Category Archives: Memoir

my adoptive mother

This Easter’s Eve, I spent the afternoon baking and dying Easter eggs with my daughter. I rummaged through my mom’s old recipe box and found the one for her pecan monkey bread, one of my favorites. My daughter, who loves to bake, volunteered to help me out. Mom typically made this coffee cake on the mornings of special occasions like Christmas, Thanksgiving, or Easter. We always looked forward to the holidays.

My mom was a registered nurse by profession, a wife, mother and grandmother. She worked full-time as the director of nurses at a skilled nursing facility and came home exhausted most evenings. No matter how tired she was from work, she always managed to get a home-cooked meal on the table, unless we decided to go out to Pancho’s or another local eatery. She was a fabulous cook and loved to sew as well as crochet. I remember that mom also wrote regularly in her diary. She would get a new one each year.

Mom married my dad on October 6, 1962 in Omaha, Nebraska where dad was stationed at Offut Air Force Base. On February 25, 1963, just 4 short months after their wedding, my dad suffered a subarachnoid brain hemorrhage which nearly took his life. Mom accompanied dad via air evacuation on a T-29 military aircraft to San Antonio, TX, I’m assuming to a more specialized military hospital, where he underwent surgery. I can only imagine how frantic she must have been. In the bottom of my dad’s dresser drawer, I found an original Western Union telegram that was wired to his mother in California from Offutt AFB. This is what it said:

1963 FEB 26 PM 7 01

I WISH TO OFFICIALLY INFORM YOU THAT YOUR SON MAJOR WENDELL R BUCK, 37033A, WAS PLACED ON THE SERIOUSLY ILL LIST AT THE 865 USAF HOSPITAL, OFFUTT, AFB, NEBRASKA, AT 1200 HOURS ON 26 FEBRUARY 1963, AS A RESULT OF A CEREBRAL HEMORRHAGE. HIS RECOVERY IS QUESTIONABLE. HE IS BEING EVACUATED BY AIRCRAFT TO THE USAF HOSPITAL LACKLAND AFB, SAN ANTONIO, TEXAS, IMMEDIATELY. THE ATTENDING PHYSICAN RECOMMENDS YOUR IMMEDIATE PRESENCE AT HIS BEDSIDE. IN THE EVENT YOU ARE UNABLE TO VISIT HIM AT LACKLAND AFB, THE HOSPITAL COMMANDER WILL FURNISH YOU A REPORT ON HIS CONDITION EVERY FIVE DAYS, UNLESS A SIGNIFICANT CHANGE OCCURS IN WHICH CASE THEY WILL ADVISE YOU IMMEDIATELY. PLEASE ACCEPT MY SINCERE SYMPATHY IN THIS TIME OF ANXIETY=

ELKINS READ JR COLONEL USAF COMMANDER==

After reading the telegram, I thought what a miracle it was that Dad survived. Mom wrote in one of the diaries I found:

“Wendy operated on. Subarachnoid brain hemorrhage. God spared his life. Thank you dear Lord.”

Dad outside house at Kadena AFB

After the aneurysm, dad spent several long months in rehabilitation. I remember dad telling me that he had to learn to walk all over again. The aneurysm left him partially paralyzed on one side and caused extreme headaches. He told me that the sound of mom’s pantyhose as she walked into his hospital room was intolerable. Dad eventually regained his strength and was able to resume work, although paralysis permanently weakened his left side. I believe that this unfortunate event was a turning point in his life. At the height of Dad’s military career, he was discharged from ever flying a plane again due to “physical disability.” It must have been a crushing blow for him. He was then assigned to a new position as Personnel Director until his retirement in 1972.

Mom didn’t write about dad’s recovery in her diary. Maybe it was all just too much to write about. Two months after the aneurysm, she began practical nursing training. She graduated in April 1964 from the Omaha Public School, Vocational Education Dept. in Practical Nursing and went on to successfully pass her state boards. Mom went back to school much later to become a registered nurse (RN), around August 1972. By that time, she was 47 years old and had a full-time career in nursing. I remember mom taking me to class with her a couple of times at Louisiana State University. She probably couldn’t find a babysitter.

 

For the next 2 years, mom struggled through nursing school and late nights studying while juggling a demanding job and taking care of the family. I don’t know how she did it. The funny thing is, I don’t ever recall seeing her study, but according to her diaries, she often studied for biology, anatomy, chemistry and psychology after my niece and I were in bed. She spoke of the biology labs nearly killing her and failing a few tests. She was so disappointed in herself when she failed a test. She finally graduated from Northwestern University in August 1974. I will always remember mom wearing her white nursing uniform, white stockings and shoes, and nursing cap.

Now that I’m a mom, I empathize with the stress mom felt as a nurse and raising two little ones at an age when some folks were already grandparents. Every evening after work, she and my dad relaxed with a couple of martinis before dinner. Dad used to put an olive speared with one of those little plastic cocktail picks at the bottom of their drinks. When we were little, my niece and I tried to sneak up and steal the olives right out of their glasses when they weren’t looking.

