Tag Archives: family photos

Cover Reveal of Kin Types

 

Finishing Line Press has revealed the new cover of my chapbook Kin Types. They put it on their website with my headshot, taken by my friend Renee Rivers.

PRE-ORDER HERE

Release date: June 23

A little background on the cover image: this is a tintype from my family collection. It was handpainted, and the jewelry was painted in gold leaf. We don’t know exactly who the photograph is of, but believe it is of the Remine (Remijinse) branch of the family. My great-great-great-grandmother was Johanna Remijinse De Korne, born in Kapelle, Netherlands. I love how the Dutch spelling conjures up the word “reminisce.”

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Filed under #AmWriting, Book promotion, Books, Creative Nonfiction, Family history, Flash Nonfiction, History, Poetry, Poetry book, Poetry Collection, Publishing, Research and prep for writing, Writing

Get It Now! (Pretty Please with Sugar On Top)

It’s time!!!

It’s time to preorder Kin Types from Finishing Line Press.

Press here to order my book of poetry and flash nonfiction. Why Kin Types?

  • Wide variety of creative poetic styles
  • Insight into the lives of the women who have come before us
  • Flash nonfiction–what is life like for these men after their wives have died?
  • Quick but indepth glimpses from the history of women: infant mortality, vanity and housewife skills, divorce in the 19th century, secret abortion, artist versus mother, mysterious death, wife beating, and my favorite: a brave hero(ine) saving a family’s home
  • Much more, but you get the idea

Why preorder?

  • You won’t miss out when you’re busy
  • You want the book to go to press
  • Only way to ensure getting a copy!
  • You are supporting the arts
  • The press run of Kin Types is completely dependent on the preorders
  • You don’t want to hear me whining every week
  • I will love you forever ❤️

 

ORDER HERE

Unidentified ancestor from Cadzand, Netherlands

WHAT IS SHE REALLY THINKING?

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Filed under #AmWriting, Book promotion, Books, Creative Nonfiction, Family history, Flash Nonfiction, History, Poetry, Poetry book, Poetry Collection, Publishing, Research and prep for writing, Writing

Coming Soon from Finishing Line Press

Maybe you thought I am only interested in cats and books and writing and wine food, but my love of local history was fueled by the vintage photographs (that are now antiques) and glass negatives my grandfather gave me. Many of them are interesting shots of locations and people in actions, but more of them are portraits and Grandpa assigned names for every person he knew. Another thing that reinforced my history interest was that my father was a “collector” of old buildings, especially downtown. He would buy old unloved commercial properties and rent them out, usually to young people who wanted a start in business. Since my mother’s great-grandfather had built some of the old buildings in our city, I came to believe that I was meant to coordinate the family photos and documents and to see where the family fit into our hometown.  I’ve documented some of the information I’ve uncovered on my other blog.

But you know I’m also a poet and writer of the more lyrical sort. So it wasn’t enough for me to write blog posts about people long dead. Where the more typical family history research left off, I wanted to add the power of imaginative research. That’s when I started writing my Kin Types poems. These poems are meant to uncover and reveal the lives of women in my family who are long gone. But they could be women in anybody’s family. That’s what family history really should be: the history of the world as seen through the lives of “regular” individuals. The women in these poems endure difficulties and tragedies: the death of an infant, waiting to hear about the fate of a soldier brother, a clandestine abortion, emotional illness, inability to pursue art, a mysterious death, a horrific fire, and more.

My chapbook also contains two prose pieces–flash nonfiction–and, strangely since all the poems are about women, the viewpoint of both these stories is from two men in my family. They are men who, in some ways, lived the male American immigrant story of the late 19th century. But they also had their own troubles and tragedies, and they too cried out (in my head, at least) to have their stories told.

So it’s super exciting to announce that Finishing Line Press is publishing my book, and the stories of the people who have come before us will be available in poems and lyrical prose. Kin Types will be available for pre-order soon, so stay tuned!

