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No Mama, I Didn't DieMy Life as a Stolen Baby
By Devereaux R. Bruch
Trafford PublishingCopyright © 2010 Devereaux R. Bruch, born Nell Howell
All right reserved.
Chapter OneLet Me Begin My Story
"If a man will begin with certainties, he shall end in doubts; but if he will be content to begin with doubts he shall end in certainties."
Sir Francis Bacon (1561-1626)
Adoption is an honorable act, but it can be heart wrenching when the infant is surrendered under coercion or false pretenses. For the adopted parents, adoption creates instant parenthood; for the birth parents, it takes enormous courage and love to surrender a baby. Birth mothers often suffer pangs of guilt and sadness as the years tick by. They imagine how their relinquished child is faring ...
This is my story. I am Devy Bruch, born Nell Howell in Tennessee, 1937. As an infant, I was stolen from my mother, Lena Mae Howell just eight hours after she gave birth and sold to a wealthy family through an illegal adoption in the state of Tennessee. Lena was a very young woman at the time and was told that she had given birth to a boy, who had died during delivery. My mother never saw me, nor held me. Many decades later, she went to her grave still suspecting that her baby may have survived. She had heard me cry. She knew in her heart that I could be alive, but she had nowhere to turn.
Prior to the Great Depression, from 1925 and through to 1950, Georgia Tann operated the Tennessee Children's Home Society in Memphis. She began her career by placing babies legitimately in adoptive homes in Tennessee for a fee of $7.50. Quite soon, she realized she could ship babies on a night flight with a nurse to affluent families throughout the country. She cared only about their ability to pay, not if they were suitable parents. Her fees ranged from $1,500 to $2,000 per baby, plus expenses. During this period, the average annual income in the United States was just $1,200 - $2,000.
Georgia Tann's modus operandi was to shelter unwed, pregnant girls or to seek out babies of the poor and promise their families good care and fine schooling. While these women were in the throes of childbirth under sedation, Georgia Tann would have them sign surrender papers. These new mothers thought they were signing permission for her to care for the baby until they could do so themselves, but they were later told their babies had died or were stillborn. Georgia Tann was able to continue this criminal operation for decades with the protection of city officials, judges, police, etc., to whom she gave kickbacks. She accumulated great wealth, but purporting herself as 'just average', lunching daily from a paper bag at her desk.
During Georgia Tann's tenure, she placed over 5,000 babies, most illegally. Dozens of infants died in Georgia Tann's care. Many who were placed in homes experienced physical and sexual abuse. I was one of the lucky ones that survived and received a good home. To the parents who chose to adopt me, my heart is full of gratitude for the wonderful life I was given. To them, I extend my love in abundance.
And to my mother, Lena Mae, I dedicate this story to you. In God's time, one day we will finally meet.
— as told by my oldest daughter, Robin Hunter Bunch
"Like a blind spinner in the sun, I tread my days: I know that all the threads will run appointed ways."
Helen (Fiske) Hunt Jackson
From the time I was a small girl, I always wondered about my mother's real (biological) family. I was often told that I looked like Caroline Kennedy as a girl. I was born the same year as Caroline. I watched her grow through television stories and magazines. This made my head swell with all kinds of thoughts and dreams. Could we be related? You see, when you don't have any answers about your true heritage, anything is possible!
Let me explain why I wondered about my real roots growing up. It started with my fear of my mother's adoptive father, my Granddaddy. He was a difficult man. He had no common sense and always argued about the strangest things. I was always afraid to talk to him for fear of saying the wrong thing and then hearing him raise his voice. This continued into my adulthood. He was very intimidating, especially for a young girl to be around. He was a brilliant man, a chemist. He was so smart, which was why it was difficult to have a normal conversation with him. I think his mind was always filled with formulas and mathematical problems! He did not know how to show emotion (except anger) or love. He treated my mother as a hired hand on the farm while she was growing up. Even though she loved the farm life, she was always trying to prove herself so her father would love her. I admire my mother for growing up seemingly so normal and nice. To his dying day, my mother craved his love and never got it.
Hearing stories while I was young and knowing my mom had been adopted made my mind wander to the most wonderful places. Was I the grand daughter of a Kennedy? Were my real relatives famous or royalty? There is no limit to a young girl's thoughts and dreams. Imagination is a wonderful thing. I often asked my mom if she ever wanted to find her real family. She always said no, she didn't want to 'open a can of worms.' Maybe she thought her real family might be worse than the father she had.
I grew up never having any answers as to my real heritage. I always knew my real Grandfather and Grandmother had to be the nicest people. No one could be like Dr. Rose, my mother's adoptive father. My mom was a nice person; she was nothing like her adoptive family with all their idiosyncrasies. Therefore, I knew my Mom could be wrong in thinking maybe her real family would be like the one she grew up with ... turns out they are opposite. However, we would not know this for many, many years. We went on with our lives and we all grew up.