Mom didn’t ever seem to rest, not even during the holidays. She’d get up early and cook nearly all day. Christmas was always my favorite.  At the end of the day, I’m sure mom was completely exhausted.

I’m definitely not half the cook my mom was. This is the first time I’ve attempted to make her monkey bread recipe. I’ve included the recipe here in case you’re interested. We’re looking forward to eating a slice 🙂

Festival Coffee Cake

First put 3/4 cups nuts into greased bundt pan. Mix 1/2 cup granulated sugar and 1 tsp. cinnamon. Melt 1 stick butter and 1/2 cup liquid brown sugar or 1 cup packed brown sugar. Boil for 1 minute. Cut 3 cans of biscuits into quarters, roll in sugar and cinnamon and place evenly on top of nuts. Pour butter and brown sugar on top. Any cinnamon and sugar left over, sprinkle on top of biscuits. Bake at 350 degrees for 35 to 40 minutes. Let set for 10-15 minutes after removal from oven. Turn upside down on plate. Enjoy! (Note: May need to extend oven time to ensure center of cake is baked through)

a mystery letter

Bits of styrofoam clung to my hands and arms as I dug down to the bottom of the box. What did my sister send? I lifted out a manilla folder which had settled among dozens of scattered pictures and styrofoam peanuts. In the folder lay a letter yellowed from age. I recognized the embellished handwriting immediately as that of my mom’s. Curiosity set in as I wondered who Dr. Woo was, the obvious recipient.

The letter was left undated and appeared to be a draft from all of the crossed out words. Apparently, Mom had written the letter as a followup to a conversation she’d previously had with Dr. Woo. After reading through the first paragraph, I soon realized that this letter described my parents’ initial visit to the Family Planning Association of China, the orphanage where I was adopted. I could not read the rest of the letter fast enough. This is what it said:

Dr. Woo –

Following our conversation adopted Chinese daughter’s visa physical, and our conversation as to what was where we obtained her, and the cash price we paid, I will attempt to explain the procedure and all the obstacles that confront an American who adopts a child from the Family Planning Association of China.

We arrived in Taipei at 10 AM – went directly to Family Planning. We were allowed to go immediately to the 4th floor to a huge room with open windows and no heat where we walked from crate to crate and from basket to basket looking at tiny babies. I chose two from the 26 that were adoptable that day.

At 4 o’ clock that evening we were ushered into a large office and were introduced to Mrs. Tze-Kuan Shee Kan. She stated she had just returned from a fundraising drive in the United States, and had acquired $30,000 to start building a new orphanage for her children. She stated that $250 was the minimum fee, which was $150 for prior care of the child (medical, food and lodging) and $100 was for the cost of all the paper work required to bring the po baby to Okinawa. This was to be pd. in American cash.

By 6 o’ clock – the necessary papers were signed and she asked if I had picked out a baby. I told her about the 2 I had chosen and which one they brought down was all right with us. In a few moments they brought our baby to us, a beautiful three month old, 7 lbs., 7 oz., and very listless baby girl. I could not stand to think she would stay another moment under their roof. I asked permission…

I couldn’t believe there wasn’t more to the letter! I went back to the box and rummaged around trying to find a second page but found nothing. Where was the rest of the letter? I was so intrigued and disappointed that there wasn’t more. I telephoned my sister back in Louisiana to ask if she knew about the letter and had any idea where the missing part might be. She knew nothing. I had to just accept the fact that the other half was gone.

I had so many questions. Did I go home with my parents that afternoon? What did Mom ask permission for? What were some of the “obstacles” mom mentioned in adopting from the Family Planning Association? Was Mom petitioning for Dr. Woo’s assistance and did he help in any way? From the description Mom gave in the letter, I envisioned the orphanage to be in poor condition with barely enough for all of the babies and children there due to little funding. That I was only 7 lbs and 7 oz. at the age of 3 months was proof enough. I went back to read one of mom’s diaries dated the same year I was born. There was nothing said about Dr. Woo, only how they brought me home to Okinawa.

I went back to the folder and found another clue about my adoption: a medical examination form signed by Dr. Woo. I pieced together that my parents needed to get a visa for me, and he must have given the exam required. The form is dated January, 31, 1968 and was officially stamped in San Francisco on June 28, 1968, six months later. I found some other information showing that one year previous, my parents had filed for a petition for visa in Okinawa, which was officially approved on July 7, 1967. The entire process to get an actual visa took over a year from start to finish. Eventually we moved to the states around 1968 or 1969. I’m pretty sure that my parents were in a hurry to get out of Okinawa in case my birthfamily changed their mind about the adoption. My dad was transferred from Kadena Air Force Base in Okinawa to Westover Air Force Base in Massachusetts.

