The memory of Raymond comes to mind now and then, usually for no particular reason, and always at Christmas.
Raymond lived at the Mercer County Home in Mercer, Pennsylvania. In those days the county home was where people lived who could not take care of themselves and who had no family to take care of them. Some folks were old, some were just poor, and yet others were mentally limited. Raymond was in the latter group. The county homes were usually large buildings with farmland surrounding them. The people who lived in the county homes worked on the farms growing vegetables and crops and animals which were used to feed those who lived there.
I first met Raymond when I was a child. My parents took us to visit him several times. The last time we visited I was perhaps 10 or 11, when 10-year-olds were less mature than they are now, yet old enough to be aware that girls should be careful of strangers. We parked at the side or back of the building and somehow my father sent word that we were there to see Raymond. We waited a few minutes and then an older man, probably older than my father, came out. He was not very tall and had an unusual gait. He seemed different. He recognized my father and they greeted each other. Then he took my hand and started to walk away. I hesitated, feeling a little shy and wondering if I should go with this stranger. My parents gave me the nod and we all walked with him, probably to the stables or the pasture. My memory ends there. Strange how memories often don't provide all the details.
After we left him, my father told us a little more about Raymond and explained that he had an amazing and unusual ability. Raymond's responsibility at the farm was the chickens. Dad said that when trying to gather chickens, most folks cause them to scatter. Dad had watched Raymond with chickens before: he spread his arms wide and the chickens gathered in toward him and then went wherever he directed them. Dad said you'd never see anything like it again. He explained that Raymond was a very gentle person, something I think I sensed while we were together that day.
The only other thing Dad said about him was that something had happened to his family and he lived with Maw and Pap Doyle, Dad's grandparents, for a while.
Searching census records for Maw and Pap, I found Raymond listed with them in the 1910 census as adopted son, 6 years old. He was nine years older than my father. Maw and Pap were 43 and 47. They weren't too old to have a child of their own that age and yet they were already grandparents. Raymond isn't with them in the 1920 census. I suspect that there was no formal adoption. Dad's half sister, Tressa, remembered that Raymond went to school with Dad and one of his friends but didn't do well. She didn't remember any more about him and my father's not around to ask for more information. I'll probably never know more about Raymond's history unless I happen to find a newspaper article about a fire or some other disaster in Stoneboro, Pennsylvania, between 1914 and 1920.
I think of Raymond every Christmas because my parents, without fail and with great care, sent him a package which always included Raymond's favorite candy.
The photo of the Mercer County Home is from Family Old Photographs.
Note: Since the original publication of this post, I've learned that Raymond lived at the County Home in Polk, Pennsylvania, not the Mercer County Home.
Copyright © 2010 Nancy Messier. All Rights Reserved.