Without My Brother

When I first saw this image, I thought of my Aunt Daisy. I don’t think she knew about my dad until after her mother had died. Her older sister did. My cousin, who is the daughter of that older sister is how I came by pictures of my grandmother holding my dad and one of him when he was a toddler.

When my Aunt Daisy’s daughter discovered me thanks to 23 and Me, her first question was – is your dad still alive ? Sadly I had to tell her no. In fact my Aunt Daisy was living only 90 miles away from my dad in the very same state at the time he died. Such a pity. I see him in her photos.

I am told my paternal grandmother never really got over “losing” my dad to adoption. It certainly wasn’t her intention to give him up. His father was a married man, still un-naturalized as a citizen at the time my dad was conceived, having immigrated from Denmark. I would guess my grandmother never told him – IF she even was still in contact with him at the time. But without a doubt, she did know who his father was and it is thanks to her own effort to leave us breadcrumbs that I know who my dad’s father was. She quietly handled her pregnancy through the Salvation Army home for unwed mothers at Ocean Beach CA. It was such an appropriate birth. My dad, a Pisces, the son of a Danish fisherman, who himself was in love with fishing and the ocean. Their resemblance to one another makes it unmistakable and lately, my reconnecting with Danish relatives still living in Denmark due to our shared genes is the proof, that didn’t exist back in the day. She obtained employment with the Salvation Army and migrated with my dad in tow to El Paso Texas, where she was pressured to give him up for adoption at 8 months old.

My slightly increased risk of breast cancer probably comes from my paternal grandmother. The day she was due to be released from the hospital after surgery for breast cancer, she suffered a fatal heart attack. I have a smidgeon of Ashkenazi Jew which I suspect comes from my paternal side – if not my grandmother, then my Danish grandfather.

It still amazes me that after over 60 years totally clueless in the dark, I know so much about my family origins. Never would I have predicted that such a possibility would actually become real.

The Baby Saver

Debbe Magnusen CEO Project Cuddle

I don’t know, I have conflicting feelings about this woman (she signs her own self as The Baby Saver on a post I saw) and her organization, Project Cuddle. On the one hand, she has found her calling and who can argue with saving a baby in danger of being abandoned ? On the other hand, it is a method of being something like an adoption agency, who doesn’t identify themselves as such, who doesn’t sell babies but seeks donations to fund their organization.

They have Rescue Families not adoptive parents. Their official line is this – We are not an adoption agency or facilitator. We charge nothing to the girls who come to us seeking assistance nor to our vetted “Rescue Families”. We are a non-profit charity. Our only goal is to help each girl or woman make safe, legal decisions regarding their pregnancy and subsequent baby.

They don’t pick babies up from dumpsters. Project Cuddle says – We help frightened girls and women find safe and legal alternatives for their baby’s future, so that abandonment need never happen. A girl or woman will never have to leave a baby in a dumpster, at a church, lying in some back alley, or anywhere else for that matter.

In day’s of yore, they might have been referred to as a home for unwed mothers, much like the Door of Hope that my paternal grandmother went to in Ocean Beach CA – after she discovered she was pregnant and that her boyfriend was actually married to someone else.

Child abandonment appears in many different forms. It can apply to a minor who is left without appropriate supervision for an extended period of time. That is the kind of situation that brings Child Welfare Agencies and the courts into the picture. Project Cuddle’s mission is officially preventing baby abandonment by supporting an unwed pregnant woman with prenatal care, maternity clothes, hospital delivery and a family waiting to adopt her baby.

They remind me a bit of the old Salvation Army (that is where my paternal grandmother went for help). Project Cuddle says – after the mother has delivered, Project Cuddle continues to assist her in establishing a plan for her future. We never judge any girl or woman that calls us for help.

They do claim NOT to be promoting surrender or adoption – The decision to give her baby up for adoption is entirely left to the birthmother. This can be as quick as two days or take as long as twenty years. Hmmm, really ? 20 years. Isn’t the baby a legal adult by that time ? What mother cuts ties with a baby she has been involved with that long ? Never mind, I’m certain it happens. Parents and children do become estranged in some families. I wonder just how non-coercive Project Cuddle is about moving a baby into an adoptive family. They do say – the more open a rescue family is towards things such as sex, ethnicity and drug exposure – the more quickly they may be matched with a birthmother choosing surrender.