The letter will probably always be a mystery, but it did give me some insight into the orphanage where I was adopted. Just yesterday, as I was out sweeping the driveway, our neighbor and his son, Alex, came outside. Alex and his sister-in-law had come over to help interpret my adoption contract just a week ago. We exchanged hellos and Alex’s father proceeded to ask me if I was Chinese. Three months ago, my response would have been no, but then I’ve learned so much since then. I launched into a brief explanation of my adoption and my current attempt to find my birthfamily in China. He told me that he’d be traveling to China soon and that his brother currently works for the government there. He offered to help do whatever he could in China to find out about my birthfamily with the help of his brother. Alex suggested that I give his father the address of my birthparents listed on the adoption contract. His father will be staying in Ghuangzhou which is very close to the province where my birthparents lived at the time of my adoption. I was touched that he wanted to help.

I’ll continue to try to piece together the mystery of my adoption from what I now have in my possession. I hope that my neighbor can bring back some kind of information about my birthfamily from China, but I’m not holding my breath. Only time will tell.

the translation

Last Thursday morning I found the nerve to knock on our neighbor’s door. I knew the family was from China and wanted to ask if someone could help me with the translation of my adoption contract, which had been buried in my parents’ attic for years. I wondered why I’d waited so long to have someone take a look at it. As I stood there waiting for someone to answer the door, I studied a small red vase with intricately etched dragons and yellow flowers hanging next to the door. I wondered what the characters on the vase said. After several minutes, my neighbor answered the door. He owns a Chinese food restaurant right down the street. I stumbled over my words as I tried to explain why I had stopped by. He told me in broken English to come back in half an hour when his daughter-in-law would be there. I busied myself around the house and lost track of time until the doorbell rang an hour or so later. Our neighbor’s youngest son, Alex, appeared in the doorway with his sister-in-law, Kelly. He introduced her to me and explained that she did not speak English but would be happy to interpret my papers. I gave him a copy of the adoption contract regretful that he had to hurry off to class. That meant I’d have to wait for the interpretation. I tried not to think about it too much throughout the day as I anticipated meeting them later.

The following night, our doorbell rang once again. It was our neighbors, Alex and Kelly. After showing them in, we gathered around the dinner table with the adoption contract, and the translation began. I sat on the edge of my chair wishing I could understand what Kelly was saying. I tried to determine the language she spoke. Was it Mandarin or Cantonese?  Every so often Alex would interject to ask a question. Finally, Alex turned to me. The first thing he told me was that one particular page of the contract was a history of why my birth parents placed me for adoption. According to this paper, my birth parents were very poor and “there was no money in the household.” I was the 4th daughter from a large family. It didn’t state how many other siblings there were, but Alex and Kelly seemed to believe that the family was very large. They had to give one girl up for adoption and it happened to be me, the youngest. I immediately wondered if had I been born a boy, would they have kept me? I wondered if they had been disappointed that another girl had been born into the family? Did they waiver over the decision to relinquish me? Was I placed in the orphanage right after my birth, or did I stay with my birth parents for a little while? In my mind, I was also trying to reconcile the differences in stories between my mom’s account and what was actually written on the contract. Mom had always told me that my birth parents had placed all the girls for adoption and that they had tried to find one of my sisters to adopt her too. So many missing pieces.

Alex then brought my attention to a specific area of the contract. It was the handwritten signatures of both my birth parents on the contract. I was amazed that their signatures were actually right there on the paper, and I’d never noticed it before. He circled their names, the Mandarin characters written one on top of the other in vertical fashion. In fact, the entire contract was written in traditional Chinese text forming vertical columns from top to bottom. I examined the faded handwriting of my birth parents more closely. Alex moved on and explained that my birth parents were from a province in China, not Taiwan, called Guangxi. Another surprise. “It’s in south China,” he explained, “like Hong Kong.” He wrote out the name phonetically, Gong-sai, so that I’d remember how to pronounce it. Cantonese is the prominent language in Guangxi and all of southern China. Later, I did some research on Guangxi learning that it has a population of 45 million people made up of several ethnic groups and borders the country of Vietnam. Hmm… So maybe that had something to do with my adoptive parents telling me that I was part Vietnamese. So, how did I end up in Taiwan? Did my birth parents travel, or actually move there? Alex suggested that perhaps the orphanages were better in Taiwan and my birth parents placed me there to increase any chances of being adopted.

As the evening came to a close, Alex and Kelly assured me that my adoption was legally agreed upon by both my adoptive and birth parents. Alex told me that traditional Chinese families typically remain living in one house their whole life, so chances are that the family still currently lives in Guangxi at the same address. He also told me that their address would be fairly easy to locate if we should travel to China one day. I thanked them both for taking the time to help me, and they wished me good luck in my search happy to have been of help.

After they left, I went over everything Alex and Kelly told me. It’s frustrating not having all of the pieces and I’m more intrigued than ever. I’ve enlisted the help of a social worker at an adoption agency specializing in adoptions from Taiwan. I hope that she can help me find my birthfamily, or at least connect me to the right people. It seems like a longshot, but I can always hope.