My great-grandmother with Grandpa

circa 1910

(yes, she’s in the book)

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Filed under #AmWriting, Book promotion, Books, Creative Nonfiction, Family history, Flash Nonfiction, History, Poetry, Poetry book, Poetry Collection, Publishing, Research and prep for writing, Writing

“And So It Goes”

I mentioned some time back that I had a flash nonfiction piece coming out in a journal called Toasted Cheese. There aren’t a lot of places that publish flash nonfiction (as opposed to flash fiction like my “Parking Lot Superhero” story). At least I haven’t found too many.

Here is the latest issue of Toasted Cheese, and in it is my story “And So It Goes.” I believe that if my name was taken off this and Superhero that nobody would guess the same person wrote both of them.  The only thing in common is that both have an experimental quality to them. In the Story Shack piece, I used a structural twist to get to the essence of the story. In this new story, I begin at both the beginning and the end and then move through the story forward and backward.

“And So It Goes” is about my great-great-grandfather Pieter Mulder and my great-great-grandmother Neeltje Gorsse Mulder.

You can find the story here at “And So It Goes.”

 

“And So It Goes” is prose, but it will be in my chapbook collection based on my genealogical research. I expect to have two or three prose pieces, as well as poetry and prose poems.

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Remember that Toasted Cheese provides writing prompts and creative blog posts about writing.

On February 29, I posted this sample from December 15, 2015. You can find April’s writing prompts here.

What Do You Recommend?

 

By Baker

  1. Recommend on social media at least one thing you’ve read this year. If you don’t use social media, recommend in person. Independent authors are particularly grateful for recommendations.
  2. Create some recommendation business cards and leave them with your favorite works in the bookstore. You can print them at home. They could be as simple as the word “recommended” with a thumbs-up or a shelf card that lists why you recommend the book. Don’t put stickers on or in the books.
  3. Ask for recommendations at a used book store and/or independent bookstore. If you’re lucky, your local chain bookstore will have fellow book lovers who are well-versed enough to recommend as well.
  4. Recommend a book to a friend on Goodreads.
  5. While you’re there, write a recommendation of a book. If you’re stuck for one, think of a book you discovered on your own and write the review as though you’re speaking to your younger self.

 

I’d like to remind you that today is Holocaust Remembrance Day (began last evening) and Cinco de Mayo. Two completely different events to ponder, both related to war.  Look at how much one day can contain. It reminds me that in writing it’s important to think small to go big.

 

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Our Cemeteries

In the past, when we’ve visited Michigan, hubby and I visited his parents’ graves. This time, we went with my mother to the veteran’s cemetery where my father is buried. When we got to Toronto, we also visited hubby’s grandparents’ graves.  Sherri Matthews gave me the idea to write about our cemeteries.

In Michigan, it was “pouring rain,” (is that a Michigan expression where pouring is used as an adjective meaning the rain is coming down in a downpour?) and we had left the umbrella back home.  There is a government building on the very large property, and I stopped by to see if they had an umbrella to borrow. A nice young man ran about looking for one, even running out to his own car, but alas no umbrella.

The cemetery feels very spacious because there are a lot of grounds with a curving road that cuts through. All the newer sections use flat markers, rather than gravestones, so the illusion is as if one is in a park. It looks clean and contemporary.

When we got to my father’s section, the rain stopped.

Graves are dug in the order of date of death, and many have come after my father. There is an institutional feel. Everything is large and impersonal. Big equipment just beyond my father’s grave is carving out room for more of our dead veterans, and in some cases, their spouses.

I’m grateful for the sacrifices of our veterans, and I am glad that this national cemetery is well cared for and in a beautiful setting. But it’s not where I would have liked my father to be buried. Originally, my parents had plots in a family section of a local cemetery. He would have had a regular headstone, where we would not have been limited by government rules. I also don’t like this idea for my mother because eventually (she’s in very good health and a very young 80, to be clear) she would have to go in the same grave with him, I believe. But near the end my father became more and more focused on his military service in the Korean War, and he changed his funeral and burial plans.

In Toronto, we found old traditional cemeteries. We were told the name of the Jewish cemetery where we would find hubby’s grandparents, so we followed my iPhone directions to get there. We were told it was on the north side of the road, and when we got there we discovered two cemeteries–both Jewish–one on each side of the road. We went to the appropriate side, but we couldn’t find any of the relatives, although we searched the names on every stone. I kept thinking we were in the wrong place because in general the dates appeared too old to me. Although there were a few where the deaths were past 2000, for the most part I thought these plots had been bought 100 years ago.

