Saturday, November 28, 2009
What I saw as so cut and dry twenty-nine years ago, find my birth family and my life would be complete, has turned out to be a journey with many twists and turns, triumphs and failures, lessons learned.
I haven't intended any of this story to be a diary, a tell-all, a poor pitiful me story ... but rather a recording of one aspect of my life - being adopted - with all that that entails, and those lives that have intersected with that story along the way. The details are similar to many other life stories whether the word 'adopted' is used or not. That's why this next part of the story has been so hard to write - there's too much of it, and trying to summarize it was much harder than I thought it would be. I've re-written it a dozen times, with a result that it 's still way too long. But how can I tell the complete adoption story without telling how and why things turned out with the family I worked so hard to find? So, if you're in a hurry and want to skip thru the middle section to the end, you have my permission!
Aunt Helen died in 1995, and Uncle Sonny not long after. I never saw either of them again after the 1980 reunion, though Aunt Helen and I did talk on the phone and exchange long letters a couple of times a year, and I was so grateful for her in my life and for the stories she was able to tell me. I have never had any contact with her children (my cousins). She called me at Christmas 1994 and told me that she had congestive heart failure, and we had a long talk, which would have been our once or twice a year talk. I didn't really know anything about congestive heart failure at that time, so it never occured to me that that would be the last time I talked to her. Next thing I knew, I got a call from Kathy that Aunt Helen had died, but her children had taken offense at my not coming to see her when she was in the hospital and dying, even though no one called to tell me that she was dying. They told her to tell me that I was not welcome at the funeral, and I also was not to be included in the obituary. That part really hurt, because in that final summary of her life, I was not included. The thing is, they didn't even know me, had never met me! Well, I was living in Georgia at the time and could not have afforded the trip anyway.
Not counting the time she lived with or near us in Colorado for that four months, I've only seen Kathy one other time since 1980, when Melody and Garrett and I met her in Florida for a quick visit while she was there in 2003. Two of her kids came to live with us the summer of 1989, and as nice as it was to have them be in my life for a while, I ended up having to send them home early as Amanda (whose birth I had attended back in 1979) was acting out in an inappropriate manner, and it turned out that she had been molested by one of Kathy's boyfriends. Kathy and I talked on the phone every once in a while, and exchanged emails, but for some reason I just haven't been in touch with her the last several years, even though she has emailed a time or two. It's nothing she did or didn't do...I have no explanation. I just don't feel an attachment to her. Isn't that odd? She has three children and several grandchildren, and none of them are part of my life. One of her sons is in prison for life, for alledgedly molesting a male cousin who was a minor, when he himself wasn't much older than a minor. Life in prison in Florida. With no chance of parole. And in his 20s. She herself lives in New Mexico, and I'm here in Georgia, so the distance factor is a huge one. Let's see: one extended visit, two others in the thirty years since.
Lawrence and I actually became quite close for a while, talked several times a year, and I was able to drop by to see him a couple of times when I used to drive from Georgia to Texas to see my adoptive dad. He had started out pretty screwed up, and was always screwing up. He lost the best thing to ever happen to him - a wife and three kids - by skipping out and never looking back. He lived to regret it, though he now has another wife and a step-family that he loves and who clearly loves him. His children haven't been part of his life in well over twenty years, the youngest two having virtually no memory of him. I haven't talked to him in a year, my fault and not his. I just forget. Really. I know he's there in Texas, all I have to do is pick up the phone. And I just forget. He tells me that he was diagnosed as manic depressive, which I guess means that all those times when he screwed up his life were during a manic stage. Well, who knows. I'm trying to figure in my head...in the 30 years since I first met him in 1979, 1989, 1985, 1987, 1995, 2000, 2002, and 2004. Eight times in 30 years. None of those visits was more than a couple of hours, but I have seen him more than the others. So why can't I remember to call him?
I've seen Karen twice since the 1980 reunion, in 2000 and 2004. She's nice, and we get along fine when we see each other, and talk easily. But there just is not a connection. Melody and I stopped by to see her when we were through Texas four years ago, met her two now adult kids and a grandchild, and I haven't talked to her since. No reason. We just don't make the effort. Visiting her was like just visiting someone I met casually along the way, but have no vested interest in. Tally: three times in 30 years.
