This book has been a work of love for several years. As with any book, it is almost complete, but it is not nearly done as every time I read it I make little changes here and there.
If you know me, you know that I was adopted. If you don’t you do now. My father, the one who adopted me, and my only father, just to be clear was pastoring a small Baptist church in Corpus Christi when he met Lester Roloff. That is where the story begins for me.
A few years ago I met my biological mother and have grown close with her and have learned her story. I have also learned the stories of many of the survivors of the Roloff Homes for Girls and have uncovered untold secrets.
The characters in this book are based on mosaics of real experiences of women who have lived through the Roloff Homes and had the courage to share them with me. All are real experiences, no one woman, I hope, experienced them all.
This book is dedicated to the survivors.
January 2nd, 1980
Linda gazed back at her house as it grew smaller and smaller in the distance as she rode to the bus station with her dad, Austin Skinner. Mr. Skinner didn’t say much as he drove his 1967 Chevy on that chilly East Texas morning; in fact, he never said much, but Linda discerned that he was deep in thought. When the street on which she had grown up disappeared as they turned a corner, Linda turned in her seat and leaned against her dad’s arm. He was wearing a faded flannel shirt and well-worn blue jeans with a hole right above the right knee. Linda breathed in deeply, knowing that it would be the last time for several months that she would be able to smell her dad’s scent. There was something comforting and refreshing about that smell, and for a moment she thought about asking him if she could take his shirt along with her, but quickly dismissed that idea.
They pulled into the dilapidated Greyhound station at 7:02 A.M. Not many people were around, but Bus Number 2 was sitting in its stall with a sign that said, “Houston / Corpus Christi”. That was her ride. Linda felt her heart skip a beat as she realized that this was it – this was the time to say goodbye. She only had one bag, a small duffel bag with a few changes of clothes and some toiletries in it. Linda could have packed more, but she wisely predicted that some of the other girls at the Home might have been thieves. Mr. Skinner grabbed her bag from the trunk, and held it in his right hand as he slammed the lid and began walking towards the bus. Walking along side her father, Linda said to him in a voice barely louder than a whisper, “I’m so sorry, dad.”
Then she looked up at his face and saw there were tears in his eyes. This was the first time she had seen him cry since the day in 1968 when his mother had passed away! He looked away, and for a moment it seemed as though he wasn’t going to say anything, but then he sucked in a deep breath and said something that she’d never forget. “It’s all my fault,” he continued in his Cajun accent, “If I had spent more time with you, and less time worrying about my own problems, then this wouldn’t have happened. Don’t apologize. And don’t worry about me; I’ll be here when you get back. Linda, I love ya’.
His eyes got teary again right as the bus driver blew into his whistle and shouted, “Bus Leaves in Two Minutes!”
Linda hugged her father. It was an embrace like she’d never experienced before. The sincerity and veracity in the way her father hugged her was reassuring and electrifying at the same time. She squeezed him back with all the strength she could muster. Then Austin pulled away and said, “You better get on your bus, Tiger.”
“Tiger,” Linda thought, “He hasn’t used that nickname for me since I was 7 years old!”
Then aloud she said, “Yes, Daddy, I’ll see you soon.”
Climbing aboard, she took one last look at her father standing there on the sidewalk. She waved, and he waved back and then began to walk back towards his car. Finding a seat, she settled in for the long ride to Corpus and the Rebekah Home for Girls.
Elizabeth Agnes and Thelma Smith met every Monday for lunch at the quaint “Charmed Café” in Waco. Both ladies were striking Southern Belles who had aged gracefully, and had many things in common, the biggest being that they were both widows. The pair enjoyed talking about most everything: the latest arthritis medications, their kids who seldom called or wrote, impolite young people, (What’s the world coming to? Kids weren’t like that in the gold ole’ days!), etc… Today, however, was different. Today, Agnes was determined to let Elizabeth know that her New Year’s Resolution was to “Step-Up and Step-Out” as her pastor had counseled. Previous experience had taught her that resolutions never became reality unless she told somebody her plans, that way she had to at least attempt to achieve her goals or risk being called a liar!
When their orders had been placed, Elizabeth spoke up while the waiter delivered glasses of water for each of them, “Thelma, I’ve been thinking that I am getting old, and haven’t accomplished much these past few years. I really feel that I should help somebody or volunteer somewhere, but I don’t know what I can do!”
