in some ways than many of the town’s children.
"Back then, children didn’t get to go a lot of places and do a
lot of things but we were always getting to go and do," Ledford said. "I can remember getting to go to a state basketball tournament in Tuscaloosa. There were nine of us and that was a really big thing."
Another advantage of living at the Children’s Home was that "one loud holler and you had enough boys for a football or baseball game."
"All you had to do was clap your hands and they were there," Ledford said. "We usually had 100 boys and 100 girls on campus, so we never were with out someone to play with."
Ledford spent as much of his free time as he could fishing and hunting.
"Every spare minute I got I’d either dig wigglers and take off fishing or head for the woods to hunt," he said. "We lived life like a lot of other boys wished they could.
Having 100 girls living across campus make cutting the grass "not such a bad job."
"We didn’t get to go down on the girls’ side of the campus except on Sundays to play softball or eat watermelons – except when it was our time to
mow the grass," Ledford said, laughing.
Even so, may romances bloomed between boys and girls at the Home and Ledford said he knows of at least 15 couples who married. "And, I’m sure there are more that I don’t know about. We weren’t really different from other people. We just happened to live in a different kind of home situation."
Ledford said there was no stigma attached to living at the Children’s Home.
"We liked who we were and didn’t want to be anybody else," he said. "The people of Troy kind of adopted us and they were very good to us. We had sponsors who made sure we had clothes to wear and presents at Christmas. We always felt liked and accepted by the people of Troy."
The people of Troy also helped to keep the children in line.
"When we were out, we had a lot of eyes looking at us," Ledford said, laughing.
There were times at the home when things were a little rocky.
"Oh, we were boys and sometimes it came out is us," Ledford said. "But we never missed a whipping when we needed one. If we messed up, we would get tightened up in a hurry."
Religious training was a big part of the program at the Children’s Home and most of the children attended First Baptist Church.
"We were taught to treat people the way we wanted to be treated and we had people around us who were good role models," Ledford said. "All of the staff members at the Home were good influences and they knew how to make us feel good about ourselves although we were in a different situation from other children. We learned responsibility and we learned to have confidence in ourselves and what we could do. We learned to respect the differences in others and to work together to get things done. I wouldn’t change my life if I could. I have a big family and I’m looking forward to seeing many of them this weekend."
Ledford said when the statue is unveiled during the homecoming ceremony Saturday, there probably won’t be many dry eyes among the "children" of the home.
The statue will give a permanence to a place thousands of children call home – "a happy home."