Stephen. Oh, Stephen. The most damaged of them all. We met only one time after that few minutes in 1980. A few years later, in June 1984, he was in Colorado for some reason and stopped by to see us. Melody and I were home alone, and he was only there for maybe thirty minutes, but he could not leave soon enough for us. Melody told me afterwards that he gave her the creeps. He married and had one son, then ended up in prison for alledgedly molesting his step-daughter. We corresponded for awhile, but he turned to God and kept writing letters about Jesus and enclosing literature, and wanting me to send him money. I stopped corresponding with him. He eventually got out of prison, only to end up there again for some reason or other. I felt really bad about deserting him, about stopping even written contact, because I had told him early on that I would always be there for him - and thought at the time that I meant it! He even asked me if I could 'sponsor' him when he got out, but I was afraid that he would show up at my door here in Georgia, and I did not want that to happen. Tally: two times in 30 years, for a total of maybe forty-five minutes.
There are a lot of cousins for Melody - Kathy's Jacen, Branden, Amanda; Lawrence's Christina, Jennifer, Robbie; Stephen's Ryan; Karen's Jennifer and James. Don’t know if they’ll ever be in contact with each other, but I would like for them to at least be aware of each other’s existence. I think that at a certain stage in everyone’s life, they at least have a curiosity about aspects of their ancestry and heritage other than what happens in their own immediate personal life - and it’s to these extended family members, past and present, that we can reach out. I have been fortunate to have actually found my niece Christina, Lawrence's daughter, and we follow each other on Facebook! We're not thisclose, but she has given me a chance to show her that some of her dad's family are not so bad. And I've been able to share all the information I've found with her so she, also, has been able to fill some of the void. She, Jennifer, and Robert James have been fortunate in that they had a mother and her family who gave them a life to be proud of.
Which brings me to my own genealogy research since first finding my maternal family. I started doing some research online in 2000 when we got our first computer, and I found several relatives, who led me to other relatives, each of whom were able to add another piece to my puzzle. One, Mary, was a cousin to my grandmother, Rhoda Irene, and she had a wealth of information to share with me, as well as photos (including a priceless photo of my grandmother as a child sitting with Mary’s father for a photo!). The daughter of a cousin of my mother’s, Jennifer, lives close to me here in Georgia, and we’ve met once (her son also suffers from mental illness). My favorite contact has been with Gladys of Galveston, my mother's cousin. She had information about my mother as a girl, and it was horrible to hear. Lillian was raped by several men at a fire station next to her home as a grade school girl, and her father was physically and emotionally abusive to his wife and children. Is it any wonder she turned out the way she did? Gladys and I have seen each other several times and talk on the phone. She will be the last contact I have with my mother’s generation, but that’s secondary to the genuine affection I feel for her!
I talked about lessons learned. One thing I've learned is that every family has some level of dysfunction and skeletons in it's closet! Child abuse, drug addiction, rape, alcoholism, mental illness. Brought into our lives by people who we had no choice in, and oftentimes by people of our own chosing. What's that old saying about being able to pick your friends but not your family?
And not all family members are or have to be connected at the hip or even be good friends. Some family members fall by the wayside due to time and distance, some from a poor relationship to begin with or a falling out, some from lack of nurturing. It just happens. In every family.
Another thing I've learned is that while many people like the idea of finding or being found, they are often only in it for the short haul. I found many relatives of one kind or another online, and we were all woohoo! at finding each other. But after awhile, after facts were exchanged and a few stories shared, they just dropped to the wayside as each got back to living their own lives. That's another thing: after a while, all you have are names and dates on a piece of paper, many times with no story behind the name to humanize them for you. But isn't that the way with any family? Dad had a brother who has a son that had five kids who were lost track of in a divorce when they went to live with the mother's family? They're still your cousins, but just names on a piece of paper somewhere.
You always hear that people want to find their adopted family to find out about health issues. Oddly, that never really entered my mind except for briefly when Melody was born. I did find out that, though there weren't any serious issues like heart disease brought to light, alcoholism and manic depression has shown up in generation after generation. Not that unusual, but still, it's good to know.
One of the biggest and probably most important things I have learned has been something that probably just comes with age. And that lesson is this: SHIT HAPPENS. TO EVERYONE. And, in the big scheme of things, my shit is way down low on the scales of how shit is weighed and measured. Ok, so that's not very lyrical, but I think it holds true. Children of all ages lose parents who have been dearly loved. Parents lose children much before their time. People divorce. Teenagers leave home to make it on their own, and somehow never manage to make it back home again. Parents move to Florida and never see their grandkids. Which of these losses do you think weighs more: me never knowing my parents and not having a relationship with my siblings, or my husband losing a dearly loved sister to breast cancer, a brother to suicide, and a mother to alzheimers? That's where putting things in the proper perspective comes in.
