Friday, July 25, 2008

Bound By Flora

“I wasn’t expecting a white baby,” she said.
“No one told me the baby was white.
It’s not that I minded.
I was just so startled by it at first.
The social worker later told me she wished I could have
seen the look on my face when the baby arrived.”

Ms. Jewel is an African American woman in her late sixties that just retired from The Mayor and The Rooster’s daycare center.

She’s the mother of three of her own children as well as the adoptive mother of four children that originally came to her as foster children.

Sometimes when daycare is closed (as it is this week) Ms. Jewel comes and cares for The Mayor and The Rooster so K and I can carry on with our normal work week.

Yesterday at the end of the day, the kids were having the time of their lives hiding under an empty, five-dollar kiddie pool from Target while Ms. Jewel and I sat rocking on the front porch.

We were chatting about the daycare center.

“What’s it like to work for Ms. Light?” I asked.

Ms. Light, a white woman, is the center director.

“She and I have been through so much that we’re able to have our fights and carry on." Ms. Jewel said. "We go way back. ”

[Ms. Light didn’t speak to me for the entire fall semester because I went a little ballistic about how the television was not a childcare provider. Ms. Light didn’t particularly appreciate my position. I did not feel heard. Ugliness ensued. The television was turned off though. Snap!]

“You know Ms. Light’s eldest daughter, Flora?” Ms. Jewel asked me.

I nodded.

I’ve seen Flora around the daycare center since The Mayor was a baby. She’s long and lean, all limbs and joints. Flora wears glasses, has a bazillion freckles and generally seems like both a kooky and kind young girl.

“I had her first,” Ms. Jewel said.

“Had her?” I asked. “What do you mean?”

“I fostered her before Ms. Light adopted her.”

“Really? I knew she was adopted, but I didn’t know you fostered her.”

“I wasn’t expecting a white baby,” she said. “No one told me the baby was white. It’s not that I minded. I was just so startled by it at first. The social worker later told me she wished I could have seen the look on my face when the baby arrived.”

“Flora was only a month old when I got her.” Ms. Jewel told me. “They said she would only be with us for a few weeks.”

“I had never fostered a white child before. Because she was so little and up all night for feedings, my husband, my oldest daughter and I took turns sleeping with her. I don’t think she ever slept in a crib. She was always curled into the side of one of us.”

“I was working at the daycare center even back then,” she told me. “I told Ms. Light that I had to have a spot for the baby and she let Flora in. I’ll never forget the look of surprise on her face when she peered down at Flora and saw that she was white.”

Ms. Jewel told me how attached to Flora she and her family became.

“My extended family was surprised to see us with a white child but we all fell in love with her.”

At eighteen months, Flora was still being fostered by Ms. Jewel.

As we rocked on the porch, Ms. Jewel remembered.

“We had a screened in porch that ran the whole length of the house,” she said. “Back before you had to worry about crime, we used to make pallets and sleep out there. It was cool… nice. You can’t do that now.”

Ms. Jewel rocked.

“I remember Flora sitting on the steps of that porch when the whole family got together… this little white child that we all loved.”

Ms. Jewel turned to face me.

“You know, at the time, it was illegal for blacks to adopt white children.”

I didn’t know, but I quickly did the math. Flora is fourteen, so... Ms. Jewel was talking about 1994.

1994? Really?

Illegal?

“We were really attached to Flora so we had to find her a home. In the end, Ms. Light adopted Flora. Her own firstborn was only thirteen months old, but she took Flora in and adopted her right around her second birthday.”

[Ms. Light? The Ms. Light I yelled at about the television being on that time at daycare?]

“To this day, Flora is part of both of our families. She tells everyone that she has a black family and a white family,” Ms. Jewel told me.

Laughing, she added, “and she always says she had black parents first.”

After Ms. Jewel left, I thought about the way that circumstances of love, need and relative proximity have forever entangled Ms. Jewel and Ms. Light’s families.

An employer and employee bound together through Flora.

It’s amazing how much you can’t tell about people just by looking at them.

49 comments:

Kyla said...

Wow. What a story. I love, love, love hearing stories about people's lives. Those things you might never imagine, those things that make them who they are. The little treasures hidden inside of us all...it's magic.

Jennifer said...

I cannot express how much I love this story. And how beautifully it was told.

Jenifer said...

This story is awesome and you are so right, stories like this run in deep in everyone and rarely do we have the time or opportunity to hear them.

carrie said...

Amazing, and sad. I can't believe she was talking about 1994!

And yes, like the good 'ol cliche, "love sees no color." In this case, that is definitely true.

flutter said...

love is amazing, isn't it?

Julie said...

Wow! I feel like I stepped into "This American Life." I'd love to hear this story from the mouths of the incredible women involved (including yours!).

BlondeMomBlog (Jamie) said...

I do love your stories, this one being no exception. Full of love.

And WOW I can't get over 1994 being that backwards.

mom said...

OMG - I am goosbump prone, but I have goosebumps on both arms, both legs, and my boobs. I never get them on my boobs. That's one powerful post, OTJ...

Bradie said...

