Friday, April 27, 2012

What Goes Around, Comes Around

P.S. (Pre Script): I hate it when computers think they're smarter than you, and I don't much like change. Blogger has changed their way of doing things, and forced me to upgrade my account to their new ways. I was paging through old posts this morning, enjoying reliving some fun moments of the past, when I found this post I wrote but never published. I believe this was written in January of 2008. But when I hit Publish, Blogger changed the date it was written. Dang. Anyway, here's where my mind was four years ago.

Ten years ago in June, my life turned upside down when John died. A couple of weeks prior to this, Tyler graduated from Youngstown State University. He had been invited to audition at the Peabody Institute and Julliard, but didn't get into those graduate programs. He was able to get a job teaching software classes for Catapult Learning in Washington, DC. On July 4th, Tyler and Jaci moved in with me in our beautiful house on Irving Street, overlooking the National Zoo.

This three-story house with English basement was built around 1917 and had fabulous paneling and narrow strip hardwood floors. The third floor was a self-contained apartment, with living room with fireplace, full kitchen, small bedroom, large bath, and a sleeping porch that was used to store all sorts of junk. From the bedroom windows, if you craned your neck just so, you could see the fireworks on the Mall on the Fourth of July.

We lived together for about a year, and the only occupants of the house who didn't get along famously were the cats.

Now Tyler and Jaci have asked me if I'd like to repeat that arrangement, and after much discussion and much thought, I believe this is what we're going to do.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012


Is there a point where information becomes Too Much Information?

I continue searching for facts about my birthmother. This morning I discovered the record of her marriage to Gerrit Verburg. I knew she had married him sometime after my birth, and that she had never told him of her pregnancy or my existence. I knew they had lived in Orlando, and believed them to have moved there in 1972. (I don't remember what piece of data which I read in past research led me to that belief.)

They were married in Orlando in 1956.

I was living in Orlando in 1956. She was living in Orlando as I was growing up. We might have passed on the street. We might have shopped in Gibbs-Louis or Ivey's at the same time. She might have attended some function at which I was playing the piano. Or, per her statement that "I blocked you and [your father] from my mind," I might never have even crossed her mind the entire time.

Still …

You know the phrase "too close for comfort." Well, this was very close but no comfort.

Further to yesterday's post re learning that she lost her father when she was 16, I learned late last night that her mother died when she was only 22! What must that have been like for her? To lose the father whom she adored while still only a teenager, then to lose her mother six years later. And fifteen years later to become pregnant out of wedlock (in a time when that was not accepted as it is today), with only an older brother to turn to.

I project that she was somewhat relieved when her mother died. She and her brother, 11 years her senior, continued to live in the family home for about four years after her mother's death. At some point he moved to Orlando. At some point he had heart problems and went to a local doctor, Dr. Crews, for treatment. While he was ill, she visited his home in Orlando and took him to his doctor's appointment. Long before my conception, she met the man who would ultimately become my daddy.

What a bizarre, small world!

Longtime readers will recognize today's post photo as Edward Hopper's "Hodgkins House," from the work Hopper completed while living in Gloucester, MA.

Monday, April 09, 2012

Life-Changing Events

I spent a little time on this morning. I was searching for further information on my biological grandfather, John Hicks Hodgkins. He was born in December of 1873 or 1874. He was married in 1898 at age 24. I have him in the 1910 and 1920 census records, but couldn't find him in 1930. Finally it occurred to me to search the 1930 records with his wife's name. Bingo! She is listed as a widow.

In the one letter I received from my birthmother, written in the margins of a letter I had written to her, she revealed that she never felt like her very critical mother loved her. She was very close to her father, who worked as a bookkeeper. She lived for Sundays, when she and her father would walk along the nearby beach.

I saw myself in her words. How uncanny that my relationships with my adoptive parents was a mirror of my birthmother's relationships with her her parents. I never felt loved or even accepted by my mother, who raised me to believe I was dumb, ugly and incompetent. I adored my daddy.