But. The need to know, to fill that void, to find the missing piece, to hear the story of from whence you came, to maybe see a photo or two. That is what an adoptee's story is all about. On my own journey, I unearthed something that I think would ring true for any adoptee: It doesn't matter so much what you find out, it's that you did find out. What you know isn't near as frustrating as what you don't know. I found out that my birth mother was a horrible mother, but at least I know that her name was Lillian, and that she remembered me and had not taken my birth and subsequent relinguishment lightly. I also found out that I'm Irish, and I have my mother's and great-grandmother's thin lips, and my great-grandfather's big ears! I found out that I have child molesters, wife abusers, robbers, murderers, alcoholism, and mental illness in my family, which of course I'd rather not have known about, but there was also a second cousin who was a nurse and a great aunt who was secretary for a congressman!
There was a time in my life when I did feel like poor pitiful me, and in my mind it was all because I was adopted. If my mother hadn't given me away, this and that would never have happened. Really? Life happens, whether you are adopted or not. Do I wish that I was closer to my siblings? Absolutely! Do I feel like I squandered the chance I was given to have the family, the siblings I always dreamed of? Well, yes and no. I tried early on, but they weren't ready. By the time they tried, I had moved on. I feel like the biggest obstacle was the miles between us. I'll always regret how it turned out. But, somehow, just knowing that they are out there matters.
One last thing, a postscript if you will. I've talked like I never had family until David and I had Melody, or until I found my biological family. And that's just not true. I know I always refer to my adoptive dad as, well, as my adoptive dad. I actually don't know why I do that, because he was a dad to me in every sense of the word, even if we were often out of sync. And I can't forget to mention my adoptive mother's sister, my Aunt Jean, who was a stable influence in my life as a young girl, and her daughter, Nancy, who was about eight years old when I was adopted and who remembers it. We actually moved here to Georgia because of her, and she is probably my dearest friend of the heart as well as my cousin, even though nowadays we only see each other a couple of times a year (Christmas and our birthdays in May). And her kids - Patty, Angie, and Kent - who I've known since they were babies. I'm closest to Angie since I've been around her the most and I think we'd be friends even if we weren't related. And her kids Christina, Evan, and Anthony. They are much more my family than the family I've just spent nine posts telling you about. And I'm so grateful for having had them in my life, and for their including me when they talk about family.
Wednesday, November 25, 2009
One and a half years after finding my family, August 1980, six year old Melody and I headed for Galveston to meet my Aunt Helen, Uncle Sonny, Karen, Stephen and cousins for the first time. Lawrence and Kathy and her two kids would also be there. Was I ready for this?
It took several weeks and many visits to the Mental Health Services to prepare myself for this trip. I was overwhelmed with joy at the idea of being able to look at, touch and talk to these strangers who were my family, but the emotional strain was tremendous. What if I didn’t like them? What if they didn’t like me? Also, I had learned from Kathy that they were a pretty rough bunch of people, poor and living in poor conditions, and I wondered if I would spend most of my time repelled by their living conditions and in fear for our safety. I didn't know what to expect. And we would be hundreds of miles from home! My therapist and I tried to work through all my fears and anticipations, but if I could have packed her in my suitcase to take along, I would have.We met Karen first, stayed at her apartment, and my hopes of our hitting it off were more than fulfilled as we had an instant rapport and feeling of kinship. She was a good deal younger than me, and I really played it up with the sisterly advice and wisdom, and loved every minute of it. And what was nice was that she seemed to enjoy having a big sister to talk to and share things with! She had a lot of pent up and confused feelings about our mother, our family situation, and, by talking about them, we realized that we were no longer alone.
We drove together to Aunt Helen’s house, and came very close to turning back. We even stopped before we got there to muster up our courage and get our feelings under control.
She hadn’t seen Aunt Helen, Kathy and Lawrence since a brief visit more than a year before, and hadn’t seen Stephen since that morning long ago when she had gone to school. Is it any wonder that we were both almost sick with anticipation?
When we finally got the courage to go on to Aunt Helen’s, it was almost more than I could bear. I felt very awkward and 'out of the loop', totally spaced out, and spent most of the time just listening and looking. It was especially hard to listen to my siblings reminisce about when they were kids, reminiscing about our mother, even looking at photos of when they were young kids together ... feeling like an outsider because I had not been there. Many of the stories they told, especially about our mother, were not pleasant. Stephen, who I'd only just met, stuck around this get-together for a few minutes before he disappeared - I guess it was too much for him, as well, as he had been too young to share their memories. Aunt Helen was wonderful, very maternal (she had something like thirteen kids-only a couple of whom were there), and had many stories to tell about my mother, grandparents, and great-aunts. She was also able to tell me more about the time period of my conception, and a little about who she said my father was (and no, I never found him).
