Friday, January 20, 2012

To understand ourselves, we must know where we came from

Maternal Grandmother Agnes
Where do we get our talents, our drive, our sense of ourselves? Last night at dinner a woman asked me if I had had a good relationship with my grandmothers, and I had to say, one died before I was born and the other was sickly most of the years I knew her. She died when I was fourteen, and because we did not live in the same town, I never knew her well.

But then I found myself telling my dinner companion more about my grandmothers. The one I did know, Agnes (photo at left), was divorced from my grandfather, a rarity and a scandal back in those days--the Forties and Fifties--and especially a scandal among Polish Catholics, who are among the most conservative and steadfast Catholics anywhere. I barely knew the man she had been married to, my grandfather, nor did I know know why my mother seemed not to like him, or why we almost never visited him. I remember that at his funeral--when I would have been about fourteen--my mother and her older sister were dry-eyed and grim, a younger sister was full of tears. I wondered why there was such disparity in how they were reacting to their father's death.

BEING PROUD OF GRANDMA
Only many years later--and I mean, decades--did I learn that this man had molested my mother's older sister, and bothered my mother once but didn't do more than scare the hell out of her. The youngest sister apparently didn't even know about this. My mother said that when her mother--whom she idolized--found out what he was up to (I do not know the details), she began sleeping on the couch, and soon after moved out, taking her children with her.

My mother
That put a whole new light on this woman. Instead of seeing her simply as someone who was sickly, I gained a new respect for her. She got up and left when the going got ugly. Now I could frame her divorce and remarriage in a renegade Catholic schism in a completely different way. Now I could be proud of her courage. This is a woman who stood up to her husband, and took the censure that came with the divorce. No one outside the immediate family knew why, and she did not tell--hence the youngest sister not even aware of what had occurred.

As for the other grandmother who died two years before I was born? According to family lore, I am a great deal like her. My middle name, Blanche, is for her own Bronislawa, the Polish equivalent. I know that she left a relatively well-off family in Poland by herself to come to America, and met and married my grandfather here.
Rule breaker Bronslawa Drozdusky
 When I learned that she wrote numerous letters to the newspaper in the hardscrabble town in southwestern Pennsylvania where they lived, I remember feeling a internal shift of joyful recognition. Ah ha, that's where I got that from. I also knew that she supplemented her husband's meager salary as a coal miner by making bathtub gin at home during Prohibition. My dad said she sold a Mason jar of her "white lightening" for fifty cents, and the miners came by on the day they got paid. The police came by once too. Grandfather took the blame and spent a night in jail. It's unlikely I will ever be a bootlegger, but I sure do urge us all involved in adoption to break unjust laws if necessary to find one another. I've often said that blood on the steps of the Department of Health where sealed records are kept would wake up some knucklehead legislators to the desperation of the situation. Knowing what I know about my grandmothers, I think they would think the same. Both strong and determined women, they both broke the rules. And when I came out of the birth mother closet, my mother did not hesitate to support me wholeheartedly, despite the negative gossip this generated in her home town. Thanks, Mom. ♥

Everyone in the family said I was most like my father's older sister, Jean, who left Pennsylvania when she was sixteen and went to New York City on her own, and made her way. When I knew her, she was a waitress in a restaurant near City Hall, and worked there until she married one of the customers. It was from her suitcase when I was twelve I found and read Bonjour Tristesse, barely understanding what was going on. I adored my Aunt Jean. Even when my mother was with Aunt Jean and me, people on the street used to think that Jean was my mother. I sounded like her too. Today I am noticing how similar our hair styles are in the pictures here--all waves, with bangs--even though the styles suit our times. And I notice my mother has one of those Marcel waves too.
My aunt Genevieve

The stories of these women are my history. They are who I come from. They inform and influence who I am. And it is comforting to know these things, to know about them, to feel them living though me.

IT'S NOT JUST THE COLOR OF YOUR EYES
This rumination came about today after reading David Brooks this morning in the New York Times. He was writing about Mitt Romney. What Brooks had to say has a direct connection to what it is like being a product of a certain family, and having that history written into your DNA. Brooks wrote:
"Romney’s salient quality is not wealth. It is, for better and worse, his tenacious drive — the sort of relentlessness that we associate with striving immigrants, not rich scions.
"Where did this persistence come from? It’s plausible to think that it came from his family history. The philosopher Michael Oakeshott once observed that it takes several generations to make a career. Interests, habits and lore accrue in families and shape those born into them." [Emphasis added.]
Brooks then related a brief history of Romney's family, taken from the book The Real Romney. Romney's not going to be my candidate of choice, but you can read into his history the tenacity that is a hallmark of the man today. In understanding the man, what matters more are not the particulars of Romney's Mormonism--which we certainly quibble with--but the exodus in his history, and the dogged determination to overcome odds.

High school senior Lorraine
You can see where all this led me, right? To have a whole history swiped from you is an unspeakable crime, yet it is done by the hundred fold in adoption. Knowing what we know today about the need for a history--emotional, cultural, medical--no one can participate in any adoption that is not fully and freely open and feel they are doing the right thing any longer. As for me, not adopted but having participated in one when I surrendered my daughter, I was left with an overreaching sadness. Everyone needs to know where they came from to best deal with where he is going. Any other way is to be handicapped for life.--lorraine
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Source: The Wealth Issue

See Also: Romney urges single woman to give up her baby--or be outcast from LDS


16 comments :

  1. Definitely! My family were Society of Friends.... railroad engineers - as in building trains - and a thousand other things. My great grandfather was a famous explorer and guide.... His wife was a woman with quiet dignity, writer and hostess to some of the most famous names in history (cir. 1915 - 1945+/- a few years). Those included Zane Gray and Theodore Roosevelt.

