Friday, April 4, 2014

The Hearts of the Children, the Celts, and a Poolside Conversation.

"Mom, I love your blog...but you need to put up some updates. Soon.  I want to see Ireland or anywhere else you've been.  It might not be a very exciting blog if you only post once every two years or so" my 25 year-old daughter Rachael messaged me last week.

You can tell your child has become an adult when she can scold her mother.  

Rachael is correct.  I should have posted more travelogues since the 2011 Peru trip.  In my defense, between 2011 and 2013 I also authored a second blog incognito.  I called it EarthStains. It was my place to share stories and jokes about my experiences as an adult Mormon adoptee, as well as some experiences of others in the adoption community.  In 24 months and 150 posts, EarthStains attracted over 54,000 page views and hundreds of comments. Not exactly viral, but enough for me to feel like I was heard.  Through blogging I swapped stories with other adult adoptees.  Our experiences can be so bizarre, yet so similar.  Themes emerge of identity, belonging, not belonging, bewilderment, secrets, loyalty and deja vu as we hop between relationship landmines. Keeping all those stories around finally wore me out.

So one day last April 2013, shortly after I returned from an Ireland trip, I felt tired  and  took the blog down.  My brain had gone toxic. I'd had enough.  I stopped writing.  It was time to do something else.

Now a year later, it's time to get back to writing a bit.  On Tour With Her will not be an adoption blog.  However, as I contemplate my trip to Ireland last spring, one more personal story about being an adoptee seems relevant.  Perhaps I should publish this one too. Just one more story.


It is a warm summer day in 1985.  I am 18 years old and weigh 118 pounds; I am wearing a pink and gray one-piece Calvin Klein swimsuit (one-piece because Mormons girls with standards don't wear bikinis); tanning beside a swimming pool in someone's Northern California backyard, sipping 7-Up in a can (7-Up because obedient Mormons don't drink the wine coolers offered to them).  A tall, intelligent, shirtless, well-formed young Irishman is lounging next to me, holding my hand, quizzing me. He's got the Dublin accent which, according to one poll, is the 6th sexiest accent in the world, so I don't mind the personal questions so much.  We've been entangled for, oh, 2 weeks; been all over first base, but not much farther (because single Mormons with fortitude don't go as far as second base). 

"Are families important to Mormons? Children?" he ventures.  Family is very important to us, I tell him.  Did you know that in America, it's only Mormons and Catholics that have large families anymore? Mormons have this thing called Temple sealings, where parents and children are joined together and stay together in families even after death.  I feel awkward talking about it.  I am not a very good evangelist in my CK swimsuit.

"I see marriage as a like a vocation," he's saying.  "What I mean by that is like how Priests in the Church make vows for life.  Do you understand?"  I don't really understand what he means.  I know nothing about Catholic vocations.  I say that Mormons marry in a Temple to be sealed together as an eternal family.  Temple marriage is a new and everlasting covenant; necessary for exaltation in the Celestial Kingdom.  He doesn't really understand what I mean. 

Why the talk of marriage and family?   I do worship the ground he walks on...  I'll love him 'till the day I die. .. But what's up?   Is he thinking immigration?  The Irish economy is depressed.  Tens of thousands of Irish citizens have made their residence in America in the past decade, many of them illegally.  An easy path to citizenship would be to marry an American.  A young man's got to weigh his options for the future.  Or maybe he is just that taken with me.  Or maybe he is trying to say he isn't ready consider this stuff yet.  I am probably reading too much in to this.  This talk is way over my head.  This is just casual chat after all.

Next question is one I've been asked many times before, a question I despise because I don't know the answer.  I hate not knowing so sometimes I lie.   "What country did your ancestors come from?"   Often when people ask about my nationality, I say I am Danish and English, my adoptive parents' ancestry.  But I am feeling quite close and trusting as his steady hand holds my hand and his blue eyes hold my eyes.  So I tell the truth. I want to tell  the truth, and I never could pass for Scandinavian anyways.  Mormons with character don't lie.

"I don't know," I say. "I am adopted.  My sister once said maybe I am Welsh because of the shape of my face."  Darn guessing games!  I shouldn't have told him what my sister said, it was silly.  Still, her conjecture is the most I've had to go on.  I break away from his gaze and look down.  "I don't know what I am.  Sometimes I think about finding my natural parents but I don't know if they would want to meet me."