As I look back on my short time there (only one day and two nights), three events seem to stick with me:
One, my meeting with Uncle Sonny, my mother’s blind brother. (Aunt Helen said their dad, my grandfather, had thrown him against a wall when he was a toddler, causing the blindness). I had shown very little emotion during the reunion with the others - remaining aloof and unemotional, uttering the expected greetings and responses - until he walked in from work. As Aunt Helen introduced us, he reached out to me without hesitation and wrapped his arms around me and cried. I choked up and almost fell when he released me, and Lawrence was next to me and grabbed me before I fell on the floor from the impact of my emotions at that moment. I think in that few short minutes the full import of the situation really hit me.
Second was the time we were sitting around the kitchen table of an old lady who had been like a grandmother or second mother to my mother. She had been walking down memory lane with the other kids and not finding much to talk to me about, and I was getting a little more than ill from watching the cockroaches crawling in and out of the food containers laying on the table.
Then, during a pause in the conversation, she turned to me and said that my mother had sat at that very spot many a time - especially when May 15 rolled around - drinking and crying about the child she had given away. What was so emotional about this to me was that every May 15 I would be thinking about the woman who had given me away, wondering what kind of mother she would have been. I think I felt closest to my mother at that minute than at any other time since I had “found” her, knowing that in some small way I had been a part of her life. What a strange feeling, remembering how I had always wondered on my birthday if my mother ever remembered me, and now finding out that at possibly that same moment in time she had been thinking about me!
The third thing I remember is when Aunt Helen gave me a very strange “remembrance” of my mother - the ribbon that was on her funeral wreath. It’s a soft pink ribbon that says “OUR LIL”. Maybe a morbid thing to give me, especially since I hadn't known her, but a reminder to me that she had lived ....and she had died.
As we left Aunt Helen’s house, I was filled with so many conflicting emotions - joy that I had met and touched my real family, regret that I couldn’t stay longer, anger with myself that I hadn’t been able to overcome my emotions long enough to ask more questions, relief that it was over and I could go home, guilt that I didn’t especially like some of my siblings, and sadness that I might never see them again. But I had found my “blood” family, and I had found a part of myself that had always been missing. And now all that remained was to fit that piece into my whole being, put it into proper prospective, and get on with my life.
I had spent so much of my life looking for “me” and wishing that I had someone who was related to me by “blood”, as if that would make a difference, would make everything better, would make me better. And I guess it did - it helped me to put my discontent to rest, and it made me see that I already had a family - I had David and Melody. A small family, but mine, and one that meant more to me than any other. They were my present and my future, and with them I could fulfill every dream I ever had about what a family should and can be.
But, the story's not over yet. It's been twenty-nine years since that summer day in 1980. A lot has happened since then. More stories have unfolded, relationships have changed, other family has emerged, lessons were learned, loose ends need to be tied up. (to be continued...just one more time)
Sunday, November 22, 2009
Kathy and Lawrence were sent to live with their father after being taken away from Lillian, each already bearing emotional scars that would effect their development and lead to serious problems even into their adult years. Lillian had been a barmaid in what we used to call in Texas a 'shitter bar', and she herself was a drunk . She brought home strangers who were as dysfunctional and unsavory as she herself was. Kathy, being only in grade school, had become the mother to the other three children. (If you've read some of my other posts under the labels 'adoption' and 'about me', you know that my adoptive mother, also, was a drunk and promiscuous, and declared an unfit mother.)
Karen and Stephen, at something like four and five years old, were sent to a foster home. Karen went to school one day leaving a little brother at home, but when she returned that afternoon she was told that they had sent Stephen back to social services. She herself was adopted, but was so distraught at losing her only remaining real family that she never forgave them and left the home at the age of sixteen and struck out on her own (just like her mother had done). She managed to graduate from high school and married young, but she says she found it hard to put her trust in anyone. Plus she blamed herself for Stephen being sent away. She was not in touch with her maternal family until she was 18 years old, only to find her mother dead and her brothers and sister strangers to her.
Stephen grew up with only shadowy memories and images of his real family. All he knew as he grew up in the boy’s home and foster homes was that he had apparently been unwanted and unloved and had been “sent back” as if he were an inferior article of clothing purchased at a store. He was also abused. I think Aunt Helen searched for and was able to find him when he turned 18. He lived with her a short while, but he just had too many issues with anger, and was also caught peeping in windows. Not a good sign.
Little John was put up for adoption as baby, almost immediately after being taken away from Lillian. He was believed to have slight brain damage because of malnutrition.