I've searched further and cannot find a death record for my grandfather, John. I found a city directory for 1930, so sometime between the publication of that city directory and the visit of the census taker, he died. Gertrude, his beloved daughter, ... (Edit: I found the 1932-33 Gloucester City Directory. He died in June of 1929. His daughter was 16 years old.)

Unmarried, she is resigned to living with her mother, with whom she has no bond, no loving relationship.

Then, ten years later, she is suddenly pregnant. All I know about my birthfather is that he was a pilot or captain (I can't remember which) of a fishing boat in Gloucester, and that he was a pilot with the Civil Air Patrol. I don't know if they had a long term relationship or if it was an affair or a one-night stand. In any event, she's pregnant in 1949 with no family support. Her father's father, Nathaniel, lived with the family, but his wife had died. Her two brothers had moved away—I believe one was already deceased.

Can you even imagine the feeling of aloneness in which she must have been wallowing?

When I think of all that, it's no wonder she gave me up for adoption and, in her words, "blocked you from my mind."

What enormous impact the early death or abandonment of a parent has!

Thursday, April 05, 2012

I'm a Sewist!

In a comment on Facebook today, I said I'm a "sewist." An old friend asked what a sewist is and where the term came from—she had never heard it before.

I've read it many times, as I read lots of sewing articles and blogs. No, it's not in the dictionary. I found this blog post where the writer had researched the term. The author, Ardeana Hamlin, said, "So call me seamstress, call me tailor, call me stitcher, call me needleworker, but please don’t call me 'sewist.'"

For many years I said I was an avid sewer, but that sounds like I'm a place where shit falls. And I prefer not to think of myself that way.

In the last five years of my first marriage, I made all my husband's suits. But I'm not a tailor. (In fact, after our divorce, he began having all his suits tailor-made. Hmmm.)

I do many sorts of things besides sewing seams. I don't want to be called a seamstress.

"Stitcher", to me, sounds like someone who holds a single threaded needle in her hand and runs it around and through fabric. I use both machine and hand techniques. I love doing handwork—sewing down bindings by hand with immaculate little stitches—but I don't think I'm a stitcher.

And "needleworker" sounds more like someone who does needlepoint or counted cross-stitch. I've done and enjoyed both those art/craft forms, but I don't think I'm a needleworker.

I love working with all sorts of fabrics. I love the whole process, from choosing the pattern to pairing it with the perfect fabric to struggling to determine the proper fit for a new pattern to sewing on the buttons and tying the final knot in the thread. I love wearing the new garment out to dinner the night after I finish it. I love seeing my granddaughter pull her favorite grandma-sewn nightgown out of her drawer and crawling into bed wearing it. I love hanging the new curtains or pleated shades at a window in my lovingly decorated home. And I love cleaning out my stash to share with other like-minded people. I am a sewist. We are sewists.

As I mentioned in yesterday's post, one of the things I routinely thank my mother for is signing me up for a Singer sewing class out on West Colonial Drive a thousand years ago (well, 1963). She enjoyed sewing and wisely wanted to pass that on to me. I'm so glad.

So don't call me any of those terms that Ardeana Hamlin prefers. Bully for her, but call me a sewist.

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Two Words

I like doing things for people. And I shun praise, notoriety and general pedestal-standing. My sons will quickly tell you that I like being in the background. I like being in the chorus and providing support to my children. I like being an accompanist rather than a soloist. And I like the feeling of sharing things with people whom I believe will appreciate them.

My cyber-fiber-friend Lynne, a truly amazing woman, wrote a blog post today that resonated with me. The buyer of the cups wisely knew she'd appreciate these cups more than those young women, then she generously shared them with the people who meant the most to her.

Lynne is someone I love sharing my things with, because she, in turn, shares them with others. She uses my neglected fabric to make quilts for kids in foster care; she uses my abandoned jewelry-making supplies to foster artistic desires in women who are beating substance addiction. Lynne is truly a loaves-and-fishes kinda gal. She impacts scores of people, who will in turn impact generations to come. To me, upon receiving my packages, she says Thank You and warms my heart.

