Adoption is a wonderful process where a child who has no family support is joined to a family that agrees to treat the adopted child the same as a biological child. Frequently the child is an orphan. Sometimes the child has only one parent and the parent decides that it is best for the child to be adopted because the remaining parent cannot properly care for and raise the child. In today’s world, 2019, the adoption process can be long and very expensive because of laws and regulations, but this was not always so. In 1929 you might say that there was a formal adoption process and an informal process.
Jake and Juby Henderson were a farming couple living about twelve miles west of Fitzgerald, Georgia. Their family included two young boys, Jim and John Russell, aged three and one. Along with their neighbors they were “poor as dirt” or “dirt poor” farmers prospering some years and losing the next year. They had never remotely considered adopting a third child but trusted that God would give them more children in the future.
On Saturdays, Jake would frequently make a trip to the local store. The store, Mr. Land’s, was about two miles down a dirt road to the nearest crossroads, known of course as Land’s Crossing. Sometimes he hooked his horse to the buckboard, but if he had few items to purchase, he would just walk. One hot Saturday in the Summer of 1929 he walked because he just needed to pick up a sack of sugar. Jake was a gregarious man although at this time he probably did not know the definition of this word. He would just say that he liked people. So, his Saturday trips were more about getting the local news than about grocery shopping.
On this particular Saturday, the news was unusual and troubling. Mrs. Sheffield had died recently, and Mr. Sheffield was at the store asking his neighbors for help. Since his wife’s death, he knew that he could not raise his five children and he had made the difficult decision to ask neighbors to “take in”, or adopt, his children. He approached Jake and asked him to take in Nate, a small boy about five years old. Jake was thoughtful but made a quick decision that he and Juby could not do it. Jake, my father, told me 25 years later that he turned and walked away. Suddenly his thoughts turned to his own boys-what would he do if Juby died, would he need someone to adopt them, what else could he do? This thought caused him to turn back to Mr. Shepherd and Nate. Nate was standing there barefoot in his one-piece outfit of overalls. Jake looked Nate in the eye and said: “Do you want to come with me?” Nate did not utter a sound, but he held out his hand and Jake took it. They walked down the road together and he introduced Nate to Juby and told her the story. She wrapped him in her arms, accepting him into the family.
Mr. Shepherd was able to place each of his children with community families and soon left the area. Nate fit in with the Henderson family but also kept in touch with his brothers and sisters in the area. This was informal adoption in 1929 South Georgia. Today’s laws are important because of the situations in existence in our land today. However, with today’s laws, the Hendersons could not have adopted because they had no money. What they did have was a good understanding of God’s word:
Exo_22:22 Ye shall not afflict any widow or fatherless child.
Psa_82:3 Defend the poor and fatherless: do justice to the afflicted and needy.
Jas_1:27 Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.
The Henderson family was active in the local Big Creek Baptist Church where Jake was Sunday School Superintendent. The Hendersons also knew that they had been adopted by God.
Eph 1:5 God had already decided that through Jesus Christ he would make us his children by adoption—this was his pleasure and purpose.
Adoption has been a continuous part of the Henderson family history. Nate was the second adoption because Jake had an adopted brother, Curtis Henderson. And there have been six adoptions in our family since then. Jake and Juby had five more children, of which I am the last and the least.
Nate was my oldest brother, the oldest of eight children. I have a few more stories to tell about Nate. Since my brother Bill passed away recently, I am the last of the eight living and I want to tell a few of my memories for those who are interested in family history.