Category Archives: transracial adoption

we are family

IMG_4348_Airport2

Amy, Me, Christina at Taoyuan Airport in Taipei

 I’ve been in Taipei just shy of one week now. So much has happened in the past 5 days. As much as I’ve wanted to keep a daily journal, I’ve just been too tired and busy to keep up. It’s a good kind of tired and busy though. Below is a recap of my first day in Taiwan.

The journey to Taiwan begins on Saturday, January 15th. I feel amped up and nervous about leaving my family behind, but once I get to the Seattle airport, I feel a bit more calm. I Skype my husband and daughter, and they seem fine. Around 10:30 pm, I notice a woman who looks like Tien arrive at the gate and immediately go to introduce myself. She’s the miracle worker (with the most effervescent personality) who has been instrumental in helping me find my birth family in Taiwan. We arrange to have seats near each other and get acquainted while waiting to board the plane. At last, boarding begins, and we make our way up to the top deck. I’m glad that Tien is here and that we’re traveling together. It’s around 1:00 am. Once airborne, the flight attendants start a meal service, not a snack, but a full on meal. Really, at 1:30  am? I’m not really hungry, but I eat anyway. It doesn’t take long for everyone to start snoozing. I sleep for most of the flight. Although it’s a 13-hour trip, time seems to pass quickly to my amazement. Another meal is served about 2-hours before we are to land. What bizarre times to eat! The Taiwanese woman sitting next to me strikes up a conversation and from then on doesn’t stop! She is giving me all kinds of advice about Taiwan after I explain to her why I’m visiting. She is leaning in towards me as close as she possibly can without bumping my head and continues to poke my sore left arm where I recently got a tetanus shot. I try to lean away the other way. She and her husband are very nice, but I’m glad when the flight attendants announce that we’re preparing for landing, a welcome distraction. The air turbulence doesn’t even bother me as we begin our bumpy descent toward Taipei. I can’t help but grin as we get closer to our destination; the anticipation of meeting my sisters growing. I gaze out the airplane window at Taipei City below. A thousand tiny specks of light illuminate the curvy highways below.

Finally, we touch ground; it’s around 6:30 am Taiwan time. I want to shout a really loud yahoo, but decide to keep it to myself. We wait impatiently for the plane to come to a complete stop at the gate. Once the signal is given, I gather my stuff and make my way into the crowded aisle. I feel like I’ve been stuffed into a can for the past 24 hours, and it’s nice to stand up. Tien tells me to go ahead of her, as she has to wait to get her carry on. We trudge off the plane and head straight to the money exchange window, fill out arrival cards and wait in the queue for the next available representative. Everything goes quickly and smoothly, and to my surprise, I don’t feel a bit tired. Next, downstairs to baggage claim and to meet my sisters! As we near the airport lobby, I immediately recognize my older sister. She and my 2nd sister are holding a white banner with big blue letters saying, “Welcome, Marijane.” I hurry over as fast as I can despite being weighed down by a set of heavy luggage and give each one a big hug. Our smiles are big enough to light up the entire city of Taipei. Tien and my sisters introduce themselves and exchange conversation, and I get caught up in the chatter of Mandarin and laughter. My older sister shows me pictures of our mother and pa-they’re mine to keep. She has also made a CD of pictures of our pa in his later years and gives this to me. I study my sisters’ faces. They both look so much alike, but do I look like either of them? My second sister tells the other something in Mandarin, and my older sister says to me, “she thinks you resemble our mother.” But after seeing both of our parents’ pictures, I think I look more like our pa in his younger days; same eyes and nose. Wow. Now I finally know what my biological parents look like. Soon, my older sister begins to take photos. I can’t seem to find my camera, but she reassures me that she’ll send me all of her pictures. I’m told that our brother is not physically well and will not join us until the dinner with the whole family on lunar Chinese New Year, January 22nd. I immediately notice the affection between my two sisters; they’re only one year apart in age. Now they have extended their affection toward me, little sister by 10 years. I’m amazed at how warm and welcoming they are, as though we’ve known each other our whole lives.

