THE ACT OF DOCUMENTING
PATRICIA BUSBEE (Shawnee-Cherokee) CO-EDITOR
I have thought a lot about how people communicate, the connections we make, the imprints we leave behind, our stories and collective history that is documented by social media and the written word. I am fascinated by the act of documenting.
Facebook has become an interactive diary that portrays lives lived. Snapshots of moments become memories. Over time our memories become history–a part of a larger whole. Often our intimate lives are shared–births, deaths, marriages, milestones and transitions. I wonder if my grandchildren or my daughters will comb thru my news feed, photos and posts in search of clues, in search of insight into who I was and what mattered to me after I am gone. I wish my ancestors had been FB subscribers. I wish they had Twitter accounts. It would have made the searching process much easier.
I have spent years searching through documents and my adoptive mother’s diaries as a way to learn more about my life. Where did I come from? How did I end up in Findlay, Ohio? Reading Helen’s diaries shocked me. Her entries were very different from what I actually experienced. Apparently she lived in two different worlds–an internal and external that did not line up. Her diaries hinted at the complexities of adoption but forming a complete picture of what we both experienced is near to impossible. There will always be more questions than there are answers.
Helen never spoke of the abuse she suffered under my adoptive father in her diaries but it was constant and ongoing. I remember waking up to Helen holding an ice pack over a blackened eye and when I asked what happened, I was met with a blank stare. “What are you talking about? No, the police were not here last night.” I grew up with my reality constantly being distorted and denied. I learned I could not trust what I heard or saw. This translated into not trusting myself. I still struggle with this issue.
Since the publication of Two Worlds many shifts have taken place.
I recently reread the part in Helen’s diary where my biological father, Ralph Watkins, called our house. He asked my adoptive father, Edmond, if he was harboring his child. This caused an uproar and Helen and I went into hiding. (I wonder if anyone considered my biological father’s pain?) I have read and reread these words many times. I never considered what took place after this point. I was too busy comforting myself with the fact that my biological father wanted me.
Apparently what happened is Helen and I traveled to upstate New York by train in order to obstruct a potential kidnapping. A month passes. Her diary entries become sporadic. We travel back-and-forth between Great Barrington, Massachusetts and Saratoga Springs, New York. My grandparents were in Great Barrington and Helen’s sister was in Saratoga. My adoptive father, Edmond, was not with us. I notice that Helen’s writing seems lighter, her days easier, even though she and I have gone into hiding. Does this indicate that her stress over a possible kidnapping has dissipated? Her writing portrays an under-current of adventure. Our days are spent at the lake, baking and bike riding. Eventually we return home. I have no memory of this time.
During a recent diary crawl I discovered that Mrs. Ammes from Hardin County, Ohio, was in charge of my adoption. I found the following information in Helen’s diary.
November 18th 1958
Mrs. Ammes demands that Helen take a fifteen-year-old girl named Lydia. (Helen belongs to a bridge club. Another couple in this club, Maryanna and Johnny, were promised a baby by Mrs. Ammes). Mrs. Ammes tells Helen that if she doesn’t take Lydia her friends will not get a baby.
November 20, 1958
Helen explains to Mrs. Ammes that she does not feel up to taking an older child as she is still adjusting to a new baby. (My adoption was not yet official) Mrs. Ammes became “quite nasty.” Helen is petrified that I may be taken from her.
November 25th 1958
The issue resolved itself. Maryanna and Johnny phoned Helen to say that Mrs. Ammes had decided to let them become parents. Helen writes briefly about how they were awarded two boys. The issue of Lydia was dropped.
I am left wondering about Mrs. Ammes and her adoption policies. Are there other Bridge Club Babies out there?
What I Know So Far:
I am the oldest child–the first born. I never lived with my siblings. My sister Beth is the youngest. She is the only sibling I am close with. We are ten years apart. Our cousin adopted my sister, Beth, when she was three. Beth remembers our mother. She was adopted after our mother died in a car accident. Mo and Lena, my other siblings, were not put up for adoption. They remained in a children’s home in Toledo, Ohio. All my siblings were placed in a children’s home after my mother’s death. Beth was kept in a different wing of the children’s home. She was not allowed to interact with her siblings as she was soon to be adopted. Not only did Beth lose her mother in a traumatic way she was not allowed to be with her siblings. What sort of monsters reinforced these rules? Mo and Lena grew-up within miles from where I was raised.
I remember my parents being asked if they wanted to take my siblings. They were told that my brother and sisters had recently been orphaned. I remember my adoptive father, Edmond, wrestling with this information. I was close to thirteen at this time. Helen was very clear. She did not want any more children.
This past winter Beth attended the funeral of our Aunt. She was the wife of my mother’s brother, Sonny. I did not attend. I wish this woman well in the afterlife but she was not kind to me in this life. She told me to go back into the closet. She told me I was a skeleton and that she would never tell her children (my cousins) about me.
Beth met a woman attending the funeral that knew our mother. She knew my entire adoption story. She told my sister that my mother actually knew my adopted family and she visited me. She knew where I was. She became a friend of our family. I have a few clues as to who this might have been.
In June of 2013 a matriarch of the Cole family (my biological father’s side) called and shared information. She told me that my parents paid a lot of money for me and that she knew my biological grandfather when he was alive. She used to visit with him. She told me he had another son. Who is this son? This male child has been mentioned on several occasions. Is this my brother? Why is he only mentioned in passing? Trying to engage anyone in a solid conversation has been impossible. My sister Beth thinks he was given to someone within the family when he was baby.
I discovered my grandfather had his own church in West Virginia and that he began working in the coalmines when he was sixteen. My biological parents are third cousins and their family lines crisscross back and forth. I was told that my mother was placed in a reform school not an unwed mother’s home. This might explain why I could never uncover which unwed mother’s home my mother was in. I called and harassed every single one I could find. I was told that notes were packed a way in musty basements. “Find them,” I said.” “Find the fucking notes.”
Not knowing my identity caused a multitude of problems. My healing has come in layers. It is an ongoing but never completed process. Sometimes it’s joyous but often I feel like Sisyphus—pushing the boulder up the hill over and over with no relief.
My most recent shift took place at Brock University in late March of 2014. This is where Trace DeMeyer, and I first met in person. Meeting Trace was extremely healing. We were invited to Brock to speak about the book, Two Worlds: Lost Children of the Indian Adoption Projects. Adoptees from the community also attended. Hearing the adoptees stories was very different from reading and editing them. There was no way to buffer the pain. I spent a large portion of the trip in tears. I do not like crying because I am afraid I will not be able to stop. I fear losing control. Reality is, I have never had control.
I want to leave my stories for my daughters and grandchildren to read–the good, the bad and the ugly. I do not want them to have to beg for scraps. I want them to know what I experienced. I want them to care about their lineage. I pray that they will continue the work of healing—of connecting to their roots. I pray that they will feel compelled to have a voice in the adoption laws. At the very least, it is my desire that they know I embarked on this journey not only for myself but for them as well. I believe that when we heal— the healing is generational.
May the women in my family heal from the generational wounds of losing their children. May this disease not spread and fester. May my ancestors—the women in my family, take comfort from my prayers. May their wounds heal in the after-life. When my children read my diaries, examine my Twitter feed and Facebook, may they discover how much they were loved and may they come to understand that I was a Strong Woman.