“Send a Little Love”

There was a stretch of a few years when I was writing my memoir and also selling my handmade greeting cards in my Etsy shop. Etsy was founded in Brooklyn, NY in 2005 and defines itself on Etsy.com as “an e-commerce website focused on handmade or vintage items and craft supplies.” I named my shop, Custom Cards by Bonnie–my motto was, Send a Little Love.

My mother-in-law was the original family card gal. On birthdays, Valentine’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day, Easter and Christmas, cards arrived from Gram. She signed Love, Ma or Love, Gram or eventually Love, Great Gram, always followed by two little music notes. In the last couple of years of her life, I often made the cards for her. As you can imagine, Gram, I always called her Gram, loved to receive cards from all of us in the family. She would display them on the fireplace mantel and just about every other surface in her house! Cards were very important to Gram, and she was excited to learn about my shop– always encouraging me. When we visited, Gram and I would check out the newest cards in Custom Cards by Bonnie on my laptop.

We lived in Riverhead on Long Island for a few years. Our home was close to the post office where I frequently mailed out card orders. One of the postal workers, Mike, became a favorite customer of mine. He routinely asked me to make cards for his wife—Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, and her birthday. He ordered cards from himself, as well as from their little children. Mike always gave me quick, short hints of what he wanted. I loved customizing his cards.

It wasn’t long before I made the decision to close up the Etsy shop and focus on my memoir. Technically, Custom Cards by Bonnie is on a vacation! Maybe someday I’ll reopen it. If you follow this blog, you’ve seen a few of my cards. The goal of the shop, Send a Little Love, is similar to my dream that Young Love, An Adoptee’s Memoir will provide support and encouragement to others searching for family.

Here are photos of a couple of the cards I made for Mike at the post office and for my Etsy shop, Custom Cards by Bonnie.

From Mike’s son, and btw–Mike’s wife loves dragonflies!
Paper punched lace hearts–From Mike to his wife
Paper punched butterfly–“Thinking of You” Etsy card
Handmade card with Japanese Rice Paper for Etsy shop
Graduation Card on Etsy

A Surprise Bonfire

It’s summer and the entire country is experiencing a heatwave. An image and a memory from my childhood pops into my head. In my Father’s Day post on June 11th, I talked about our summer cottage on Curran’s Lake, located about 50 miles from our home in Ste-Anne-de-Bellevue, Quebec. My brother, sister, and I loved to play outside, especially on hot sunny days, and then swim in the lake to cool off.

Dad was always collecting dead brush around the cottage. He would build up a pile down by the lake. When he was satisfied that it was big enough, we’d have a bonfire. Bonfires were always a treat. Dad would whittle a stick for each of us and we would roast marshmallows. Everyone had a different technique and taste for the doneness! I liked to char it, layer by layer.

Another treat at the cottage was company! Grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins added fun and excitement to our routines. Dad’s younger brother, our Uncle Tom, and his wife, Aunt Kay, were delightful company. Where Dad was the more serious type, Uncle Tom was hilarious and Aunt Kay’s laugh was truly infectious! Mom would laugh along with Aunt Kay—I can still hear them today.

Uncle Tom, Aunt Kay and a bonfire! Whoa, now that’s a memory! After roasting marshmallows, Dad decided it was time to burn our old red wooden canoe. We had a new canoe, and he wanted to get rid of the old one. His plan was to position one end of the canoe over the bonfire and move it along slowly, burning a few feet at a time. Uncle Tom helped lift the canoe onto the fire.

I remember the excitement as we all watched Dad’s ingenious strategy unfold. However, suddenly, his strategy took an unexpected turn. Flames moved down the canoe, slowly at first, and then with a wild WOOOOOOOSH from the inside to the outside, the entire canoe was engulfed in flames. We all jumped back—stunned, but no one was hurt. Apparently, the canoe wasn’t just made of wood–the tar used to seal and protect the wood was highly flammable. After the fire died down, Dad and Uncle Tom doused it with pails of water from the lake.

It’s fun to recollect and record precious memories. I hope you are enjoying your summer and have plenty of strategies to keep cool!

Handmade Greeting Card

If Everything is Fine, Why Search?

Every day I read accounts of searches and reunions in Facebook closed groups: DNA Detectives and DD Social. I am particularly drawn to stories that are similar to my own. For example, many adoptees accept their adoption—their parents provided them with love and stability. They have careers and harbor no regrets about being adopted. However, they may also have a curiosity about their original identity that won’t leave them alone!

My parents were my mom and dad. They were the ones who took care of me through high fevers and two bouts of the mumps, happy times and sad times. Mom and I chatted every day–I always knew she was there for me. My search for my birthparents didn’t even begin until well after I had moved out of my parents’ home, gotten married, and had children. As I have often said, I am not searching for another family.

Well then, if everything is fine, why search? During my search, I was determined to find my birth parents and learn about my heritage. AncestryDNA provided me with an “ethnicity estimate.” By searching, I learned the details behind their estimate.

Names and the words we use to identify people can be confusing, especially for folks who are not familiar with adoption. In this blog and in my memoir, I reserve mom and dad for the parents who raised me. Birthmother or mother, birthfather or father refer to my biological parents. Furthermore, in the first draft of the memoir, I capitalized my Mom and my Dad until the editor said, “When mom and dad follow ‘my,’ they should not be capitalized.” I felt Mom and Dad deserved to be capitalized all the time! But eventually, I decided to obey the rule.

Mom and Dad were my parents. My birthparents and I, had we met, would have been complete strangers. I like to think we would have gotten along well and developed close relationships. After all, without them, I would not exist. Therefore, they mean a lot to me. However, we still would have had to get acquainted with one another. It might have felt like we were related, but not as parent and child–I believe that in time, I would have called them by their first names. Unfortunately, closed adoption laws kept us apart for so long that those opportunities slipped away.

