DREAMS AND REALITY MEET AT THE BRYAN MUSEUM

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GALVESTON DAILY NEWS:

Dreams and reality seldom cross paths, except at the intersection of 21st Street and Avenue M in Galveston. There, in the two-story vintage Bryan Museum, a collection of rare artifacts portrays how the dreams of Texas settlers clashed head on with the brutal reality of the frontier.

That collision comes to life on the first two floors where all manner of regalia, weaponry and documents recount the violent history of Texas and her heroes — Crockett, Bowie, Travis and Houston to name a few.

But, tucked away in the cellar is a display telling a story of a different kind. One conveyed through the relics left behind by orphans, some 6,000 in all, who lived in the Bryan Museum building over the 80 years that it bore the name Galveston Orphan’s Home.

The treasures of these smallest of heroes are the stuff of dreams, dreams that helped them survive the harsh reality of life without a family. Lead soldiers no bigger than the end of your finger; a plastic airplane the size of a pencil; a bowl of marbles; the severed arm of a tiny porcelain doll — all dutifully gathered from their secret hiding places when the great lodge was renovated by J.P. Bryan from 2013 to 2015.

The cellar story brought to mind an old friend, Jack. The only orphan I ever knew. His mother died at childbirth and his father didn’t want him.

Although saved by his uncle from being sent to an orphanage, the sadness and stigma of growing up without his biological parents haunted him. The taunts and whispers left indelible scars. So much so that he tried to hide his lineage from his children. When the truth came out, they rebuked him for the lie. His widow told me it was the only time she saw him cry.

Like the settlers celebrated on the upper floors, the basement orphans at 21st Street and Avenue M fought a war of survival. Not with guns, at least not real ones. Armed only with toys and trust, they soldiered on through their youth ever hopeful that one day, like the frontiersmen, they would find a home of their own.

Over the years, Jack’s son would come to understand and forgive his father’s passion to provide such a home for his children, and to insulate them from the cold realities of his childhood. I know. The son was me.

Malcolm D. Gibson

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