Thursday, May 08, 2008

For my Sister; Part 1

My adoptive parents. Joanne and Don, born in 1937 and 1938 respectively, lost their only biological child when they were about 26. Their son was stillborn and my mother was told she would never be able to have another child. Shortly after this incident they decided to start fostering children. They fostered ANY kids. Mentally or physically handicapped, refugees, even kids who didnt speak english. Once they had spent a few years doing this they decided they wanted to look for a baby to adopt. I could definately understand this, they sacrificed a LOT to take care of children who they would raise, one spent 3 years with them, and then the state or parents would take the children back. It must have been heartbreaking for a couple who had so much love to give a child, just couldnt manage to keep one long enough to pour the brunt of that love into. When Joanne and Don were in their early 40's they got a call from a lady they dealt with often who said words that I know my mother had longed to hear all her life. "How would you like a little redheaded baby girl?" Thats what she told me the lady said when she answered the phone. My Mom told me then that she went to her friends and told them and at a bowling game between them all they managed to pick out a name for me.

They were given guardianship of me when I was 4 months old and in December of 74 they were allowed to apply for the adoption process. The reason they had to wait was because Bob had applied for custody of me when the state removed me from Ediths care.

Okay here is the rough part, not because of the context of it as much as because while Im a firm believer in 'walk in my shoes' as well as a mother I have conflicting feelings about not only what I know, but how much of it is true. We all know how things can get overplayed, underplayed and distorted through the telling, and especially with time.

From what I know, when I was a month or so old, my oldest half brother Harley who was around 9 or 10 at that time was brought in by a neighbor who called child protective services because he had seen them and asked them if they could help him feed his sisters. I have two half sisters who are older then me, but they are the only ones of Ediths 4 children who have serious mental disabilities because of Fetal alcohol syndrome and a syndrome called Fragile X. Its very similar to Downs syndrome with the exception of it has the tendancy to effect boys more severely. Whereas girl children are usually just mildly handicapped in socialization and particular education subjects like math etc, the boys effected by it are limited to a pre-teen mentality and capabilities for their lives. Fragile X doesnt seem to shorten the lives of those who have it like downs does, but there is rarely a male with fragile x who is able to live independently.

So there is Harley 9 or 10, Laura 7, Melissa 4, and me a couple of months old and thats all I know. I dont know where anyone was or what they were doing. Just what was reported to me at the time I made the request for my biological parents information. Most of the things I know that I would feel confident in repeating came from a lady named Corinne Gott at Roanoke City Social Services, who not only still worked there from the time I was born until I reemerged seeking my familys history, but because of my blaze orange hair she never forgot me. Knew who I was before I even told her why I was there. She remembered what had happened after I was born.

For whatever reason she said that Bob did request a custody hearing for me, and that after several months of investigating him she just could not feel comfortable putting me in his custody. So she had sent the adoption to Richmond to be processed at that time. I was adopted instantly since I had already spent the required year with the adoptive parents by then.

As I said before, Ive spent my life being non-judgemental of people in general and the whys and whens of how things happen. I always try to remember that I wasnt 'there' when all this was going on, I had never walked in their shoes and it wasnt for me to judge God or fate or whoever as to how things had ended up. I recall that really hitting me as Corinne had spoken to me about what she remembered. How one action had led to another, and another and the result was that a mentally handicapped woman gave birth to four children who she wasnt capable of taking care of, and a little part of me hurt for her wondering why her children had to go hungry before someone noticed she needed help. And to this day I feel horrible for that 9 year old boy who desperately tried to take care of his little sisters. I was told that when the cops and cps arrived that Harley screamed and cried when they took 'his baby' from him. All those children were seperated by the state that night and had to look for each other to find them. I dont have an insane amount of maternal bones in my body but the thought of all that makes my heart ache if I think on it too long.

When I met Bob and Edith the first time, I think I was 21 and living in Tinker Creek at the time with my two sons. They told me their story. That didnt include anything that Corrinne had told me. Even though I knew the things they told me likely had little truth still I reminded myself that although Corinnes version was likely more fact, and my parents more emotion there was probably a good version of the truth somewhere in between. When Edith died 5 years later she still didnt know the version I knew. I had no plans of ever telling her. Because regardless of her actions and the responsibilities she failed in as a pregnant woman and mother, she was still a woman, young with 4 kids, who no one had paid attention to before her kids ended up hungry alone on a neighbors doorstep. Her relief in my acceptance of her version was extremely obvious. Even having had a relatively bad experience with Joanne as a young girl, my soul knew that this was my mother, she had given me life, although shakey, and thats why I was standing there right then. Its not anywhere in my usual nature to let anything I feel is a slight pass, to me or my family or friends, go unspoken. I always speak up. As a young girl I wrote a lot, I still have journals from when I was 16 where if I found myself alone I could still voice the stories of my life somewhere.

Well Joanne and Don adopted two more daughters within a few years as well. Cindy and Mary were adopted when i was a year old. Cindy was 11 and Mary was 6. Their mother had recently been killed in a car accident in Jacksonville Florida where they lived, their father was a vietnam vet and would never leave the V. A. Hospital so couldnt care for them.

We all grew up without a clue how lucky we were in my opinion. And although I wish a lot of things could be different I am forever greatful for the series of events that led to Joanne and Don being given a little redheaded baby.


Anonymous said...

Im ready for part 2 !!


Joy said...

Great!! Im on it!

Kristi said...

Hi Joy...
Have I told you lately how truely amazing you are, and that you are my hero.