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I felt bad about this cemetery because although someone was taking care of the grass, many stones were falling over. I didn’t know how much vandalism had to do with this and couldn’t help but wonder why nobody had fixed them!

Jewish cemeteries are sometimes subjected to vandalism. Quite recently in France hundreds were vandalized. But these are old stones and maybe they have fallen over on their own?

Eventually I wandered across the street to the very neat and orderly, but crowded, cemetery.

I searched for some time, as the sun was moving down in the sky, creating shadows. Finally, hubby reached a cousin on the phone. He drove over and showed us that there was yet a third cemetery just up the street! That’s where we found hubby’s grandparents.

Although this cemetery had the right feel and was quite beautiful and old, I won’t show you my photos of hubby’s grandparents’ gorgeous stones because his relatives are what hubby and I think of as superstitious, and I don’t want to annoy anyone.

These Toronto cemeteries all had the look of big city cemeteries where the rows of gravestones are quite close together because land is precious.

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Filed under #AmWriting, History, Memoir, Photographs, Sightseeing & Travel, Vintage American culture, Writing

My Own Cat Hero, or A Loss Upon a Loss

I’ve witnessed a spin of  the circle of life again.

Mourning upon mourning

My dear darling oldest cat Mac passed away yesterday morning. He had been battling a congenital heart problem, diabetes, and chronic kidney failure for a long time and suddenly he took a turn for the worse. He refused food and water, and hubby and I could see it was his time. I sang to him for awhile, mainly nursery songs like “Billy Boy,” “The Riddle Song,” and “Tumbalalaika.” Then we took him to the vet. I held him, bundled in a beach towel, in my arms while he passed over the Rainbow Bridge.

Mac had a huge personality. He put everyone he met under his hypnotic spell. I don’t know how he did it, but it was simply from the force of that dynamic and powerful personality. I am too sad to do much except clean up the house from the effects of his recent illness, but I will post a few pix, along with a story about him that I wrote a few years ago.

My friend, Barbara Tapp, a talented artist, made this picture for me of Mac:

As you probably know by now, my father passed away in May, so this is another blow.

Here is the story of how Mac came to be part of our family.

Our new house came with a stray cat, but we did not realize this until after we closed on the property.  Apparently the previous owners had been feeding this predominantly white calico female in the backyard for quite some time, but when they moved, they didn’t mention the cat to us.  Our new next door neighbor told us he was going to “shoot that damn cat next time it comes around here.”  I wondered if he would pry that beer can out of his hand long enough to do so, but I suppose there are some people who are great shots even while drinking.

Though I came to the house for two weeks to feed her every day, one day the calico just disappeared.   I felt a twinge of relief because she seemed to be half feral and would not make a house cat and then sadness welled up in me.  Although it’s unlikely my neighbor actually killed her, I grew furious with him.

We needed to remodel the house before we moved in.  The workers ripped off the façade of the house on the side where a new room would go.  This left a large gap behind the bathtub.  One day the workers were framing as we gardened, when I heard a yell from Brad, one of the workers.  He told us he saw an orange and white tabby kitten pop its head out from behind the tub to look.  We ran over there and found three kittens: the orange kitten, a calico, and a black and cream tabby with fur almost as long as a long haired cat.  Brad explained that he had seen the kittens the other day and was sure that they no longer had a mother.  The orange and white kitten, still so young he had blue eyes, walked boldly out and looked at us with curiosity.  He was followed by the calico, and then the long haired tabby crept out bashfully.  Those two seemed to be following the orange kitty.

My daughter was ten and had grown up with two dogs in the family.  The preciousness of a furry kitten appealed to her and she began a fierce campaign to keep one of the kittens.

He said he hated cats!

Hubby said, “I hate cats.”  Those big blue eyes peering out of the tiny furry face forced me to argue with him, “You just don’t know cats since you’ve never had one.”  I told him how beautiful my childhood cat had been.

Finally, hubby relented and agreed that we could select one kitten, but we had to “take the rest to the shelter.”