Although I hadn't met them at this point in the story, 1979, from talking on the phone and exchanging letters we seemed to accept each other without question, and the word LOVE was used immediately. Strangely enough, I found out that they had known about me, known that Lillian had given up a child for adoption and she(I) had died.
I was in touch by mail and phone that first year after finding them, and made it known that my home would be open to them whether it be for refuge or just kinship. There could be problems - it takes a while to accumulate “shared experiences”, until which time we would be virtual strangers. We did have one shared experience - having been born to the same mother - and that in itself made us a family. Maybe together, as a family, we could help one another forget or at least forgive our legacy, and begin a life of sharing, caring, and loving.
ONE YEAR LATER, 1980: Things don’t always work out as one hopes. My hopes for “instant” family were not realized even after a year, and it was such a disappointment.
Kathy and her son, Jacen, moved from Massachusetts to Colorado to live with us for a while (a single mother who needed help, and the new big sis just jumped right in there!). I even attended the birth of her daughter, but we just didn’t hit it off after the initial excitement. Maybe we had our hopes too high, maybe we tried too hard to make up for too many years too fast, maybe we wouldn’t have gotten along no matter what the circumstances. She wanted to be the mother, I didn't want to be mothered by a younger sister. She used people to get what she wanted/needed, we paid our way. The best way to describe it is that we irritated each other. She moved from our home to a trailer home, and then one day she just packed the kids up and left...leaving me responsible for a huge phone bill from a phone that I had co-signed for. But at least I had photos to show for her visit, of her and my niece and nephew with me and my daughter, photos of what looked like a family.
I also met Lawrence once when he came from Texas to our home in Colorado to visit, but it just wasn't for long enough a time to get a fix on each other, though we both tried. After he went on his way, he would never call or write. But, again, I had photos to show of his visit. Of me and my brother!
I talked to Stephen on the phone once, but then he disappeared. Karen would write occasionally, but after a while you run out of things to say to a stranger. At least she called me on Christmas Day. I hoped that as they all got older and got to know themselves better, they’d be more ready and able to establish a relationship with me...and I with them. Until then, I could only wait and hope.
One and a half years after finding my family, August 1980, six year old Melody and I headed for Galveston to meet, finally, my Aunt Helen, Uncle Sonny, Karen, Stephen and cousins for the first time. Lawrence and Kathy and her two kids would also be there. Was I ready for this? (to be continued...Part 7 here)
(Sorry - but I told you it would be long! Hope you're not getting bored. Really, it's almost over.)
Saturday, November 21, 2009
I just accidentally deleted my entire blog list, which I use instead of 'following'. I meant to remove only one blog (who's apparently no longer blogging since they haven't posted in five weeks), and clicked the wrong button. Soooo, if you are a reader of mine, please check in so I can re-add you to my blog list.
Crap (she says, pounding her fist on the table and saying way worse words than crap)! Don' t you just hate it when you do something like that? I'll go back thru my comments and see who all I can pick up that way, but that's pretty time consuming, and some people who I read don't read me. What the hell was I thinking? (Don't answer that, because I obviously wasn't thinking!)
Oh, wait! I can pick you up from my followers list! Ummmm...no I can't. That only gives the names and who they follow. Ok, still working on this ...
Thursday, November 19, 2009
“My name is Helen Caballero, and I’m calling from Galveston, Texas. My aunt passed along to me a letter she received from you concerning the descendants of Dennis and Maria Crawley.”
I was dumbstruck. My body started shaking. Mouth went dry. Bees buzzing in ears. Mind blank. After what seemed an eternity, I managed to begin a conversation. Yes, she was a daughter of Rhoda and Martin Crawley. She had a sister named Lillian and a brother named Edward. Lillian had been born on December 29, 1928, but had died in July 1971.
Lillian, born December 29, 1928. Lillian, died July 1971. Lillian, my mother. I had prepared myself for the possibility that I’d never find her. I had prepared myself for the possibility that she wouldn’t want me in her life. I had even prepared myself for the possibility that she’d be dead. Or so I thought, until it became a fact.
Somehow, I managed to say “may I be frank with you?” “You certainly may.” “I was born on May 15, 1948, in Chicago, and the name I was given way Linda Irene ...”. Before I finished, Helen yelled “oh my God, you’re Lillian’s oldest daughter!”
The next few minutes of the phone conversation were filled with exclamations, tears, disbelief, exchanging of stories. I still couldn’t believe my mother was dead - but my Aunt Helen couldn’t believe that I was alive! They had apparently contacted the orphanage after my mother had returned to her family, and had been told that I had died in a fire. Lillian eventually married and gave birth to two children, then later to three others by different men. She, like my adoptive mother, had a drinking problem, and all of the children had been taken away from her at almost the same time that I was taken away from my adoptive mother for the same reason.
