Sunday, March 12, 2017

A Drama I Can't Possibly Forget

The Canvas Bag

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.

Too Late – Just Barely

Rita's story had the makings of a made-for-TV movie. 

Even today, I can close my eyes and imagine the many camera angles of Rita standing before her mother's opened casket. Together with her mother at last. Free to say to her all the things she'd waited a lifetime to say. Even if her mother was beyond hearing.

Rita's search for her mother had been long and arduous. It involved a distant state from the one in which Rita lived, and long-distance searching was difficult in the pre- and early-Internet days.

Eventually, she located her mother - with a currently active phone number! She began calling the number repeatedly, always hearing it ringing on the other end but no answer.

Finally, she found the name and phone number of her mother's next door neighbor and put in a call to her. When Rita told her she'd been trying unsuccessfully to reach (her mother), the neighbor exclaimed, "Oh, no! I just came from her funeral!"

Rita had missed her mother by only a matter of days.

It seems her mother had been living alone, and the neighbor lady had been looking after her. Absent any other family, Rita was her only kin.

Rita immediately traveled to her mother's town.

Since her mother had been buried only days before, Rita was granted a request for exhumation. Her plea was that she had only once chance to look into her mother's face, and if she couldn't do it right then when the grave was fresh, she'd never have another chance.

She had a private viewing, a moment in time that the rest of us can't begin to comprehend. But it brought closure, something all adoptees yearn for.

The neighbor took Rits into her mother's house. As the administrator of the estate, the neighbor offered Rita some of her mother's treasured items. What the items were Rita didn't care to share with anyone. She placed them in a canvas tote bag and carried them home. 

She Carried The Bag Everywhere

The bag had traveled with her to New York for the conference. And once there, it couldn't be left in her room, but had to be carried about with her everywhere. It was heavy; she often set it down beside her to give her shoulder a rest.

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.

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