My Driving Wheel

To say that Emma May Vilardi had a gravely voice is not to have known her. For years I only knew her by telephone, along with a steady stream of lined, 3 x 5 inch, orange note cards. The note cards contained search suggestions she mailed to me, all patiently hand-written in blue ink. Each one gently prodded me forward.  A professional genealogist, Emma became interested in helping those disconnected by adoption while seeking answers for her own medical issues. She was stymied by the fact of her mother’s adoption.  Not for long. Those fighting for sealed adoption records got more than they bargained for with Emma May Vilardi. She was unstoppable. That she also knew what she was doing was a huge resource for many adoptees, like myself, who did not yet have a clue about how to proceed.

After attending the rap session at BJ’s apartment, it was clear the next move was up to me. Good news or bad, Virginia Peters was not going to appear on my doorstep. Unearthing her was going to take some digging. I had mixed feelings about it. It was both something I wanted to do and something that gave me fear. I never spoke about the fear. In 1972, there were not a lot of other male adoptees armed with their sword and sandals. At that time, there were just 4 states that allowed adult adoptees access to their birth records. In the wake of the Baby Lenore case, fearful that adoptees might (God forbid) actually exercise their rights, legislatures throughout the country quickly bequeathed the Tupperware treatment to adoption records, once again sealing them airtight.  The records that I saw at the Dedham Probate Court in July, 1972 were sealed not long after I was there. Even though I know all of the information in the file, the law now prohibits me from seeing them again (¨Look Donny, Kenny if you must, run along now on your stick pony. There`s nothing for you here¨). Whoever said what you can’t see won’t hurt you was clearly not adopted, plus they probably didn’t watch Jaws.

The reason often cited for ensuring the sealing of adoption records was that mothers relinquishing their children for adoption had been promised confidentiality. Allowing adult adoptees access to those records (so the argument goes) would breach that promise (ah, okay – we get it. So it’s a question of morality – you’re just being good guys – honoring your word, so to speak). In truth, it was a promise rarely given. And, as Pam Hasegawa pointed out in her succinct testimony before the New Jersey Assembly on June 14, 2010 (in support of the NJ Adoptees‘ Rights Bill), it is a bogus excuse. Pam researched the legislative intent behind various NJ Sealed Records laws dating back to 1940 and found the real reason: the records were sealed so that birthparents would not later show up and make things difficult. Later, it was said the reason for the laws was not to protect natural parents from being contacted by a child, but to protect them from making rash or abrupt decisions regarding relinquishing their child for adoption. In fact, Pam went on to document that years ago, once an adoption was formalized, many adoptive parents received both the child’s birthname and the name of the birthmother. (www.vimeo.com/16277015). Let’s face it. The records were sealed because they (whoever they are) believed that open records would be a deal breaker for people looking to adopt, as in we’ll have so many little orphans running around we won’t know what to do with them. It took a while to perfect the spin to justify the secrecy, but in the end that is what it was – an excuse. If, in the Baby Lenore case, the media coined the phrase ¨torn from the only parents she has ever known,¨ they also seem to have hopped on the bandwagon with ¨we have to keep our promise to the birthmother.¨ Adoption by sound bite.

My sister, who ratted me out to our parents after I saw my adoption records (¨you’ll never guess what that ingrate Donny did¨), never got to see her own. It was as if the adoption gods were somehow punishing her for her lousy betrayal. But they didn’t punish her for long (okay, maybe for another 15 years or so). Carol never searched, but in one of those quirky twists of fate, her mother appeared on her doorstep, or – more accurately – the milkman did. When we lived on Paul Revere Road, fresh milk was delivered to our back door several times a week. The milkman, it turns out, was Carol’s birth uncle. You can’t make this stuff up. Carol came from Needham. Her mother lived with her parents near town. The parents rented a room to a young guy (whoops). The young guy, from Poland, took a fancy to Carol’s mother, who soon enough became pregnant with Carol. The mother was very young. A private adoption was arranged to a Needham family. The family took Carol shortly after birth (I wonder if they changed her name?), but things did not work out. Carol was returned. In isolated moments not quite approaching brotherly love, I have conjured up explanations for why my sister was returned to sender. No amount of sibling rivalry, though, could wish that on anyone. It must have been excruciatingly difficult, even for an infant – maybe especially so. I read recently about some adoptive parents who were not happy with their Russian adoptee. They felt they were misled, like they had a warranty or something. The child was put on a plane, alone, and air mailed back to the Russian adoption agency. A note was attached. He didn’t just get left in a grocery store – he was also returned, like spoiled milk.

Carol wasn’t air-mailed and she was just an infant. Her return was surely due to the inability of the first adoptive parents to care for any baby, let alone my sister. It would have been nice if they first figured out it’s not really cool to take babies for a test drive. After that failed adoption, Carol was adopted again, this time by our parents. This all happened in 1941, almost 6 years before I was born and 8 years before I showed up on Paul Revere Road with only the clothes on my back. Apparently, my mother and father knew not only the family of Carol’s mother, but also the first pair of adoptive parents. They all lived in Needham. What must it have been like for my mother to walk into Rimmele’s Market in downtown Needham with Carol by her side, while the mother or the mother’s mother were shopping there as well, not to mention the mother for a moment who gave Carol back? It was never mentioned in our house. So far as I know, Carol did not know. I certainly didn’t. Whatever chosen baby story my parents told Carol, they did not choose to share with me.

Both ALMA’s and BJ’s rap groups were predominantly female. There was one other guy at each meeting, but I did not connect with either. Not much had been written yet about adoptees searching for their roots. Florence Fisher’s book, The Search for Anna Fisher, would be published the following year. BJ’s perceptive and important additions to the adoption dialogue (Twice Born; Lost and Found; Journey of the Adopted Self) were still a few years away from making their mark. At home, my wife was supportive, though we were not able to discuss much beyond the facts – what I had discovered and what I needed to discover. Our non-commmunication had more to do with the fortress I had constructed for myself than anything else – my Nueschwanstein (Mad Ludwig apparently had a few birth issues of his own, taken to referring to his mother as ¨my predecessor’s consort¨). I was barely peeking out from one of the turrets. The drawbridge was still firmly slammed shut. Heck, I didn’t even know there was a drawbridge.

A few days after my evening at BJ’s, I called Emma May Vilardi. Sitting on the same love seat where I read the report of the Simmons Detective Agency, in our second floor apartment in New Rochelle, I was watching a Red Sox game – the black and white television propped on top of a wood crate, our early 70’s decor. The prior October, just a few weeks before D. B. Cooper went sky-diving, Boston traded away Jim Lonborg (Gentleman Jim), Ken Brett (George’s brother), Billy Conigliaro (Tony’s brother), Joe Lahoud (whose grandfather played in the Negro Leagues), Don Pavletich (nobody’s brother that I know of) and George Scott (the Boomer) – all to the Milwaukee Brewers, pretty much decimating the remnants of the Impossible Dream Team of 1967 (save Yaz, Rico and Reggie). I spent the summer of 1967 at Fenway Park, going to most games with my Needham friend, Jimmy. In that Spring we made a bet about who would make it to Fenway the most during the season. Known for always bargaining for strokes on the golf course (and for loudly whispering ¨trouble¨ whenever one of us hit an errant shot), Jimmy lamely fished for a Fenway concession. Admittedly, it was a lot easier for me to blow off school and drive up to Boston from Providence to catch a game, than it was for him to travel all the way down from White River Junction. ¨Life ain’t fair buddy – are you a fan or are you going to keep moaning about Crankin’ Dan Osinski giving up a few more shots over the Green Monster?¨ One day, I was sitting in our usual location in the right field bleachers ($1 ticket to sit on an aluminum bench), enjoying the afternoon sun when  Jimmy came chugging up the steps out of breath, mumbling (he was a professional mumbler) that his mid-week trek to Boston was only going to get him a draw for the day. We sat about 15 rows below where Ted Williams hit his 502-foot home run (knocking the straw hat off Joe Boucher, a Yankee fan) on June 9, 1946 (spurring my mother into labor and ushering me into the world). Now the spot where the home run landed is commemorated by a seat painted red. Back then, we only knew it was somewhere behind us, way ¨up there.¨ The Splendid Splinter’s home run was declared  the ¨longest measurable home run in Fenway Park history¨ – which, over the years, I have taken to mean if someone hits one anywhere near as far, they don’t bother to measure. I once saw the Boomer hit a home run so far, the packed Fenway crowd seemed as if it were on tape delay, collectively silent as the ball soared, and then clanged among empty aluminum rows far away from home plate. I didn’t see anyone running for a tape measure.

Listening through the black earpiece, Emma instantly put me at ease. It took a bit to get used to her voice, which sounded as if it were coming to me from a room where oxygen had been replaced by smoke. She immediately offered to help, and I explained to her what I had done so far. We agreed it made sense, for now, to concentrate our (not just me!) search efforts in New York, chasing after Edward Yedlin in the hopes of landing Virginia. I told Emma I did not want to let on to anyone else what I was doing. I felt protective of both of my mothers, the one I knew and the one who left me in the store. Emma understood. Apparently I was not the first adoptee to float that boat of hope and fear. She had heard it before. Emma suggested I start my search at the New York City Public Library on Fifth Avenue, just a few blocks from Grand Central Terminal. The library, she explained, had a genealogy room on the first floor, to the right, reached by walking through a massive reading room. There were records of New York City births (Edward Yedlin?) and old telephone directories on microfilm. Emma cautioned that I should keep to myself the reasons for my search because we were still in an age where secrecy trumped genealogy. Other adoptees had run into problems when they asked for assistance. I could start looking for the Yedlin family. Maybe my mother was living in New York, though I sensed she was still in Boston. It turns out I was wrong on both counts.

Emma also asked me to send her a copy of the report from the detective agency. Ensconced in the era before fax machines, computers and cell phones, we would communicate by letter and telephone. I thanked her and asked if I could send her some money (she declined). Reenergized, I hung up the phone  – both because the Red Sox were winning, and I had done something to get moving. Without realizing it, I had been feeling down since my rap sessions, like (courtesy of Tom Rush) some old engine that lost its drivin’ wheel (www.cowboylyrics.com/tabs/rush-tom/drivin-wheel-2243.html. But in one phone call, my little ¨I Think I Can¨ freight train chugged into second gear. I promised myself a trip to the library the following week and went off to mail a copy of the Simmons report to Emma. Once again the fantasy tugged at me that Virginia (maybe spurred on by my crackshot genealogist) would somehow come back for me, as if she had merely forgotten to pay her grocery bill.