Without missing a beat, the Thelma, a devout Methodist, looked over the top of her gold horn-rimmed glasses across the table at Agnes, “But darlin’, you have that wonderful spare bedroom in your house,” Thelma went on as Elizabeth’s face lit up, “Why don’t you find a young woman who needs a chance in life to stay with you? Besides, you aren’t getting any younger, and Lord knows you could use a little help around the house!”
The waiter stepped in and delivered the salads the women had requested. After ensuring everything was okay with them he meandered over to the adjoining table, and the ladies continued with their conversation. “I think that’s what I’m going to do, Thelma, I’ll find a girl who needs my help, and I’ll help her.” Elizabeth said.
In the back of her mind, Elizabeth reminded herself to ask around to see if there were any such young ladies in need of help as the conversation quickly turned to talk about the hostage crisis in Iran and Ronald Regan, the former actor and governor who was running for President.
January 5th, 1980
The whirr of the upright vacuum cleaner made it impossible for anyone to hear her loud humming as Nancy cleaned the small house which she and Earl called home for now. Of course, nobody could have heard her anyways because Earl was at work. When she cleaned, she often daydreamed about moving back to Southern California where she had grown up, and where most of her family still resided. Once a month she called her mom in National City because long distance was too expensive for anything other than sporadic use. Tomorrow was the day set aside for the call. Nancy couldn’t wait to talk to her mother because there was so much information to convey. The Holidays in Texas had gone by in a blur, and most importantly, the very real possibility that she and Earl would soon have a child they could call their very own!
Just then, her phone began to ring. Nancy didn’t hear it until the third or fourth ring due to the noise of the vacuum. When she reached the phone after running across the living room to the kitchen, she answered, “Hello?”
“I’m calling for Nancy Johnson,” said the pleasant female voice on the other end of the line.
“Speaking,” Nancy replied.
“Mrs. Johnson, I’m calling from the Rebekah Home for Girls in Corpus Christi. We’re just letting you know that the girl who you are sponsoring has arrived at the Home, and is in good health and spirits.” The voice went on as though it was a routine phone call, “She appears to be about 3 months along, and is expecting in late July. We’ll keep you informed of her progress.”
Nancy’s pulse quickened as she listened to the strange voice on the other end of the line. Then, as curtly as the call had begun, it was ended.
Corpus Christi, Texas
Rebekah Home for Girls, Roloff Ministries Incorporated
Linda looked around the dining hall as she gripped her cafeteria style tray and made her way through the military style buffet line. She asked the “lunch room lady” for chicken, green beans, rice, and some of the green foamy dessert with jello bits in it. The end of her third day in the Home couldn’t have come fast enough. When she had first arrived, the staff had seemed very nice; Margaret was an elderly and somewhat plump lady who met her at the bus station had greeted her with a big hug, and chatted about everything from the weather to her grandchildren during the entire 45 minute drive to the facility. The friendly voice was a welcome change to Linda after hours of sitting alone in contemplative silence on the bus. Once out of the city they passed miles and miles of farmland. Margaret noted that the Home was surrounded by about one hundred acres of active farmland which helped feed the residents. Upon their arrival at Rebekah Home for Girls, another lady, this one younger and thinner with silky black hair came out to welcome them. Debbie, as Linda would come to know her, didn’t hesitate in picking up Linda’s duffel bag and saying, “Follow me!”
With hardly enough time to thank her driver, Linda said, “Okay,” and to Margaret, “Thank you”.
Debbie led an out of breath Linda into and through the main house pointing out such things as, “There’s the living room, no TV, just approved books, don’t want no worldly influences, Sister May is our librarian“, and “That’s the dining hall where you’ll be eating your meals, Sister Erma is our cook”, “The Chapel is on the left, you will be going to a chapel service every day, Brother Roloff preaches at most of the services”.
Linda had noticed several girls dressed in long sleeved shirts and skirts that went to their ankles cleaning different areas of the house as she walked through. Each girl either had a braid or a bun hairstyle. Motioning towards one of them she asked, “I know that I’m supposed to help out around here to help pay for everything. What exactly am I supposed to do?”
“In the morning, I’ll introduce you to Brother Roloff who is the Headmaster of this facility and Gideon’s Home for Boys down the road.” Debbie went on, “He’ll decide what he thinks you will be good at, and then assign you to a staff member who will give you a list of tasks every morning; each staff member is in charge of a certain part of the ministry, and we all work together for the glory of God.”
