Years ago, when I was younger, callow and a lazy newspaper columnist, I opened my mail one morning and a story fell into my lap.
The letter was from a former resident of the Pixley Home, a long-closed child welfare agency in Fort Wayne. Back in the day, if you lacked the resources to support your own children, you didn’t get cash or food stamps or other help from the government. Rather, the government would take over the care and raising of your children in a place like the Pixley Home, sort of an orphanage for children who weren’t orphans. This woman’s time at Pixley was sometime in the ’30s or ’40s, when the Depression, and then the war, disrupted many families. Kids at Pixley might have only one parent, often a widower father but sometimes a woman who had no family of her own to help with her burden. Child care outside of a grandmother or aunt was virtually nonexistent, so if you had to work to support yourself and had no one to watch your children? You surrendered them to a place like the Pixley Home.
If it sounds cruel to you, you’re not the only one.
Parents could visit their children, of course, on Sundays. And parents could get their children back, once they were back on their feet. I don’t recall what the process was to reclaim them, but I do know children generally stayed for months or years.
Anyway, the woman who wrote was trying to put together a reunion of Pixley kids, and hoped I could publicize it. I dug up a picture of the old building, called a few of the other residents that she had already tracked down, and wrote a column describing this merry, loving place, because that’s how my correspondent remembered it. She described it as something out of Little Orphan Annie, with stern-but-kind caretakers, big group dinners and so forth. It was like having a couple dozen brothers and sisters, all sleeping in dorms and bunk beds. About the worst thing she remembered was the weekly dose of castor oil everyone had to take.
The column ran, a few more Pixley kids were found as a result, the reunion went as planned and then, a few weeks after that, another letter arrived.
Like the first, it was written by an older woman. Only her memories of the Pixley Home were very different. She described a particular delivery man who would hang around after he’d offloaded his groceries and find a way to corner her in a quiet place. You can imagine what happened next. She certainly hadn’t forgotten it. She said she told the matrons about him, but nothing was done. It’s safe to say that decades later, she was still pretty upset about it. She certainly didn’t want to go to a happy reunion, and didn’t. But she wanted me to know.
Jeff has written about this elsewhere, and he’s right: Sexual abuse of children and women is absolutely nothing new, and was far, far more widespread than any of us know. My Fort Wayne neighbor’s mother-in-law was profoundly deaf from birth, and it happened to her. If you wanted a perfect victim, why not choose a girl who couldn’t talk? Or a girl in an institution? Or a servant or other low-status worker with no power and few resources to fight back?
The good ol’ days weren’t, in other words.
I thought of this other Pixley girl a couple years ago, when a father in one of the Larry Nassar sentencing hearings lunged at the defendant, calling him a son-of-a-bitch and asking for “one minute alone,” etc. He was subdued by deputies before he laid a hand on Nassar. So now his daughter, molested by Nassar at 13, has to further deal with the sight of her father being taken from the courtroom in handcuffs.
I want to tentatively raise my hand and ask a question: Is it possible to acknowledge every one of Nassar’s victims, to let them speak and describe how they were hurt by him, and still give them what they need to live the rest of their lives, not as victims, but as survivors? Because as creepy as having some doctor stick his ungloved fingers in you might be, having that define the rest of your life is far, far worse.
All of these stories are terrible, and some are unendurable. A father whose guilt over not protecting his daughter drove him to suicide. A victim who committed suicide herself.
When I read that ESPN piece about Todd Hodne, the rapist who played briefly at Penn State, I was struck by…well, by so many things. But what elevated it, in my eyes, was the careful attention paid to what happened to the women after they were raped by this behemoth. The girl who, at 16, successfully fended him off found strength in what she’d done, strength that has buttressed her throughout her life. Betsy Sailor, the woman who tried so hard through her terror to remember every detail, so she could testify later in court, similarly carried that good-deed-that-came-of-a-terrible-one into how she lived. Others were broken, or nearly so, by what happened. One woman remembered her mother, a Hodne victim, and the anxiety she was never able to shake afterward.
Of course you can’t blame those who didn’t turn straw into gold; no one knows how they’ll come through a trauma until it happens.
I was also struck, reading the Hodne story, that we’re finally getting better at how we treat women (and men) who endure these crimes. Victim impact statements are only part of it. We obviously have far, far to go. But there’s a glimmer of a bright side to look on, at least sometimes.
I don’t want to bring y’all down today, but the Pixley Home has been knocking around my head for a while now, and it needed to come out.
In Michigan, the state GOP continues to delaminate. The guy in that story is deep in the DeVos organization, as I recall, and if he’s out, well, Katy bar the door.
If you were wondering if there’s a worse businessman in the world than Donald Trump, I do believe we’ve found him:
Boeing should have rejected then-President Donald Trump’s proposed terms to build two new Air Force One aircraft, the company’s CEO said Wednesday.
Dave Calhoun spoke Wednesday on the company’s quarterly earnings call, just hours after Boeing disclosed that it has lost $660 million transforming two 747 airliners into flying White Houses.
Then-President Trump, an aviation enthusiast, took a keen interest in the new presidential jets, involving himself in everything from contract negotiations to the plane’s color scheme. As part of the deal, Boeing signed a fixed-price contract that required the company, not taxpayers, to pay for any cost overruns during the complicated conversion of the two airliners.
Then-Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg, who was dismissed in December 2019, personally negotiated the Air Force One terms with Trump at the White House and the former president’s Mar-a-Lago club in Florida.
P.S. Dennis Muilenberg left his “dismissal” with a $62 million exit package.