My eldest sister, me, and 2nd sister

After a half hour or so of talking together, we decide it’s time to head for my hotel, about an hour’s drive away. My oldest sister first gives me a hand phone in a cute little red case and a diamond studded handle complete with charger for me to keep during my visit. She puts it inside another little case for safe keeping. They have thought everything through and are so organized! Older sister explains how to use it and makes sure that I know which number is hers and my other sister’s. She takes charge and both sisters wheel my luggage outside toward a long line of other people waiting for taxis. They banter back and forth in Mandarin. Once a taxi becomes available, we climb in and my sisters encourage me to close my eyes and rest. I’m too caught up in the moment to go to sleep though. So we talk most of the ride to the hotel. Once we arrive, my sisters help me check in, and we head upstairs to my room. They shower me with gifts, pineapple cakes packaged beautifully, a thermos, an umbrella, and a small knife for cutting up fruit. They insist on making sure I get some rest and leave shortly thereafter only to return to hand me some cash. They don’t take no for an answer either!

At 6 pm, they come by to take me to dinner, a nice Chinese restaurant not far from the hotel. They come bearing more gifts, fruit and specialty cookies famous in Taiwan, which the bell person offers to take to my room. We get into another taxi and head to the restaurant. After a quick drive through the crowded downtown streets, which continually abound with taxis, cars, and motorcycles, we arrive at the restaurant and are ushered upstairs to dine. My 2nd sister orders for us, and we talk about how my search for them first began. The food arrives quickly, one course after another, and is very delicious. Suddenly I feel like I’m 10-years old again as my sisters see to it to keep adding more food to my plate once it appears near empty. I’m stuffed by the time dinner is over. After dinner, we go back to the hotel room, and I show them the photo album that I put together of my adoptive family.They ooh and ah over my baby pictures, and my oldest sister comments on how alike both my adoptive father and our pa look. I totally agree!

It’s been an amazing day, and again I don’t feel the least bit tired. Maybe it’ll hit later on. It’s very surreal to be here in Taiwan, to have finally met the 2 sisters who looked after me at the babysitters after school. They were only 10 and 9 years old when I was born. Both tell me that they used to hold me when visiting the babysitters’. Interestingly, while we are looking at the photo album, my oldest sister recognizes a woman holding me in some of the pictures; it is the babysitter! How very amazing – another piece of the puzzle fits into place. My sisters do not overstay so that I can get some rest. Tomorrow there will be 2 interviews with 2 different newspaper reporters who are interested in our reunion story. My sisters decide not to be in the interview in order to protect their privacy. Before I even arrive, both have been contacted by the news reporters and are quite shocked. I respect their wishes. Tien will be there to translate. Oh, what a day it’s been, a joyous reunion to remember! My sister’s have made a schedule for our time together. It will be like trying to cram in a lifetime’s worth of being apart into 2 short weeks. It’s all an adventure!

a whole new world

I have become intrigued by everything Asian, specifically things related to Chinese culture and to Taiwan. It surprises me how strongly I feel about this. Sometimes I wonder if I’ve become a little too obsessed. Am I going overboard? Is this a mid-life crisis? Have other transracially adopted adults gone through this kind of searching later in life? When I explain to friends and family that I’m taking Mandarin lessons, going to Taiwan soon, and really exploring my cultural roots, their reactions are often encouraging, but I don’t think they quite get it. Perhaps they believe that this is just a phase I’m going through similar to a kid going through adolescence. It has, after all, taken half of my lifetime to get to that point of wanting to learn more of my cultural heritage. Twenty years ago I would never have thought twice about pursuing a search for my biological sisters, planning a trip to Taiwan, or learning Mandarin. There was no hint of a desire whatsoever.