Misdirection

When I was a kid, maybe 6 or 7, I used to visit the Burtons, our next door neighbors on Paul Revere Road. Bill and Irene. He worked for New England Telephone, the ¨We’re the One for You¨ company (not that we had a choice). If the Burtons had kids, they were grown. I never saw anyone around except Bill and Irene. There was no fence between our front yards. I used to rustle on over on my Hopalong Cassidy stick pony (Topper), sporting a Hopalong Cassidy Zoomerang gun (it shot ping-pong balls). Though I didn’t know it, Hoppy was a suitable hero for me. Like me, he was also carrying around something from his past, in his case a gimpy leg, the result of a gunshot wound.  In 1971, when Don McLean released American Pie, he thought of Hopalong Cassidy, writing a free verse poem that was included on the inside cover of the original album. McLean paid tribute to the good guy who always wore black and rode a white horse – black and white, a good guy in innocent times, living the cowboy creed, and gone forever, the day the music died. In truth, Hopalong Cassidy was originally a pulp fiction character created by author Clarence E. Mulford in 1904 as a hard-drinking, rough-housing buckaroo, maybe inspired by the exploits of Butch Cassidy shooting his way through South America at the time. Mulford, who wrote the original stories and 28 Hopalong novels (in Fryeburg, Maine), was not too happy with the sanitized, good guy version of Hopalong later portrayed by actor William Boyd. Mulford used to say if the Hopalong of television ever ran into the Hopalong of his novels, one of Hoppy’s sidekicks would have shot him. Notwithstanding Mulford’s annoyance, Hopalong Cassidy went on to such a commercial success (with the help of TV, movies, and the Montgomery Ward Catalog), that the original 28 novels were later rewritten to conform to the new character. Ah, if life were that easy. 

The Burtons braced themselves for my arrival across the great plains of my front yard. Earlier, on a different bright sunny day, I supposedly showed up in their yard with more than just a broomstick between my legs. I had with me one of my mother’s still packaged (I hope) sanitary napkins. I don’t remember that incident any more than I remember the events on which my chosen baby story were based, but Bill and Irene reportedly got a good post-Victorian titter out of my booty. Now, here I was at the Burtons again, my cap gun ready to cold-cock any unsuspecting injuns. This time I had something else on my mind. It was one of those October days leading up to Halloween (I would be a home-made Sir Lancelot, packaged in aluminum foil). My little Hopalong Cassidy pony had a felt-covered head attached to a short pole stuck between my legs.The Burtons were raking dead leaves out to the curb, where they would set them on fire before the spent foliage scattered to the winds – either that, or before the neighborhood kids, knee-high in autumn, rode their bikes through the chestnut colored mounds.

There were days (this was not one of them) when my mother would let me roam on down Paul Revere Road towards Greendale Avenue. Where the road curved left, there was a large rock outcropping onto which someone had spilled red paint. In a stroke of smoke-and-mirror creativity, it was nicknamed Red Rock. We were sure the red came from the spilt blood of redskins. In truth, the only red skin we ever saw was Fred Muzi, the owner of Muzi Motors, who dressed up (including the red paint) as an Indian warrior and rode a white horse in every Needham 4th of July parade. Apparently he is still whooping it up. Recently, some are saying Fred’s ride is disrespectful to Indians, maybe even racist, while two-thirds of Needhamites continue to support the ride as an integral part of Needham tradition. Armed with, perhaps, a somewhat distorted sense of American colonial history, the red Indian on the white pony was my favorite part of the parade. In the cowboy crazed 1950’s, Red Rock was as good a place as any to fight Indians. There are, regrettably, no Indians left to write Bury My Heart at Red Rock. We got them all, a tag team match of Hopalong Cassidy, the Lone Ranger and Davy Crockett keeping Paul Revere Road safe for the colonialists. We had cap guns with a red star on the handle (denoting Texas Rangers). The red caps, when fired, gave off little grey puffs of smoke, one each for every shot warrior. The Indians didn’t stand a chance. Years later, when The Gods Must Be Crazy hit the movie theaters, I smiled knowingly at the scene with the bushman and the westerner, the spear and the gun. It turns out that Nehoiden, the Ponkapoag Indian for which a Needham street is named, was actually a pretty nice guy. For my part, I would like to apologize for all the Indians I wiped out with my six-shooter before I realized I was actually trespassing on their land. Red Rock can never be the same.

On this particular Fall day, I was roaming closer to home, sidling over to the Burtons on my fake pony, standing sideways to them (to give Topper a little breathing room). With the stick firmly between my legs I greeted my neighbors. Seemingly out of no place, I laid it on them straight out: ¨You know,¨ I drawled, ¨I am adopted.¨ It was something I had taken to doing, announcing to the world what they might not be able to discern, that I had a unique status. I was different. My name may as well have been ¨Don Humphrey I’m adopted.¨ I did it as much to see the reaction I would get as to impart information, perhaps also hoping for some little nugget of which I was not yet aware. No doubt the Burtons already knew this little tidbit of Humphrey family history. Since I was so young I could not have consciously known for long the fact that I was adopted. I don’t remember when my parents first told me, though it would become one of my talking points: ¨When was it that you first told me I was adopted?¨ The answer was not part of the script. No one seemed to know for sure, but the general consensus was around age 6. While I don’t remember the moment they first told me, on another level, another plane, I always knew. How could I not? I knew in the way that adoptees sense that stuff. While I could have physically passed as my mother’s son, not so for my father. But I was not yet sophisticated enough to be conscious of that. My parents smelled different, especially my father – not bad (except maybe for the cigarettes) but different. It was not a come here and curl up with me on the couch smell.

Speaking of smells, along about 1962, my mother decided she wanted to start a business. Almost precisely at the moment that women were beginning to turn away from purchasing hats, my mother opened a millinery store in downtown Needham, right by the Needham Cinema on Great Plain Avenue. I was in high school. She was a Christian woman, faithfully attending Grace Church Episcopal each Sunday, singing in the choir, partaking in bake and rummage sales, volunteering her time for good causes. She was not a Christian by lip service. She meant to do her best. But she was also a product of her times, having lived in Needham her entire life. Needham, like many bedroom communities in the 1950’s and 1960’s, was predominantly white. I think there was one black family in the entire town. In the 1950’s we went to church each Sunday. I was a choir boy, until my voice (thankfully) changed – I once sang Silent Night as a solo at Trinity Church in Boston, and the congregation is still wondering who scratched the chalkboard. I went to Sunday School, church square dances, became an acolyte, attended youth retreats. I was a long ways from Boston. After church each Sunday we went to visit Grandma Starkweather (Margaret, of Margaret and Oscar). Mandatory. It wasn’t fun, starting with the fact she had a mole on her cheek below her left eye. It was a brown hole that seemed to have no end. Not wanting to find out, I kept my distance. She also smelled funny – so did her house, in part because all the drapes were pulled shut and the windows closed. The only air conditioning was a screen door. I survived the 2 and 3 hour visits by trying to avoid her touching me and by working her jigsaw puzzle on a cardboard table. She was not that happy about me kibitzing, as she called it – but she tolerated it as the cost of having company. Oscar was rarely there. Strike that. Oscar was never  there. I did not yet have any clue why he was absent. Apparently he was a member of another congregation.

To get to my grandmother’s house, we had to drive through the Catholic section of town. My genetic ancestors, including Virginia, were all Irish. My adoptive family was all English. If I looked like anything, I looked like the little Irish kid that I was – red-haired, freckle faced, blue-eyed, skinny, almost an Irish Oliver Twist. Needham, in the 1950’s, was loosely divided into three somewhat amorphous areas, at least to my parents and their friends. There was the Catholic section down near St Bartholomew’s Catholic Church on Greendale Avenue. There also was a Catholic Church, St. Joseph’s, in the center of town on Highland Avenue. My father owned Humphrey’s Service, a full-service gas station (check your oil, wash your windows, flash a smile) across from St. Joseph’s, and I am certain he was happy to fill up anybody on Sunday morning. There was also a Jewish section, in Needham Heights, below the fire station, a self-contained neighborhood within shouting distance of Route 128.

There were some unspoken rules. I could play with Jimmy, John and Greg, who lived nearby, Jimmy especially because his parents also had a place on Lake Winnipesaukee. The Jewish section was strictly off-limits. There were no play dates there. To be honest, it was unlikely I would run into any until at least Junior High School, when kids from the various localized elementary schools all went to Pollard Junior High. There weren’t any play dates in the Catholic section either, not until later, after my parents lost the ability, and probably the desire, to keep track of where I roamed in Needham. Once I reached Junior High School, of course, the family guidelines only caused me to seek out Jewish and Catholic girls. But when I was younger, in the 1950’s, we drove to Grandma Starkweather’s house each Sunday in the family car, a trip my father always seemed to successfully avoid as well. Not only was Oscar never there, but my father always had ¨to work.¨ My grandmother’s house back then was near St. Bartholomew’s, and we drove thorough a Catholic neighborhood to get there. Sitting in the back seat, my mother driving, I watched all the Catholic kids play. Without registering the significance, I noticed that all the kids I was not supposed to play with looked just like me.    

When my mother opened her hat shop, she had a partner, Lucille. Years later, when I got married  in 1971, Lucille sent a wedding gift (the millinery experiment long since abandoned). My wife and I removed the wrapping, were grateful (ah the word fits here) for the photo of a steam iron on the box cover. What a thoughtful gift. Not needing any pressed clothes for the moment, we put the unopened box aside. Later, as were preparing to write thank you notes (okay, as my wife, who hated to write, was doing her best to send thank you notes) we opened the box. Instead of an iron, there was a small plastic flower, suitable for Willy Loman’s breakfast table. Hideous and inexpensive politely describe a gift which must have been, for Lucille, an ode to her not so fond remembrance of the partnership with my mother. My wife still sent a thank you note. We should have enclosed it in an otherwise empty envelope for a  U.S. Treasury Bond.

After a long day in the millinery shop, my mother returned home one evening in 1962. It was a rare day when there were more than a few customers. On this particular day, there were only two and they happened to be black or, as we then said, negro. Two black women shopping for hats. You would have thought the Indians came back looking for more scalps. My mother knew she was honor bound (not to mention legally) to serve the women. She did, helping them try on a variety of styles. The women subsequently left (without buying anything). I wish I could have been there. It would have been more interesting than any American history book I had yet read (or avoided reading). But in the confines of our home, then on Elizabeth Circle, she was mortified. Her face contorted, her body explaining it all, lamenting: ¨I just can’t help it. They smell so different.¨ It wasn’t her finest moment (I’ve had a few of those myself). Ben Harland once said: ¨Race is a pigment of the imagination.¨ My mother was talking about people smelling different, and to that I could relate, more than she knew. She did not have a mean bone in her body, and she believed we are all God`s children. She always said, when she died (in 1989), she wanted everyone to sing ¨When the Saints Go Marching In¨ at her funeral (we did). But in 1962, on Great Plain Avenue she discovered, firsthand,  that the times really were changing. It took her a while to catch up. She wasn’t the only one.

While I may not have been crazy about wrapping my arms around my father or touching my grandmother, I did like the smell of  leaves burning by the curb in front of the Burtons. They were standing on the black tar driveway, leaning on their green-pronged metal rakes. Mr. Bill corralled a few stray oaks with his, the metal lightly scratching the driveway. But it was Mrs. Burton who took charge with me. She put down her rake and walked the few steps to me and Topper. Leaning down, hands on her knees, she looked me eye to eye. I looked right back. ¨Yes, Donny. We know. You are so lucky because you KNOW your parents love you.¨ She emphasized know. Huh? It was not the response I expected, though one I’ve heard many times since. It was a disconnect, really. I was talking about one thing. Mrs. Burton was answering about another. I didn’t say anything about my parents loving me. I was talking about something else. It went unnoticed, like a pebble swept up with dead leaves, only to be strewn aside with the next swish of the rake.

