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The Orphans' Nine Commandments

William Roger Holman

Publication Year: 2013

When Roger Bechan was six, his mother packed his suitcase and took him to the Oklahoma Society for the Friendless. He never saw her again. No wonder he and his orphan friends omit the tenth commandment—to "honor your father and mother."

His long journey through three orphanages and several foster homes is recalled with surprising humor and insight. Eventually, the boy finds a home in a small Oklahoma oil town, obtains degrees from two universities, marries and raises three sons, and becomes the youngest director of the San Francisco Public Library and an award-winning book designer.

The book is an unsentimental look at Bechan’s life in the child welfare system of Depression-era Oklahoma.

Published by: TCU Press

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pp. ix-xi

... On a bright summer afternoon in May 1932, Anna Bechan, a single mother, takes her six-year-old son, Roger, on a trolley ride to the city. They visit her friend, Uncle Paul, and have a check-up by their family physician. The following day Mother Bechan abandons Roger at the Oklahoma Society for the Friendless, a bleak orphanage. ...

Part One: The Red & White Trolley

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pp. 16-17

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Chapter 1

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pp. 1-13

My father was an elusive fellow. He and my mother, Anna Bechan, fell in love and were close for several years, gave birth to me, and wove a covenant of secrecy that took over six decades to unravel. Because he was a prominent citizen, already with a wife and children, it was necessary to invent a myth about the birth of their child. A petition filed with the Oklahoma County Juvenile Court reported ...

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Chapter 2

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pp. 14-22

I didn’t know it at the time, but Mr. William Wheeler, the superintendent of The Oklahoma Society for the Friendless, made his living by soliciting donations and pocketing fees from brokering abandoned children into adoptive homes. His benevolence also provided guidance for state prisoners and released felons, placing their children with more stable families, again garnering income for his services. ...

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Chapter 3

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pp. 23-35

... I was upstairs building a fort with a box of dominoes. Could it be Uncle Paul? I pushed the dominoes aside and scrambled down the stairs. A tall, stout-looking teenager with wavy black hair and large, dark eyes stood in the entry holding a piece of paper out to Tillie. She took it and read it, looking confused. ...

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Chapter 4

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pp. 36-42

When we arrived, the darkened house and drawn blinds made us apprehensive. Will fumbled in his pockets for his keys. Not finding them, he rang the bell. After a long delay, Helen cracked the door enough to let us in.We struggled through the half-opened door, shutting it quietly behind us. Obviously, skulduggery was afoot. ...

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Chapter 5

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pp. 43-56

The purring Plymouth, shrouded in fog and swirling rain, headed south from Oklahoma City. Mrs. Hardt steadied the steering wheel against the swings and sways of the rain-dancing car as we sped down Highway 77. The windshield wipers thumped as the lights of the oncoming cars bled through the mist. ...

Part Two: Please! Don’t Call Me Will Rogers

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pp. 74-75

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Chapter 6

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pp. 59-72

I was crowded between two other kids on a narrow mattress that smelled of urine. One boy, wiggling like a worm, lay at the head of the bed, and another coiled his body around my feet. Squashed between them, I struggled to comprehend these new surroundings. ...

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Chapter 7

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pp. 73-84

On the opening day of school in January, Leroy and I struggled out of bed at 5:30 a.m. We washed up and marched in line with our classmates to breakfast. We gobbled down our mush, returned to the dorm, and brushed our teeth with soda powder. Then Leroy smoothed his hair with a pat of Bessie’s pomade, and he smelled like ...

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Chapter 8

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pp. 85-94

By the middle of March, the days lengthened, and around noon the breeze streamed over Red Hill. It came at first as only a breath. Then, after a few hours, the wind blew with gusty freshness. ...

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Chapter 9

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pp. 95-112

One Friday morning in late June, Bessie marched into our dorm. Standing tall and looking official in her white dress, she announced that we boys were to quit straying off the grounds. “The Rose Hill Cemetery, Belle Isle Lake, and Uncle Walter’s shack are off limits.” But Bessie’s declarations fell on deaf ears. ...

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Chapter 10

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pp. 113-127

The fall season of 1935 is planted in my mind with colors. Halloween used half of my black crayon and some orange. Thanksgiving blew my black entirely. The other crayons became nubbins as we colored feathered turkeys, pilgrims in black cloaks and hats, and corn stalks. ...

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Chapter 11

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pp. 128-136

In the spring of 1936, I still lived on “orphan time,” shadowed by Pop Hall, Olga Tuttle, and the damnable bells, and always fearful that my guardian might return and snatch me away. I worked alongside Leroy to finish the first term of the fourth grade at the University Heights Grade School. ...

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Chapter 12

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pp. 137-149

Drumright, Oklahoma. What kind of town would it be? I wrestled with this thought as the Pontiac cruised east. Mr. Holman said it was a historic oil town and talked of Mobil Oil, Texaco, and Flying A: service stations that dotted the highway. He and Emma had moved from Ohio so he could work as a foreman at John D. Rockefeller’s Tide Water Refinery. ...

Part Three: Orphans’ Nine Commandments

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pp. 168-169

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Chapter 13

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pp. 153-170

I now lived in the West Oklahoma Home for White Children, located six blocks west of Helena, a small farming town of seven hundred. The home’s ninety-acre campus included a weathered main building, three red-brick dormitories, a dining hall, a dairy barn, and a grade school. ...

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Chapter 14

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pp. 171-185

We traveled southward in the Pontiac for over two hours. As we approached Tiger Hill, I saw orange-red flares casting dancing shadows across several oil rigs and dozens of silver oil tanks. I loved the bright sights, oily earth scents, and the sounds of the pumping wells. ...

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Chapter 15

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pp. 186-197

Drumright came alive on Saturday night. Our small family spent those evenings on Broadway Street, and Mother took on a more spirited air when she dressed up for the weekly event. When the sun sank over Tiger Hill and the earth cooled, hundreds of people who lived on the outlying farms and oil leases streamed into town, joining the ...

Part Four: Searching for One’s Beginnings

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pp. 216-217

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Chapter 16

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pp. 201-216

But true to the essence of my peripatetic life, changes came to my small world. In early January 1944, Dad, having sworn off gambling, decided to accept a challenge. The B.F. Goodrich Company offered him a responsible position to supervise the construction of a new plant in Miami, Oklahoma. ...

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Chapter 17

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pp. 217-227

When we returned home, I abandoned the judges and the courts and instead searched for Paul Minter, my so-called Uncle Paul, who had befriended me as a child. Could he shed light on the mystery of Joseph Bechan, my father? Or was Uncle Paul or Will Minter my father? But their home phone numbers were no longer listed. ...

End Notes

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pp. 229-230

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pp. 233-234

After a successful tenure at one of the loveliest public libraries in the nation—the Rosenberg Library in Galveston—Holman introduced modern library practices to the San Antonio Public Library. Building on that success, he was asked to bring the same kind of order to the San Francisco Public Library. A recognized renaissance ...

E-ISBN-13: 9780875654669
E-ISBN-10: 0875654665
Print-ISBN-13: 9780875654034

Page Count: 246
Illustrations: 19 b&w photos
Publication Year: 2013