I always knew I was adopted. I remember standing in my parents’ bedroom with my mother when I was about five years old. We had just moved to a new house in a nice neighborhood so I could start kindergarten in a good school.
My mother told me I was adopted that day. At that age, I didn’t understand where babies came from yet and I had no idea what it meant. I could somehow tell though that this wasn’t really great news.
She made a big deal of telling me how much she wanted to have a baby and couldn’t and that she picked me because she really wanted me. But it left me wondering, “Why is she telling me this? What does this mean?”
As I grew up and heard older people talking, I began to piece together what it all meant. Back in the 1950s, women who had babies ‘out of wedlock’ were somehow bad women. They were looked down upon and people talked poorly about them behind their backs. They were supposed to feel shameful and I began to ‘adopt’ some of that shame.
My parents never adopted any other children and I grew up an only child. When I was a teen-ager, my mother asked me if I wanted to find my ‘real’ parents. I was perplexed. I thought I was living with my ‘real’ parents. (This was before “biological” became the appropriate word for them.) Whoever these ‘real’ people were, they didn’t have any meaning for me.
I was happy with the parents I had and couldn’t imagine what I would do with any new ones.
My maiden name was “Love” and I ran quite an impressive campaign for Vice President of my high school senior class. “Love makes the world go round” “Everybody needs love.” “What the world needs now is…”. You get the idea.
That same year, Diana Ross and The Supremes came out with the song “Love Child”. It made me sick to my stomach.
“In other's eyes I see reflected a hurt, scorned, rejected, Love child, never meant to be… It went on… No child of mine'll be bearing, the name of shame I've been wearing. Love Child!
The heroine grew up in a slum and some of the lyrics didn’t apply. I grew up not lacking for anything important…except a deep sense of who I was, where I really came from and feeling connected to people who looked like and behaved like me with talents and inclinations that felt familiar. I couldn’t look in anyone’s eyes and see myself. I always felt out of place: like I didn’t belong.
My father (Andrew) died when I was a sophomore in college. A few years after I graduated from college, my mother (Lois) died. As my husband and I were going through her belongings, we found my adoption papers. They showed my original name, Pauline Jones, my mother’s name, Marjorie Jones and were signed by Richard J. Daley, long-time mayor of Chicago, at that time still a Clerk of the Court. I read it with interest, but just filed it away for safekeeping. I still wasn’t sure what I would do with new parents but thought that one day this document might come in handy.
A few years later, my seven-year marriage dissolved. At that point, with no parents, no siblings, no husband and no children of my own, I felt completely rootless…adrift, alone, abandoned - again. I decided it was finally time to find these ‘real’ parents.
I contacted the adoption agency and told them they had handled my adoption 30 years prior. I gave them all of our names and asked if they could help find my ‘real’ parents. They said they could but they were backlogged and that it would take approximately six weeks. The woman I spoke with, however, promised to contact me as soon as she had any information. At about 5 weeks, she called and said she was about to pull the file and that I would be hearing from her soon.
Very shortly, she called and invited me to the office. When I arrived, she gave me 4 typewritten sheets of paper, which I read with great fascination.
It described my mother as 5’2”, weighing 120 lbs. before the pregnancy, having a medium brown complexion, being quite success oriented and attractive, largely due to her prominent smile. This almost knocked me out of my chair as it described me to a “T”.
My parents had been students at a predominately Black University. I whispered aloud “I wonder if it was Howard” where I went. The social worker only smiled since she could not reveal any potentially identifiable information about them. The letter went on to say that ‘mom’ grew up in a family of 13 children (born of two separate fathers). Her mother had worked as domestic help then for a dentist. Grandma had musical and acting talents, much to the chagrin of her southern minister father. My mother’s family had often lived on public assistance and mom did not want me to grow up in that environment.
She was the first one in her family to go to college. She had studied psychology and sociology as had my father…and as had I (!), in spite of pleadings from my adoptive mother for me to become a teacher, doctor or attorney.