I knew Mrs. Burton had said something important. I didn’t know what was important about it, but there was a finality to it, with just the slightest tinge of a suggestion. I could not tell you one other single thing about the Burtons. Red Rock, Hopalong Cassidy, six shooters, fighting Indians. . . . it is all as if it just happened yesterday. But the only memory I have of Mr. and Mrs. Burton is that one conversation. You know it all, exactly as I do. Maybe what is important is just that, a little cameo in my life. And so it is with adoption. It is a dance, really. We are all dancing around a May pole with blindfolds. No one can know, no one dare say what went before. Hush hush, wink wink. Your parents love you. Rake the leaves. Light the fire.

An Unexpected Visitor

In the fall of 1972, I met BJ Lifton, spoke with Emma May Vilardi and began searching for Virginia Peters. Already a beacon in the adoption universe, BJ invited me to a rap group at her Central Park West apartment. Effusive and ever-smiling, she welcomed me like we had known each other for years. In one sense, we had. Hair framed her face like a crescent moon, and she spoke in rapid metaphors, one on top of another. It was as if she were taking me into her confidence, speaking with me as a co-conspirator. I liked her instantly.

As opposed to the ALMA session, only adoptees attended BJ’s rap group, most of whom had recently started searching for their birthmothers. Birthfathers were not mentioned. That night there were 4 or 5 other participants. The mood was different from the ALMA meeting. Here there were solely adoptees talking about being adopted. I explained my background, at least what I knew of it, and my trip to Dedham. Just the facts, man. I wasn’t  quite ready to unravel the feelings that were resurfacing, but I was fascinated to hear the feelings and stories of the others. A guy in his mid 20’s, soft-spoken, linked his feelings as an adoptee to his life as a gay man. In a brief homophobic moment, I silently pleaded with myself to confirm I was not gay. I found myself listening to the stories and experiences of the others as a means of somehow trying to figure out who I was. As each adoptee spoke, parts of their stories resonated with me. Each story was like trying on a different hat. One fit well, another a little too large, though never one that was exactly right. Is that me? Does that fit? Is that the person I am? Could someone please explain it to me, or was I destined to be like Robert Dupea (Jack Nicholson) in Five Easy Pieces, out-of-place everywhere, stopped even from getting a few slices of wheat toast with my omelet (www.brightlightsfilm.com/57/jack.html) .  

 I was struck by a white female adoptee, about 30, who talked about her difficulty getting pregnant. Talking with a New Jersey twang, she sat immediately to my left, explaining that she tried unsuccessfully to get pregnant for a number of years. She and her husband went for tests. There was nothing physically wrong. She knew nothing of the circumstances of her birth, only that she was adopted. And then she explained that she had a recurring nightmare that if she were to become pregnant, their baby would be black. The liberal product of an eastern college liberal arts education (though Brown had its own brushes with slavery and racism), my first instinct was ¨what’s wrong with a black baby?¨ That, of course, was not the point. Her fear seemed to make no sense, and yet, somehow it did – if she did not know where she came from, how could she know what she would produce? While, logically, what her mind feared seemed bizarre, I was beginning to see that the experience of adoption could lead down some pretty crooked roads. This particular woman eventually turned to adoption (something my sister did as well). And then, after the woman successfully adopted a baby,  she became pregnant. (p.s. the baby was white). Though not with the racial twist, I had heard of this experience before – an adopted woman, not able to conceive, adopting a baby and then becoming pregnant. It is as if the act of adoption removed a block, some inner fear that prevented an earlier pregnancy. It got me thinking about the power of the unconscious mind to suppress trauma, pain and fear.

After the meeting at BJ’s I began to think about sex and adoption – the ability, and the inability, to have children, and the sexual issues of growing up in a family that could not produce biological children of its own. It also got me thinking about some long repressed incidents personal to me. First, obviously, adopted or not, it took a sexual act for each of us to get here – just like everyone else (at least as of 1972). But there seemed to be something mysterious about the sexual peccadilloes of someone adopted – someone who, by their adoption, was cut off from their genetic past. Adoption, historically, erased the road map that detailed the journey behind. In its place was a new map (the chosen baby story), carefully crafted to meet the needs of the adopting family. In my case, the map was abbreviated. The past was symbolized by burning clothes. For my mother, perhaps, she was trying to comfort me, to let me know that they were going to take care of me, save me, get me better clothes – all of which, by the way, they did. But all I saw was burning clothes. If you lose your way, if you can’t retrace your steps, it is that much more difficult to move forward. Sometimes, maybe, the map from the past is not pretty, but it is not always about being pretty.

After the meeting, so many thoughts were swirling about as I walked down Central Park West alone. The air was crisp, and there were few people on the sidewalk. In that moment I wasn’t even thinking about finding my mother. Something unexpected took center stage, set off by the New Jersey adoptee, something I had not thought about in years. My own sexual history was confused – though not about being gay. I know more than a few gay men who were adopted and who believe issues surrounding their adoption were wrapped up in their gayness. That was not the issue for me, of that much I was sure. By the same token, my sexuality was all very confusing.

My parents were not physically close with one another – a kiss on the cheek at the end of the day was about it. They slept in the same room but in separate beds – for years. Many children have difficulty believing their parents have sex. I not only believed it, I was (and am) as sure of it as anything in life that I do not directly know from my own knowledge. Over the years there were muted incidents that raised questions about my father’s sexual orientation. There were also family secrets about my maternal grandparents, Oscar and Margaret. Both from Needham as well, Oscar was in the first graduating class of M.I.T. (and, coincidentally, a member of the cross country team). He had a successful landscaping business in Needham, adjacent to where Howard Johnson’s restaurant was for years. He was also a member of the Coast Guard. Word is that Oscar liked the ladies. One night Oscar and Margaret, who had 5 children between them, went to a local party – perhaps in the 1930’s or 1940’s. I don’t know exactly. Oscar was enjoying himself, Margaret less so. Eventually Margaret announced she wanted to go home and asked Oscar to accompany her. Oscar, still enjoying himself, suggested Margaret go on ahead, and he would join her later. She did. When Oscar finally arrived home, Margaret had locked him out of their bedroom – not just for the night, but for the rest of their lives. Oscar, being no slouch, took a mistress (perhaps he already had one). One did not get divorced in those days, at least that was the common sentiment. Oscar lived on his Coast Guard boat during the week, coming home for weekends with the family. When he passed away (in the late 1950’s, I believe), he died a la Nelson Rockefeller, in the arms of his mistress and apparently in the midst of a particularly enjoyable moment. Margaret continued to live alone, ultimately ending up in a nursing home in the last years of her long life. Towards the end, one day I visited her and asked the nurses how she was doing. Fine, they replied, except that each morning she jumped up and down on her bed and stripped off all her clothes. One can draw one’s own conclusions for that behavior, but perhaps Margaret should have been a bit less hasty in locking Oscar out of their bedroom for so many years.

Whatever the reasons,the simple fact is that my parents were not amorous with each other. They were also married for 53 years. Near the end of her life, one kidney totally failed my mother. She was told the other might last another month. She was in Huggins Hospital in Wolfeboro, New Hampshire, near year’s end, 1988. I convinced my father we needed to do something, that Glover Hospital, as good as it was for many things, was not equipped to deal with severe kidney failure. That day we had her transferred to Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. My father was not well himself at the time. I drove down to Boston to meet the ambulance, and in the following days my mother had vascular surgery. The doctor used a vein from my mother’s leg to construct a new path to her remaining kidney – truly amazing, at the time and considering my mother’s already weak heart, a treacherous but necessary procedure. When she came out of the operating room, I saw her briefly as they wheeled her into ICU. It did not look promising. My father (by this point, my dad) was brought down to Boston. I went to meet him at the hospital entrance. He needed a wheel chair to get to her room, where she had just been transferred from ICU. I wheeled him into her hospital room, and then witnessed the most beautiful moment I ever saw them share. Once the wheelchair was directly in front of her hospital bed and locked in place, my father stood up, holding onto the rail of the wheelchair, then the metal rail of the hospital bed. She was barely conscious but knew he was there. I stood off his left shoulder, feeling as if I were intruding on their private moment. He struggled with the rail, but leaned all the way down, with all his energy. They shared the sweetest kiss I have ever seen between any two people  – so full of concern, love, and fear. I guess 53 years together will do that. In all, between 3 women, I was married 26 years (if you add them all together). I used to joke that, for my 25th wedding anniversary, I would invite all 3 and we could celebrate together. To tell the truth, the only one worth inviting is the first one.

Whatever sexual issues my adoptive parents may have had is none of my business. It is not for me to figure out, except to the extent it had an effect on me. There were not many physical displays of emotion in our family. My parents, so good in many ways, were still from the ¨children should be seen and not heard¨ school of parenting. There were not a lot of hugs or kisses., but there was a certain respect, a fidelity to family. My parents accepted me for who I was, even if I was not so confident myself of the answer. They loved me. There is no doubt in my mind.

In the winter of 1977, my wife and I drove up to Needham from New York to visit my parents, in the middle of a snowstorm – not my brightest move, because my wife was about 7 months pregnant with my first son, David. North of Providence, the storm was so bad we could barely see through the windshield. I had taken that route, reasoning the snowfall would be less severe along the coast. I was wrong. Route 95 was barely passable, one snow-covered lane. I plowed on, finally arriving at my parents home about 11 p.m. They were living temporarily in an apartment in Needham Heights, and shortly would retire to their home in New Hampshire. Snow was drifting in the parking lot, and I rammed the car into a snow bank and left it there, a tribute to both my persistence in overcoming nature and my stupidity (okay, mostly my stupidity). The next morning the storm had passed. After the parking lot was ploughed, my mother wanted me to drive her to downtown Needham for some errands. We left the apartment, a garden style unit in Needham Heights not far from the property my father always referred to as the ¨Sacco and Vanzetti house.¨ As we left the apartment, the neighbor across the hall opened her door. My mother introduced me as her son, to which the neighbor replied…. ¨the apple doesn’t fall very far from the tree.¨ I smiled. My mother smiled. We all smiled. As soon as the woman shut her door, my mother turned to me and said in a gloriously conspiratorial tone not unlike when BJ first spoke with me: ¨I just love it when they say that.¨

My own sexual beginnings were complicated by more than my parents physical aloofness. They were also forced upon me, by my sister, and this is what I was thinking that night after the rap group, as I walked down towards the subway station. The incidents happened when I was very young. It was on Paul Revere Road. There were 2 instances. So far as I know, there were not others. There was a tree house in the rear left corner of the backyard, a little enclosed space you reached by climbing up and crawling through an open doorway – not that high off the ground, but high enough for me. It was dark inside. I was maybe 6 or 7 (I’m not certain), which would have made my sister 12 or 13. It was the early 1950’s. One day she yelled out to me from the tree house. She told me to climb up. I did. She had a friend there, a girl, and I sat between them. My sister touched me where she should not have touched me, while the friend just watched. I knew it was wrong, taboo, dirty. I was also too young to do anything about it. It was forced, in front of the friend. I squirmed, tried to get loose, felt helpless. I didn’t like it, but I remember nothing else from that day. For many years I submerged it, as if it did not happen. Then, when it floated to the surface, I questioned it. Could I have imagined it? Was it a dream? No. It happened – brief, sexual, wrong. I was sad, withdrawn, and – later – angry. I never told anyone. Now, in 1972, fresh from my first true adoption rap session, it was all coming back to me, again.

