Jean Sexton

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I rode the train to Missouri and lived a happily ever after life.

In Brooklyn, New York in 1912, an Irish carpenter, who was the father of five children, died as the result of an industrial accident. Six months later, a sixth child was born to the thirty five year old widow who was working hard to keep her family together. When the baby boy was eleven months old, his mother died. The grandparents were unable to care for the six orphans, so they were taken to the Children’s Aid Society.

In 1914, along with other homeless children, they boarded an Orphan Train to find new homes in the Midwest. I was the fifth child, three years old, and was separated from my sister and brothers when I was adopted in southwest Missouri.

My foster parents were Walter and Margaret Landreth, a childless couple who lived twelve miles east of Neosho. Missouri. They soon became Mama and Daddy because I did not remember my biological parents. Daddy was a farmer and I was a tomboy. I loved
going with Daddy whether it was to feed the cattle or gather walnuts. Daddy wanted me to have a pony, but Mama objected, saying that she was afraid I would get hurt. They finally compromised and I was soon riding a beautiful new bicycle. I would have had fewer black and blue marks if I had been riding a pony.

Mama was often called upon to help where there was illness and at these times I would get to stay with my grandmother. She loved me and we had fun together, but one day when she heard me practicing my whistling, she warned, “Whistling girls and crowing hens always come to a sad end.”

In 1918, one of Daddy’s nieces, Mary, came to live with us after her mother died during the flu epidemic leaving ten children. Mary was six months younger than I and we grew up together as sisters, sometimes, mistaken for twins. With Mama’s help, we had many parties for our friends with taffy pulls and parlor games. An aunt and uncle joined in the fun by helping with decorations and entertainment.

Mama wanted us to have fun but she insisted that we learn cooking and housekeeping. She used many adages in her teaching, such as: “Anything worth doing is worth doing well.” “A stitch in time saves nine,” and “To have friends, you must show yourself friendly.” She also lived by these rules.

Mr. J. W. Swan of Sedalia, Missouri, a very kind and considerate agent for the Children’s Aid Society, visited often, but Daddy did not appreciate his visits. He did not want anyone doubting his care of his little girl. Once, when Mr. Swan arrived during a rainstorm, Daddy remarked, “Hump! Fine weather for swans.” Being a man of few words, Daddy often amused people with his short, but appropriate remarks. Once when asked why he had
so little to say, he replied, with a sideways glance towards Mama and said “Somebody has to listen.” And when someone asked, “Walt, do you think it’s ever going to stop raining?” the reply was, “Always has.”

When I was sixteen, Mr. Swan came for his last visit and gave, me the address of my brother, who lived in Colorado. My brother and I soon found our sister and baby brother, who had been adopted by Mr. and Mrs. Stoneberger of Auburn, Nebraska. The following summer, the three of them came to Missouri and we had a wonderful reunion. After that, we kept in touch and had many good times together.

After graduating from high school, I attended business college in Tulsa, Oklahoma, finishing there in the height of the Great Depression. Then I met and married the tall, dark, handsome man of my dreams. We struggled through the depression with few luxuries, but high hopes. During the thirties we bought out first home for eight hundred dollars, and had two sons. We worked at many different jobs, until the economy finally improved, and we were able to secure permanent positions. My husband worked for city and county government, and I went to work for Skelly Oil Company, retiring in 1973.

My older son, Harold, is retired from state government and my younger son, Clark, has been in the ministry since 1965. They are both upstanding citizens and have been a blessing to me, always showing their love and respect in every way. I have also been blessed with four grandchildren and five great grandchildren.

I believe the secret of a happy live is keeping busy, making many friends and being a friend to all.

Mama died after a stroke in 1981 at the age of 97. Daddy suffered a fatal heart attack in 1952.

I am a charter member of OTHSA (Orphan Train Heritage Society of America) and have enjoyed telling the stories of the Orphan Trains to many different groups and organizations. I was greatly honored when I received the Charles Loring Brace award in 1989. I believe you will agree that my story has a happy ending.

by Jean Sexton
Tulsa World, Sunday, November 26, 1995