I am happy that this new chapter of my life has begun. I’m not sure where it will all lead, but it’s an adventure. Recently, I’ve been watching a Taiwanese TV drama called, “Meteor Garden.” I had a hard time getting into it at first because it’s targeted for a younger audience, but I must say I got sucked in. I’ve begun to pick up on a few Mandarin words and phrases here and there. I have a growing list of Taiwanese dramas that I want to watch! I’ve also been listening to K-Pop (Korean pop music) and Taiwanese pop music lately. I’ve been enjoying it and am getting acquainted with popular Taiwanese singers and bands, like Jay Chou and Jerry Yan. I’m sure there are a lot more great artists out there.

I still have many questions about my adoption. One thing that still mystifies me is why my adoptive parents told me that I was Japanese and Vietnamese. My birth parents were both from China and moved to Taiwan where I was born and adopted. When and whythey moved from China to Taiwan, I’m not exactly sure. I would like to know what happened to the adoption agency, The Family Planning Association of China, as it no longer exists. I’d like to know if Tze-kuan Shu Kan, the director of the agency, is still living. My adoptive mom also kept a list of orphanages in the Taipei area. I wonder if she visited all those orphanages before finding me? I would like to visit one of those orphanages in Taipei while I’m there in January. Of course, to find one of my biological sisters and meet would be beyond wonderful and would most likely lead to some of the answers to my questions. Maybe going to Taiwan is just the beginning. I hope that more doors open up. I don’t think that this is just a phase. I think it’s a growing appreciation for my birth culture, an opportunity to explore it and expand my identity. So, I may come off a little obsessed, but it really is a whole new world.

international adoption

As I consider how things have progressed regarding my adoption search, I realize that for over half of my life I believed that I was of a certain race, but have come to discover that I am of another. I have felt all kinds of things as a result including surprise, confusion, frustration, and bewilderment all at once. Growing up as an Asian-American adoptee was often like stumbling through a maze blind-folded. I’m pretty sure that we all ask, “who am I?” at some point in our lives. For international and transracial adoptees, it is even more complicated as adoptees attempt to navigate two cultures and manage feeling “othered” by peers and sometimes family members. My parents told me at a young age, I don’t remember when, that I was part Vietnamese and part Japanese. I wish that I could recall when they told me; nevertheless, I had no reason to doubt them. With the discovery of my original adoption contract, however, which was buried in a box in my parent’s attic, I learned something entirely different. Prior to having my papers properly translated, a Taiwanese adoption social worker, who was guiding me through the process of my adoption search, led me to believe that my birthparents were Taiwanese. It made sense because I was born in Taiwan. Later, through the translation, I learned that both my birthparents were from Guangxi, China, an exact province notated in the document. It is difficult to argue with hard evidence, so naturally I now assume that I am Chinese. Imagine my surprise each time I learned some new fact about my culture of origin. Unfortunately, neither of my adoptive parents are alive to explain all of the discrepancies.

I say all of this because I have come to a conviction about transracial adoption. Those who plan to adopt a child or children from another country must be educated in how to help their child develop an appropriate sense of cultural and racial identity, which shapes an overall sense of self. It is not enough for a parent to just love their child or preach colorblindness. I am proof of that. My parents loved me without a doubt and provided for me physically and materially as any good and loving parent should. But, what they were not prepared for was coping with issues of color, race, ethnicity, racism, and discrimination. They were not prepared to address the social and emotional needs of a daughter who looked different, not only from them, but from everyone else around her. This was doubly compounded by the fact that we lived in the deep South where prejudice and racism continue to exist. I am sure that they also never confronted whatever prejudices, or beliefs they personally held themselves. When my parents adopted me, I was automatically acculturated into a white society, shut off from my birth culture. My parents did not know how that would impact me growing up. Because the adoption took place in Taiwan, they did not have the opportunity to be made aware of the importance of educating themselves properly to address such issues as the development of ethnic and racial identity, or racial discrimination. They did not talk about my birth heritage nor encourage me to investigate, but rather minimized my race and ethnicity due to this lack of awareness. The closest I came in contact with any Asian culture while growing up was eating out at the local Chinese food restaurant.

