I don’t remember the age I was when I came to Tennyson Center for Children at Colorado Christian Home in the mid 1960s.
I’m not sure exactly how long I stayed. But I do remember it as well as I remember any significant thing that has ever happened to me in my past. It was a defining moment.
I was heart sick at first. I lay on my little cot in a girls dormitory. I didn’t want to talk, eat, or speak. The poor ladies who were in charge of me tried with all their might to get me over the emotional pain of a little girl who had a broken heart and wanted her mother. Finally, after a few days of trying everything they could think to try, someone said, “Do you want to see your brother?” It worked.
They took my hand and led me to a cottage behind the main building where my little brother was, in a crib. I slipped my hand through the bars and touched him. He smiled. After all, I had always thought that no one could care for my brother the way I could.
Slowly, I regained my bearings and I started noticing that I was receiving a lot of things I didn’t previously know existed in my small world: clean clothes every day, three meals a day at a dinner table, a schedule, and a feeling of steadiness. I couldn’t wait for story time at the end of each day. Every evening we sat and listened to books being read to us. I was able to visit my brother, knowing that the weight of taking care of all his needs was no longer on me; I only needed to love him. Some might say it was a rough time in my childhood, being in the orphanage, but I learned a valuable lesson: a child should never have the weight of the world on their shoulders. I never had much control as a child, but I had learned to try controlling everything around me in order to feel safe. But here, I learned a different way. I didn’t have to be anything other than the child I was.
I remember at holidays the children were invited into a room with tables holding all kinds of new and handmade gifts. We were told to choose a gift for our family, and I always chose a gift for my mother and brother. It meant a lot to me to do this because no matter what you go through with your family you still love them. After my time at Tennyson Center for Children at Colorado Christian Home, I ended up in several other places: foster care, group homes, relatives’ homes.
No one cared for me the way I was cared for at Tennyson Center for Children at Colorado Christian Home.
Last March, I contacted the Colorado Christian Home, now Tennyson Center for Children, and was invited back. I was sad at first when I arrived with my daughter, seeing that the home is not like the image I’ve held in my memory. The main building has been torn down. I didn’t recognize anything.
I got a tour and finally landed upon an older cottage. It was low to the ground and off the side of the main building. My heart felt a familiar tug, and I knew I was in the same place my little seven year old heart had been some 50-odd years ago. My mind returned to the memory of holding a hand, walking into the building, and seeing a little boy in a crib–who is no longer in this world–and touching his hand. I knew I was in the right place.
At the end of my tour, I was invited into the CEO’s office to leave my mark on the wall, as the kids do now as a ritual of goodbye when they leave Tennyson Center. I put my hand print on the wall and wrote my name. Then I wrote, “From my seven year old heart, through my 59 year old hands and fingertips to you, thank you.”
I thanked my daughter, who witnessed this healing moment and who held the hand of that seven year old girl who still resides in her mother’s grown body.
Don’t ever think the work of a staff member at Tennyson doesn’t mean something. Every single person at Tennyson contributes to the lives of the children they touch. The work is so much greater than you will ever know, and these kids will remember it many, many years down the road. One small gesture–a hand that reaches out to them, a meal, a hand print on a wall…
They will never forget. I didn’t.
— Jeanie Anderson
Thank you, Jeanie, for sharing your heart and your story with us. You have touched us deeply.