The news that I had two sisters and three brothers was more than I had hoped for in regard to siblings, but didn’t quite make up for the loss of my mother at that moment. Having been raised an only child, I had always dreamed of having brothers and sisters somewhere, so half of that dream had come true. But half of my dream was shattered - the idealized version of a mother that I had envisioned in my youth had instead been an alcoholic and an abusive mother who had died young of cirrhosis of the liver, destitute and lonely.
When my first conversation with Aunt Helen ended, I was left both drained and elated. One of my brothers was living with her, and it was arranged for me to call back that night to talk to him. In the meantime, I had to digest all that had been said. To know that I had found my family thirty years after my birth, and after only a five month search, was almost more than I could believe. I knew that I would have to actually see and touch them before I truly believed it.
The most difficult thing to accept was that my mother was dead. I cried for her that night as if she had just died that day, which for me she had. I mourned her as if I’d known her and loved her all my life, and mourned the fact that I would never be able to know her. This went on for several days, until one night I had a dream that ended my grief. In the dream, I was visiting her grave and talking to her, telling her about my search and how I’d found Aunt Helen and the other kids. I told her “Lillian, you let me down twice in my life. First you gave me away after I was born, for which I can forgive you and maybe even thank you. Then you died before I had a chance to find you, to know you, to know a mother’s love. But you left me a family, an aunt and brothers and sisters and cousins, and for that I’ll be forever grateful”. As I walked away from the grave in my dream, I woke up with tears really streaming down my face, and cried the last tears for the lady who had given me life.
Lillian’s legacy to me was a family. Lillian’s legacy to life was six emotionally scarred children. My life and the life of each of her other children eerily paralleled each other in various ways. As their stories became know to me, I couldn’t help but wonder about fate, genes, life patterns. (to be continued...Part 6 here)
Friday, November 13, 2009
The letters I wrote and the phone calls I made over the next five months! The best contact was the Rosenburg Library in Galveston, for they helped research old City Directories (these aren't phone books, but more like a census with names, occupations, etc.). By obtaining these old listings, I was able to put together some names that, strangely, I knew instinctively were my family.
Beginning at the time of my conception, 1947, I found a Martin and Rhoda Crawley (my grandparents). Going even further back, I found that Martin and Rhoda had lived with a Dennis and Maria Crawley (my great-grandparents). This was pure speculation and everyone told me not to get my hopes too high, but I just knew that’s who they were. In 1944, there appeared a Lillian Crawley who was working as a file clerk - the same year that my sixteen year old mother was supposedly working as a file clerk. In 1948, the year I was born, Lillian disappeared from the listings. In 1950, two years after my birth, Lillian appeared again. The problem was that in 1964 all listings for Crawley disappeared - and I had no idea where to go from there.
The library went over and above what I could have expected of them. I had written to ask if they had newspaper obituaries for Dennis, Maria, Rhoda and Martin, and they had one for each which they sent me copies of. The lady who did the research took it upon herself to check the current phone book for listings of some of the next-of-kin, and was able to find listings of some of them, including listings for two of Rhoda’s sisters (my great-aunts). She sent me their names and addresses.
On January 29, I sent a letter to each of the ladies. I took some time to compose them as I didn’t want to risk hurting my mother by letting any skeletons out of the closet. Since I was unsure of exactly how the names I had collected along the way were connected (despite my gut feelings), I decided to take the approach that I was tracing the family of Dennis and Maria Crawley. I also mentioned a few other names, including Lillian’s, and asked if they could give any information on them. Once the letters were written and mailed, I again began a mailbox vigil - and jumped in anticipation every time the phone rang. (to be continued...Part 5 here)
“I have your written request for information from you adoption file. We can understand your need to know and are happy to provide any information we have except that which might identify the natural parents, since that part of the record is sealed by law.”
“Your first question deals with the issue of the delay between your birthday, May 15, and the date of the relinquishment by the mother to the agency for adoption. According to the record, your mother was having difficulty with the decision to relinquish. This ambivalence was increased because of the pressure of other young mothers in the hospital who urged her to keep the child. The worker from the Lake Bluff Orphanage sensed the fact that your mother had not really resolved her feelings in the matter and encouraged her not to sign until they had been able to help her work through her real feelings in the matter. The worker from the agency actually delayed the signing of the papers two weeks beyond the time when the mother wanted to sign just to be sure. This case worker developed a very warm relationship with her and it is obvious that your mother came to the belief that she was helping you by making it possible for someone else to give you the care which she was not in a position to give you at that early stage in her life.”