There was another time. Later, though I don’t know by how much. I was still young, about the same age. It was in the Paul Revere Road house, in the basement. At the bottom of the stairs, the family room was to the left. For Sunday supper, we would have popovers on fold-up TV tables, or sometimes Welsh Rarebit – the traditional Sunday night save-a-penny supper (after a formal Sunday dinner in mid-afternoon). The other half of the basement was unfinished. In it was the furnace, storage and maybe a door to the back yard. It was also very dark, even in daytime. I am not sure if it was day or night, but she grabbed and forced my face, my mouth to touch her bared breast. I squirmed, but she was bigger and stronger. She held me there. It was awkward, even now it turns my stomach. It was also just a few moments in time, arousing nothing in me except fear. Again, afraid of her, I said nothing.

Those images are with me still. I never spoke about them with her, with my parents, with anyone. When they finally resurfaced (years ago), I questioned myself over and over. Did they really occur? Did I make it up? Were they dreams I had? In the end, I am sure of what happened. I was too young to dream that, too young to even think about it. When I was in 7th grade, probably 4 or 5 years later, one day I was walking through the Carter-Avery school yard (by the monkey bars) with a buddy, Gordon Bahr, now long since dead. A friend, Carla, was there, and she was light years beyond me sexually. She used a slang word to describe a lower part of her anatomy. In that pre-Internet time, when television itself was still relatively new, I was flabbergasted. I had never heard anything remotely approximating the word (a far cry from many kids today).  It was not only the starkness of the word that shocked me. It was the sexuality of it, the fact that girls were  different. What happened with my sister, for me, was not sexual. It was something entirely different. I never confronted her. I am sure she would deny it. I also know she is not a monster. She is, in fact, very talented. My father told me, shortly before he died, that he was sad because he felt, once he was gone, Carol and I would drift apart. He was right. We did not drift apart because of these 2 incidents, seemingly brief moments in time that she may have immediately dismissed as insignificant. But on my first trip to BJ’s, expecting to talk about my adoption and how to go about finding my past, a part of my past came calling  – just not the part that I expected.

What’s in a Name?

I sometimes wonder if my adoptive parents wondered about changing my name. Did it occur to them it might not be such a smashing idea? It’s not like I was just coming home all cute and fluffy from Kenmore Hospital. I’d been around for almost 2 years. I was Kenny. . . ??? Come to think of it, I hope I wasn’t named after Kenmore Hospital??? ¨Oh, look at the sign! Why don’t I just call him Kenny?¨ If that’s what happened, thank God my birthmother wasn’t thinking about naming me as she was passing through Kenmore Square.

After I learned, in 1972, that I was not called Donald right from the beginning, I thought about those first 6 months with my new family on Paul Revere Road, when I didn’t speak or cry. Of course I didn’t – you were calling me by the wrong name! I know that whatever issues I faced, they were more complicated than simply dealing with a different name. Like Frank Shorter said on entering the Olympic Stadium in Munich, give me a break. There’s an imposter adrift. I already had a name. Lately, things had not been going that well for me. A little stability would be nice, thank you. By the way, whatever happened to that bomber’s jacket? You know,  the dirty one. I don’t want to seem ungrateful (a thankless word designed to make an adoptee’s skin crawl)….., but when you stopped by to get me, did they happen to mention my name to you? It’s Kenny!

Many years ago I used to describe to friends, acquaintances (basically anyone who would listen) what it felt like to be adopted, as if I alone had the answer. Mustering a telling ¨I’ve Been There¨ look, I began by asking a question. Do you remember getting lost in the grocery store when you were young? Of course you do. Running up and down the aisles playing, you suddenly turn around. Your mother is not there, not anywhere to be seen. You look in the next aisle, and she’s not there either. A little panic begins to set in. You know you should not have wandered off by yourself. Maybe she even told you to stay close. You try to calm yourself. It will be okay, but pretty soon you are running up and down the aisles, quietly terrified. You only want one thing – your mother. Where is she? And then, just as nearly complete panic is about to overtake you, there she is, reaching for a box of Cheerios for you. Whew! – a great sense of relief,  a promise not to do that again. At exactly this point in the story I would pause, all-knowing-like, look my friend in the eye and say: it’s like that when you get adopted. You’re lost in the grocery store. A little panic sets in. Your mom is gone. You run up and down the aisles, but she has vanished. The only difference is, when you get adopted, your my mother never comes back. She’s not reaching for Cheerios. She’s out in the parking lot, reaching for the keys to the car. Now that I am older and supposedly a bit wiser, that explanation all sounds a bit melodramatic, a little over the top. But one day my mother did leave, not when I was all sparkling and cuddly in Kenmore Hospital (devastating enough), but after almost 2 years. Maybe not in the grocery store. Worse, really. One day she was there, and then the next moment she was gone. And a short while later, while I was still terrified – still looking, expecting my mother to come waltzing in – these other people I did not know put me in a car and started calling me Donny. I don’t remember any of it, but I also want to say I somehow remember all of it. It’s presumptuous to say that is what it feels like to be adopted, but when my kids were young and ran off in the grocery store, I didn’t like the feeling.

I have to admit, absolutely nothing registered that day in Dedham, when I first saw my original name, Kenneth James Peters – no sense of recognition, no warm fuzzy feeling, not anything. I thought only one thing – the good State of Massachusetts screwed up my adoption records. No wonder they wanted to keep them sealed. They couldn’t even get my name straight. Later, when it finally dawned on me (okay, terrible pun) I started checking out the name. Kenneth is considered derived primarily from Scotland, and a Gaelic version of it is translated as the ¨handsome one¨ (I like that one). Another interpretation is ¨fire-head¨ or ¨born of fire,¨ seemingly appropriate for the kid later destined to set the Needham Heights community record for consecutively struck Diamond Safety matches.

After I saw the Probate Court records, occasionally I would look in a mirror and think Kenneth, Kenny, Kenneth James, Kenneth James Peters. I looked at the guy looking back at me, who was the same guy at whom I was looking – the man in the mirror. Try as I might, the names did not resonate. They still don’t. Kenneth is a name now that I associate more with Dan Rather, a guy I admired from his early days reporting from Dallas in the aftermath of  President Kennedy’s assassination until, in later years, he seemed to go a little weird on us. He was subjected to a beating near his home on Park Avenue in 1986 by 2 guys chanting ¨Kenneth, what is the frequency?¨ I wondered if he was adopted? Did Dan Rather have another name? Him too? Empathetic, I was beginning to understand why Dan got a little funky.  Though we (wink wink) thought Dan was maybe up to something a little kinky,  it later appeared that maybe he was just mugged by two media obsessed lunatics. And from there the media took over, morphing the phrase into, practically, the only Kenneth we have ever known. It spawned songs, plays, novels, movies, and even a stint on The Late Show with David Letterman, and ultimately passed into our lexicon as a term describing a dazed or clueless person. I did not take offense.

Kenneth was also a principal character in Sir Walter Scott‘s The Talisman. An ill King Richard the Lionheart is cured through the magic power of a talisman, provided by a mysterious Saracen emir (actually Saladin, whose conquest of Palestine was the basis for the Third Crusade in the first place). Later, Kenneth is charged one night with protecting the banner of England. He is lured away by the King’s devious wife, Queen Berengaria, to receive an urgent message from his amor, Edith Plantagenet (the royal cousin). While Kenneth is gone the banner gets torn down and his trusty hound wounded. A loose noose from being hung, Kenneth was spared execution when the kind emir offered to take him as his slave. Later Ken sneaks back into the English camp, disguised as a mute attendant (no talking, no crying!) to King Richard. Too smart for all that, the King sees through the ruse, but gives our boy Kenneth the chance to find out who ripped down the banner and wounded the dog. The banner back in place, Kenneth’s hound knocks the Conrad of Montserrat (Montferrat actually, but who cares, it’s just a name) off his horse. A duel follows between Kenneth and the Conrad. Kenneth wins, after which Sir Kenneth is revealed to be. . . . Prince David (huh?)- It turns Kenneth was never Kenneth to begin with, though his newly discovered royal status allows (Prince David) to hook up with his love, Edith. Plus he gets a cool talisman as a wedding present. (www.walterscott.lib.ed.ac.uk/works/novels/talisman.html).

The name Donald, on the other hand, as some of my friends were wont to point out during my childhood, was made famous by a flat-footed, color-blind animated duck.

I admit it bothered me that they changed my entire name. Still does. I get the bit about last name, but not the first. I admit it bothered me that they threw away my clothes. Still does. And it bothered me, of course, the fact that my parents did not just get rid of the few things I had, which happened to be clothes, but burned them. Still does. It made quite an impression. I doubt my parents thought much about what feelings I might have had about those things. I was a little kid, a little kid that was not even talking. There was a reason, not a good one, why they changed my first name. They kept it from me for years, and it was not until 1994 when my father, for the first time, told me  he remembered my name was Ken. He waited over 40 years to tell me, long after my mother had passed away. No guilt, no I am sorry for that. Just a matter of fact explanation. Even after fall these years, it did not occur to him that it could possibly have made any difference to me. When my oldest son, David, was 5 years old, his mother and I had been separated for more than 6 months. We were waiting for the divorce papers to be finalized. I had a girlfriend, who lived in New York City. One night David and I stayed over. That afternoon I bought David some new sneakers. He was really happy with them. The next morning we were rushing to leave the apartment to make it to preschool and work. As we left the apartment, I took David’s old sneakers with me. David trailed behind. Briefcase in one hand, I opened the trash chute and threw in the old sneakers with the other. We were on the 6th floor. The trash bin for the building was in the basement. ¨My sneakers, my sneakers!¨ David ran to the shoot, crying. I had not even thought he might want them. They were probably as ratty as my bomber jacket.

I have heard, from time to time, of adoptees who have changed their names – sometimes the last name, sometimes the first. In England it is a simple affair. You can even do it online. It is not that complicated in the United States either. I never considered doing so and have not ever wanted to return to Kenny, a name which does not move mountains for me – any more than Donald. If I were to change my name, maybe I would do what that bloke in England did. He changed his name to Mr. None of the Above. I wonder if he was adopted.

Settling In

In early June, 1948 I went to New Hampshire with my new parents and new sister in the family Studebaker. The welcome note is right there in the family guest log for Windleblo Road, June 2, 1948: ¨Donny´s first trip.¨ I wonder what Kenny felt about that.  In 1979, when my oldest boy, David, was two years old, I used to watch him play with his Star Wars Millennium Falcon Spaceship on the floor of our den. I thought to myself: ¨What if, poof, we changed your name to, say, Han Solo, or maybe Chewbacca.¨ It was inconceivable, of course. I had no idea why my parents chose to change my name just before my second birthday, and I did not ask them until years later. There was an aura in my house that the chosen baby story (punched-your-father-in-the nose-then-we-burned-your-dirty-clothes) was the sum total of all the information about my past, that there was nothing more to tell (though there was). Whatever the reason  (I know now), one morning I woke up as Kenny from Boston and by the afternoon I was Donny from Needham. In many ways I was better off, but that somehow misses the mark. I once got (can’t bring myself to say adopted) a beautiful black Lab from the dog pound. About a year old, his name was Max. Once a Max, always a Max. No way I was changing his pedigree, however limited.