I took the friendly orange kitty on my lap and dialed my vet’s office.  I talked to Jan, the tech.  Jan told me to choose the orange tabby because they are friendlier and more dog-like.  As she well knew, I was very used to dogs.  This viewpoint was confirmed for me because the other two cats were meeker than the orange; he was already melting into my lap as though he belonged there.  Jan encouraged me to bring in the cat I was going to keep for a thorough exam and vaccinations, but she issued one caveat; under no circumstances was I to bring in the other two cats because the office already had a litter of kittens they were trying to find homes for.

DON’T BRING THOSE OTHER CATS IN HERE!

When I got off the phone my friend, a veterinarian who worked at the vet’s office, called and told me to choose a boy: “they are more outgoing and friendly.”  She said she’d run over and look at them real quick on her way to an appointment, so I tried to ignore the sexism in her statement.  She examined each kitten in turn and declared them all boys.  Years later, I read that most calicos are girls, so I still wonder if that boy was really a girl or a rare cat.

I found one big cardboard box in the garage and put all three kittens into it on an old garage blanket which sported pieces of dried leaves clinging to it and which I covered with a clean towel.  I drove the kittens immediately to my vet’s office.  I know, I know.  But I didn’t know what else to do with the other two kittens.

I heaved the box up onto the counter in front of Jan.  She couldn’t resist the temptation and peered inside.  “You brought all three; I TOLD you not to!! “  She grimaced.  “Aren’t they cute though?!”

A woman and her elderly mother peered into the box.  The younger woman oohed over the kittens, asking me what I was planning to do with them.

Without missing a beat, I said, “I’m keeping the orange one and taking the other two to the shelter!”  My words had the desired effect of horrifying and motivating her.  The woman told me she would give them a home if I liked.

Conferring with Jan in private, I discovered that the woman was there with an injured squirrel, so I figured we had a winner.   I offered to pay for the neutering, but the woman told me she would take care of that herself.

My new kitten was examined and vaccinated and declared a fine, healthy specimen.  I brought him home to our “old house” to meet our two dogs, Oliver and Sandy.

Before we let the dogs see the kitty, I put him in my daughter’s bedroom because it was connected to the Jack and Jill bathroom she shared with her brother and it had a little walk in closet.  The room was small at 10×10 feet, but with the closet and the bathroom, it was the perfect size for such a young cat.  While the kitty got used to the bedroom, my daughter and I went to PetSmart and bought supplies, including a plastic carrying kennel.

Later that night, we put the kitty in the kennel and introduced the dogs.  Sandy began to growl and yip at the cage, but Oliver took one look at the tiny cat and barked a sharp order at Sandy.  Sandy never bothered the cat again.  I wondered if animals teach each other in the same way that people often teach one another.  When our first dog Muffin was alive, Oliver was dog number two, and Sandy was not yet part of the family.  On the rare occasion that Oliver would get a little testy with the children when they were quite young, Muffin would bark at him exactly the same way.  It’s as if the older dog warns the younger dog to be careful of the youngsters, no matter what species the youngsters are.

Very quickly, Mac and Sandy became best friends.

 

Mac with Sandy

Mac with Sandy

Now there was only one other family member to win over and that was hubby.

I had named our new cat Macavity, after the T.S. Eliot cat known as the “hidden paw.”  I should have known better because Mac lived up to his name, hiding as many of hubby’s belongings (keys, notes, ring) as he could tote off.  He didn’t try to win over the husband.

But one day I came home and Mac was curled up around hubby’s head as he lay on the couch watching TV.  And from then on, they were great friends.  Mac never stole another object belonging to my husband.  He started a campaign to reduce my earring collection by 50% by stealing one earring from each set. All these years later, we’ve never found the earrings.

That’s how Mac-the-cat (one of his nicknames) became part of our family

Another nickname is Monkeybunnyratowlpig.

Eventually we accumulated three other cats that are still part of the family. But it was Mac who persuaded hubby that cats are pretty cool people. It’s because of Mac that we both volunteer at the shelter with the kitties. And it’s because of Mac that hubby and I have been crying.

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Dolls in Our Family

When I was in Michigan for my father’s funeral and to spend time with my mother, I organized the family photo albums and loose photos so that Mom could find her way in the basement. I took a couple albums home with me to digitize for her.