I found a photo of my mom and dad that I want to share with you. It was taken at our wedding reception in January 1970. I love their smiles!

Mom and Dad
January 1970

My Story

Initially, I wanted to log the events that occurred in my search for the identity of my birthparents. I saved all my notes and correspondences. My search began in 1983–five years later, I learned the identity of my birthmother. A dear cousin asked if I would write about my search because she was doing a school project on adoption. With my notes and all, I wrote a diary for her–I call it my First Memoir.

During my long search for my birthfather, I resumed writing. But this time, I started at the very beginning. Young Love, An Adoptee’s Memoir describes the circumstances leading up to my adoption. It covers my childhood and young adulthood prior to the search for my original identity. As I began to recognize patterns of cause and effect, I knew that my early years were an important part of the story. I am reminded of an adoption agent in Montreal who said to me one day, “You are looking for your story.” And my search angel, Vicki, who said, “Tell your story, Bonnie.”

Last week, I wrote about becoming a United States citizen. Twice in my childhood, we moved from Canada to the United States. We spent a year in Baltimore when my dad was a visiting professor at Johns Hopkins University. Two years later, we moved permanently to Amherst, Massachusetts, again for Dad’s work. Without a doubt, the effect of these moves was significant for each of us.

Are you ready for a challenge? As a result of the moves, I never went to 5th grade, I went to 6th grade twice, I never went to 8th grade, and I graduated at 17. My sister never went to 6th grade, went to 7th grade twice…you get the idea! I will try to explain with the underlying premise. Each time we moved, we were placed in the grade that was the number of years from graduation in Quebec. High school graduation in Quebec is after 11th grade, not 12th grade, as in the United States.

When we moved to Baltimore for a year, I went from 4th grade, which is 7 years from graduation in Quebec, to 6th grade which still put me 7 years from graduation. I joined my friends back in Quebec for 6th grade and 7th grade. The same thing happened in Massachusetts. I was placed in 9th grade. Our move was permanent and so I graduated at 17.

I understand the premise; however, I disagree with it. In my opinion, we should have stayed with our age groups. My 4th grade was delightful—I turned 10 in April. I think I was still climbing trees! Sixth grade in Baltimore was a culture shock! Then from 7th to 9th grade 2 years later was another shocker. My 7th grade had been self-contained. In Amherst, 9th grade was the last year of junior high. My classmates had been there for 2 years already. Suddenly I was trying not to get lost all day long. I remember, I kept leaving my purse in the last class and having to run back for it. Who knew I’d have to carry a purse?

Our adjustments were just that—we adjusted our ways and in the end, we had no regrets. In Baltimore, I met my friend, Katie. We became great buddies. When it was time to line up for lunch, one of us would sneak into the coatroom and then cut in line when the other went by. We were scolded a couple of times! Katie came to visit me for a week in Ste-Anne-de-Bellevue the following summer. We kept up for years.

I have written a few times in this blog about my Amherst years—9th grade through college. I am thrilled that a number of my friends read my blog each week. We have reconnected and it is wonderful! I have long believed that even though one might say I should have been placed in 8th grade, I can’t imagine my life without my Amherst friends and all the fun we had. And so, the various causes and effects throughout my life shape my story. Young Love, An Adoptee’s Memoir starts in the beginning and ends–this year!

Grade 7
I’m second from the left.

Happy 4th of July!

One summer day in 1970, my mom accompanied me on a daytrip to Charlestown, Rhode Island for my interview for a teaching position. Paul and I would be moving there in a few weeks and I was anxious to find a job! While Mom waited for me, she picked up a nickel in the parking lot and held onto it, wishing me good luck in my first job interview.

The superintendent and I got along well and I was thrilled when he offered me the job—5th grade classroom teacher. It never occurred to me that my Canadian citizenship would be a problem–I had been a United States permanent resident since we moved from Ste-Anne-de-Bellevue, Quebec, Canada in 1963. I had a Massachusetts teaching certificate and expected to apply for the Rhode Island certificate. To my surprise and relief, my new superintendent said he would apply for a variance. In other words, he had tried unsuccessfully to find a United States citizen and needed to fill the position. Luckily, it all worked out. When I met Mom outside, she handed me the nickel and congratulated me on a successful interview.

Not only did I feel lucky that day, I soon realized that I might not be so lucky again. Paul and I planned on moving in a couple of years to further his education. I knew I needed to become a United States citizen so that I could continue my career. In September 1971, I applied for citizenship.

I don’t recall taking a written test, but I do recall studying for an interview. There may have been questions about the Bill of Rights. And that was ok. But then I was asked to name my state and local representatives and senators. Oops! I quickly admitted that I couldn’t name them, but that as soon as I become a citizen, I’ll be sure to learn all about them! Somehow, miraculously, the focus in my interview shifted to teaching and I was greatly relieved. My interviewing officer’s daughter was having difficulty in reading. Before I knew it, we were chatting about instructional strategies that might help her.

Shortly after my interview, on October 27, 1971, in a courtroom in Providence, Rhode Island, I became a United States citizen. I received a flag lapel pin, a Certificate of Naturalization, and congratulatory letters from Governor Frank Licht and Senator Claiborne Pell. In addition, I received a very special gift from a friend at my school. She was taking a course in ceramics—a popular hobby in the early 1970s. First, she made a mold of the American flag and then painted it for me. Etched in clay on the back, she wrote, “Here’s to Courage” Nancy “71” It was 48 years ago; I was 22.

Happy 4th of July, Everyone!