I think about how things could have been different had my parents been more prepared for issues of race and identity. Would I have been more willing to embrace my ethnicity? For many years, I downplayed it and tried to fit into the “whiteness” all around me never quite feeling like I was good enough or fit into the social norm. It deeply affected my sense of self and led me to do things that I might not have done had I possessed a stronger sense of self. Would there have been less tension and strife in my family, especially during my teen years?

I strongly believe that those who intend to adopt children from abroad must be made aware of the unique challenges that surround raising a child of another culture, especially if the adoption originates in the U.S. Adoptive parents must consider the challenges that will confront their child regarding ethnicity and race, and considerations should be made regarding how to impart coping skills and how to facilitate open discussions with their child to address issues such as racial discrimination, racial teasing, and microaggressions. It is the adoptive parents’ responsibility to also ensure that their child is given opportunities to learn about his/her birth culture beginning at an early age. Otherwise, an injustice is imposed on the children of transracial adoption whether they are aware of it or not. I don’t fault my parents for what they did not know. I do hope to share from my own experiences what I’ve learned about cross-cultural adoption with others and hope that it can make a difference.

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.

my childhood home

I got the call from the realtor this morning as I drove up I-17 to Phoenix. My parent’s home will finally be listed for sale this Saturday. The realtor and I exchanged a few words, shared a few laughs then hung up. Since 2008, the succession of my parents’ home has been caught up in complicated family issues. Part of me feels relieved that we’ve finally reached this point, and yet another part of me feels a great sense of loss. There’s just something about saying good-bye to the house you grew up in when there are so many memories attached. It was a small brown and white house in a subdivision called, Sun City. The streets were named after planets and most families in the neighborhood at that time were military ones. Everyone knew each other, and it felt like a real community.

I remember the first time we visited the home. My parents were so excited about purchasing a brand new house after having lived on the military base at Barksdale for some time. It must have been around 1971 – Brady Bunch era – and homes were still being constructed in the subdivision. I remember wiggling my toes through the lime green shag carpet and turning cartwheels in the wide-open space of the family room. Out back, there was a patio and yard large enough to fit a swimming pool and swing set. The family room walls were wood-paneled, and the marbled formica countertops in the kitchen matched the lime green carpet. Not real stylish by today’s standards. Down the long hallway were three bedrooms. It wasn’t a very big house, but big enough for a family of three and house pets.

After settling in, my parents had a swimming pool built in the backyard. The sound of drills and other motorized equipment woke me up in the mornings, and I’d stand on my bed to peer out the window inspecting the daily progress. It was like waiting for Christmas, and I eagerly anticipated the day that I could finally go swimming. When, at last, that day arrived, I got into the poo and fearfully clung to the edge for weeks. My mom immediately signed me up for swim lessons at the local YMCA, which fixed my fear of water pretty quick. Soon I was swimming like a little fish. My dad used to throw me up in the air like a cannonball while Mom lounged and watched us from a fold up lawn chair, the kind that left crisscrosses on the backs of your legs. In addition to swimming, I also spent a lot of evenings playing in the front yard with all the other kids from the neighborhood when it was still safe to do so. We’d play swing the statue, red rover, and red light/green light until the sun began to fade and our moms called us back in for the night. What good times those were!

My dad loved gardening and planted a large garden full of vegetables in the backyard behind the pool. We had fresh cucumbers, okra, tomatoes and zucchini. My mom liked to make homemade ice cream with fresh peaches. I’d watch her pour the rock salt into the ice cream machine and then peer through the plastic top as the mixing arm swirled the ice cream  around. In the mornings, I got used to waking up to the rumble of B-52’s revving up their engines at Barksdale Air Force Base. It grew to be a comfort. I walked to Sun City Elementary School every morning and back home every afternoon with my niece or a friend unless it was too rainy or cold outside.