In 1948, the car ride from Paul Revere Road to Wolfeboro, New Hampshire took substantially longer than the 2 1/2 hours it takes today. It took more than 12 hours in 1912 (the year the Titanic sank), when my father was 2. By 1948 the Everett Turnpike did not yet exist. On the Massachusetts/New Hampshire border, at Tyngsboro (the ¨Gateway to the White Mountains¨), we  turned off Route 3, blasting through a gigantic granite outcropping (for years littered in red graffiti announcing the latest amorous proclivities of the local teenage population). Slicing over to the Daniel Webster Highway (which in New Hampshire’s unique way of doing things, was also Route 3), we sometimes stopped at the Greenridge Turkey Farm for dinner, though there was no evidence of either a green ridge or a turkey farm. My father’s stomach always growled when he ate turkey, but the Greenridge apparently made a mean Manhattan.

In 1948, of course, I was just along for the ride. According to my parents I neither spoke nor cried for the ensuing 6 months. Shortly before Christmas I asked for a glass of water, like the Australian koalas in January, 2010, pleading their plight with humans in 120 degree heat: ¨Listen, I know this is a bit out of the norm, but could you spare a little water, mate?¨ (www.hornbill-hornbill.blogspot.com/2010/01/koalas-asking-for-waterin-victoria.html). I have some ideas about why I was not talking or crying. Each of my 4 boys was blabbering by the time they reached age 2. In trying to reconstruct what was happening with me, what I was feeling, I use whatever I can – old family photos (the one of me standing in a playpen, outside alone in the yard on Paul Revere Road, curly blond hair, holding onto the rail; the one of my sister and me on a homemade pine-seat swing in New Hampshire, our parents behind – a family shot with the rope descending from someplace out of view); family stories (you didn’t talk or cry); the family mood (sedate, not touchy feely – polite, with a cocktail); what was going on in the world at the time (music, movies, news). You can read too much into a photo, a story, an event, but it also offers an image, a feeling, a fantasy, that becomes your truth, like watching the mimes play an imaginary game of tennis in Michelangelo Antonioni‘s Blow-Up (one of my favorite movies) while hearing the sound of the nonexistent ball smacked back and forth (www.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blowup).

The hot movie in 1948 was Treasure of the Sierra Madre (we don’t need no badges), but my parents were not movie people. In January of that year a plane crash at Los Gatos, California killed 4 named U.S. citizens and 29 unnamed deportees, leading to Woody Guthrie‘s commemorative song  (Plane Wreck at Los Gatos) – but Woody Guthrie’s music did not strike a chord for my parents. In January, Mahatma Gandhi began his fast-unto-death, and then was assassinated by Nathuram Godse on January 30. If my parents knew of Gandhi, we never discussed it. The Hell’s Angels were founded in California, surely not news of interest in my house (maybe for my Harley-riding sister). The Summer Olympics, the first since Hitler’s 1936 Games, got underway in London (the Austerity Games). American Bob Mathias (decathlon)  became the youngest ever gold medalist, and Fanny Blankers-Koen, a 30-year-old mother of 2 (the ¨Flying Housewife¨) won 4 gold medals.  My parents were not sports people, at least not my father. And in August, the House of Representatives Committee on Unamerican Activities held its first televised hearings, called Confrontation Day (between Alger Hiss and Whitaker Chambers). I don’t know for certain, but I imagine my parents watched. If they did not watch, they at least knew of it. Both were card-carrying Republicans. Like many people then, they trusted their government. In the fall of 1948, Truman defeated Dewey, no matter what the Chicago Tribune thought. That news could not have made my parents happy, who had cocktail parties on election nights to cheer on the local and national Republican candidates. I remember listening from my bed, in 1956, to the clatter of cocktail glasses and the clink of ice as radio reports, in the background, broadcast Eisenhower’s defeat of Stevenson. Radio was preferred to television because it did not get in the way of the party. When Watergate leaked in 1972, it led to the only real fight I ever had with my father. We had disagreements before and after, but nothing like the screaming, bourbon-induced invectives he threw my way for questioning President Nixon. He felt H. R. Haldeman, Nixon’s flat-topped Chief of Staff, and John D. Erlichman, the White House Counsel called the ¨Berlin Wall¨ by staffers, were the guilty ones for not protecting ¨their boss.¨ Nevermind the boss was a crook. My father stormed from the New Hampshire lake house on Barber Pole Road. My mother hugged me in an ¨I’m sorry¨ sort of way. The fight and the hug were both unusual, and we all learned from that. Times were changing, as Dylan already noted. We needed to find a way to get along, as Rodney King would later note. And I also learned not to start an argument with my father after he’d had a few Manhattans, something which I should have already known. It never happened again, the fight or the hug, at least not that one.

Each year, once school was out, my mother would drive Carol and me up to the ¨camp¨ on Windleblo Road for the summer. My father commuted back and forth from Needham on weekends. The camp was on Tuftonboro Neck, which jutted out onto the main portion of Lake Winnipesaukee. In a tongue-in-cheek display of New Hampshire-speak, this widest expanse of the lake is called ¨the broads.¨ The camp was a small 2 bedroom cottage, stained brown with midnight blue shutters. The land, ravaged by the Hurricane of ’38 (the Great New England Hurricane, the worst storm since 1869 and the costliest and deadliest in New England history), was given to my father by his uncle. My parents used the downed pine trees to build the camp – at least that’s how the story goes. I wasn’t around, biologically or otherwise. We got our water from a well, the casing stained brown and the pump painted blue to match the camp. The living room had a floor to ceiling stone fireplace (shaped like a chimney and in which we used a black metal tin popper to roast popcorn). The living room opened onto a large screened porch overlooking a granite covered hill which was smothered with 80 foot tall pine trees. The lake was several hundred yards below, down a brown needle path. At times I hopped from granite rock to granite rock, avoiding any contact with the ground. When I was older, I sometimes slept on the porch. To fall asleep, instead of sheep I counted the empty bottles of exotic liquors my father displayed in the porch rafters.

My father, born in Portland, Maine and raised in Needham, began going to Wolfeboro himself when he was 2 years old, visiting the uncle (Gorham B. Humphrey) after which he was named, the same uncle that gave him the Windleblo Road land. Uncle Gorham, who had a few bucks, owned a beautiful Victorian house called Grey Rock in Winter Harbor (on land now owned by Piping Rock Lodges). When my wife was pregnant with David, one day my father took me aside. In a lowered voice, he intoned: ¨I only have one request (about David’s name). Please don’t name him Gorham.¨ It was never under consideration, but in that moment I felt for him. He always wanted to change his name. I did not yet realize he had already changed mine. David does share my father’s middle name, and my youngest, Ryan (born after the death of mother and just before my father’s), shares my original  birth-middle name. My father spent a good part of his life in New Hampshire and retired there in the mid-1970’s (as much as you could ever say he retired). He was always the first to say he would never be considered more than an outsider in Wolfeboro. Which got me to thinking….. if his coming to Wolfeboro at age 2 meant he would never truly be considered a member of the community, what did my coming to the family at age 2 mean? Neither he nor my mother felt that way. I am sure of it. Since I was, in  effect, the outsider, what is important is how I felt. The answer, maybe,  is much like my father’s ¨outsider¨ feelings about Wolfeboro and New Hampshire. After my adoptive mother passed away, in 1989, the following winter friends invited my father to Tampa, Florida to visit. He went, reluctantly. There is a priceless photo of him standing in the Florida sunshine, looking like a duck out of water, maybe a Lake Winnipesaukee loon. He could not wait to get back to his New Hampshire, where he truly belonged, no matter what the natives said or did.

Chasing My Rainbow Circle

It was thin, the size of a college rejection letter. I wanted to be alone. I already was, but I wanted to be more alone. Unlocking the front door, I walked slowly up to our apartment and sat on a window seat under an oversized bay window. Outside, an oak tree dimmed the sun. Hiccuping for a breath, I watched my fingers slit the white envelope. The Agency’s report was inside – typewritten, single-spaced, mostly on one page, a little spilling over to a second. I scanned it and quickly confirmed what I somehow knew already – they had not found Virginia. Essentially the report was compiled from a review of public records, most likely records maintained right in their office. Today, most of the information could be found quickly on the Internet, but as of 1972  Al Gore had not yet invented it.

There was, to be sure, helpful information, including Virginia’s birthdate in 1924. The report provided the names of her parents, their dates of birth, as well as other potential relatives (including the name Cleasby, seemingly the maternal grandparents, which would come of use later). From the information, it was apparent my mother grew up in Haverhill, Massachusetts. An old address was provided. There were no current addresses. The Washington Street address my birthmother used when she signed the Consent for Adoption was now a Chinese Restaurant. It may have been a Chinese Restaurant in 1948. Dead end. Interestingly, the report stated my mother married in 1948, to a guy named Edward Yedlin, from New York City. His family address on the Upper West Side was listed. There was not much else.

I placed the letter on my lap. There was no number to call, no current address to visit, seemingly nothing that would quickly complete my search. My fantasy that the Simmons Detective Agency would, with little effort,  provide me the information I needed was gone. If I were able to be honest with myself (I wasn’t), what I really wanted was for my birth mother to find me. She seemed to have departed for parts unknown. Me too. If I had known then what I know now, there was enough information in the report for me to hop in my little Toyota Coupe and go back up north. I didn’t. I could have sung along to the new Tom Rush tape  – ¨Merrimack County,¨ looking for my own rainbow circle (www.cowboylyrics.com/tabs/rush-tom/merrimack-county-2240.html). Tom Rush’s Merrimack County is in New Hampshire, but the river, the Merrimack (or Merrimac to my parents), is the same one that curves through Haverhill, meandering down from its origins at the southwestern tip of Lake Winnipesaukee. On the other side of the Lake, Wolfeboro (America’s oldest summer resort, maybe), and later the Barber’s Pole on Tuftonboro Neck, were second homes to my family for over 100 years. They are as much as part of me, maybe more so, as Needham. Needham was where my friends were. Wolfeboro was where I learned to be friends with myself.

I knew little of Haverhill, though I thought of it in the same vein as Manchester, New Hampshire. We drove through Manchester each time the family travelled up to the lake, sometimes speeding through on the Everett Turnpike, taking the Hooksett exit to pass over the Merrimac River on a one lane bridge; other times taking the local route over the Queen City Bridge and up Routes 3 and 28 (avoiding a highway toll), past the old Indian Cliff Trading Post totem pole and on through Hooksett towards the Lakes Region. We studied Manchester in college, Economics 101, using a Robert J. Samuelson textbook that cited Manchester (shoes and hats) as an example of a failed industrial city due to poor economic foresight. Haverhill (shoes and hats) seemed in a similar canoe. Both were industrial cities. Both had failed to reinvest in its plants and machinery. In time, both were supplanted by other locations with better technology. Though now thriving again, in 1972 they seemed, well, tired.

