By the mid-1970s my family was settling in to a new life in Birmingham and it seemed like my country was settling in to a new life as well, one that seemed sincerely interested in using reason and compassion to fix the errors of the past. Progress had been made on ending racial and gender discrimination, and more progress was coming. These developments were hailed as Good Things by our leaders and in the press. There were a few people grumbling about the changes in private conversations and letters to the editor, but never in public. It didn't seem important.
School started to become interesting when they decided to start one of those newfangled "gifted" programs. I was ostracized by my peers for reasons I did not understand (high IQ and trauma), classes were deadly dull, and I had stopped paying attention and just sat there reading whatever I had checked out of the library. My reading teacher fought to get me tested for the program even though my grades were poor because I was reading a different book every day. The tests revealed that I was gifted, and I was put into the new class on probation over the strenuous objections of the principal, who apparently thought being bored in his classrooms was somehow inherently immoral.
I learned the two most important things I would learn in elementary school about that time, and oddly enough both of them were taught to me by male military veterans. The first lesson was taught to me by my new gifted-ed teacher, a 50s-era Army veteran who had used his benefits to earn a Master's in Psychology. He taught me that the things which made me look at the world so differently than everyone else and isolated me from my classmates were matters of psychology, not moral failings on my part. They were in the process of being named, studied, and understood. I took a great deal of comfort from this fact. In the lifetimes of my adoptive parents and grandparents these same types of researchers had worked diligently to eradicate so many of the great plagues that had swept over mankind, like smallpox and polio. Surely they would be no less diligent in finding productive ways to deal with depression and anxiety.
The second lesson came from my new P.E. coach, a Vietnam-era Navy veteran who had been stationed in San Francisco and learned about yoga and meditation while he was there. I don't think the school approved of such things, but he would mix in as much yoga and meditation as he could with the soccer and gym hockey. He taught us meditative breathing, and practicing that form of stress relief helped keep me from cracking under the stress.
Meanwhile I was noticing some discrepancies at church. People talked about gender equality in church, but like the Queen's jam in Alice in Wonderland, it was always equality tomorrow, never equality today. Women would be allowed to preach any day now, but somehow never today or any other day on the schedule calendar.
By now I had noticed that most people didn't come to hear the preacher speak in the first place, they came to take part in the activities going on in the Fellowship Hall. These activities were organized by the church ladies. Therefore the big draw at the church was the work of the women, not the work of the all-male clergy. Yet, when the preacher called out the names of the notable members who had helped the church at the beginning of the service and asked them to stand and be recognized he only called on men. After they were honored there would be a general platitude about the "wonderful work done by the ladies of the church", but no women would be named and recognized, and no individual women's work would be held up for commendation.
There were also definite differences between "women's work" and "men's work". Women in the church cooked, cleaned, decorated, organized events, and took care of children. Men in the church wrote and administrated. Even at that age I knew that my God-given gift was writing. There was no place for a women writer at my church, even with a gift coming from God. God had not seen fit to gift me with any talent at all for cleaning, decorating , organizing or anything else which women were allowed to do. In fifty years I have picked up some skills along those lines, but nothing that will ever approach my ability to string words together. So if God truly meant for men and women to occupy different spheres, why had He given me a gift that did not fit in with my gender? It didn't make any sense. Either God had made a mistake, or the church had. The latter seemed far more likely.
Meanwhile our preacher was getting ready to retire. A new minister had been found by the steering committee, and exciting new things were being planned by the church organizers. Maybe it would finally be the day for that equality jam.
I had a lot to learn.
The new computer can handle Minecraft. We have Minecraft, which means there is an 8 year-old breathing down your neck whenever you try to use said new computer.
My eldest is taking college courses. Eeep! OTOH, the girls are finally old enough for shows like Mad Men.
Greg Berlanti is making halfway decent television. Yay!
And since I don't have Netflix, can someone explain to me why we're all stuck in an update of The Orange Buffoon in the High Castle? Yeah, didn't think so.
More to come.
A teacher in my husband's department died at the start of the spring semester, and the subsequent extra work load led to him being very overworked this year.
Owl has started piano lessons. He may have the best ears in the family for identifying notes. Unfortunately our piano teacher seems to have retired on us.
I tried to be a laid-back Mom and let them set their own pace, but they did nothing and then complained about not being able to sleep at night while they dragged themselves around all day. This spring I kicked them out of bed for morning exercises and meditation. They're sleeping better as a result. But now that schedule has to be readjusted for morning class at the college.