I don’t know. I continue feel squeamish about this whole “project” – while at the same time recognizing there is a need for mothers and their babies to have the support when they need it. When society doesn’t deliver that support, individuals with a savior complex often do step in. You can learn more about Project Cuddle at their website. However, from a comment thread I have read – all is not 100% as it seems. The terminology is exploitative and deceiving and there is every indication that “counselors” do coerce the mother into surrender, regardless of how much they try to say otherwise (this comes from some real life experiences that are now being openly shared).

An Interesting Adoptee Reunion

Robert Spencer and Sleepy LaBeef

One look at the two men pretty much confirms the father/son relationship.  It reminds me of when I first saw a picture of my own dad’s father – a man I never expected to identify because my dad’s mom was unwed and gave birth to him at a Salvation Army Home for Unwed Mothers in Ocean Beach CA.

In Robert’s case, one could say he is fortunate he was adopted.  His mother, Agnes, was a follower of Jim Jones who led his congregation known as the People’s Temple to commit mass suicide in Guyana.  Robert’s mother and 4 siblings all died in that horrific event.  I actually stumbled on Robert’s story looking into some information I encountered about Jim Jones adopting children.

Jim Jones was a charismatic white man who preached racial equality and socialism.  When he moved his followers to the South American jungles of Guyana, which is a multiracial country, he planned to build what he called a “rainbow utopia.”  When Robert was 10 years old and living in Hayward CA with his adoptive parents, they had to break the news to him that his mother had died in the sad tragedy.  His birth mother, Agnes Bishop Jones, was the eldest adopted child of Jim Jones and his wife, Marceline.

Robert turned out to be a fine man.  He is employed as a park ranger in the San Francisco Bay Area, and a firefighter in the summer. He also volunteers at his church and labor union.  For years, Robert shut the door on his family connection to Jonestown.  Eventually though he became consumed by questions about why he’s helpful, why he’s tall, why his skin is olive and why his eyes are clear-blue.  He didn’t want to replace his adoptive parents, who he says loved and raised him. But he says there was “something about that biological connection” that he was desperate to experience.  He wanted to know more about his mother, Agnes, and about her life in the Temple. One big question that nagged him: Why wasn’t he with her and his siblings on that fateful day?

Since both his mother, Agnes, and Robert were adopted, it made searching for blood relatives that much harder. The only biological child of Jim and Marceline Jones, Stephan Jones, who survived the 1978 tragedy because he was on the other side of the small South American country playing basketball when his father’s suicide order came down.  He was 19 years old at the time and had spent his entire life in the Temple.

Robert and Stephan met in person in 2014 at a reunion of Jonestown survivors, friends and families in San Diego.  People there began asking questions about Robert’s claim that Agnes had put him up for adoption. They believed him, but it raised a red flag because Temple members didn’t put their children up for adoption to outsiders.  Some people at the reunion began to speculate that perhaps Jim Jones was Robert’s biological father and he just wanted to “make that go away” by putting him up for adoption.  DNA testing by Stephan proved that Robert was not Jim Jones’ son.  That was actually a relief even though it did not answer his identity questions.

Eventually, DNA led Robert to his father, Thomas LaBeff who was born in Smackover Arkansas in 1935 (same year my dad was born). He now lives in Fayetteville, Arkansas.  He is a recording artist for Columbia Records under the name Sleepy LaBeef.  His music is a mix of American roots music – blues, country and rockabilly.  The only explanation for Agnes and Sleepy getting together was that she was one of the fans taht would come backstage to meet the musicians.  Sleepy admits, “sometimes we were not as responsible as we should have been … and so things happened.”  Best guess was a Nashville night club, possibly Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge or The Honey Club.

Though they look a lot alike they are very different people.  He’s a Democrat and they are all Republicans.  They’re Pentecostal and he’s not.  But he has been warmly welcomed and has “family” now.  Of course, he’s thankful to Agnes for giving birth to him in the first place and understandably thankful she let him go.  Thanks to being given up for adoption, he can tell the rest of that story of how he is a “rock ‘n’ roll baby.”  He is also at peace now.

Falsified Birth Certificates

This was the only birth certificate my dad knew as the original.  Yet another one was created when he was 8 years old when his adoptive mother re-married following a divorce.

Neither of the two certificates were “true” as to who my dad was born to.  The attending physician’s location was actually a clue but I didn’t know that until I received some additional information from the Salvation Army through whom he was adopted in El Paso Texas.