The Adoption Movement was just gathering momentum at that time. There were few search organizations, and the ones that did exist were feeling their way. Many adoptees still felt guilty about searching. It was an issue that haunted me. I would tiptoe through my search, I reasoned. My adoptive parents need not know. No sense in hurting them. Virginia’s family need not know. This was between me and her. I had a right to know what happened to me for two years. In the same breath, I believed I did not have a right to unnecessarily disrupt Virginia’s life (no matter how much she had disrupted mine). I would quietly go about my business, finding my birthmother, tapping her on the shoulder, and asking her for the inside scoop on what happened. I know now I should have willed myself back to New England; that it was the most direct approach to finding Virginia. I didn’t think so then. Years later, I helped another adopted person find her birthmother. We knew only that my friend was born at home, as well as the general Brooklyn neighborhood where the birth occurred some 25 years before. One Saturday morning we took the subway down to Brooklyn, the same Lexington Avenue line I used to ride to my first year law school classes. We made our way to the neighborhood where she was born. We spent hours going from shop to shop, looking for people who had lived in that area for many years. Finding several, we asked if they remembered a baby born at home in the neighborhood about the time of my friend’s birthdate. Incredibly, we eventually found someone, a butcher I think, who vaguely recalled such a birth and knew the building. He pointed to it, just down the street. In a matter of days, my friend found her birthmother who lived a scant 10 blocks away. They ended up living together. It is sometimes amazing how much you can learn from so little. But for me, in 1972, other facts were at play.

First, there were law school classes. St. John’s kept attendance in every class, and reported the results to the State Bar upon graduation. If you missed more than 5 classes you did not receive credit for the course. It was going to be difficult enough for me to get credit by passing a final examination. I didn’t need issues about absence to make a tenuous situation worse. Second, there was the issue of money. I didn’t have it. Newly married, we were surviving on my wife’s teaching income. Spare cash was not in abundance. Paying for further services of the Simmons Detective Agency was not even discussed. While the Agency gave me reasonable value for the little money I paid, I could envision an intensive search costing what to me would amount to a small fortune. Third, I was swayed by the fact my mother married someone from New York City. I had names and a family address with which to work. I decided I would take on the search myself. If I found Edward Yedlin, I would find Virginia.

I settled into the second year of law school along with my new commute to Queens, speeding down Route 95 each morning and joining the backlog of cars waiting to pay the toll at the Throgs Neck Bridge, which connected the Bronx with the Bayside section of Queens. I sometimes car-pooled with a classmate who also lived in New Rochelle, but I never spoke with him about my search. The social circle of my wife and I essentially surrounded other teachers and administrators from my her teaching position in Armonk. Other than her, I did not have a close friend in Westchester, not anyone with whom to share my trip to Dedham and what it meant for me. I found myself thinking of it more and more, though I tried to limit it to deciding how I would go about searching. I treated it as an investigation, which it was, though I did not then understand fully exactly what I was investigating. Did I let the genie out of the bottle, or did the bottle just break? Did it make any difference? What should I expect? More importantly, what should I do? I needed to talk with someone. My wife, as understanding as she always was, came from a close-knit, loving family. Other than explaining to her what was happening, we were not able to reach any of the dust swept under the carpet. Neither of us knew the questions, let alone the answers. Not knowing what else to do, I picked up the telephone and called B. J. Lifton

Dejando la Tienda de Paquete

No encontré a mi madre biológica de ese día. Después de hablar con mi hermana y el abogado de mi padre, llamé a New England Telephone (el ¨ somos el uno para su empresa ¨). Una voz amable respondió: ¨ ¿En qué puedo ayudarle? · Bien, pensé, me acaba de dar el número de teléfono de mi madre biológica, y vamos a estar todo listo. Pedí una lista para Virginia M. Peters, quien agregó que no estaba seguro de la dirección o la comunidad. Ella miró a través de cada directorio – Norte, Este, Sur y Oeste – anunciando, uno por uno, no había dicha lista. Strike uno. No importa – mis velas seguían ondeando. Colgar el teléfono, caminé los pocos metros hasta el coche, entré, y lanzó el libro negro sobre el asiento del copiloto vacío. Que yo consideraba mis opciones. No hubo tiempo suficiente para conducir de nuevo en Boston, por lo que reconoció – a nadie en particular – que iba a tardar algunos días más para encontrar a Virginia. Me metí a salir, de Massachusetts, sin detenerse en Needham (no pude enfrentar a mis padres de esa fecha). Pasé por la tienda paquete de Dedham donde solíamos ir cuando eran adolescentes para tratar de comprar cerveza, por lo general Narragansett (¨ Hola vecino …. tienen un “Gansett ¨) – la cerveza oficial de los Medias Rojas de Boston. Needham fue (y es) un pueblo seco, la venta de bebidas alcohólicas estrictamente prohibida. No importa cuál sea su edad, cuando quería comprar licor, que tenía que conducir a una tienda de paquete en una comunidad vecina, por lo general Dedham o Newton. Ellos fueron llamados tiendas de bebidas ya que el alcohol ha adquirido tuvo que salir de la tienda en un contenedor sellado o bolsa de papel, como en la vamos a ocultar lo que realmente está haciendo. Aún se podía ir a casa y se emborrachan, pero tal vez cuando caminaba por la calle de camino a su casa, la gente podría pensar que acaba de comprar un libro. Hay una broma que en alguna parte – esto adoptado entra en una tienda de paquete ….
Cuando estábamos en la escuela secundaria, alrededor de 17 años de edad o menos, 3 de nosotros cabalgamos sobre el almacén de paquetes en Dedham ahora estaba pasando. Nos estacionamos frente a la tienda y convencido de Juan, el aspecto más grande y antigua entre nosotros, para ir y tratar de comprar un six-pack de Narragansett. Tamaño de Juan fue superado sólo por su personalidad afable y respetuoso de la ley general, el producto de voz suave, los padres respetan la ley. Fue un tanto reacios a dejar el coche. · Hombre Vamos, que será un broche de presión! ° Al que iba. Antes de que siquiera le había perdido, John regresó con las manos vacías. ¨ ¿Qué pasó? * Director dice que, cuando pidió un paquete de seis Gansett y una bolsa de pretzels, el propietario solicitó una identificación. Respuesta de Juan? · Mejor hacer pretzels, ¨ en lo que fue quizá el más rápido del área de Boston la negación de venta de alcohol en relación con un menor de edad – Felicitaciones a la tienda. A continuación, condujo a Boston, a lo largo de la avenida de Huntington, en busca de un borracho fuera de una tienda paquete de perdón, un homenaje tanto a la ingenuidad y la estupidez de la juventud. En este día en 1972, me iba Dedham una vez más sin un paquete de seis cervezas y una bolsa de pretzels (no me gustaba de todos modos la cerveza), aunque yo tenía a mi lado un calco de la firma de una mujer que se parecía terriblemente similar a mi propia infantil escritura a mano.
Me dirigí hacia el oeste sobre el verde, suaves colinas de la autopista Massachusetts Turnpike, doblando al sur justo después de Worcester a la cabeza a través de Hartford y el Merritt Parkway (cuando aún tenía las casetas de peaje – 10 centavos de dólar) a Westport. Tres horas después de salir de Dedham, me bajé del Parkway poco más allá de No Man’s Land, que cariñosamente llamado tramo de la Merritt, entre Fairfield y Westport, donde no hay salida por más de 5 millas. Debería haber habido una salida de 43 años, pero cuando se construyó la ruta verde, los residentes locales se negaron a permitir que una rampa – que lindo ver a la gente frente a la administración, y que lindo de la salida 43, que existía únicamente en los mapas, planos y permisos para la construcción de la ruta verde, para conocer la historia – aunque sea breve – de su existencia. (www.06880darwoog.com/2009/04/21/the-road-taken).
Los próximos días son importantes tanto por lo que no me acuerdo en cuanto a lo que hago. Yo no recuerdo haber hablado con mi esposa, aunque obviamente lo hice (que nunca fue otra cosa que apoyo totalmente). De hecho, yo no recuerdo haber hablado con nadie, la familia o un amigo, acerca de lo que había hecho o descubierto. Mientras yo estaba tomando tragos de mi botella · Adopción de ¨ trago, me lo guardé todo tapado y fuera de la vista – en la bolsa. Pero el efecto de la simple apertura del frasco y furtivamente sorbos comenzó a extenderse. La noche después de mi regreso, nos fuimos a cenar a la casa de mis suegros en Partrick carretera. Los padres de mi esposa, su hermana menor y su hermano, así como un par de visita desde California, estaban allí. Después de la cena, mi esposa y yo nos sentamos fuera de la cocina en un paso a la orilla de la sala. A través de la alfombra blanca de mi suegra se sentó en una silla, hablando en voz baja con los invitados sentados juntos en California en el sofá. Cada rato se volvió a mirarme todos. No era tanto que estaba hablando en secreto – pude oír la mayor parte de lo que ha dicho – más bien, que estaba dando información confidencial pseudo-, que pasó a ser de mí y de lo que acababa de hacer. Yo no era parte de la conversación, sólo su objeto. Puesto que cada uno podría entienden muy bien que todo lo que ella decía, su tono silenciado parecía diseñado para mantener el mundo exterior en la bahía. Después de todo, sólo se proyectaron por la puerta delantera. Por segunda vez en dos días, tuve dos sensaciones a la vez. Para un tipo que era triunfal en distanciarse de los sentimientos, se trataba de una epidemia. Solía me describiría como un castillo, impenetrable, rodeada por un foso – como si eso fuera una buena cosa. Por lo que a mí respecta, sentimientos estaban en el otro lado del hielo de agua azul. Sólo podía estar tan cerca de mí – velar por los monstruos en el agua, y si no lo atacan, encontrará que no hay entrada del castillo.
Pero ahora, en el borde de la sala de estar, he escuchado atentamente a la madre de mi esposa contando mi historia, tratando de escuchar todo. Al mismo tiempo, se echó hacia atrás, fingiendo desinterés. Mi cabeza estaba más cerca de la cocina, donde mi padre-en-ley estaba lavando los platos de la cena. Me complace que encontré a mi historia interesante, fascinado que estaban hablando de ella, y fuera de quicio que me estaban excluidos. Al igual que el día anterior en la corte testamentaria, yo estaba más contento que herido, y tal vez lo que me molestaba era que alguien parecía estar robando mi trueno (www.trivia-library.com/b/origins-of-sayings-steal-my- thunder.htm).
En los días siguientes hice dos cosas. En primer lugar, me puse en contacto Florencia Fisher, el jefe de ALMA y tema del artículo del New York Times. No estoy seguro si ya he escrito o llamado, pero cualquier cosa que hice, Florencia me llamó de inmediato. No podía haber sido más acogedora, más útil. También sabía, con ALMA, que estaba en algo. Era la primera vez en mi vida que había hablado con otra persona adoptada sobre el deseo de encontrar mi madre biológica (bueno, sin contar a llamar de lunes a Carol). Florencia me invitó a una reunión de ALMA que se llevó a cabo un sábado en el New York Presbyterian Church, en la Quinta Avenida y la calle 55. Otros adoptados estaría allí, y que iban a hablar de lo que se siente al ser adoptado. Sentí como? Yo estaba interesado, pero yo estaba interesado en la búsqueda de Virginia. También se va a estar ahí para ayudar a las personas con las búsquedas individuales. No estaba segura de I · sentía como nada ¨, pero la oportunidad de obtener ayuda con mi búsqueda era embriagadora. En tan sólo unos días que había pasado de no saber nada que no sea el guión a mis padres recitado, a la búsqueda de mi madre biológica.
También investigué contratación de una agencia de detectives de Boston. Como estudiante de segundo de Derecho con el apoyo de trabajo de enseñanza de mi esposa en Armonk, Nueva York, no era exactamente nadando en dinero de repuesto. Busqué en las páginas amarillas y encontró un anuncio para la Agencia Simmons detective. Llamé y hablé con el señor Simmons, explicando lo que había hecho y que yo estaba buscando. Dijo que podía ayudar, pero necesitaría un anticipo de $ 125.00. Dudé (aproximadamente 3 segundos) y después me dijo que lo enviaría a él durante la semana. Por $ 125.00, sin duda más de lo que podía darse el lujo (lo que si necesitaba más?), Alguien encontraría a mi madre biológica para mí! Yo no tendría que hacer cualquier cosa (excepto esperar) y sólo podría centrarse en la satisfacción de ella. Me sentí muy satisfecho. Yo iba a vencer al sistema (aunque el sistema fue el que me dio la información a tiempo).
Mientras esperaba para la Agencia Simmons detective para localizar Virginia M. Peters, empecé a pensar lo que sería. ¿Qué le digo? Más importante aún, ¿qué haría? ¿Estaría contento de verme? Claro que sería genial, siga su ejemplo. Estaba allí para obtener información, ¿no? Sólo quería saber lo que me pasó, ¿verdad? He oído las historias de muchas personas adoptadas y siempre me fascinó escuchar muchos pensaban constantemente de su madre y tenía fantasías acerca de su reunión, lo que hizo, y lo que pasó. Tuve nada de eso – sólo una vaga sensación de venir de Boston. Nunca me imaginé conscientemente mi madre, y yo no sabía por qué durante muchos años; hasta 24 de julio 1972 yo había puesto todas esas cosas en la parte exterior del castillo, lejos, al otro lado del foso.

