Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Raymond - An Unusual Christmas Memory

Correction:  In fact, Raymond lived at the State School for the Feeble-Minded in Polk, Venango County, Pennsylvania, not in the Mercer County Home.

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.


Copyright © 2010-2018 Nancy Messier. All Rights Reserved.


  1. I'm glad Raymond had your parents to continue to remember him.

    I just tried a couple of searches for newspapers in that date range that mentioned a fire in Stoneboro, and came up with nothing.

  2. Thanks for this post today, Nancy. Beautiful.

  3. Dee, thanks so much for searching Stoneboro newspapers. I hadn't gotten that far yet. I'm certain he was from the Stoneboro area but it's possible that it was not a fire that killed the rest of his family. One of these days I'll see if I can dig up something more about him. (It's hard without any real leads....) I appreciate your searching.

    Nolichucky Roots, thanks for visiting and leaving a comment.

  4. I'm so glad to hear that your parents continued to visit Raymond; this is a lovely story and a good one for Christmas. I hope you are able to find out more about him.

  5. What a lovely story - Raymond must have enjoyed your visits. Good luck with the research :-)

  6. What a poignant story. Our memories are such mercurial things, if you try to touch them they seem to disappear - they pop up when least expected. I like this story. I am only just beginning my genealogy research and have vague memories myself of times long gone by, unexplained. Good luck with your searching.

    1. Thank you, Pippa. Memories are strange things, when we remember just a moment or two of an experience or remember one part of the experience and others who were there remember some other part. All so interesting. Best wishes for your family history efforts.


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