OK. You kinda just made me cry. What a gorgeous story. I'm shocked at the time frame though. I was honestly expecting like the fifties or something.

A said...

Oh, what an incredible story.

But, really? 1994?

fairytalesandmargaritas said...

That is so, so sweet! I work in the "system" that deals with foster/adopt issues. I cannot tell you how many times I've wanted to take these kids home with me. But, I also cannot tell you how many times I knew in my heart that I couldn't foster kids. I couldn't open my heart up to them and then give them back. I just couldn't. It's wonderful that she still has a relationship with Flora.

Beck said...

Stop it! AGGGH! I am already SO pre-mentstrual and now I am BAWLING!
Also: 1994? That is OBSCENE.

Dory said...

*goosebumps*

Barbara said...

Thank you for sharing such a beautiful story, and so beautifully retold.

Lisa Milton said...

1994...That blows my mind.

What a lucky little girl in such an unlucky system, finding herself too families.

Sue at eLuckypacket said...

Oh my! What a WONDERFUL story and what a fortunate girl. And don't you just love it when life turns something inside out for you and shows you a silk lining?!

Omaha Mama said...

This story has me all weepy.

Megan said...

Long time reader, but first time commenter here. I just had to tell you how much I love your writing style. The way to tell stories and tell other people's stories is just amazing. I throughly enjoy your blog and I will continue coming back for more.

Rachael said...

What an amazing and beautiful story. Thanks for sharing it with us!

Defiantmuse said...

I can picture the two of you, rocking on the porch. Beautiful story. It left me homesick for some reason.

slouching mom said...

What a lovely story, J. Truly lovely. Thank you for sharing it with us.

Damselfly said...

I love how you tell this story. No matter what our color, mothers are lovers of children.

we_be_toys said...

So very true.
What an incredible story.

Shannon said...

This sounds like an "Oprah's Book Club" kind of story. I love this story and sad that such a bigoted law was so recently held.

DysFUNctional Mom said...

What a wonderful story. I, too, was shocked that there was still such an archaic law in 1994.
Flora's a lucky girl!

zellmer said...

Lovely, evocative and so beautifully written.

Mimi aka pz5wjj said...

Wow. What wonderful, rich, beautiful people you meet.

What a beautiful story.

Trotsky said...

"It’s amazing how much you can’t tell about people just by looking at them."

Sure - but it's way easier to pre-judge them and be done with it.

(By the way, this was my absolute favorite post of yours since I've been reading.)

(And television is NOT a babysitter. PlayStation is.)

Patience said...

What a love story!! Flora must be the most fortunate child to have been loved like that!

QT said...

Wow - this was great, Jess. I, too, am in disbelief over the time period.

Shannon said...

Okay - now THAT is a story. A great one! Thank you for telling it. Oh, and even if she is a noble and loving human being - good for you for cutting that television off.

Eloise said...

I love that story!

I'm new to your blog - found you through Bossy - but I'm enjoying it a lot.

kittenpie said...

That is one of the most beautiful stories I've ever heard. I'm so glad you wrote it down.

Waiting Amy said...

Indeed, what a lovely story and well told. J, you know the most amazing people. Although I think we all probably do, we just don't realize it.

Thanks for sharing this one.

K said...

Oh, please call up "This I Believe" at NPR and tell them this story. It is beautiful. The world should know this story!

Carroll said...

Here from Bossy's place, and wow, what a start to discovering your blog! Bookmarked you are, and rummaging through your archives I soon shall be. Such a beautiful story.

tj said...

...Hello, happened over here via Bossy's place and I fell in love with this story. It is perfect! And even as late as 1994 our society was/is still so backwards! (*sigh*)

...Thanks for sharing this! So glad I happened over here, I will def' return... :o)

...Blessings... :o)

All Adither said...

1994 or 1954? Crazy!

Jan said...

Wonderful story, and your telling of it is perfect. This could be the start of a novel. Hint, hint.

Vodka Mom said...

When my daughter was in middle school, she came home from school and told me that when the science teacher asked if anyone was adopted, she raised her hand. This connects to your story ONLY because she made up this story about how her REAL mother is a tall beautiful black woman who lives in the south of France. I BUSTED out laughing, and walked away. ( I'm thinking of giving her the DNA testing sheet for her birthday.)

Jenn said...

Beautiful story, thanks for sharing...came by your way via Bossy.

b*babbler said...

What an amazing story.

And holy crap - 1994? Eesh!

Maureen said...

Love your writing... and yes, we are all books infintely more complex than our covers lead others to believe.

Magpie said...

totally awesome story. heartwarming, too.

BOSSY said...

The little tidbits and surprises in life make Bossy want to wake up early each morning.

Little Nut Tree said...

I really thought that was just the most beautiful post.

It brought me to think about timeless old films, my nana .... all sorts of things.

Loved it.

Hetha said...

I so enjoyed reading this, thanks for sharing!

Redneck Mommy said...

Flora is a lucky, lucky girl.

Beautifully told, my friend. Ms. Jewel and Ms. Light would be delighted.

Celeste said...

Now that makes my heart warm and my eyes wet.