My biological father had been supportive of mom during her pregnancy, but she chose not to marry him. I was placed in foster care and adopted by the Love family just after I turned one year old.
The social worker asked if getting learning this satisfied my need or if I still wanted to meet my parents. While the information was enlightening, I very much wanted to meet my parents. I particularly wanted to meet my mother to tell her I had had a wonderful life and to let her know that whatever anguish she went through in surrendering me had well paid off for me.
I needed her to know my life had turned out. I wanted to hug her and feel her heart beat again.
The social worker said she’d write the university to ask for their last addresses and would contact me when she heard from them. A few weeks later, she called me and said that the school had responded, but that they had declined to release any contact information. They promised to forward the agency’s letter to the last addresses they had for my parents and leave it up to them as to whether or not they responded.
More weeks go by. One afternoon the social worker called and said my father had called her! He was ecstatic and wanted to talk with me. Apparently, he had lost touch with my mother when she left school and didn’t know where he could find me. She asked if I was ready to talk to him. I tentatively said, “Yes”. She then asked if wanted to call him or if I wanted him to call me. I thought it might be easier to be surprised with a phone call than to have to initiate one, so I said “He should call me”.
The next day, he called me at work. He was delirious with excitement! He‘d heard I’d been born 30 years ago, but wasn’t sure if I were a boy or girl. He said he’d been featured in Ebony magazine as one of the Eligible Bachelors in 1966 and suggested I go to the library to find a copy. I rushed down to Chicago’s main public library, scanned many rolls of microfiche and eventually found the edition he was in.
The write-up on Mansefield Adonis Ready was favorable, but I didn’t think I looked much like him. Over the next several weeks, we exchanged many phone calls and letters. He called me at odd hours and sometimes seemed to not make much sense. He had his sister and her sons to call me and we set up a reunion meeting for the upcoming Thanksgiving in Oakland, CA near where they lived.
I continued to be inundated with calls and letters from him, sometimes more than I wanted. However, after not having any blood relatives, I wasn’t ready to shut down the communication. A couple of days prior to my departure for the reunion, my aunt called. She explained that my father was very happy to have me back in his life. However, she said that he had a drinking problem. “Aha! That explains his erratic behavior”, I thought to myself. I’d never been around anyone who drank and didn’t recognize the symptoms.
While my appearance seemed to quiet him down, Doris couldn’t be certain that the excitement of meeting me would be enough to keep him dry. The day before Thanksgiving, I flew to Oakland. As I walked through the terminal, I saw two short brown men approaching me. One looked rather dapper, the second, rather disheveled.
My instincts told me the second one was my father. They approached me smiling and the disheveled one hugged and kissed me right on the mouth! I could smell the liquor on his breath. I thought, “This is going to be a long weekend.”
We reached his sister’s home where I’d be staying for the weekend. She was happy and welcoming…to me. My father was clearly getting the cold shoulder from her. Doris told me more about our family and over the course of the weekend, I met cousins, nieces and nephews and family friends. All said wonderful things about my father, referring to the life he had enjoyed before the alcohol took hold.
Over the next several years, dad and I had a pleasant relationship. He slipped in and out of sobriety. When he was sober, he was wonderful. When not, he was kind, but disorganized and lost.
He did however, give me a picture of my mother from their days in college. Chills ran through my body when I first saw her. Even though the description of her I received from the agency sounded like me, I wasn’t prepared for what I saw. We had the same high cheekbones, same skinny legs, same thin arms, same short-high waists, small breasts, broad hips and big, big toes. And our smiles! It was like looking in a mirror through a time machine.
Dad had attempted to connect me with people he thought might know Marjorie’s whereabouts. But either they didn’t know, or didn’t want to say. I tried to contact her. I called the alumni office of the college we had all attended. As it turned out (talk about miracles) the woman who answered the phone had lived in my dorm 10 years earlier and remembered me! When I told her my story, she got inspired and said “I’ll help you find her.”
