Where I Came From
Posted on February 17, 2011
At Baptist Hospital, in the heart of the Big Easy, on the same day that Nelson Mandela was celebrating his 31st birthday, a little girl was born. Her name, though not one she would keep for long, was Emily Claire Horn.
Emily didn’t go home from that hospital to a Mama and a Papa and adoring grandparents. In fact, she left accompanied by strangers and went to another place – it was called a home, but wasn’t really one. It was located at 2010 Peniston Street in New Orleans and it was called Sellers Baptist Home.
This was an adoption agency – a place for babies born of unwed mothers or to families who for one reason or another could not care for their child. Emily’s parents, you see, had signed her over to them – to be placed for adoption by a family who wanted, but could not have their own baby.
All Emily was to ever know about the people she came from is written on one typed sheet – information gathered by the home’s social worker. They were very young and not married. It seems Emily was an ‘accident’. It never contained their names and she was never to know them, nor any more about them than was written on that page.
In fact, there were actually laws that prohibited anyone from delving into this and so at the tender age of less than one week, Emily was cut loose from all family ties and out on the world on her own. Of course, there were kindly and well intentioned people who were looking out for her welfare to make sure that the family where she was ‘placed’ was ‘suitable’.
In a town northwest of the Big Easy – one of the oldest in Louisiana, there was a man and woman who were in their thirties. They had no children of their own. They had tried to have them, to be sure, but either miscarriage or stillbirths were the result. They really wanted children, and so they had applied to the ‘home’ to adopt one some time before Emily made her entrance into the world.
When Emily was about three months old, these people adopted her and brought her home to live with them. She was their first child – their only child – the result of years of waiting and hoping. Imagine how they watched over and indulged her. She was also the first grandchild for her only living grandparent, Emily’s new Papa being an only child and Emily’s new Mama’s parents were already deceased.
On that day, Emily’s new parents changed her name and that pretty well severed all ties with what Emily had known of life up until then. Sure, there were visits back to the ‘home’ for different reasons – reunions, etc. – but her new home was with them and in a way, I suppose – that was the end of Emily Claire Horn.
Now, I have to tell you to that her new Mamma and Papa took excellent care of her. She was indulged – probably spoiled. There were reports of her having temper tantrums at an early age in the department store downtown if her Mama would not buy her a new baby doll or the likes.
She was dressed up in frilly clothes, in costumes at Mardi Gras, rode on floats at local festivals and repeatedly had her name in the local newspapers, all before the age of five. She was the mascot of the Garden Club – dressed up in a fancy little dress and hat and gloves and sitting alongside all of the older ladies at their meetings when the newspaper photographer arrived to cover their meeting.
She had dancing lessons, piano lessons and singing lessons. Her Mama taught her to sew, to embroider, to do all of the suitable handcrafts that all genteel ladies occupy their time with. Her Mama also taught her to read by the time she was three. Books and the classical music her mother drummed into her were part of her early life. Her Mama made sure that she knew where to place all the silver on the table and the plates and the glasses and the napkins. She was being rightly trained to be a genteel southern woman.
She endured all of these things. They weren’t her favorites, but her cooperation made her Mama so happy. Her Mama was later to collect dolls of all kinds and that never surprised her because most of her younger life, she felt like she was her Mamma’s best little baby doll to be pampered, kept clean and shown off.
Her favorite things were running outside and getting dirty. She’d play with the hammers and nails and wood in her Papa’s shop. She’d ride with him out on the roads more and more as she got older, looking for sign locations across the state. They might leave early in the morning and not return until the evening just riding the road. Her Papa would be telling her stories, smoking cigars and buying them cheese and crackers at some country store for lunch so they could keep riding.
Most of the children in the neighborhood were older than her and they were boys. She’d play with them outside when her Mama was at club meetings and it was just the maid at home to watch over her. They did outrageous things that she thought were great fun. They built a fort under a tree in the cow pasture across the street and played in that pasture, to the cow’s dislike. Sometimes, if someone got mad at another person, they’d throw cow pies at one another. Her mother would have disinfected every square inch of her if she knew about that game.
Once, she got caught up in some barbed wire coiled up in the grass and the big boys were trying to get her loose. They kept pulling on her leg and pulling on the barbed wire, and all that did was sink it in deeper into her ankle, until he had cut to the bone – but she knew not to cry because that would make them look down on her for being a ‘girl’ and they might not want to let her in on the games anymore. Finally, they got her loose, but the resulting injury was a trip to the doctor for her first stitches.
All during this time, the new parents always taught her to tell folks she was adopted – that she was their ‘chosen’ child and special. She used to hate giving that little speech – it made her feel so forlorn and different, but as she had been taught to oblige, she always delivered it word for word with a big smile on her face.
Looking back, I think this was their way to keep her from being ashamed about being an adopted child of doubtful background. I suppose they were trying to teach her to become immune to the hateful things that some people would say about that – and some have tried, but she, being so well armed with the little speech and hardened heart – she shot them down.
Later in life, one of her childhood friends who had also been adopted as a baby kinda freaked out about it and ran away. That set her to thinking about her ‘real’ Mama and Papa and what was so wrong with her that they would give her away to someone else. That just seemed awful.
Long story short – off and on for years this was to bother her. Sometimes, it made her feel so sad. Other times, she figured that at least she was lucky to have the Mamma and Papa that she did.
Finally, she just gave up caring about this. She figured she made it here and that’s what counted and she surely was not living any deprived life – although there were problems, but that’s another story.
Once she became an adult – then she realized that those people who gave her away – they musta suffered also, and if they didn’t, why the hell with them – right along with any others who tried to give her a hard time about ‘where she came from’. After all, it’s now where or who one comes from – it’s where they are going and who they are becoming that really matters!
Last edited by katie on March 30, 2011, 1:45 pm