Going barefoot was a way of life growing up in the mid-1960s for Charlie Cloud.
Cloud said that inside the Masonic Home Orphanage in Fort Worth, “We went barefoot every summer.”
The kids didn’t know any better.
They didn’t know they were poor.
But they were poor together, and that was enough.
“We didn’t have a lot, but we had what we needed,” he said.
This month “12 Mighty Orphans” was released in theaters across the United States. The movie, staring Luke Wilson, Martin Sheen and Robert Duvall, tells the story of a successful and inspirational football team during the Great Depression at the Masonic Home Orphanage and School District.
“There are certain things in the movie that as I watched it that really brought things home. It made me reminisce and think about things that I really hadn’t thought about before,” Cloud said. “In one of the parts of the movie, Rusty Russell, played by Luke Wilson, is talking to Doc Hall, played by Martin Sheen, and all the boys are all standing there barefoot. Rusty says, ‘Where are their shoes?’ and Doc says, ‘Well, we have two seasons here. We have shoe season and no shoe season.”
That moment resonated with him. It was true of his 11 years in the orphanage.
The circumstances that landed the former Hood County Sheriff’s deputy and Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission (TABC) agent in the orphanage were not unique. It was a common thread of desperation — of finding a way out of poverty — for many of the boys and girls in the home.
“My mom making the decision to put us in the home was a tough decision to make,” he said, “but at the same time it was the best thing in the world that could have happened to the three of us.”
Cloud said that when his mom was pregnant with him, his father abandoned the family. It was then up to his single mother to take care of him and his two brothers.
“She was pretty overwhelmed. She had three boys and no help,” Cloud said. “We came from a family of Masons, and my uncle was a graduate from the Masonic Orphanage school.”
Cloud’s uncle and grandfather recommended that his mother consider placing the three boys in the Masonic Home, so she did what she had to do. Cloud was 6, and his older brothers, Frank and Dan, were 9 and 10 when they entered the orphanage. Each of them went on to graduate from the Masonic Home.
It was a good experience for Cloud and his brothers. He calls his stay at the home a life-changing opportunity, and he and is brothers do not blame their mom for her decision.
“The home helped make good, productive and value-driven citizens,” he said. “I’m sure my mom felt horrible about dropping us off there, but she did the right thing.”
After he graduated in 1977, Cloud went to college and then spent time working at the home.
“My high school football coach, Coach Walker, called me and asked if I’d be interested in working at the home. They flew me out there from El Paso and I interviewed for a job as the dean of boys. They hired me.”
Cloud was the youngest Dean of Boys the home ever had, at 19 years old. He worked at the home for several years before leaving to go to work for the Hood County Sheriff’s Office.
“I started out in the jail,” Cloud said. He and his brother Frank were working together there. Several months later, Frank made the jump to street patrol, and Cloud soon followed.
He said he enjoyed his time in the sheriff’s department, moving on to the district attorney’s office as an investigator for several years. Eventually he ended up going to work for the TABC’s state police. He stayed with TABC for 26 years, retiring in 2012 with the rank of major.
Cloud credits his time at the orphanage for his moral compass, the strength of his faith and an indefatigable work ethic.
“We had basically 200 brothers and sisters,” he said. “Was it all cake and ice cream? Absolutely not. There was adversity just like anywhere, but the home instilled in you a value system. You were in church on Sunday morning, and you had chores to do. Everyone had a place and a job. You had to be at certain places on time, you had to make good grades and you had to keep your dormitory clean.”