I again started thinking of my mom's real parents when my sister, Darryl, had her first child. We were wondering about the medical aspect of things. We, of course, had no medical history on my mother's side. I always remember those questions at the doctor's office, "Mother's medical history.... any cancer, tuberculosis, high blood pressure, etc ..." I always put, "Don't know, adopted." Dawson was born and I wondered which side of the family would he look like? If it were Mom's side, we would not know whom he looked like. That was always a sad thing for me. I wondered a lot about whom we looked like and where they were. I knew I had a whole family out there somewhere. Did they know? Were they looking for us?
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"There is nothing like a newborn baby to renew your spirit-"
One cold December day, just before Christmas, a chauffeur driven limousine with a nurse and Georgia Tann delivered me to my new home. The year was 1937 and I was a sickly, five-pound weakling, six weeks of age. I had been delivered to my adoptive parents totally sight unseen, until that knock on the door - "Here is your baby."
I arrived so hungry and tiny that Mother cut the nipples off my bottles so I wouldn't have to suck so hard to get my food. Daddy noted that I had spunk. He immediately recognized that I was precocious, a trait I kept throughout my life. I had the spirit of a survivor, which would serve me well in facing the many challenges that lie ahead.
It must have been a long, arduous drive from Shelby County, Memphis, Tennessee, to this small town coal region in central Pennsylvania, where Daddy was beginning his thirty-six year career with a company then known as Atlas Powder. He was fresh out of Cal Tech, with a prior degree from Harvard. I came to know very little about his business career in the years ahead. He didn't talk about it much in front of me and my brother, six weeks my senior, who had also been adopted, but from another part of the country. I knew that Daddy was a research chemist with a doctorate degree. His work often took him overseas, where he made speeches as a part of the 'Bread Hearings', a team of four who developed the concept of preservatives for bread. I remember him going to Europe or to one of the big American cities to make a speech. Mother rarely went with him.
During the late 40's, Jonas Salk was working on a polio vaccine (I had a mild case as a young child). Atlas Chemical Industries had access to the two components needed for the vaccine, manitol and sorbitol, which were available in Egypt. Dr. Salk came to Atlas and worked with Daddy for three weeks on this project. The first charcoal filter that went into cigarettes was Daddy's invention.
His mind was superior and he seemed to know a little something about everything. He prided himself in making homemade games, puzzles and small inventions. He loved to blow glass and came up with some lovely designs in the laboratory.
My brother and I were known as the two D's, Dennis and Devereaux. For Mother and Daddy, it was like having twins and I'm sure we were a handful, especially for our housekeeper who didn't appreciate the task of potty training us. I vividly remember some of her classic language when we failed to make it to the bathroom in time and she had to clean us up. She was from Poland and had a funny, long name and a thick accent. Denny and I teased her unmercifully. I'm certain Mother often wondered if the nanny would ever live to see us grow up.
Mother was a tall, slim, attractive young woman of twenty-eight when she assumed the role of instant motherhood. Her education rivaled Daddy's, with a degree from Syracuse University, a law degree from Columbia and further studies at George Washington University. She was a refined lady, even through the years of illness that eventually took her life at the age of fifty-eight. She wanted the best for her babies and she got it. Very early in my life, I became keenly aware that my brother, whom I adored, had serious eye problems. Mother took him on the long train ride to Philadelphia twice a week to see the best doctors. From the time he was eighteen months old, he had to wear patches over his eyes and later wore thick glasses.
During this early period, I at times felt left out and became insecure. I felt that my brother was Mother's favorite. Daddy was busy with his career and not outwardly affectionate. The times when he bounced me on his knee and told me nursery rhymes became the special moments I cherished.
From the time Dennis and I could barely sit up, we were repeatedly read a book titled, The Chosen Baby. Adoption was special. We were wanted and loved and we knew it more and more as the years went past. Naturally, we rebelled against discipline, yet we learned to obey and not say bad words - the bar of Fels Naptha Soap was always nearby! Only once did I have my mouth washed out. It was a shameful experience and from then on, I knew that my parents meant what they said.
In later years, I learned Mother's weak spots, so she would bend the rules a little if I had a logical reason for wanting to do something. Daddy was stern and there were times I was afraid of him or his reactions, which were always verbal, never physical. Perhaps I was just in awe of his brilliant mind, but for years I just wanted him to come down to my level and be human, be lovable and help me with my life.