The first one I worked on is an album that my mother put together when she was 10 years old, so the photos are all from the 1940s.

I love to see that the kids had dolls. In this one, my aunt is holding her two Christmas dolls. This would be about 1946 or 47.

Here my mother and her siblings are with a couple of cousins. My mom is the tallest girl because she was the oldest of all the cousins. I don’t think my uncle is holding a doll. What IS that he’s got? A bow?

I love that crocheted shade pull you can see hanging in the window. Just another little touch that was part of my young life and slowly disappeared over the years.

Given a little time, I can probably figure out what dolls most of these are. Surprisingly, none of them look like Shirley Temple dolls–and those would have been very popular.

In this last photo (actually there are a few more, but the dolls and stuffed animals aren’t as visible), my aunt (age 6) is sitting with Pat (age 7), one of their cousins. Pat is the larger girl. Pat has a very important surgery coming up next month. If you are a praying sort, please put her on your prayer list.

Notice the wagon handle off to the side, showing they are sitting in a little red wagon. And the leather sandals and saddles shoes with the stretched out saggy socks. Sometimes I think there was more in common between my childhood and my mother’s than between mine and my kids’!

I’m not sure if all the girl cousins loved dolls, but the ones in these pictures seem to have enjoyed them.

Do you have any old photos of family members with dolls? Over on Pinterest I have a board of photos (particularly vintage and antique) of children with dolls.

I don’t intend to natter on about dolls all the time, but on Thursday I think I will share with you a doll story you might find interesting. Actually it’s about The Doll Empress. You thought The Doll Lady overdid the dolls in her house? Hah, she is nothing compared with The Doll Empress.

 

 

 

 

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Return to the Nest

My father passed away two weeks ago. That is when the hummingbird returned to her nest with the intention of starting  a new family. She did lay two more eggs before I traveled to Michigan for my father’s funeral and to spend time with my mother. When I returned this week, she was still on her nest. I am awaiting the new babies.

hummingbird's returnMany times I’ve read stories where a bird visits when a parent dies. I can’t help but wonder if there is a connection here.

The funeral was good. Many people spoke about my father, and my daughter sang “At Last” (the song popularized by Etta James). A military ceremony was held at the National Cemetery. The flag that draped his casket was given to my mother. My uncle put it in a hand-crafted flag case (made halfway by my father and then finished by a friend of his) and then my brother added the casings from the gunshots fired during the ceremony.

The days that followed the funeral I organized my mother’s basement, particularly the family photographs that were strewn throughout. I discovered 150 photo albums and collected loose photos into two cartons, in addition. Hubby bought my mother hanging plants and a rose bush and replanted an indoor plant for her. He taught her how to take care of them. He fixed her front door and her toilet.

I feel very far away from writing now. But hubby and I did make it to the shelter last night for the kitties. It had been too long. We have a new mom and her five babies. Her name is Galaxy as she is all black–and so are all five babies. If I had named her I might have called her Dionne after the famous quintuplets.

Galaxy and her kittens

We have a lot of all black cats right now. If you’re in the Phoenix area, think of how much one of these little guys could add to your home. We have Nakana, Milo, Ebony . . . .

IMG_3732

Please excuse me if I’m slow to get back to blogging. I hope to be fully back next week! xoxo

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New Poems and Old Ancestors

Although I haven’t been writing this spring–on purpose, I might add–when I started my new poetry project last fall I focused on creating poems out of the genealogical research that I do for my family history blog The Family Kalamazoo. It makes sense to narrow in this way, as I am always spreading out in too many directions. However, it’s difficult to write poems about a subject that is so personal to my family. It makes sense to write a poem about a maple tree or a new baby because these subjects are universal, but what makes someone else’s dead ancestors interesting to readers? That is a difficulty.

So far I’ve had one poem from this small grouping published, and that was in December. It was in the online journal Blast Furnacebut here is the poem, a prose poem:

When Your Grandfather Shows You Photographs of His Mother

You identify yourself in the antique image. Long slender neck, narrow torso, your face tipped to avoid the light. Your hands rest in the valley between your thighs sharp under yards of stiff calico. Your face long, well-sculpted by a lean diet and youth, nearly but not ascetic. Blue veins clutch the temples under translucent skin, a milky film that just contains you. In the next photograph your black dog Carlo poses at your side.