My dad’s name at birth was Arthur Martin Hempstead.  He was given his mother’s surname as she was unwed.  I believe his father, a married man, Danish immigrant and not yet a citizen never even knew of my dad’s existence.  More’s the pity – they would have gone fishing together.

We did always know he had been born in San Diego.  Ocean Beach would have been more accurate.  He was born at the Door of Hope home for unwed mothers on Voltaire walking distance from the ocean’s shore.

This falsifying the birth certificate to make it appear that an adoptee was born to someone they were not born to was common in the 1930s when each of my parents were adopted.  Actually, to my knowledge it is still common practice – though reform activists would desire that to change.

When a child is adopted, their origins are falsified, they are given a new name and the identity of their parents becomes the names of the couple who adopted them.

Can you imagine being forced to live a lie all your life ?

Questions Without Answers

Try as I might, my heart longs for answers to questions that I will never be able to truly answer.  I may have theories but they may be wrong.  For too many years, when we knew nothing about my adoptee parents’ origins, we made up plausible stories –

My mom had been stolen from her illiterate parents from the hospital in Virginia where she was born by a nurse in cahoots with Georgia Tann who transported her to Memphis.  There was no other way she could reconcile being adopted as an infant in Memphis when she had actually been born in Virginia and who could blame her for that confusion ?

Because my dad was dark complected and seemed so comfortable with the natives in Mexico, I thought that he must have been mixed race with a Mexican mother and an Anglo father and that she had crossed the border with her infant and left him upon the doorstep of the Salvation Army with a note that said – “Take care of my baby, Maria.”

So my maternal grandmother was exploited by three women in Memphis – Georgia Tann certainly but also Georgia Robinson the superintendent at Porter Leath orphanage who had agreed to give my mom “temporary care” and then betrayed her to the baby seller, Miss Tann, as well as the Juvenile Court Judge Camille Kelley who was Miss Tann’s close friend and could be counted upon to remove any child from their parents for nothing more abusive than poverty and a lack of immediate family support.

And my dad wasn’t Mexican at all.  His dark complexion came from his Danish immigrant father who was a married man, so his unwed young mother went to a Salvation Army home for unwed mothers at Ocean  Beach California just west of San Diego.  His father probably never even knew of his existence.  More’s the pity, as fishermen who loved the ocean they would have been great friends.

I’ll never know why my maternal grandfather never came to my maternal grandmother’s rescue or why they separated after only 4 months of marriage with her pregnant already.  I’ll never know why she went to Virginia to give birth, though I suspect she was sent away to avoid embarrassment to her immediate family in a very conservative religious rural community.

I can only live with the questions that will never have answers while basking in the glow of knowing so much that over 6 decades of living never prepared me to uncover.

Door of Hope

 

On this day in 1935, my dad was born in a Salvation Army home for unwed mothers called the Door of Hope in Ocean Beach, a suburb of San Diego.  The building still stands.  I believe it is some kind of restaurant/bar at the moment.

My grandmother was a self-reliant person.  She had to be.  She grew up without her natural mother who died when she was only 3 mos old.  On a visit to California at about the age of 15 (when her family visited relatives living there), she refused to return home.  Until then she had been enslaved by her step-mother in a Rayon factory in Asheville North Carolina.

My dad’s father was a much older man married to an even older woman who was a private nurse by profession.  I doubt my grandmother knew the man was married when she started seeing him in La Jolla CA.  She most likely knew it by the time she knew she was pregnant.  It is just a likely he never knew he had become a father.

What is clear is that my grandmother didn’t run around with every Tom, Dick and Harry.  She clearly knew who my father’s dad was and although she gave my dad her maiden surname, she left us breadcrumbs as to his father’s identity – both in how she named my dad after the man as well as placing a head shot of the man with his name on the back right next to a photo of her holding my dad.

They are seated on the front porch of another Salvation Army home for unwed mother’s that she was hired at in El Paso Texas.  That is how my dad got there and eventually was adopted from there when he was about 8 mos old.

Note on image –

In 1915, the Door of Hope, a home for unwed mothers, was built on a 10-acre site in Ocean Beach’s Collier Park. Initially operated by the Sand Diego Rescue Mission, it was taken over by the Salvation Army in 1931. In 1962, the Door of Hope moved to a much larger facility in Kearny Mesa.