My parents owned that house for 37 years. The next time I visit Louisiana, the house will belong to a new owner. For memory’s sake, I’ll take a spin down Pluto Drive just to check it out. I’ve heard that childhood homes don’t hold up to the memory once it passes on to new homeowners. Strangers remodel, the appearance changes, and the warm feelings you’d expect to emerge somehow don’t. Hmm…I wonder? In any case, I spent most of my childhood in that old house. I don’t think I could ever forget that.

my adoptive father

Flight Training Wendover, UT Photo Courtesy of Steve Whitby

Flight Training Wendover, UT Photo Courtesy of Steve Whitby

On an impulse last November 11th, I took my daughter and a friend to the Arizona Wing of the Commemorative Air Force Museum in Mesa, also known as Falcon Field. It was, after all, Veterans Day, and I just felt like doing something in memory of my dad. I knew he had a long career in the Air Force and flew a B-something or other during World War II, but didn’t know much else. My dad wasn’t much of a talker; he rarely spoke of the war and only if you asked him. Dad was a tall and slender man, patient, quick with a smile and loved sharing jokes. He was also easy-going and cool headed by nature. Those qualities were probably what made him such a good pilot during all those bombing missions across Europe. I felt closer to my dad than my adoptive mother because of his calm nature, even though we didn’t talk a whole lot. Though he may not have expressed many of his thoughts, I believe he was deep thinker. I worried about him often as a kid —- his age and health. My adoptive parents were older when they adopted me. Would he be around when I became a teenager, an adult? I kept all of these worries to myself though. What Dad didn’t express in words, he showed through giving me things, things that he thought would make me happy. On my 16th birthday, he surprised me with a car, a little tan Ford Mustang sedan. I loved it. One Christmas, he got me my own phone with my own phone number. It sat on my bedstand,  a green landline with the curly cord and push buttons. Mom told me that he was so proud of getting that phone.

I though about Dad all morning as we rushed to get ready to go to the museum. I didn’t want to miss the landing of a B-17 Flying Fortress called Sentimental Journey, which was on tour across the U.S. Unfortunately, the plane had already landed by the time we got there, but we were able to take a tour inside the plane. This was the closes I’d ever been to an actual World War II aircraft and, in a way, I felt connected to my dad. I was amazed at how confining the inside of the plane was – not too comfortable and very hard to walk around in. The ball turret located under the belly of the plane was an even smaller space. A gunner would sit in this tiny cramped space during combat missions. I imagined what it would have been like in freezing cold high altitude, shooting at the enemy in such tight quarters. Yikes! We continued to look at all the other military aircraft displayed in the hanger. It was an especially meaningful trip to me, as my dad never talked about his military past.

Dad on L, Hugh Caroll, Pilot on R, Photo Courtesy of Steve Whitby

Dad on L, Hugh Caroll, Pilot on R, Photo Courtesy of Steve Whitby

Later that evening, I got online to search, like many times before, for any information about my dad’s military history. Surprisingly, I stumbled across a link containing Dad’s name, Wendell Robert Buck. I immediately clicked on the link, which opened up to a Flickr page where dozens of his photos were displayed from World War II! I was stunned and, at the same time, elated to see so many pictures of my dad as a young man. In many of the pictures he was with others who appeared to be members of his flight crew. I had never seen such pictures before in my life. I went through each one wondering who the other guys were and wondering even more who posted the pictures. I found an email address and sent off a message to the poster inquiring about his connection to the pictures. Edward Valachovic, as it turns out, just happened to be the son of one of the crew members in most of the pictures, the bombardier. His dad, Paul Valachovic, and my dad were apparently very good friends during the war. Most of the pictures were taken in Europe where the crew was stationed at Halesworth, England. Later, I was to learn that Dad was a 2nd Lt. and co-pilot of their B-24 Liberator, which the pilot of the aircraft affectionately named “Rebel Gal.” He was a southern boy from North Carolina, and I thought what a cool name that was for a plane. I noticed a large painting on the side of the plane next to the name, “Rebel Gal,” and came to learn that it was called nose art. The crew flew together with the 489th Bomb Group, 845th Bomb Squadron, 8th Air Force during the European Theatre, January 1944 – August 1944 in 32 combat missions.