As is his way, the Irishman changes the conversation back to happy optimism. "Well, if you're Welsh at least you're Celtic then," he teases.  He's made it clear that heritage is important to him.  The Irish are Celts of course.   If this guy holding my hand  is a Celt then the gods must be Celts (Wait, Mormons are monotheistic, but you know what mean.).  I want to be "at least Celtic."  

I return to college in September, my desire to know my first parents grows.  I meet a green-eyed, soft-spoken, analytical young man with a Detroit accent named Jim Bakaitis.  His skin is so fair that he is never in the sun without a shirt on.  He offers to find my original parents who gave me away.  I think this is an impossible feat, but Jim manages to accomplish it with one afternoon at the university library and one phone call.  Jim understands and supports my need for answers.  He gives me some  of my identity back.  This is the guy I will marry. In the temple.  In the New and Everlasting Covenant.

Oakland, California Temple
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

As it happens, Jim is a Celt -- both Irish and Welsh.  He is also Lithuanian and Polish.  I like to hear the pride in his voice when he talks of his ancestry.  His mother and aunts often speak of their Irish roots.

Even after meeting my original parents, it would be years before I'd feel secure enough to research their ancestry.  Whenever I considered it, I felt like I was betraying my adoptive parents.  There are some within my adoptive family and church community who disapprove of adoptees finding answers, even though church policies don't discourage it.  But as Malachi of old prophesied, the hearts of the children will turn to their fathers.  In the Spring of 2013 I began the task of mapping out my genetic family tree at last.  A trip to Ireland in March 2013 (which is what this blog post was supposed to be about before a story took it over) was the motivator.  I helped my husband learn his family history -- talking to old-timers, learning the history of Achill Isle where Jim's ancestors lived, thumbing through registers, poring over maps.  It was awesome! 

I am happy that we were able to show our two sons the land of their Irish ancestors.  The oldest son Benjamin is now serving a mission in Arizona for the Mormon Church (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints).  He wrote Jim and I a letter telling us that he was grateful we took him to Ireland before his mission .  He shares his experiences in Ireland with others as he teaches them the importance of eternal families in Heavenly Father's plan for His children.

Ben (now Elder Bakaitis)
Remains of a deserted village on Achill Isle, Slievemore, Ireland.
He recently wrote to me that he has gotten taller on his mission, "I never wanted to be taller than 6 feet," he says, "It's harder to kiss girls when you're tall."  Yeah, he's part Irish.  He'll manage.

After returning home from Ireland and dumping the adoption blog, I have spent the past year earnestly researching my biological ancestry.  And guess what?  At least I am Celtic.  Hooray.  I own a scrap of Irish and Welsh, but am maybe 30% pure Scottish, another Celtic line.    There is a bit of divinity in me after all :)  I have traced other ancestral lines to Germany and England, some as far back as the 1600's.  It's not just about the DNA.  It's the stories.  I've collected a dozen fascinating stories about my natural ancestors.  These I share with my children, along with the inspiring stories my adoptive parents gave me about their ancestors. They are pearls of great price.  I have so many connections!

Tombstone of my paternal great-great-great-grandparents, Samuel Patton and Margaret McDonald.  Sam, Maggie and some of their children are buried in a tiny cemetery 20 miles from my home in Central Illinois.   Their grandparents were Scottish emigrants, I think.  I have dozens of ancestors buried very near my home here in Illinois.  I do not believe it is mere coincidence  that I happened to settle in here, more than a thousand miles from where I was born and raised.  I feel like these ancestors are calling to me.
1904 Marriage record of my maternal great-great grandparents, John Schaible and Mary Boehm.  They were married in Walvis Bay, German Southwest Africa, which is now modern day Namibia.  This microfilm image of Lutheran Church records was a great find at Family History Library in Salt Lake City.
During WWI the British took over the area and German civilians were forced out.  The Schaible family spent the remainder of the war in Johannesburg.  They came to America with their five children in 1921.

Ellis Island emigration record for John Schaible and Mary Boehm Schaible and their five children. 
The family settled in Michigan.

No comments:

Post a Comment