I was hoping she’d just give me mom’s contact information, but she was a woman of integrity and said “I can’t give you her address, but write her a letter, put it in an envelope with just her name on it. Put that inside another envelope and address that to me. I’ll put her address on the letter you write and mail it for you. You can even call me next week to make sure it went out.”
The letter I wrote was quite innocuous.
I figured that my mother had moved on after college and created a new life and had never told anyone about the child she had borne. While I had suffered through the abandonment issue in my early adult years, I had worked through most of my disappointment, hurt, shame, resentment and anger and really just wanted to connect with her again. In the letter, I mentioned my father’s name and said I’d like to talk with her. I mailed it to my dorm mate, confirmed the letter had been mailed, and waited. Nothing.
After I graduated from the University of Chicago with an MBA and was living in a high-rise on N. Lake Shore Drive in Chicago overlooking Lake Michigan, a golf course and a marina, I became even more determined to let her know I was living a great life. I called the alumni office again. My friend had since moved on, but I worked out the same arrangement with her replacement.
This time, I took a sampling of photographs my mother had taken of me growing up.
(I always wondered why we had so many pictures of me.) I decided she must have been documenting my life for that eventual day when mom and daughter actually meet. I took pictures of me dressed up for Easter, sitting in front of a Christmas tree, in front of the piano showing off the report card when I received my second double promotion in school, the first marriage, my graduation from the U of C.
I wrote a detailed autobiography and shipped it all to the alumni office. I waited. Nothing. Weeks, months, years go by. I decided she definitely didn’t want to be found.
A few years later, Dad died of renal failure. More years pass. I moved to California. I thought about mom from time to time. I hired an investigator who grimaced when I told him my mother’s last name, Jones. I had no birth date, no social security number, no known address, no current name. The investigator did a cursory search overwhelmed me with a 16-page list of Marjorie Joneses spread all around the country.
The following year, the adoption laws in Illinois changed and records were being opened. I contact the adoption agency and find out that they are indeed, facilitating reunions. For $150 and a 6-month wait, I could have access to my mother! They re-opened my file and sent me my first year “well baby” reports. I read the entries about how much I weighed, what kind of food I ate, that I could sit up unsupported, smile, and walk while holding on to furniture. The last entry was “You carried, hugged and kissed your doll…You understood very simple directions such as ‘go get your hat’…You tried to lace your shoes…You wanted a quilt over you every time you went to bed…You joined your adoptive family on July 18, 1952.” And at that point, I cried.
I’m not sure what happened after that. Three more years passed by before I took any further action. In 1999, I called the agency to request support in a reunion. They offered suggestions to help prepare me and said that for $450 (inflation, I guess), they could conduct the search and reunion. I had left corporate America, had started a business and was strapped for cash. The agency said they could accept payments and that the first payment would hold my place in line, so I sent in the first installment.
During the time I was making payments, I was told that my mother might have died. The woman with whom I was working wouldn’t confirm it, but suggested that mom might be gone (and along with that, my chance to hug her and feel her heartbeat again).
It took a few months for me to put the money together for the reunion and after I mailed the final installment, I called the office to let them know it was ‘in the mail’.
Then, they dropped the bomb. The new social worker told me that they had lost my file! Lost?!? The keys to my life are lost?!?
The agency refunded my money and apologized profusely, but it was little consolation. I’d been so close to finding her and now I was back to square one. Every 6 months or so, I’d call and ask if the file had been found. I’d ask what ideas they had to help me find her. Fortunately, turnover at the agency was low and I was able to talk to the same couple of women for years. After a while, one of them made several suggestions about how I could do my own search.
I contacted the alumni office again, purchased an alumni directory, and went online. Armed only with her name and an approximate age, but no birth date, I kept running into brick walls. I found one online investigator who said she could help, but only if I had a birth date or social security number.
I didn’t have either and knew that if I had, I would have found my mother already. I told the investigator, “Find me 10 Marjorie Joneses who were born in Chicago around 1930 and are Black. I’ll call each of them.” She didn’t go for it.