Linda thought it strange that she would refer to everybody as either “brother” or “sister” and also the overtly religious way that Debbie talked. It didn’t seem to be a bad thing, just something that Linda would have to get used to.
“We’re here.” Debbie announced. “This is your room. You will be sharing it with a nice girl about your age from Houston whose name is Beth. Go ahead and make yourself at home, dinner is in about two hours. After dinner, we’ll get some new clothes for you to wear. We want you to be modest.”
As Linda wondered what was so immodest about a Stephen F. Austin University sweatshirt along with jeans, Debbie handed Linda her bag and excused herself, leaving Linda alone to explore the confines of her new room. The walls were paneled with the wood panels that were very prevalent in the 70s and 80s, two neatly made twin beds were in the center of the room with a single nightstand between them having a small lamp on top of it. On the wall closest to the ends of the beds was a pair of upright dressers each with 5 drawers. There were several personal items on top of the dresser that was closest to the window, and a small teddy bear was sitting on top of the pillow of the bed on the same side, therefore Linda assumed that Beth was already residing on that side of the room. Linda set her single bag down on the floor and plopped down on the bed and looked up at the ceiling. “I’m here,” she thought, “In six months I’ll have this baby, and be able to go home and get back to my life!”
But looking down at her plate of food, she realized that it was going to be a desperately long seven months. Not one of the girls at the Home looked happy to be there. In a whispered conversation with her roommate Beth while unpacking, Linda learned that many of the girls were forced to pay “penance” for their sins. Sins, Linda would later learn, were loosely defined as anything one of the staff members didn’t approve of, such as not making your bed neatly enough, not singing “joyfully” enough in chapel, not eating all of the food on your plate at mealtimes, etc… Girls that hadn’t “invited Jesus into their hearts” were tremendously persecuted by being spanked, whipped, and confined in the basement – sometimes handcuffed to beds, sometimes forced to clean the long hallways with toothbrushes. Beth confided to Linda, “Just pretend to hate the girls they are punishing and act as though you are “saved”, and they’ll leave you alone.”
“YOUNG LADY, COME WITH ME!” The blinding light of the now open door caught the two girls by surprise. “BETH MILLER, GOD IS GOING TO PUNISH YOU FOR TALKING ABOUT HIS WORKERS LIKE THAT!”
The night shift must have been listening all along. What Linda and Beth didn’t know is that there was a hidden microphone in their room which allowed workers to listen whenever they felt like it. Beth began to cry as the burly “orderlies” quickly rushed over to her bed and plucked her right out of the sheets almost ripping her nightgown over her head! They dragged her out of the room kicking and screaming, and slammed the door behind them. Linda could hear them dragging her down the hallway, and as quickly as the commotion had begun it was over. However, the evidence of the struggle remained in that Beth’s bedspread was on the floor next to her bed. Linda was very quiet as she ultimately understood that the people running the Home weren’t at all like the brochure had advertised.
Linda tried to stifle the sobs that involuntarily arose from deep within her body. “I was only trying to do what was best for my baby and me,” she thought, “I didn’t mean to trap myself in hell on earth.” She sat up for much of the night hardly daring to breath. Hoping Beth would return to the room, Linda didn’t want to fall asleep; she needn’t have worried herself, unbeknownst to Linda, Beth was now sitting on the floor of the “solitary confinement” room. After over 2 hours of interrogation by “Brother Roloff” about her attitude and “what else” she and Linda talked about, Lester finally said, “That’s all for tonight. I am confining you to three days and three nights in solitary confinement. After that, you’ll be on probation. I’m disappointed in you young lady, I’ll never be able to completely trust you again.”
Beth’s response in her mind was, “I’ve never trusted you,” but she didn’t dare to verbalize that particular thought.
Almost on cue a pair of orderlies dressed completely in white entered the interrogation room and grabbed Beth by the shoulders and led her to the south end of the main hallway. Opening the very last door at the end of the hall, the orderly on her right wordlessly motioned for her to enter. Beth’s last bit of energy had been sapped from her body several hours before, and she willingly passed through the entrance. The room, if you could call it that was not much more than a large closet. The plywood walls were completely bare, and the cement floor was stained with a substance that Beth couldn’t quite make out. There was a strange odor emanating from the room. As she grew accustomed to her new surroundings, the door was unexpectedly slammed behind her, which startled the already frightened teen.
The two girls sat in silence on opposite ends of the Home, each wondering what the future held in this, the Rebekah Home for Girls.