A Mystery Solved: 4 Children for Sale
November 15, 2017
Caleb Pirtle III
“My birth mother, she never did love me. She didn’t apologize for selling me. She hated me so much she just didn’t care.”
My blog yesterday described the saddest, most haunting photograph I had ever seen.
I wrote: I can’t imagine the anguish that must have torn at a mother’s heart when she made the most heart-breaking decision of all.
I can’t feed my children.
Maybe someone else will.
With me, they have no chance at all.
All they need is a chance.
And she carefully printed on a sign: 4 children for sale.
A mystery loomed.
What happened to the children?
Their faces appeared in the image of a single photograph, and then they were gone.
Filled with innocence.
Filled with confusion.
Filled with uncertainty.
Filled with fear.
Their fate is a mystery no more.
That’s why we are writers.
That’s why I was once a reporter.
I wanted to find out.
The photograph was not taken during the Great Depression as I thought.
It was shot in 1948.
The story began badly.
It grew even worse.
Ray and Lucille Chalifouxwere facing eviction from their apartment.
He was a coal truck driver and out of a job.
She was pregnant with a fifth child.
The cupboard was bare.
On the top step of the photograph sat Lana, aged six, and RaeAnn, aged 5. Below them were Milton, aged four, and Sue Ellen, aged two.
It took two years to sell them all.
RaeAnn was sold to a farmer and his wife for two dollars. Milton began crying, so sad to see his sister go, so they took him, too.
It could have been a fairy tale.
Theirs would not be a good life.
Salvation had not found them.
There were chained in a barn and forced to work long, unforgiving hours in the field.
Their new father, if he could be called a father, called them his slaves.
As a teenager, RaeAnn was kidnapped, raped, and sent away to a home for pregnant girls. Her baby was adopted at birth. She never saw or touched its face.
Milton was beaten, starved, and brutally abused. He had violent rages, triggered by his mistreatment, and a judge declared the boy was a menace to society.
He was hauled away and thown into he darkness.
He spent years in a mental hospital.
Sue Ellen and Lana were adopted. They rode away and no one for decades ever knew exactly what happened to either of them.
David was born after the photograph had been taken. He, too, was adopted. But before leaving home, he remembered being in the care of cold mother, one who had no love to give him.
Perhaps, he said, she was nothing more than the product of a hardscrabble world.
He recalled, “Back then, it was survival. Who are we to judge? We’re all human beings. We all make mistakes. My mother could have been thinking of the children. Didn’t want them to die.”
Milton remained bitter. He said, “My birth mother, she never did love me. She didn’t apologize for selling me. She hated me so much she just didn’t care.”
Lucille Chalifoux would have four more children.
David never forgave her.
He said, “She kept them. She didn’t keep us.”
RaeAnn was not able to connect with any of her siblings until she was seventy years old.
At long last she met with Sue Ellen.
She met with her just in time.
Sue Ellen was dying of cancer.
But RaeAnn said, as she reached out and touched her sister’s hand again, “It was the happiest day of my life.
Life had pulled them apart.
But for one brief moment, it had brought them back together again.