I had the perfect opportunity to peek inside the bag that afternoon in New York.
But I felt so honored that she entrusted it to me while she did the tourist bit out to the Statue of Liberty that I wouldn't have betrayed her trust for the world.
She was one of the many wonderful people who visited my table in the book room at the conference sponsored by Adoption Crossroads. Conference attendees included adult adoptees, first ('birth') parents, adoptive parents, social workers, various mental health professionals, and many others. They came from throughout the U.S. and elsewhere, every one with a story to share and many understanding and caring ears to hear.
I was known as The Button Lady, vendor of a large assortment of pin-back buttons with adoption reform mottos. The often-provocative mottos tended to generate lively discussions around my table.
I heard joyful reunion stories; sad rejection stories; reports of deception by agencies or individuals; laments of frustrated searchers; mothers' painful accounts of coercion or outright theft of their newborns; angry rants against discriminatory state adoption laws and more. Most stories, though poignant and profound, have drifted into a memory cloud with blurred details after all these years. A few, however, almost haunt me to this day.
Like the story of Rita* and her canvas bag.
The trip out to the Statue of Liberty would have given her reason to leave the bag behind in her room. But she insisted on taking it with her.
Until I offered to store it for her behind my table, where no one would disturb it, including me.
And she trusted me! After pondering for a minute or two, she carrie the bag back to where it was out of the way and departed, far less encumbered, on the special outing with the other conference attendees.
As I pondered the bag and its mysterious contents, I began to appreciate her almost infantile attachment to the items inside. Whatever they were, they represented all that she had left of her mother. Precious items which, like a security blanket, gave her comfort as she made her way through her days, cheated out of meeting her mother but keeping a part of her close in a way that assured her they would never be separated again.
I can't begin to tell you how honored I still feel having been entrusted with her precious mementos.
Rita* is a pseudonym, as are all names in this series.