One day, the social worker at the adoption agency called me and told me she met a woman who worked for the Salvation Army and did adoption searches. I called her and told her my story.
She said she could only find my mother if she had been born in a Salvation Army hospital and only if I had the date that my mother was born. Another wall. I whined a little and she said, “Well, I know a man who seems to be able to find people. Let me give you his name and number. Tell him specifically that I told you to call him.
I called immediately and explained my situation. He grimaced at the name Jones and asked if I had any kind of other clues, any address even if it was old. I said “No. I’ve told you everything I know.” I did say I thought she might have lived in the projects, but couldn’t be anymore specific than that.
His next line was, “Pardon me for asking…but, are you Black?” I said, “I am!” He said, “You don’t sound Black, but that should help a lot” and I knew I had found my man! He told me it would take a bit longer than unusual (a week) and cost a bit more ($450), but that I wouldn’t have to pay for anything unless he found her.
Sounded like a great deal to me.
Eight days later, he called. He said, “I’ve got good news and bad news. Which do you want?” I took the bad news. Mom had died in 1996, but had married a few years after she graduated college and had five other children. He had spoken with her widow, Harvey who did not know about me but had agreed to speak with me!
The investigator called me immediately after he spoke with my step-dad. By the time he reached me to give me the news, learned that I was overnight-ing a payment to him and called my stepfather back, Harvey had already called the other (now adult) children and told them they had an older sister.
One of my brothers, Harvey, Jr. agreed to be the contact point. The investigator gave me his phone numbers and said, “You have quite a family. Your brother’s a doctor. He sounds whiter than you do. One of your sisters is in law school. Another brother is a Master Sergeant with the state police. Your step-father is a retired chemist.”
I called my doctor brother immediately and in a highly unusual instance, reached him on his cell phone on the first attempt. I introduced myself and it took him a moment to place me since he wasn’t familiar with my name. We spoke for almost 45 minutes. As we spoke, he said, “You laugh just like Mom. In fact, you sound just like Mom.” He told me about our other family members. Twelve uncles and aunts altogether and 42 first cousins! All this after having grown up an only child. I heard about my grandparents and great grandparents.
He told me the law enforcement brother was wary of my sudden appearance.
He worked in the Fraud division and thought, understandably, that I might be trying to scam them.
He invited me to his wedding that was taking place in five months. Having found the missing link to my life, I was ready to get on a plane that moment, but understood that my siblings would need some time to integrate this new knowledge of their mother’s history. Additionally, I didn’t think that my introduction to the new clan should be at my brother’s wedding since the bride and groom should be the focal point of such an occasion. I suggested that when they were ready, I could come to Chicago to meet them.
He promised to scan some pictures of the family and send them to me. That inspired me. I offered to scan pictures of me and send them to him. I emailed him pictures the next day. When he finally opened them, he called me and said, “Well, if there were any doubt in anyone’s eyes, it is gone now.
You look more like Mom than any of the other kids!”
A couple of weeks later, Harvey Sr. attended a niece’s wedding on Ohio. He told one of Mom’s older sisters who lived in Silver Spring, MD about the call from the investigator and asked if she knew anything about a baby that Marjorie had. Her response was “I was wondering when that would come out.” She had been keeping Mom’s secret for 50 years!
One night, I had a dream where I was in a room alone with a young woman who was troubled by some problem. I asked her a series of questions during which she had an epiphany and realized how to resolve her issue. She looked up at me and exclaimed, “Wow! You could have been a psychiatrist!”
By now, my brother and I are talking every Friday night. Each time we speak, I have a new list of questions about my mother. One of those questions was “What did Mom do for a living?” When I asked him, he told me she was a clinical social worker. (I ended up in the business world as a human resources executive. Similar work, different venue.)In early June, I fly to Chicago.