Leaving the Package Store

I didn’t find my birthmother that day. After  speaking with my sister and my father’s lawyer, I called New England Telephone (the ¨we’re the one for you¨ company).  A friendly voice answered: ¨How may I help you?¨ Well, I thought, just give me the phone number for my birthmother, and we´ll be all set.  I asked for a listing for Virginia M. Peters, adding I was not sure of the address or community. She looked through each directory – North, East, South and West – announcing, one by one, there was no such listing. Strike one. No matter – my sails were still billowing. Hanging up the phone, I walked the few feet to the car, got in, and threw the black book on the empty passenger seat. I considered my options. There was not enough time to drive back into Boston, and so I acknowledged – to no one in particular – that it was going to take a few more days to find Virginia. I snuck back out of Massachusetts, not stopping in Needham (I couldn’t face my parents right then). I drove by the Dedham package store where we used to go as teenagers to try to buy beer, usually Narragansett (¨Hi neighbor…. have a ‘Gansett¨) – the official beer of the Boston Red Sox. Needham was (and is) a dry town, the sale of alcoholic beverages strictly prohibited. No matter what your age, when you wanted to buy liquor, you had to drive to a package store in a neighboring community, usually Dedham or Newton. They were called package stores because the booze you purchased had to leave the store in a sealed wrapper or paper bag, as in let’s cover up what you are really doing. You could still go home and get drunk, but maybe when you walked down the street on the way to your house, people would think you just bought a book. There is a joke there someplace – this adoptee walks into a package store ….

When we were in high school, about age 17 or so, 3 of us rode over to the package store in Dedham I was now passing. We parked outside the store and convinced John, the biggest and oldest looking among us, to go in and try to buy a six-pack of Narragansett. John’s size was exceeded only by his good-natured and generally law-abiding personality, the product of soft-spoken, law-abiding parents. He was somewhat hesitant to leave the car. ¨C’mon man, it’ll be a snap!¨ Off he went. Before we had even missed him, John came back, empty-handed. ¨What happened?¨ He said that, when he asked for a six-pack of Gansett and a bag of pretzels, the owner asked for some identification. John’s reply? ¨Better make it pretzels,¨ in what was perhaps the Boston area’s quickest denial of an alcohol related sale to a minor – kudos to the store. We then drove into Boston, along Huntington Avenue, looking for a wino outside a more forgiving package store, a tribute to both the ingenuity and stupidity of youth. On this day in 1972, I was leaving Dedham once again without a six-pack and bag of pretzels (I didn’t like beer anyways), though I had beside me a tracing of a woman’s signature that looked frighteningly similar to my own childlike handwriting.

I drove west over the green, rolling hills of the Massachusetts Turnpike, turning south just past Worcester to head down through Hartford and the Merritt Parkway (when it still had toll booths – 10 cents) to Westport. Three hours after leaving Dedham, I got off the Parkway just beyond No Man’s Land, that affectionately named stretch of the Merritt, between Fairfield and Westport, where there is no exit for more than 5 miles. There should have been an Exit 43, but when the Parkway was built, the local residents refused to allow an off ramp – how nice to see people stand up to government; and how nice for Exit 43, which existed solely on maps, plans and permissions for the construction of the Parkway, to know the story – however brief – of its existence.(www.06880darwoog.com/2009/04/21/the-road-taken).

The next few days were important as much for what I do not remember as for what I do. I don’t remember speaking with my wife, though obviously I did (she was never anything other than totally supportive). In fact, I don’t remember talking with anyone, family or friend, about what I had done or discovered. While I was taking swigs from my adoption ¨bottle of booze¨, I kept it mostly capped and out of view – in the bag. But the effect of simply opening the bottle and sneaking sips started to spread. The night following my return, we went to dinner at the house of my in-laws on Partrick Road. My wife’s parents, her younger sister and brother, as well as a couple visiting from California, were there. After dinner, my wife and I sat outside the kitchen on a step at the edge of the living room. Across the white carpet my mother in law sat in a chair, talking in hushed tones to the California guests sitting together on the couch. Every few moments she turned to look at me. It was not so much that she was talking in secret – I could hear most of what she said – rather, she was imparting information pseudo-confidentially, which happened to be about me and what I had just done. I was not part of the conversation, solely its subject. Since everyone there could pretty much understand everything she was saying, her muted tone seemed designed to keep the outside world at bay. After all, we were only screened in by the front door. For the second time in as many days, I experienced two feelings at once. For a guy who was triumphal in distancing himself from feelings, this was an epidemic.  I used to describe myself as a castle, impenetrable, surrounded by a moat – as if that were a good thing.  As far as I was concerned, feelings were on the other side of the ice blue water. You could only get so close to me – look out for the monsters in the water; if they don’t get you, you’ll find there is no entrance to the castle.

But now, on the edge of the living room, I listened carefully to my wife´s mother telling my story, trying to hear everything. At the same time, I leaned back, feigning disinterest. My head was closer to the kitchen, where my father-in-law was washing the dinner dishes. I was pleased they found my story interesting, fascinated they were talking about it, and out of joint they were excluding me. Like the day before at Probate Court, I was more pleased than hurt, and maybe what bothered me was that someone seemed to be stealing my thunder (www.trivia-library.com/b/origins-of-sayings-steal-my-thunder.htm).

In the ensuing days I did two things. First, I contacted Florence Fisher, the head of ALMA and subject of the New York Times article. I am not sure now if I wrote or called, but whatever I did, Florence called me immediately. She could not have been more welcoming, more helpful. She also knew, with ALMA, she was on to something. It was the first time in my life I had spoken with another adoptee about wanting to find my birthmother (okay, not counting Monday’s call to Carol). Florence invited me to an ALMA meeting that was held on a Saturday at the New York Presbyterian Church on Fifth Avenue at 55th Street. Other adoptees would be there, and they were going to talk about what it felt like to be adopted. Felt like? I was interested, but I was mostly interested in finding Virginia. There were also going to be people there to help with individual searches. I wasn’t sure I ¨felt like¨ anything, but the opportunity to get help with my search was intoxicating. In just a few days I had gone from knowing nothing other than the script my parents recited, to searching for my birthmother.

I also investigated hiring a detective agency in Boston. As a second year law student supported by my wife’s teaching job in Armonk, NY, I was not exactly rolling in spare cash. I looked in the yellow pages and found a listing for the Simmons Detective Agency. I called and spoke to Mr. Simmons, explaining what I had done and who I was looking for. He said he could help but would need a retainer of $125.00. I hesitated (about 3 seconds) and then said I would send it to him that week. For $125.00, admittedly more than I could afford (what if he needed more?), someone would find  my birthmother for me! I wouldn´t have to do anything (except wait) and could just focus on meeting her. I felt pretty smug. I was going to beat the system (even though the system was the one that gave me the information to beat it).

While I was waiting for the Simmons Detective Agency to locate Virginia M. Peters, I started thinking what she would be like. What would I say to her? More importantly, what would she do? Would she be happy to see me? Of course I would be cool, follow her lead. I was just there to get information, right? I just wanted to know what happened to me, right? I have heard the stories of many adoptees and am always fascinated to hear many thought constantly of their mother and had fantasies about meeting her, what she did, and what happened. I had none of that – just a vague sense of coming from Boston. I never consciously imagined my mother, and I didn’t know why for many years; up until July 24, 1972 I had placed all that stuff on the outside of the castle, far on the other side of the moat.

Delatado

No hubo grandes consecuencias resultantes de Carol diciendo a nuestros padres lo que había hecho en la obtención de registros de adopción de mi original – no se ve de desaprobación, comentarios de reproche de mi madre o el padre. Se suscribió el ¨ usted es un adulto ahora ¨ y el ¨ no queremos ser una molestia ¨ Escuela de padres. Fiel a sus raíces Inglés, ni una palabra se mencionó en esto por meses, aunque ella ° ° fue demasiado trascendental para escapar de un evento comentario completo. La colcha de retazos de la tela de la familia había sido amenazada (con Carol brevemente tratando de usurpar mi trono como el adoptado buenas – cuidado donde pisas hermana!). Si nada más, mis padres debe haber sido muy curioso sobre lo que estaba haciendo y lo que yo había descubierto.

El comentario se produjo, finalmente, de mi madre. Ni siquiera era que me ha dirigido. Después de incubar durante varios meses antes de llegar, finalmente nacidos justo después de la cena de Gracias de 1972, cuando todo el mundo estaba lleno, relativamente feliz, y mi padre se había retirado al sofá de la sala con su cóctel Manhattan (obligatorio y no sólo durante las vacaciones) para ver un partido de fútbol que él no entendía ni disfrutado. Era, simplemente, lo que hiciste en el día del pavo. corredor de bienes raíces que era, mi padre era más feliz leyendo los obituarios. Sólo conozco un libro que haya leído en toda su vida, The American Way of Death por Jessica Mitford (www.newyorker.com/archive/2006/10/16/061016crb0_books17currentPage=all). Mitford escribió uno exponga tórrida del negocio de las funerarias, lo que causó tal impresión en mi padre que, años más tarde, cuando mi madre falleció en 1989, compró dos de todo – el pago por adelantado, también, para su propio funeral (que no llegaría por otros 6 años), determina que ¨ los ladrones ¨ No se va a conseguir lo mejor de él. Cuando mi padre, en su ataúd de prepago, se puso en el coche fúnebre después de su servicio en 1995, dejó el coche fúnebre al cementerio, mientras la gente aún se encontraban dentro de la iglesia – una señal segura de que mi padre era simplemente asegurar que los proveedores funeral no va a ser capaz de facturar por horas extraordinarias.