But Carlo isn’t your dog. Three degrees separate you across the time dimension. You never beat a man with his horse-whip for using it on his horse, though you wish you had that sort of courage and that sort of hands-on life, or burned all the books except the family Bible, praise her lord. And yet you hold your bodies as both shields and thresholds.

Because a face never reflects the same, every photo sees something else. You’re your father under the red star and your mother’s grandmother in the morning sun. But not your mother who is the image of her aunt. You never did let her kiss you. You see Carlo and his mistress in another photograph, and her smile is so familiar. Now the gauzy mask of your mother’s face floats across her-your features. Another light source and hour. Another shift of the hologram that is you.

If you happen to be one of the three people who read this blog from the first post you might find the subject recognizable. I rewrote that first blog post into this prose poem. I am fascinated with how we look like our ancestors and relatives, but in some lights, various shadows, or on different days, we might look like a completely different person–or share his features. It’s as if our general counteance is always shifting.

This is the great-grandmother I wrote about in the poem. Even I find our resemblance (when I was younger, of course) astonishing. The black dog in the one photo is Carlo.

My idea with the poems is to create a chapbook–a publishable collection that is smaller than a full-length poetry collection. Maybe around 20-25 poems. And I want to focus on my female ancestors. These are the people difficult to research because they don’t show up in old documents and newspapers as shopkeepers, dog breeders, or politicians. What was the day-to-day of their lives really like? I am trying to find out by researching and then allowing the material to develop into poems. At the moment a poem is completed, I feel that I have brought to life the experience of one woman.

It’s difficult to find literary magazines to send individual poems to because the subject matter is not contemporary and only universal in the notion of the project as excavating the lives of generations of women. In other words, I need to find places that specialize in or are sensitive to the intersection of history and poetry.

Are you interested in two unrelated subjects that you have been able to connect in your own life?

In case you are wondering why I am not writing on purpose, it’s because I was writing so much for so long that I knew I needed a period where I don’t take on any old or new projects. I’m resting my brain. Except for blogging, of course, dear peeps.

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I have a DOLL GOD Giveaway going on at Goodreads right now. Hop on over there and sign up if you want to win a free copy!

CLICK HERE TO SIGN UP FOR A FREE COPY OF DOLL GOD

 

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Filed under Book Giveaway, Memoir, Photographs, Poetry, Poetry Collection, Research and prep for writing, Vintage American culture, Writing, Writing goals

What Happened When I Got Really Mad at A Big Bully

Yesterday I read a post by my buddy Jaye at Jaye’s Brain that made a connection between adoption and bullying.

In a book review of an anthology by adoptees, Perpetual Child, that I’ve been reading, she wrote:

An essay by Matthew Salesses stood out for me not only by what it said regarding adoption but what it said about bullying/adoption. I started out blogging, unintentionally, by writing about the bullies on the bus. Again, I thought it was my over-sensitivity and my desire to prevent anyone from having negative feelings (or perhaps, any feelings at all) that made me a (bullied) target.

Salesses, in his essay, wrote about being bullied because he was a transracial adoptee. Jaye was adopted, and she writes about the power of the essays and other pieces in Perpetual Child. She shares her very first blog post–which, guess what, just happens to be about being bullied. Go read it (link is in her quote above)!!! And the topic is bus bullying, a subject that I wrote about here.

In 2012, I started my first blog, Don’t We Look Alike?, writing it with my daughter. The subject of DWLA is adoption, and over the past almost two years, I’ve learned a lot about the subject–and revised some of my viewpoints. I want to share with you the first post I wrote. I’m not sure that today I could write my story with the same tone I do here, but this is how the experience seemed to me for most of my life.

The post didn’t have too many readers, but a couple of the “likes” were by bloggers who I still read and who occasionally read this blog.

It’s interesting to me how different my response was to this bullying than to the subsequent bullying I myself was subjected to at my new school in 3rd grade. At the time of the following story, I was in 2nd grade, and at my familiar “old” school.