“You asked about where she was confined during her pregnancy. The police- woman who befriended her after she had hitchhiked to Chicago actually took her into her own home until some of the neighbors complained about that. The kindly policewoman then arranged for her to enter one of the maternity homes in the city. At the time of delivery then, she was admitted to a hospital.”
“According to our records, the medical information show that your mother was a very healthy person and that there were no hereditary diseases. She was born December 29, 1928, and was of French-English-Irish descent. Because she had not had a stable home and family life, and not been able to complete grade school, she had been employed from an early age. According to the record, she ‘is a petite, healthy looking nineteen year old girl from Galveston, Texas. She has brown hair, blue eyes, and a fair complexion. She is about 5 feet 1 inch tall and well proportioned.’
“There is an indication that she was interested in sports such as skating, swimming, and bowling. She had left home at the age of sixteen and lived independently, working as a file clerk.”
“We have no information about the putative father except her report that he was 23 years of age, had dark hair, and probably graduated from high school.”
“I hope this information is helpful to you. Having read the file carefully, I am convinced that your natural mother struggled through a difficult decision and finally came to the conclusion that it was in your best interests, given her difficult life situation, to give you up for adoption by a family which could offer more stability.”
“Given the kind of world she lived in then, that seemed to be the most selfless plan and one made in genuine concern for your well being. If she were making that same decision today, she would be facing a different world and with different options. But according to our records, and given the world in which she was living at that time, she and the workers from the orphanage felt that she was making a good decision. I hope you feel that way, too.”
Besides the emotional impact the letter had on me, it also supplied me with enough information to give my search direction. She was born on December 29, 1928, she was from Galveston, Texas, and she had gone to work as a file clerk at the age of sixteen - and the chances were very good that her last name was Crawley. Now the real work would begin. (to be continued...Part 4 here)
It's kind of funny when something like this happens. As excited as you are, you are equally filled with dread. Your mind goes into a funny whirly place, with gauze over your brain and ringing in your ears. Your stomach is in your throat, your heart is beating wildly, your mouth goes dry. You lick and purse your lips a few times, take some cleansing breaths, glance around to see if anyone is watching and wondering what you're doing just standing there. You can't decide whether to rip it open right there, or wait until you're in the safety of your house and open it slowly and neatly. It makes you see why sometimes people will hand over the envelope to someone else and say "no, please, you open it".
IN THE COUNTY COURT OF COOK COUNTY: Thomas W. Ecklund and Irene M. Ecklund -vs- No. 124737Lake Bluff Orphanage, a corporation, and Linda Irene Crawley, a minor. There it was in black and white - LINDA IRENE CRAWLEY! It took a few minutes to get past that, the name my real mother had given me at birth, but as I read on I discovered that “on the 9th day of August, 1948, the mother of said child duly surrendered the said child to the Lake Bluff Orphanage for the purpose of adoption.” August 9? Why had she waited almost three months to sign relinquishment papers? Had she kept me with her during those three months? Had she held me and loved me, only to decide that she couldn’t or didn’t want to keep me?
“The Court further finds that said petitioners are of sufficient ability to bring up said child, and to furnish suitable nurture and education therefore, and that it is fit and proper, and for the best interests of said minor, that said adoption should be had.” In thinking quickly over my childhood, I had to laugh at this paragraph, although it was certainly not something to laugh about. Suitable nurture? Best interests? Of course, they couldn't have known what actually lay ahead.
“It is further ordered, adjudged, and decreed that the name of the child and it is hereby changed to Linda Jean Ecklund, according to the prayer of the petitioners herein.” So they had kept the name that my birth mother had given me, Linda. But instead of keeping the middle name, Irene, which was my new adoptive mother's name, they changed it to Jean, after her sister. I would later learn that my maternal grandmother's name was Rhoda Irene, and I had been named after her.
After receiving and reviewing the adoption papers, I began an earnest search for the lady who had given me life. It didn’t take long to realize what a huge task I had undertaken! First, I had to determine what information I already had ( which was not much despite all the paperwork-birth name, orphanage, name of hospital) and where the information would best be put to use.
The first place I wrote was the hospital for any records that might still exist. For a $20 search and copy fee, they were able to supply me with xerox copies of all my hospital records, which would also include my mother's since they were entertwined. Of course, once again, I had to wait for it to come in the mail, which took several weeks! When they did arrive, there was little information to aid in my search. Though I did learn that I was a poor eater, and had had a rash on my face. All reference to my mother's name had been blacked out, but I did see record of her labor and delivery. And I did learn that I had been released directly to the Lake Bluff Orphanage on May 26, 1948, 11 days old and weighing 5 pounds 12 ounces. Which meant that my mother had not kept me for those three months before signing the relinquishment papers.