Ese día de Acción de Gracias en 1972 mi padre estaba viendo los Leones de Detroit juegan los Jets de Nueva York, su cóctel de descanso precariamente sobre su pecho, un ojo cerrado. Me senté junto a él, su compañero de ala, teniendo la satisfacción de los Jets de conseguir paliza (37-20), un poco de calma para la paliza de la que pronto se Delfines perfecta impuesto a mi Patriots apenas dos semanas antes (52-0). Mi madre, en la cocina, estaba hablando con mi esposa. No he oído una cosa, y mi búsqueda de mi madre biológica no estaba en mi mente. Más tarde, mi esposa me habló de su conversación, de ¨ mi madre interés ¨ en lo que estaba haciendo. El mensaje transmitido fue ¨ No le digas a tu padre, estaría muy dolido ¨ Yo estaba interesado en el mensaje y, por supuesto, cumpliremos con ella. Se envalentonó a que me vaya a la cocina y hablar con mi madre, mientras ella estaba terminando los restos del pavo. Le dije que sólo quería saber qué pasó, nada más. Puede que no han sido completamente próxima, pero fue suficiente para decir – una tranquilidad apacible que yo no estaba tratando de cubrir su ausencia. Yo no lo era. Parecía tener su lugar, y, así, la conversación estaba detrás de nosotros. Nunca se volvió a mencionar, hasta 8 años más tarde. No es de extrañar el Imperio Inglés fue hace tanto tiempo.

En cuanto a mi hermana, que era, al principio, decepcionado con ella (todos los derechos, enojado), hasta que pensé un poco más al respecto. ¿Qué estaba pensando? Yo estaba pidiendo un adoptado para mantener un secreto. Si realmente quería guardar un secreto, ¿por qué le digo? Lo mismo puede ser pedido a mi padre para dejar de leer los obituarios. ¿Por qué una persona adoptada desea guardar un secreto, especialmente uno que no los beneficia directamente? Ellos (nosotros) odio secretos. ¿Y quién puede culparnos? Hemos sido fuertes con armas en la custodia de secretos para la mayoría de nuestras vidas, algunas más extravagantes que otras. Se nos ha pedido a aceptar nuestro ¨ elegido cuentos bebé ¨ para lo que son, con la prestidigitación de la misma mano, sacando la leche y galletas en el hogar de Santa Claus, todos envueltos para regalo y el muérdago. Más vale que tenga cuidado, que mejor no se nota. Sé bueno. Sé, también, agradecido. A veces es difícil sentirse agradecidos (por mucho que usted cree que debería ser) cuando se les pide que lo hagan, directa o indirectamente – cuando se trata con una etiqueta de precio.

Sé de una persona adoptada que es un gemelo idéntico, criados por separado de su hermano. Él y su esposa adoptaron a un bebé al mismo tiempo que la hermana de la esposa también adoptó a un bebé. En una de esas tragedias capricho de la vida, tanto la hermana y su esposo murió a los pocos meses de diferencia. Mi amigo y su esposa, por supuesto, aprobada bebé de la hermana. Desde entonces su familia se componía de dos (por separado), los bebés adoptados que estaban en una edad parecida, les dijeron, y el mundo, que eran gemelas! Un niño y una niña sin vínculos genéticos alguno se adelante a ser conocido como los gemelos, porque los padres (incluyendo por supuesto a mi amigo adoptó doble) pensé que sería más fácil para que el mundo vea a los niños como gemelos. Y ¿qué pasa con lo que los chicos a ver? El niño adoptado fue un mérito adicional – le fue bien en la escuela, era atlético, socializado con facilidad, mientras que la niña adoptada era todo lo contrario – académicamente lento, sin atlético, socialmente inhibido. Cualquiera que sea problemas de desarrollo de la niña pudo haber estado experimentando fueron sin duda exacerbada por la mentira de los padres, no importa cuán bien intencionados su intención. Para crédito de mi amigo, que finalmente llegó limpia con sus hijos y les dijo la verdad. Nunca es demasiado tarde para eso.

Mi hermana no se aprobó hasta un padre adoptivo, pero también. Ella también era mi hermana, y aprobó o no, un miembro de pleno derecho de nuestra rivalidad entre hermanos en curso. Después me convertí en abogado, mi hermana se convirtió en un oficial de policía en Nueva Hampshire. Una de las fantasías de su vida (estoy seguro de esto) era coger mi exceso de velocidad y me emita una violación de tráfico. Uno de los fantasmas en mi vida (estoy seguro de esto) era para mi hermana, en su motocicleta Harley Davidson negro (bueno, tal vez eso no es problema de la policía, pero es mi fantasía), a exceso de velocidad y me coge tema me una violación de tráfico, que me gustaría aceptar de buena gana – y, posteriormente, ir a la corte y hablar el juez desestima en todo. Al salir del Tribunal, ofrezco mi hermana un ascensor.

Si bien una parte de mí trazan formas de vengarse de Carol por violar mi confianza, otra parte de mí se lo agradeciste por dejar que el gato fuera de la bolsa. No fue delatado, por lo tanto como un · · Fuera gateaba – un gato genial, así, que era hacer algo que se merecía y necesitaba hacer. A pesar de mi preocupación, mi madre parecía dar muy bien, y – en honor a su petición – No dije nada a mi padre, que se quedó dormido en el sofá en el tercer trimestre, su cóctel todavía perfectamente equilibrada, moviéndose rítmicamente al compás de su corazón, sin una gota desperdiciada.

Ratted Out

There were no great consequences resulting from Carol telling our parents what I had done in obtaining my original adoption records – no disapproving looks, no reproachful comments from my mother or father. They subscribed to the ¨you´re an adult now¨ and the ¨we don´t want to be a bother¨ school of parenting. True to their English roots, not a word was mentioned about this for months, though ¨it¨ was too momentous an event to escape comment entirely. The patchwork quilt  of the family fabric had been threatened (with Carol briefly trying to usurp my throne as the good adoptee – careful where you tread sister!). If nothing else, my parents must have been very curious about what I was doing and what I had discovered.

The comment came, finally, from my mother. It was not even addressed to me. After incubating for several months before arriving, it finally hatched right after Thanksgiving dinner, 1972, when everyone was full, relatively happy, and my father had retired to the living room couch with his Manhattan cocktail (obligatory and not just on holidays) to watch a football game he neither understood nor enjoyed. It was, simply, what you did on turkey day. Real estate broker that he was, my father was happier reading the obituaries. I know of only one book that he ever read in his entire life, The American Way of Death by Jessica Mitford (www.newyorker.com/archive/2006/10/16/061016crb0_books17currentPage=all). Mitford wrote a torrid expose of the funeral business, which made such an impression on my father that, years later, when my mother passed away in 1989, he bought two of everything – paying in advance, as well,  for his own funeral (which would not arrive for another 6 years), determined that ¨those crooks¨ were not going to get the best of him. When my father, in his prepaid casket, was put in the hearse after his service in 1995, the hearse left for the cemetery while the people were still inside the church – a sure sign to me that my father was simply insuring that the funeral purveyors were not going to be able to bill for overtime.

On that Thanksgiving Day in 1972 my father was watching the Detroit Lions play the New York Jets, his cocktail resting precariously on his chest, one eye closed. I sat beside him, his wingman, taking satisfaction in the Jets getting thrashed (37-20), small solace for the drubbing the soon to be perfect Dolphins imposed on my Patriots barely 2 weeks before (52-0).  My mother, in the kitchen, was talking with my wife. I didn´t hear a thing, and my search for my birthmother was not on my mind. Later, my wife told me of her conversation, of my mother´s ¨interest¨ in what I was doing. The message conveyed was ¨Don´t tell your father, he´d be very hurt¨ I was interested in the message and, of course, would honor it. It emboldened me to go into the kitchen and speak with my mother, while she was wrapping up the remains of the turkey.  I told her I just wanted to find out what happened, nothing more. That may not have been completely forthcoming, but it was enough to say – a gentle reassurance that I was not trying to replace her. I wasn´t. It seemed to have its place, and, just like that, the conversation was behind us. It was never mentioned again, until 8 years later. Small wonder the English Empire was around for so long.

As for my sister, I was, at first, disappointed with her (all right, angry), until I thought some more about it. What was I thinking? I was asking an adoptee to keep a secret. If I really wanted to keep a secret, why would I tell her? I may as well have asked my father to stop reading the obituaries. Why would an adoptee want to keep a secret, especially one that does not benefit them directly? They (we) hate secrets. And who can blame us? We have been strong-armed into keeping secrets for most of our lives, some more outlandish than others. We have been asked to accept our ¨chosen baby stories¨for what they are, with the same sleight of hand as putting out milk and cookies on the hearth for Santa Claus – all gift-wrapped and mistletoe. You better watch out, you better not shout. Be good. Be, well, grateful. Sometimes it is hard to feel grateful (no matter how much you feel you should be) when you are being asked to do so, directly or indirectly; when it comes with a price tag.

I know of one adoptee who is an identical twin, reared apart from his brother. He and his wife adopted a baby about the same time that the wife´s sister also adopted a baby. In one of those freak tragedies of life, both the sister and her husband died within months of each other. My friend and his wife, of course, adopted the sister´s baby. Since their family then consisted of two (separately) adopted babies who were in close in age, they told them, and the world, they were twins! A boy and a girl with no genetic ties whatsoever were henceforth to be known as twins because the parents (including of course my adopted twin friend) thought it would be easier for the world to see the kids as twins. And what about what the kids would see?The adopted boy was an overachiever – did well in school, was athletic, socialized easily, while the adopted girl was the opposite –  academically slow, un-athletic, socially inhibited. Whatever developmental problems the girl may have been experiencing were surely exacerbated by the parents´ lie, no matter how well-meaning their intention. To my friend´s credit, he ultimately came clean with his kids and told them the truth. It´s never too late for that.

My sister was not only adopted but an adoptive parent as well. She also was my sister, and, adopted or not, a full-fledged member of our ongoing sibling rivalry. After I became a lawyer, my sister became a police officer in New Hampshire. One of the fantasies in her life (I am sure of this) was to catch me speeding and issue me a traffic violation. One of the fantasies in my life (I am sure of this) was for my sister, on her black Harley Davidson motorcycle (okay, maybe that´s not police issue, but it is my fantasy), to catch me speeding and issue me a traffic violation, which I would accept graciously – and thereafter go to Court and talk the judge into dismissing everything. On my way out of Court, I offer my sister a lift.

While part of me plotted ways to get even with Carol for violating my confidence, another part of me thanked her for letting the cat out of the bag. I wasn´t ratted out, so much as ¨catted¨ out – a pretty cool cat, as well, who was doing something that he deserved and needed to do. For all my worry, my mother seemed to take it pretty well, and – honoring her request – I said nothing to my father, who fell asleep on the couch in the third quarter, his cocktail still balanced perfectly, moving rhythmically to the beat of his heart, without one wasted drop.