As they sat on the steps of the old girls’ home behind Wildwood Avenue Church of God of Prophecy, memories spilled out about the days in the orphanage. Linda Barlow, who was in the orphanage from 1957-1969, actually found her name and height measurement written on the wall in the home’s basement, which recalled more memories, since the dining hall for the girls was in the basement.
The house is now in disrepair, but Linda was able to recognize the place in the living room the piano sat where she took music lessons from the late Mildred Davis. Mrs. Davis made regular trips from Chattanooga, where her husband served as church pastor, to give the orphanage children piano lessons.
Tommy Barlow, a retired pastor, and brother Chuck Barlow also recalled taking music lessons. Tommy continued with his love of music, taking care to stay surrounded with sounds of singing and instruments. He sang in a trio for several years.
He graduated from Cleveland High School and after he left the orphanage, joined the Marines in 1962. He lives in Kirksville, Mo., and enjoys his two “sons” — the canine variety, 5 and 7.
Chuck lives in Jones, Okla., with his new wife, Shirley. Together, they have three children and five grandchildren. For the last 10 or 12 years, he has worked for a produce company.
Chuck was an usher at Susie’s wedding to Walter Lofton. She recalled how the children would have a special place to sit when they went to the Assembly in the old Central Avenue Tabernacle. She laughed as she told about the boy who sat with his family near them. He had a funny way of clapping his hands, much to the enjoyment of the children. It was after she married that she noticed her husband clapped his hands the same way, “so could it have been him?”
Linda moved to New York City (The Bronx), upon leaving Tomlinson Home and married. She has two daughters. Her husband died in 2003 but she serves as a foster parent of special needs children.
Another sister, Judy, who became ill with diabetes, is deceased.
Susie was one of three children whose mother and dad divorced, and so the children went to live with an aunt in Dalton, Ga. Their dad lived with his unmarried sisters — one with cancer. When the aunt could no longer care for the children, the two older children, Margaret, 5, and Johnny, 4, were admitted to Tomlinson Home for Children. Susie was too young since the home couldn’t accept babies.
But when she got older, she actually ran away to be with her sibling — “I was desperate to be with my sister,” she said — and her dad consented for her to live in the home. Her sister left the home at 17, so Linda and Susie, both 10, became “sisters.”
“We adopted each other,” she said. Susie did have a pet all her own — she carried her pet bird with her. Pets weren’t exactly allowed, but stray dogs were occasionally adopted by the children and cared for.
At the home, the girls had their daily chores for morning, noon and evening. Susie’s and Linda’s jobs were to clean the inside stairs from the first floor to the basement, and empty wastebaskets from the bedrooms.
Her first houseparent was Alice Wengar. Susie remembers one night a man broke into the house through the basement and couldn’t find his way out. Wengar ran through the girls’ home yelling, “Man in the house!”
After that Wengar left and the girls were between houseparents for a while, so temporary houseparents looked after them, including the Jack Wilkersons, the C.R. Paynes, the John Walters and the Omer Davises.
In the early 1960s, Pearline Williams arrived, and she served until 1964. The first permanent husband and wife team were Grady and Donna Smalley, who stayed until 1966 and were followed by the Haygoods.
The children attended Tomlinson Memorial School, but when it closed at the end of Susie’s seventh-grade year, she started at public school. She went to Allen Elementary School in the eighth grade, and began high school (ninth grade) at Cleveland High School in its first year. It was the also the first year the school played the Bradley Bears, “and they beat the socks off of us,” she said.
Susie started trying to find her “sisters and brothers” about six months ago, and finally made contact, but “they didn’t have a clue,” she said.
“Susie who?” was the question. When She learned the Barlows were going to North Carolina for a family reunion, she persuaded them to stop by Cleveland.
“After all these years,” she said, “it was so wonderful to get back together and share experiences.”
Several others joined them for a dinner at the Golden Corral the next day, including Diane Strickland, Donna Link, Sharon White, Jimmy Rogers, John Cassidy and his wife Martha, and Rama Gonia and her father Winston Gonia, who served as pastor of the Wildwood Church during her stay in the home.
They talked about counting coupons for the orphanage home — once there was a barrel full of spaghetti coupons which took days and days to count. They remembered how the churches would have “penny” marches to raise money for the Tomlinson Home for Children. And they were always glad to see visitors to the homes because usually they gave the children money or brought gifts.
They agreed, “We appreciated the church people for the help they gave,” recalling the storehouse full of groceries and, one time — the numerous boxes of Tide stored everywhere. One shoe company in Tennessee each year always sent shoes for everyone.
But Susie’s most vivid memory concerned school. It was the one time she didn’t study for a scheduled test. After the papers were graded, the teacher told the class, “There was one person who failed the test. What do you think their punishment should be?”
Susie quickly spoke up and said, “I think you should give him a whipping.” The class was asked if everyone agreed. They did.
“Guess who had failed the test.”