The next step was to contact the orphanage. It took several weeks to locate it because of a name and phone number confusion, but it was a very fruitful contact. After talking to the orphanage director by phone, he promised to send any “non-identifying” information that they had on file. Until I received his letter, there was nothing I could do but wait. Again.
(You may be wondering why I didn't just get my birth certificate since I knew the birth name now, but at that time all birth records sealed forever. There was a battle of sorts going on in this time period with adoptees and various groups trying to get those records unsealed when an adoptee turned eighteen , but I have forgotten the details all these years later.)
The day the letter came was one of the most intense experiences of my life. For the first time in my life, I would have some idea of who my mother was and why she had given me up. As I read the letter through the first time, I felt as if I were intruding on someone’s life. As I read it a second time, I realized that I was reading about my mother! I cried as I read it through the third time. (to be continued...Part 3 here)
Thursday, November 12, 2009
I'm not sure how much will be geared (staged) toward entertaining the tv audience and how much will be allowed to transpire in a true fashion, but I'm sure many adoptees and birth parents will be tuning in, as well as any family who has lost a loved one due to one moving away and losing track of each other, family estrangements, natural siblings separated due to divorce or foster care situations, or just someone tracing their roots.
As most of you know from previous posts, I was adopted. I was one of the lucky one's to find part of my biological family, and have had several requests to tell the story of how I found them. I had almost decided not to post about it because I didn't think I could do a shortened version of it and still effectively portray the emotions involved, plus it doesn't seem to be that uncommon a story anymore. But I've changed my mind, because I've realized that many people, including myself, never really tire of hearing someone else's story, as long as that story is authentic.
My story begins before the computer age and google, so I had to conduct it the old fashioned way! And, since the search for and discovery of my maternal family took place thirty-one years ago, I'll have to copy the events from a journal of sorts that I kept at the time for posterity. I'll also have to make this a serial story, as it's not a short one. It's a story that continues even til today, as many parts of it have changed with the passing of time. You'd think that after all this time the telling of this would have lost it's luster for me, but that's definitely not the case.
The decision to look for my birth mother wasn’t made until I was thirty years old, happily married, and the mother of a four year old daughter. I had known since about the age of ten that I was adopted, and had suffered through the typical adoptee daydreams, frustrations, and doubts, but I had always assumed that there was no hope of finding out about my real parents since I had no information and since it was a well known fact that orphanages and various agencies involved in the adoption process do not give out information. I believed that it would be a waste of time, money and emotions to even attempt a search. The thought occasionally entered my mind, especially when I would be explaining to someone that I was adopted, and most especially when I gave birth to my daughter, but the idea was quickly put aside for more practical matters of day to day living.
Then, in August of 1978, my adoptive father told me that he had run across my adoption papers and would send them to me. I had no idea what information was contained in these thirty year old records - for some reason it had never occured to me that such papers were even in existence - but I instinctively knew that something important was about to happen. The mere existence of these papers ignited every emotion I had kept hidden for so many years, and I knew that there was about to be a change in my life.
I was born on May 15, 1948,in Chicago, Illinois, and was placed in the Lake Bluff Orphanage. Until I received a copy of the papers involved in my adoption, this was all I knew about my birth. I had no idea what hospital I was born in or why I was placed for adoption. The weeks of waiting for the adoption papers to be sent to me were too filled with emotions to just sit and do nothing, so I decided to write the attending physician whose name was given on the “dubbed” birth certificate. To my surprise, he was still around, and he was kind enough to send a reply to my letter - which I would soon find was something I could not expect from everyone! He was able to tell me that, although he couldn’t possibly remember my birth, he knew that I was born at the University of Illinois Medical Center. You wouldn’t think that such a trivial piece of information could cause much excitement, but I was on the proverbial cloud nine for days, and more anxious than ever to obtain more “facts” about my birth.
Each day I waited nervously for the adoption papers to arrive, and each day it seemed that the mailman arrived later than the day before. I would actually tremble with anticipation when walking to the mailbox! When they finally came, I hesitated before opening the thick envelope. Would they contain a key to my identity, or would they just be a lot of legal words masking my identity and closing the door on my search? (to be continued...Part 2 here)
Monday, November 9, 2009
Monday, November 2, 2009
Conner (above) is a cowboy, and not near as mean or grouchy looking as this photo! Garrett (below) is a ninja, and really getting into the role!