Long-time visitors to this site know that I'm not close to my mother. Saying "I love you" is grudgingly done in response to her infrequent "I love you"s. I feel no love for her. But I am grateful. Whenever we spend time together, I tell her thank you—thank you for taking me to piano lessons, for signing me up for my first Singer sewing class, for making my recital dresses, for attending all those interminable piano recitals, for schlepping me here and there without complaint or comment.

It costs me nothing. And it makes a big difference. At least I think it does.

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Abandon or Be Abandoned?

Lately, it seems that every book I download from Audible and every TV show I add to my Netflix queue ends up having an underlying adoption or abandonment theme. So—of course—my mind's wheels are turning.

I've said multiple times that if I could change only one thing about my life, I would have kicked Father-Of-My-Children out the door and not left my sons. At the time, in the mental and emotional state I was in, I did the very best thing I could do for them. According to my damaged psyche.

Child-rearing is subject to a sort of trickle-down effect. You learn from your parents, who learned from their parents, and so on.

You only know what you've seen around you. Your dysfunctional situation is your reality.

The Jazzman's niece is expecting her second child, which we've just learned is a girl. As he and I were talking about what wonderful parents the niece and her husband are to their beautiful little boy (and how they'll continue their greatness with this lucky little girl), I told him how, when I was pregnant with Scott, the doctor told me it was a girl. As soon as I left the doctor's office, I sat in the car and sobbed. I did not want a girl.*

The Jazzman asked me why that was my reaction. That's an easy question for me to answer. My mother always told me, "You don't want to have a girl. She'd be just like you, and nobody would want that."

He just stared at me. "But didn't you know that wasn't true," he asked. No, I didn't. This was my [adoptive] mother, and she was telling me how horrible I was, and it must be the truth. (And that emotional abuse was not an isolated incident, just in case you're wondering.)

Watch a book or watch a movie about someone who has been physically or emotionally abandoned. We behave in ways to prevent our being willfully abandoned a second time. We say cruel things. We act in ways to anger you to the point of forcing you to abandon you.

This is one way we can be in control. We can force you to abandon us so we can say, "See, I told you so."

Or, we can retreat into ourselves. We can go along to get along. We can adopt your way of thinking or your religion or your [whatever] so you'll think we're wantable. We say please and thank you. We feign gratitude because we must. We morph ourselves into what you want, even when to do so causes a raging cancer in our souls.

When we marry for the second or third or fourth time, we keep a constant mental bead on the storage location of our suitcases. Throw away or recycle a packing box? — Never! We know we'll be given away again.

For me, the cycle broke with the 10-year relationship with John. He was as damaged as I was. He had been abandoned far more times than I. His mother died when he was 3, and he was bounced from foster home to foster home until, at 8, the right situation finally found him. During our first two years together, he continually made bad choices regarding a selfish woman who couldn't stand that he had chosen me over her. I hung in there, kept letting him know how I loved him, and—when she finally decided to leave her husband and break up her marriage to be with John (and subsequently dumped him)—maintained a friendship and open mind with and toward him. About six months before he died, almost two years into our happy, contented, and comfortable marriage, he wrote me a note that thanked me for never giving up on him and said he wished he had been able to see, in the first two years, what I had known all along.

He filled the holes in my soul, and I filled the holes in his soul. By the grace of all that is good, we were able to fix what was broken in each other.

I can't go back and fix the damage I caused to my sons in leaving. They both have told me they understood why I did what I did. They have told me they forgive my leaving. We maintain good relationships. But I'll probably never be able to forgive myself for leaving—for not being smarter or stronger or more sure of myself and my abilities.

That was then. This is now. Now I stand on every soapbox I can find and shout to every person thinking of adopting a child: "That child will require more love and compassion and understanding than you can even imagine possessing. If you can't find those qualities in yourself, if you can't give that to the child, don't adopt."

My mother, in excusing her failings, said, "Oh, all you adopted kids had problems."

That doesn't have to be so!

* (This continued with each prenatal visit. Scott's heartbeat was a consistent 144, and the median between boys and girls is 140. Even on the delivery table, the doctor got Scott's head out and said, "What a pretty little girl's face" and then when the rest of the body came out, the doctor said—with surprise—"Oh, it's a boy." And I breathed an enormous sigh of relief.)