How or why did two different adoption agencies allow my parents to have two babies at once, when they lived in a tiny house in back of railroad tracks, where there was a daily accumulation of soot? As a very little girl, I posed this question to my mother. Her reply was simple, quick, to the point and I never had to wonder again. "They knew your father was going to the top." Plain and simple, n'est c'est pas?
The road upward began shortly. Dennis and I were four years old when the family left the coal region for the thriving metropolis of Wilmington, Delaware. Atlas Powder Company gave Daddy a nice promotion and the remaining years of his career were home-based there. These were happy years for my brother and me. We went to Quaker schools, attended Meetings on Sunday and lived in a neighborhood filled with families with children. We spent part of our winters in Mount Dora, Florida, at Great Aunt Betty's estate and part of our summers at Montressor, her twelve hundred acre dairy farm in Leesburg, Virginia. It was while visiting Aunt Betty that we learned to use finger bowls and were made to sit through two-hour dinners while the butler served us each course. Our most proper manners were always present. Perfecting my curtsey would come in very handy later on, during debutante season in Philadelphia. Great Aunt Betty lived all alone, and I felt her life must have been sad and lonely. I had heard that her husband, the grandson of the founder of one of the country's largest steel companies, had been placed away in a sanatorium years before. And he died there. I have thought of Aunt Betty so often through the years. She brought such joy into my young life.
There were summers that my brother and I were shipped off to Maine to quite fancy camps, and I was homesick. Being only seven, it seemed like an eternity to be away for two months and I forgot what Mother looked like. I was crying when we got off the train in Grand Central Station at the end of that first summer. I was certain I would not find my Mother. I had been so homesick and wondered why I was so alone.
As the years passed, I realized that there was usually a reason for everything Mother and Daddy did. We learned their lessons from experience, even though I thought many were unfair at the time. My parents taught us to be able to stand alone, to save our money, to survive in a tough world. Today, I am deeply grateful to them for those lessons. Dennis and I are now adults, with grown children of our own. For me, the heritage my mother gave me was one of fineness, goodness, love of mankind and humility. I am grateful that I was able to tell her of my love and appreciation for adopting me and shall always cherish her memory.
My father, who is in part the inspiration for my writing, taught me to have goals and follow through with them, to have sensible values, and to love animals. Most importantly, he taught me that "life is tough, kid ... face it and deal with it straight on."
My Early Days in the Coal Regions
"And hie him home, at evening's close, To sweet repast and calm repose." Thomas Gray
We soon moved from our first floor apartment, which had railroad tracks in back. So much soot accumulated from the trains that I asked Mother how in the world she and Father were allowed to adopt two babies living where we did. Mother replied, "They knew your father was on his way up."
Our next home, the Blakey House was a white clapboard with a white picket fence around it. Here I had such happy memories. Once a week, after work, Daddy would take me to the Firehouse, sit me on the bar and drink beer with his buddies and they'd be so nice to me. I had a friend who lived in the woods behind us and we'd play dolls and dress up her puppy in doll clothes. At Christmas, Dennis and I snuck out of bed on Christmas Eve. Sitting at the top of our winding staircase, we saw our parents stuffing stockings and putting out toys. We were sure Santa had gotten sick and was unable to reach our house.
During the War, we had blackouts. When the sirens sounded, black shades went down on all the windows and lights went out. Tamaqua, PA, for a short interlude, became totally blacked out. I thought it all very exciting. At 5 years old, I didn't want to leave my happy existence to move to Delaware, but it was inevitable. Daddy had received a big promotion — Director of Research.
— a New Home in a New State
"The great thing in this world is not so much where you stand, as in what direction you are moving."
Oliver Wendell Holmes (1809-1894)
I adapted well to our new home, but poor Dennis was still having serious eye problems. Mother took him to Philadelphia on the train every week to an eye specialist. He had to wear black patches on his eyes and later, very thick glasses. During this time, I felt that my brother was the favored child, but I grew out of those emotions as I matured. Denny was the cutest boy, a blonde towhead, but more introverted than I.
We moved to a lovely flagstone house in a quiet neighborhood with many children close to our age. There were woods in the back, with a stream and big rocks to climb on. This was a wonderful venue for hide 'n seek; we could go through the woods to visit our friends. I couldn't wait to get home from school so that I could play jacks with my pal, Sara. We became champions and could out-play almost anyone. I was in the same class as Sara at a very nice Quaker school in Wilmington. Having been baptized an Episcopalian in the National Cathedral in Washington, D. C., I had an excellent background for membership in the Religious Society of Friends, known to many as the Quakers.
Excerpted from No Mama, I Didn't Die by Devereaux R. Bruch Copyright © 2010 by Devereaux R. Bruch, born Nell Howell. Excerpted by permission of Trafford Publishing. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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