    Being who you are doesn't begin with you, it begins in the very beginning of everyone that came before you!

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  2. Blogger is acting up - from theadoptedones...

    Beautiful post. I have spent so much time figuring out who my ancestors really were by where they came from, what they did, the struggles they would have had to endure and overcome down to those still living and who they are. It provides such a deeper level of understanding why I am the way I am coupled with the influences mom and dad provided as well.

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  3. Thank you Lorraine! I am getting weary again of hearing "Don't think about it", "Get over it", "It doesn't matter", in regards to being adopted. It does, and it is huge knowing who you are and where you come from.

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  4. My found daughter says.. I don't think I would have done anything I've done in the last five years without meeting you and finding me.

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  5. Lorraine,
    Your family photos are awesome!! How can anyone think that robbing a child of their real identity and sealing it away forever can ever be "In the chlds best interest"?

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  6. Thanks--I will admit I enjoyed posting pictures of my ancestors. I love that my printer is a scanner, makes this all possible.

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  7. Lorraine,

    Absolutely, wonderful pictures of your Family. I have to salute, Bronislawa, she did something many women didn't do and still don't do stand up for what is right and get rid of the wrong i.e. Molester.
    Too many women have lived with abusers all their lives because they need the security of the abuser. The molested child is just supposed to "get over it" sounds
    so familiar.

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  8. ITA with the title of this post. There is a lot of science and there have been many posts about how attached the child is to his first mother at birth. How a baby knows his own mother, etc. I agree with all of this but I also feel that the 9 months in utero is only a drop in the bucket. We are also connected to all of our ancestors through our bloodlines on both sides.

    Your grandmother, Lorraine, was a very stong woman to leave her husband in a time when that just wasn't done. Maybe that is where you got your strength to come out publicly as a first mother and to share your very personal story in a book. I don't think these types of traits are coincidence.

    I think one of the most interesting examples of this is seeing Gwyneth Paltrow on the show "Who do you think you are?". The actress has long been known for her interest in Kaballah and it turns out that one of her distant ancestors on her father's side was a highly respected Rabbi who was renowned for his study of Kaballah. Ms. Paltrow had no knowledge of this prior to being on the show.

    Btw, that's a lovely smile in your yearbook photo. I can see the resemblance between you and your mother. I have always liked and admired your mother based on everything you've said about her.

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  9. Just to Clarify, Agnes (the first picture shown) is the one who left her husband; Bronslawa is the one who wrote letters to the paper. I guess I will make it clearer in the post.

    ITA? I had to look it up....I totally agree...

    Thanks, Robin, about my mother. Oddly enough we were not close when I was young--my brother told me recently that she was always saying to him, Lorraine pushes me away...and I know it is true. It was because I did not want to be a housewife. Later on, however, I realized how much she helped me go to and finish college, and supported me when I needed that. When I was finally, er, me, we became very very close. And when I went public with my story and later published Birthmark she supported me all the way, even though I know she had to deal with the gossiping of the women of her generation who lived alongside her in the senior housing apartment she spent the last two decades of her life.

    She died 12 years ago, and I still think of her and miss her greatly.

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  10. I am an adopted woman who is interested in finding out about her birth mother. How do I start this process?

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  11. swm,

    To start the search process, check out the websites of the American Adoption Congress and Bastard Nation. These sites give you tips as well as information about local search groups.

    Register with the free International Soundex Reunion Registry.

    Contact the agency that handled your adoption.

    Obtain your original birth certificate, available in Maine, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Delaware, Alabama, Tennessee, Illinois, Kansas, Oregon, and Alaska.

    Good luck!

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  12. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  13. Growing up with people we look like also helps a child to know where s/he comes from. Different ethnicities carry different physical traits. When a child grows up with his bio-family these shared characteristics give him a sense of belonging and a connectedness to his roots.

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  14. I found out I was black when I met my mother. I am blonde with blue eyes. My mother's father was a light skinned black man who "passed" as white. I had always wondered why I didn't get as sunburned as the other kids! I nearly hit the floor when she told me that! I did know there was something different about my skin color. I used to tell my a mom that I was green. Mom & Dad didn't tell Spence Chapin the whole truth, they said I was Italian! I don't think a mom would've touched me with a 10 ft pole if she had known the truth. I'm so happy I found out. I'm proud of who I really am.

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  15. Max Troitsky, a Russian-speaking US Citizen from Pennsylvania is in a sad situation. His estranged wife ( Anna Troitsky a.k.a. Anna Demyanyuk ), a US-Russian dual citizen illegally abducted their US-born US-citizen toddler daughter Julie Troitsky in late November 2011, against the US Court Order, and all the details of this bizarre and unfortunate case are here:

    He has not had any contact with his daughter for months, and could lead to years, if ever:

    http://www.HelpBringJulieHome.com (site in English and Russian)
    To raise awareness, please LIKE on Facebook:
    http://www.facebook.com/HelpBringJulieHome
    and please FOLLOW on Twitter: http://twitter.com/BringJulieHome

    Thank you for the help, leads and following of this case... or if you can blog/write a page article on this, Max would appreciate it.

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  16. What a beautiful story about your ancestry and I could not agree more. We all need to know who we are and this goes far beyond what has happened to us in our short lives. We need to know our ancestors. That said, I sure wish I had paid more attention to the stories our families shared when we were young. As your cousin, I especially appreciated seeing so many photos I hadn't seen before. Your Mom's mother was a beautiful woman, you can see her strength and determination shine through her beauty. your mother, likewise was so kind and gentle. I remember her, and your father (my uncle) with great fondness.

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