I can hardly contain my excitement. I didn’t know if I would cry upon seeing them or feel nothing at all. As the plane descends, however, my anxiety and excitement rise. I drive to his fiancée’s town home in Evanston and call to let them know I’m close. I pull into the alley and start backing into the space in front of the garage as he had instructed me to do. When I turn around to see how I’m doing, I’m shocked by the face peering in through the driver side window.
My first reaction is “He’s fine!” Then I realize he’s my brother and that I shouldn’t be having those thoughts. He reminds me of myself and surprisingly, of my second husband, from whom I’d recently separated.
The three of us talk and I realize how much we all have in common. My step dad drives across Chicago with his poor-cataract-night vision to bring me pictures of my mother and the other kids growing up. I study them and one picture of my mother on her 50th birthday takes my breath away. I drop to the sofa. A few less gray hairs and a few pounds lighter and I’d be looking at myself, again.
One of my sisters, Arlene, who had been reluctant to contact me, called that evening to say she and my law enforcement brother, Eric, wanted to take me to lunch to meet me in a more intimate setting. We agreed to meet at a restaurant downtown. I walked in and spotted them right away. They had wondered if they would recognize me, but told me that the moment I walked in the door, they knew who I was.
The aunt who had known about me was coincidently, in Chicago for reunion of ‘the old neighborhood’. We met at another of my mom’s sister’s homes and watched family reunion videos. I got to see the way my mom moved and talked and laughed. It was thrilling. I got to see my talents for singing in cousins and aunts.
I spent a week with them, meeting all kinds of relatives including another sister, Helena, who looked strangely like me and my adoptive mother. We drove to Detroit to meet another aunt, uncle and a cousin. This aunt looked more like my mother than any of her other siblings. When she walked into the restaurant and came to our table, I was dumbfounded. It was like looking in a mirror into the future. “This is what I’ll look like when I’m 70” I thought to myself.
I heard stories all week about my mother from her siblings, her children and her widow. I learned that she was very loved and had been missed terribly since her death. Over and over, people told me how much I reminded them of Marjorie who had been gone for six years by then. People were as dumbfounded staring at me as I was of them.
During the week, I was inundated, overwhelmed with information. While I was very happy, the whole experience was less emotionally trying than I thought I might be. I could tell though, that internally, at some subconscious level, multiple holes were being filled in. Pieces of missing data were being integrated in ways I had not anticipated. Holes were being filled in for them too. Mysterious and anxiety-ridden comments Marjorie had said to her family about the time she spent in college began to make sense to them.
One night as I was journaling about the experience, I swear I felt her presence. When I mentioned this to my brother, he told me that he’s felt her with him on several occasions as well.
Marjorie’s foray into higher education apparently inspired her older siblings. One became a judge: another, a teacher. Once Mom had completed raising her other children, she returned to school herself to obtain a Master’s degree. She attended Loyola University and graduated at age 61 with a Masters in Social Work. She was voted Most Outstanding Student by the other students in her class.
The search had taken a very long time to come to fruition. I was 51 at the time that I met Marjorie’s - now my - family. There were many false starts. In the long run, it seems that it all turned out well. Marjorie went to her grave with her secret in tact.
Her family had time to grieve over her rather sudden death and deal with her secret without having to confront her about the decades of lies. They also got a living remembrance of their sister, mom and wife when I arrived on the scene and we’re all very happy now.
Last year, I got married (again). Fourteen ‘new’ family members flew out to attend the ceremony. Harvey, Jr. walked me down the aisle and gave me to my new husband on behalf of the family. Eric, my other brother and a sister, Helena, read poems during the wedding. I danced with Harvey, Sr., my stepfather in the bride/father dance. My sister and aunt both cried that evening. I’m crying as I write this.
I realize how blessed I am to have had such a positive experience. I recognize that all reunion stories don’t have such a happy ending. I still wish I could have laid my head on Marjorie’s breast again, have hugged and heard her breath and heartbeat. In the absence of all of that, I’m delighted with how it all turned out.