May 19, 2013 by DSUpshaw
The first version was written as, “These individuals, many abandoned by their families, were buried in the only place some of them knew.” Someone edited it to read as, “Many of the residents being treated were forgotten, outlived or abandoned by their families and died at Central.” While I realize they were not including all the residents at Central the comments stirred something deep inside me. Something I can’t ignore. I have to tell the other side of the story. The story of the families. I don’t know the other families involved, but I do know mine.
My great-grandparents lived on a farm in northern Union Parish, almost in Arkansas. They both came from good families and could trace their roots back to the founders of the parish. After their marriage in December of 1892, they started a family. The first was Tommy. He would always be called Tommy which seems a little odd when you think about all he went through and the fact he was forced to become a man way before he should have. Sarah only lived fifteen months. Velma died when she was three and Rachel was only two. They died three days apart. George and Charlie would die within hours of their birth. Tommy, Jim, Frank, Fred and Varner would survive. Five of their 10 children died under the age of three. After all these years we have no way of knowing if this had anything to do with my grandfather’s illness but five months after Charlie’s death he was committed to Central and died two months later.
My great-grandmother, Alice, not only lost her husband but she was left alone to provide for her five surviving children, the youngest being three years old. My PawPaw was six. She lived on a farm many miles from the nearest town. At least it was many miles in those days. Because her husband had a mental illness Alice and her children were shunned by the neighbors. They had a “crazy” person in the family.
Just before he was committed my grandfather plowed over the crops that were almost ready to harvest. Alice and her children had next to nothing. Her family and in-laws were also farmers and had large families of their own, so they could only help so much. The burden fell to sixteen year old Tommy. He dropped out of school, took over the farm and took on the job of raising his younger brothers. His WWI draft registration listed his dependants as his wife, one child, his mother and three brothers. He was twenty-four.
All of this happened in 1909. It was a different world then. There were no paved roads and very few people even had a car. I doubt anyone in Union Parish would have one. Today, it takes me a good three hours to drive there from where I live a few miles from Central. One thing is for sure, no one has ever accused me of driving slow. I have a modern car and a four lane highway most of the way. It would have taken Alice about three days to travel to Pineville.
In 1909, no one in rural America had a telephone. They had to depend on the mail. Mail that was not flown out each night on a jet or driven to each post office in a large truck on the interstate. Letters were not delivered the next day. I do not know how or when my grandmother was notified but I am certain my grandfather had already been buried when she learned of his death. In any case, she barely had enough money to feed her children. How could she have brought his body home to be buried?
Alice never remarried and remained in Union Parish most of her life. She died in a bus accident at the age of seventy-five. Like the residents of Central, she did not have an easy life. She did not suffer the way they did, but she did suffer. And so did most of the families who had a spouse, child, parent or sibling living there. She did not abandon her husband.
My grandfather was six years old when his dad died. He didn’t know much about his father and while he knew where he died, he did not know where he was buried. My dad looked for many years to find the burial site. We had no idea there was a cemetery on the grounds of Central. Calls to the hospital were in vain.
There are many, many families who have a story to tell. Many other families who are looking for someone’s grave. The residence of Central came from all over the state. Many of the families had the same hardships as my grandmother. Each person living there had their own story and so did their families. They all had their own heartaches.
This goes to the core of what we are fighting for. Each person who lived at Central, died at Central and was buried at Central was an individual. They had their own life and their own problems. They also had their own accomplishments, their own dreams and their own families. Most importantly, they had their own names. Names that should be recognized and not hidden.