Here’s my story:

I’m the mother of two young adults, both adopted from Korea when they were babies. But my relationship with adoption began much earlier. I’m the sister of an adoptee, too. Back in the early sixties, it was still a new idea that adoption wasn’t a secret to be kept and that an adopted child could grow up knowing he was adopted and still feel loved and accepted by others. My parents embraced this idea. When they started the adoption process for a boy, they explained all this to me and I thought I understood. Yet it wasn’t quite that simple.


It was a March day, when my parents and I drove downtown to pick up my brother Teddy from Catholic Family Services. We weren’t Catholic, but Mom explained that their agency was the one with the babies and we were in need of a baby. We pulled up in front of an old house on South Street and went in. Teddy lay in a white bassinette in a small room. My parents and I encircled him, looking down at our new baby. Our case worker said, “He’s just six weeks old. Isn’t he a darling?”

Though shocked to see his face covered with a red rash, I quickly decided not to be picky since I had been waiting all seven years of my life for a brother.

A few months before, when the case worker was going to visit us for the first time, Mom and Dad had warned me that she would ask questions, and I sensed that our family getting the stamp of approval rested on me and my answers.

I kept things businesslike, asking for a brother since our family needed a boy more than another girl. Since it was 1963 and I’d never met anyone who was adopted, I assumed that kids, adopted or not, would automatically look like their parents. I had my mother’s brown hair and blue eyes, so I put in an order for brown eyes to match Dad’s.

Now I peered closer at the baby with his frill of reddish-brown hair. “He’s got blue eyes like mine!” I’m sure I sounded accusatory. The case worker explained they were fresh out of baby boys with brown eyes, so they had chosen Teddy because he looked like Mom and me. I considered the logic and figured he would do.

When we got him home, all the relatives started coming over to meet him. For two weeks, we had somebody at our house almost every day. They liked to have me sit on the couch and hold Teddy while they took our picture. Teddy felt like one of my dolls, but warm and heavier, and yet I was conscious of how fragile he was and how careful I had to be with him. Every day I rushed home from school so I could see him. Day by day, I learned to be more comfortable with him, and how to hold the Playtex bottle with its plastic bag insert so he could get formula without swallowing too much air. I learned how to burp him, patting his back which seemed barely bigger than my hand. He relaxed and smiled at me when I picked him up, and he wrinkled his forehead when I lay him back in the crib.

I’d been in the choir at the Methodist church all school year. A group of us would walk from school to the church [once a week]. We were six kids, all ages, from an afternoon kindergartener to a tall fifth grader, a girl I’ll call Jane. Her size and confident demeanor gave her a lot of authority.

That day we decided to cut through the backfields to the church, although we usually just marched down the side of Gull Road. Jane said it would save us a lot of time to cut through, and nobody wanted to argue with her, although the snow was melting in the field, leaving ruts filled with mud.

Since having a baby brother was a new phenomenon in my life, I liked to bring up the subject–a lot. After having been an only child, I loved the sound of the words my brother. As we walked, I chimed in with something about my brother Teddy.

Suddenly Jane, who was leading, turned around and said, “He’s not your REAL brother. Don’t lie about it.”

My skin seemed to peel back from my limbs, and my stomach got a sick flipfloppy feeling. “What do you mean he’s not my real brother?”

“He’s ADOPTED. That’s not REAL.” A sea of bloody red anger splashed across my eyes. Jane had no siblings and, since she was eleven, probably thought she’d never get any. But I wasn’t thinking from her perspective. To me, her words were an act of violence against Teddy.

That’s the first memory I have of being angry. I lowered my head, aiming straight for her stomach. Eventually Jane and I got back on friendly terms, but I never forgot that some people don’t really understand what adoption means for those of us whose lives are changed by it. My parents’ philosophy had become my philosophy, but I now knew it wasn’t shared by everyone.

###

When I was in 7th grade, a very large girl sat on me and started to beat me up, but I was rescued by my friend’s father who jumped out of his car when he saw what was happening. Other than those scary few moments, the only time I was ever in a physical fight was when I head-butted Jane. In case you’re wondering, not much happened after that point because Jane apparently was shocked somebody stood up to her and not inclined to fight.

Have you been in a physical fight with a bully?

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Filed under Creative Nonfiction, Essay, Memoir, Nonfiction