Holmes book chronicles childhood

Published 12:00 am Monday, June 30, 2003

Mildred Nelson Holmes came from an abusive home.

Her dad was a drunk, a wife beater and a child molester. When Holmes' mother died of cancer when she was barely 11 years old, she was sent to live with her grandparents and found herself in another abusive situation.

She might have languished in that situation if the members of a church had not reported her grandparents to the local welfare office.

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"Before my mother died, she told me that she had prayed for a miracle, but she had to die for it to happen," Holmes said. "She told me to watch for it and be smart and know it when it happened."

Holmes had never had a trusting relationship with a male, but, when she saw a peculiar-looking man walking toward her grandparents' house, she knew he was that miracle.

"He had come from the children's home and he had come to rescue me and I ran to him," she said. "He was the miracle my mother had prayed for and I knew it."

Holmes, a sister and two brothers were taken from

the "slavery" of their grandparents' house to the safety of the Alabama Baptist Children's Home in Troy. Two other siblings were "sold into adoption."

"Even though we were in a better place surrounded by kind people, going to the Children's Home was a traumatic experience," Holmes said. "The children were placed in cottages by sex and age. I so wanted to be with my brothers and sister, but I only got to see them on campus day - that was on Sunday."

Holmes said initially she was such a troublemaker that she's surprised that she wasn't thrown out of the Children's Home.

"I don't know how they put up with me," she said. "I was mad at the world. I think all of my bad behavior was an attempt to show that I objected to all of the bad things that had happened to me. I lived that first year in a daze. I walked to school at Cherry Street every day and I can hardly even remember going."

The Children's Home put a roof over Holmes' head and added structure and guidance to her life. She began to find her way and, by the time she reached high school, she was headed in the right direction.

"I was in the school play and I loved to sing," she said. "I sang in the choir at First Baptist Church and was sometimes on loan to the Episcopal church. The children from the Home weren't allowed to go to the junior-senior proms, but I got to go once and sing, then I had to leave."

If Holmes has any regrets about high school, it's that the children from the "Orphan's Home" and the town's children did have more opportunities to socialize.

"It wasn't anybody's fault," Holmes said. "They had to be very structured at the Children's Home because there were so many of us. But, I wish I could have known my classmates better."

Holmes sat and silently admired the girls from town and secretly wished that her life might have been as uncomplicated as theirs seemed to be.

She admired one classmate with a beautiful, blond pony who "sashayed around" in a cloud of crinoline petticoats and another who kept the class entertained with her tremendous personality. She often sat in awe of her classmates and was determined to overcome her bad start in life.

When she graduated from Troy High School in 1958, she was given the traditional parting gifts from the Children's Home - a suitcase and a steam iron - and pointed toward the open door.

For most children, the door to home swings both ways, but not for those at the Children's Home.

"Once we left, we didn't have a home to go back to in the traditional sense," Holmes said.

She was fortunate that she had an opportunity to go to college, thanks to a fund set up by donations to the Children's Home.

She enrolled at Samford University in Birmingham and took "talent" jobs to help fund her education.

"I did some runway modeling and did live commercials on the Bear Bryant Show," she said, laughing. "That was back when 'Coca-Cola and Golden Flake were a great pair, said the Bear.'"

It was then, that Holmes heard words that cut deep into her heart, yet inspired her to continue to rise above her circumstances.

A woman's whose daughter came from "money and a cultured upbringing" told Holmes that she was not worthy of those opportunities and that exposure.

"She said I was nothing but poor orphan trash," Holmes said. "I was poor and I was an orphan but I've never been trash."

Holmes is living proof that getting off to a bad start in life does not mean that the situation can't be changed.

"You don't have to try and forget the unpleasant things that happen in life," she said. "Every bad thing - and every good thing - that happens makes us who we are. We have to accept the past and gain strength from it.

"We are in control of our destiny. You can dwell on the past and feel sorry for yourself, but nothing is gained by that. Or you can look at the good things that happened to you and be thankful that you survived and let those experiences make you stronger. If you harbor hate, it will fester like a cancer and eventually consume you."

As a way to deal with her past, Holmes has written an autobiography titled, Poor Orphan Trash, that tells of her bad start and how she overcame it.

"The book paints a very honest picture," she said. "People in Troy will recognize the names and I'm not kind to a couple of people. But, the book paints a truthful picture of my life during those years as an orphan and my life at the Alabama Baptist Children's

Home. I wrote it because I want people to know that they can rise above a bad childhood and that a bad childhood doesn't justify doing bad things as an adult."