Edward referred me to a man who had conducted extensive research on my dad’s service during World War II. I could hardly wait to contact this person and had no idea who he was. He and Edward had corresponded on different occasions exchanging information about the crew of Rebel Gal. Little did I know that this person was a distant relative, Steve Whitby; his mom, Tarri, was my dad’s first cousin. Apparently, Tarri and my dad grew up together in Santa Rosa, California. Once I got in touch with Steve, there was so much to talk about! Steve’s mom had asked him to find out about Dad and his military service after my dad’s death. Steve had provided Edward with the pictures he posted on his Flickr page. Steve was also able to get a hold of of the bombardier’s (Paul Valachovic’s) personal diary during the war and had numerous pictures of my dad during WWII and his training before the war, pictures I’d never seen before. Through Paul’s diary and obtaining Dad’s military service records, he pieced together the story of my dad’s military history, including where he attended flight training and the kinds of planes Dad learned to fly in. Edward, meantime, encouraged me to call his Dad, Paul, who currently lives in upstate New York. What a dear, sweet man! Although his memory was a little patchy, he remembered my dad right away and told me what good buddies they had been. He told me of one particular mission where the crew was flying through some very heavy flak when a piece of shrapnel came through their plane missing my dad’s foot by inches. He laughed and said Dad promised to start going to church with him right after that! Steve continued to send me more pictures of dad during World War II and of his childhood on the farm where he was raised in Santa Rosa. Suddenly many of the missing pieces of my dad’s military history I’d been searching for through the years came together.

Crew of Rebel Gal, Dad kneeling in center, photo courtesy of Steve Whitby

Crew of Rebel Gal, Dad kneeling in center, photo courtesy of Steve Whitby

In December 2009 right before Christmas, my family and I headed to Hemet, California where my distant relative, Steve, lives. We stayed with him for an entire weekend looking at old pictures of his mom, Tarri, and my dad and their families together as kids on the farm. Steve gave me a copy of the booklet he put together on my dad. It was more than I could have asked for. The entries from Paul’s diary described the many combat missions the original crew of Rebel Gal flew. This crew and the other crews who flew Rebel Gal later were a very lucky bunch of men. Steve told me that none of the crews who flew her were killed.

I’ve learned so much about my dad over the last several months. In addition to the booklet, Steve also compiled a CD of numerous pictures of Dad and his family. He also got a hold of an 8 mm film Paul had taken during their flight training and reformatted it to CD. The film was dated 1944. What struck me as I watched the CD was how young these men were and how affectionately they goofed around with each other. It was amazing to see my dad in that footage and to witness a time in his life that I knew so little about.

After the war, Dad was recalled back to military service to fly in the Berlin Airlift where he was stationed at Weisbaden AFB. He flew C-54’s from 1948 – 1949 as a pilot transporting much needed food and goods to the starving people of Germany after the war. According to Steve, this was the crowning glory of Dad’s military service, something he was very proud of. Both of my adoptive parents had big and generous hearts. When the airlift ended, Dad decided to stay in the Air Force. He later flew B-29s, B-47s and B-52’s until an aneurysm almost took his life in 1963. Unfortunately, he was never able to fly again after suffering the aneurysm due to physical disability. I know that must have been utterly devastating for my dad because he LOVED to fly. I understand now so clearly why he took me to see the Thunderbirds fly every year at Barksdale Air Force base. He absolutely loved to watch all of those aerial acrobatics. I used to cover my ears in fright as the jets sped overhead, the sound of their engines roaring thunderously through the sky!

Dad receiving Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC) August 1944. Photo courtesy of Steve Whitby.

Dad receiving Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC) August 1944. Photo courtesy of Steve Whitby.

After his tour of duty, Dad received the Distinguished Flying Cross and was cited for his “skill, coolness and courage in combat flight against enemy opposition.” He saved all of his medals and ribbons from the war and the Berlin Airlift in a shadowbox that was prominently displayed in our family room. Dad never bragged or talked about what he’d accomplished. I never knew that my dad was such a hero during World War II. I’m thankful to Steve for providing so much of what I didn’t know about his military history. How I wish I could talk to my dad about all that he did. If he were here now, I’d tell him how very proud I am of him.