About the Book
“I was an orphan then, I am an orphan now, and I will always be an orphan.” For years, people have told Shelby Adams Lloyd that she should write about her life growing up in the Oxford Orphanage in Oxford, North Carolina, and how she lived and worked while learning a trade there. Shelby finally sat down at the computer and started her story of living in the orphanage. She took a deep breath as she remembered what she went through and how she overcame the rejections she has felt since being a child. Always an Orphan is a loving memoir of a unique childhood where family, to this day, are the orphans Shelby grew up with, and home is the orphanage she looks back upon with pride and love.
For Readers and Book Clubs:
I NEVER THOUGHT about being an orphan, but I have been one since I was three years old. Of course, my sister and I didn’t understand what an orphan was when we were little. As I recall, no one ever used the word orphan to either of us. An orphan I was back then, an orphan I am today, and an orphan I will be tomorrow until death takes me home to my Lord.
Our Mama died at the age of twenty-six on September 5, 1939. She left two small girls with no mother and a dad who was a drunk most of the time. Since that day my sister, Jo Ann Adams, and I, Shelby Jean Adams Lloyd, have been more or less on our own. Two and three years of age left alone with a dad who drank alcohol like it was water.
Let me tell you about my mother that we love even though we didn’t know her. Grandma named our mama Cleo Jane Fish. When she married our dad her last name became Adams. To my knowledge I don’t remember anything about her before she died, since I was just three years old. There are flashes, but I don’t know if someone told to me about my mother or not.
When Mama died we had no idea what was happening. I do remember someone holding me up to her casket so I could see her. She was lying in a bed of white satin clouds. The pillow her head rested on was also satin and I remember it being white, fluffy, and glistening looking.
Her bed looked like clouds, so soft and pretty, especially when the sun is out. Mama had on a mauve colored velveteen dress with a shiny pin near her breast. I remember it sparkled and I could see the hues of reds, greens, blue, and purple when the sun shone on it. It was beautiful and when I close my eyes I can see that pin today.
Mama’s beautiful blue eyes were closed. Her hair had little waves all over her head where someone had set it. It was the newest craze in the late thirties. Her beautiful red hair was curly, unquestionably curly, and almost unmanageable, just like mine. It wanted to go its own way, and the finger waves helped to soften her face. This was the fashion then and I’ve been told that Mama loved to have the latest fashions.
I can see her when I close my eyes. My unmarried aunt had a picture of her on the mantel, in the living room, at Grandma’s house. A beautiful lady inside and out so I’ve been told. She was a young woman who should have lived many more years. I’ve been told she wanted to be busy all the time. I am the same, even today at the age of seventy nine. If I happen to be seated, I want something to do like crocheting or reading. Even sewing is better than nothing.
I wanted that smile of hers to tell me everything was going to be okay. Not understanding at the age of three, I probably thought she was sleeping. If someone would shake her hard enough she would pop open those big beautiful blue eyes and give me one of her loving smiles. I wish I could remember Mama’s face because all my life I have wanted to remember her. It still nags at me because I cannot remember her.
I know I saw her in her casket because I recall the shade of pink her dress was and the broach she had at the crease of her breast reflecting different colors. I remember all of this and no one told me. In fact, my married aunt was shocked when I told her what I recalled. I just wanted Mama to see me and smile with those big blue eyes.
Someone told me that I kept touching her beautiful red hair. Red hair is a trait from Grandma’s side of the family. So many of the Stephenson girls had red hair. I’ve been told by many people that I am the carbon copy of Mama. Not just in looks, but my makeup is a carbon copy of her. However, my hair was blonde, not red as I was growing up. Of course it is now dark blonde and gray.
After Mama died our dad went into the army. I was told by his sister that he beat Mama the day she died. She had asthma and I guess the beating brought on an occurrence of not being able to breathe and it caused her death. He was a sorry-ass man who loved his booze more than his family.
I would give anything to have had Mama during my time growing up. We were too young to be without her. We needed her to teach us manners and show us how to cook and clean. We needed her to love us and give us a big hug. Jo and I would love to remember how she would hug and kiss us.
I had a dream about Mama not too many years ago. In the dream she was in her casket and Grandma kept telling me to go see what she wanted. Grandma was conveying to me not to be afraid because Mama had something to tell me. Even Papa kept pushing me toward that casket. In the dream everyone was dead but me.
I was petrified to walk over to her. I wanted to stay with Grandma and not have to go toward that casket. I was afraid of going forward and couldn’t understand why she wanted to tell me something. I was so scared to the point of wanting to run out of the room.
In the dream she was smiling at me. Believe it or not, I remember that smile and I believe God gave me the chance to see Mama. If she looks the way I saw in that dream, she was a beautiful young lady. Her eyes were a radiant blue, blue as the sky on a sunny day. There was a smile in them and Mama’s face glowed with love coming from it.
THE DAY MAMA died Jo Ann and I went to our aunt and uncle’s house. They lived at the top of a long hilly road that led down to Papa’s house. My aunt told me how she was holding my sister in her arms and I held her other hand as we walked down that long road to Grandma’s house shortly after Mama was buried. It wasn’t an extremely long road, however a three year old little girl whose legs were short took forever to even see Grandma’s house. It was hard . . . so . . . hard to keep up with my aunt. I’m sure she was tired of holding Jo Ann in her arms, too.
I guess my uncle had the car for some reason. Of course, they may not have had a car in the year nineteen-thirty-nine. Back then most people didn’t have one. There were not many cars on the road in the early forties, especially the country roads that were not paved. Most farmers used their money for machinery to help with the farming, not cars.
Before we got to Grandma’s house my married aunt told me I was asking her to hold me. My short legs were tired . . . so . . . tired . . . walking down that lengthy . . . dirt . . . road. It was hard to keep up and I’m sure I thought we would never get there. She couldn’t hold both of us. She said I was crying, wanting Mama to come back. Evidently, I cried for days and no one could please me. She said I kept asking for Mama and it was a desperate time for my sister and me. We had no idea where our parents had gone. We were two small children with no parents to love us again.