Entering Deadham

Dedham, Massachusetts is immediately southwest of Boston. It´s also right next to Needham, where I spent my childhood – or at least that part of  it I then knew about. The oldest surviving timber frame house in America (the Fairbanks House, dating to 1637) is located in Dedham, at 511 East Street. In part, I think, because my personal history was truncated, I have always been fascinated by really old things. My mother once took me to see the Fairbanks house (really cool), though I don´t remember Jason Fairbanks, one of the family members, being mentioned. Jason, born with a crippled arm and in frail health, was accused, and later convicted, of murdering his sweetheart, Betsey Fales in 1801. He was 21 and subsequently hung in Dedham´s Town Common, before a crowd of 10,000. While he may well have been guilty, a review of the reports of the trial cause one to wonder about the administration of justice in Dedham, the County seat of Norfolk County. (http://tarlton.law.utexas.edu/lpop/etext/lsf/cohen17.htm).

Dedham was also the location, years later, of the infamous Sacco and Vanzetti trial, which didn´t really turn out that well for those guys, who were electrocuted at Charlestown State Prison in 1927.  (www.law.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/ftrials/saccov/saccov.htm). If the sensationalism of the Fairbanks and Sacco and Vanzetti trials are attributed to being a misguided product of the times in which they lived, is sealing adoption records and denying personal histories to otherwise innocent people simply a misguided product of our times?

I wasn´t accused of anything, other than being an adoptee, an adult one at that (another pet peeve, by the way! I’m an adult – what if I don´t want to be an adoptee anymore?). But I am getting ahead of myself.. . . . .  Having parked the Volvo (legally this time, though I would have been happy to collect another ticket), I entered the Norfolk Probate Court around 3 o´clock that afternoon, set to do battle for my adoption records. At that time, the Probate Court was located at 649 High Street in the same building as the Norfolk County Registry of Deeds, a place I had been to several times with my father when he had to look up a deed or file papers. In none of those trips did he ever mention to me that this was also the place where I was formally adopted. Maybe he didn´t think of it, though many years later, long after I had completed my search, he added a few details to My Chosen Baby Story. What I sensed all along became apparent – my Chosen Baby Story was based mostly on what my parents, however well-meaning, Chose to tell me. Chosen had more than one meaning.

I had the black book of Massachusetts statutes under my arm. I also had the photocopy of the law permitting access to my records, along with the certified copy of my (adopted) birth certificate. At the top of the stairs I found the entrance to the Probate Clerk´s office and opened them to a prior life – not just my prior life. Walking into the Clerk´s office was like walking in to 1946, or even earlier, though 1946 would do for me. There was a lot of wood, oak mostly. Along the right side was a row of offices – cubicles really – constructed from metal partitions, painted green. From the waist up was glass, and all the cubicles lacked ceilings. You could see the clerks working, indeed hear snippets of their conversations, typewriters clacking, but their spaces were otherwise private.

In front of the entrance was a large oak table, with 4 or 6 oak chairs. It was empty, and no one was sitting there. To the left of the entrance, right beside the oak table, was a photocopy machine. On the left side of the room, opposite the cubicles, was a long counter, behind which were stacks of file cabinets. A young clerk (younger than me and I was just 26) was manning the desk. I had previously decided that my first foray would simply be to requisition my file and see what happened. The clerk seemed friendly enough. One thing you can petty much count on in New England, even more so near Boston, is to commiserate about the Red Sox, at that time in their 54th year of suffering without winning a World Series (it continued for another 32 miserable years until 2004). On top of that, the Sox had lost the day before at Fenway to the Oakland Athletics, 6-3.

How you doin? Watcha need?

Good man, but I´d be doin better if the Sox hadn´t dropped 2 of 3 to the A’s.

Yeah, can you believe it? Well, yeah, I guess we can – gettin to be that time of year for their annual August swoon. What can I do you for?

Need to requisition a file.

Sure no problem, just fill out that slip.

And just like that I was on my way. I filled out the information and handed it to the clerk. He promised he´d be right back, and I watched him disappear toward the back of the stacks.

A few minutes later he reappeared with a file in his hands. He was done speaking to me. In fact he was done looking at me. He took the file into the office of one of the clerks, a large middle-aged woman. She stood up to receive the file. I noticed two things. Her breasts were gargantuan, and the file was very thin. She shut her door.

The young clerk went back behind his counter, saying nothing (why?). I was left, somewhat unceremoniously, outside  looking in. I was able to watch everything she did. She returned to her desk, sat down and opened my file. She did not look at or acknowledge me, but she looked at the file intently. She studied everything. I flushed red, quietly telling myself to keep my cool. She did not smile, neither at the papers nor me.

After what seemed like 2 years, she got up and walked to the door of her cubicle, my file cradled to her breasts with the full weight of her being. I have never been so uninterested in a pair of breasts in my life. She opened the door, still clutching the file. Acknowledging me, she asked what I wanted (as if she didn´t know).

¨My file. I have my birth certificate. It´s certified, and I have the statute.¨

I was prepared for anything. More than anything else (I kept reminding myself), I only wanted to be successful. I only wanted what she held in her hands. A few moments passed. She seemed to consider what to do. She did not invite me into her cubicle, though there was a chair facing her desk. A few moments passed. Finally, she said to me ¨You know, don´t ever ne hurt by what you read.¨

I thought to myself: ¨She´s telling me I am illegitimate¨. I brushed off its significance. Not knowing what else to say and sensing she was about to give me the papers anyways, I mustered an ¨Okay¨.

Just like that, she handed it to me and motioned to the oak table. I walked over, sat down alone, and opened the file. What I found made me realize, in time, that the woman – in telling me not to be hurt by anything I read – may have meant something entirely different from I had thought.

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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. You ought to be publishing this in a book!

    • I want to! Got an agent for me? lol I am glad that I am finally getting it written. It has been a long time coming. Wait til you see what´s coming!


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