After watching various local classes and fitness opportunities crash and burn over the years, I was shocked to find a tiny Shotokan karate class that had been going on for six months in a neighboring town. The children and I signed up, and I am verypleased with it. The teacher, whose kids are also in the class, is great with the children, who are all local homeschoolers. It's wonderful to have someone else tell my kids what to do for a change.
Shotokan karate: in the early 20th Century schoolteacher and karate instructor Ginchin Funakoshi stripped karate down to something that could be taught to young children in a grade school classroom. In the process he also made it very easy for non-athletic adults to pick it up as well. It didn't catch on in Japanese schools the way he hoped it would, but it caught on like wildfire in the rest of the world. The teaching style is meant to reward and encourage youngsters, and it does a pretty good job with anxious grownups as well.
The karate proved helpful with Brighteyes in a most unexpected way. When we started lessons I told my kids that learning martial arts had been on my "to-do" list for a long time, and this was the first opportunity I had had in a long time. As the date for the ACT got nearer, Brighteyes became more and more agitated, until she exploded and accused me of trying to live vicariously through her, expecting her to do all the things I had not had a chance to do. I told her I wanted no such thing. While I had put my other plans on hold to homeschool them, now that they were old enough to start seeing to themselves I was beginning to pursue those plans once again. I didn't want her to pursue my dreams, I wanted her to get out of my way so I could pursue my dreams. Surprisingly, this statement actually calmed her down quite a bit, and she even became more empathetic afterward.
That's all for now. More later.
Part 1: Recollection, Remembrance, and Discovery
Part 2: That Old Time Liberal Religion
And he tells me I am his own
And the joy we share as we tarry there
None other has ever known.
But church wasn't only the calmest place in my life, it was the most intellectually stimulating. School was deadly dull, and there was no other place around me where people were having interesting, open-ended discussions about life's problems. In the early 70s there were a ton of problems to discuss, and many people were getting all gloomy about them. But not the church, which was a haven of optimism and reason.
When we joined a few months ago, the preacher had welcomed us individually, shook my hand, and told me that if I had any problems I could come see him. When I felt comfortable there, I took him at his word.
I must have just turned eight. My sister and I had been dropped off there for some children's function, and I found the opportunity to speak to the minister alone in the sanctuary. I told him that Mom and Dad were doing things to us that they shouldn't, and, maybe, he could talk to them and make them stop?
The preacher thought for a moment and then asked if my father sang in the choir. Yes, he did. He asked if my mother was the treasurer of the PTA. Yes, she was.
He did not ask why I had requested an intervention.
Then he kindly explained things to me. He explained that since my parents were members of the church in good standing, they couldn't possibly be doing anything wrong, especially not to their own children. If I thought that members of the church in good standing were doing something wrong, there could only be one explanation. Somehow I had become possessed by Satan, and Satan was inside me making me believe lies about my parents that could not possibly be true. Then he prayed to Satan to leave my body and stop plaguing my thoughts with such lies, and sent me on my way.
I was dumbfounded. I may have just turned eight, but even then I knew the only thing I was possessed by was the good sense to realize how ridiculous the preacher sounded. It was without question the single stupidest thing I had ever heard in my life, either in stories or in real life. But if he took it seriously, then that could only mean -- dangerous things. I remember staring at the thumbs of his clasped hands in shock, not daring to look him in the face. Then my mind started to work.
This was a modern, liberal church in the early 1970s and he's threatening me with Satan. I don't think half the congregation even believes in Satan! It's not a serious topic of conversation in or out of sermons. Here people talk about using love to solve real problems, they don't threaten people asking for help with stuff that belongs in old movies. It's like be threatened with leeches or water torture or -- or footbinding or some other bit of antique nonsense.
But if there were even a tiny minority out there who actually believed such things, then I could never, ever tell anyone about my own spiritual experiences. I had never told anyone about tallking to God because I had never met anyone who would have a positive reaction to the news. The negative reactions would fall into two camps, the ones who would want me shipped off to a loony bin and the ones who would want me burned at the stake. Of the two I figured I could talk my way out of the loony bin easier than I could talk my way off a burning stake. I seriously thought the latter camp only existed in old books, but apparently I was wrong.
That hurt. I'd been looking forward to talking to someone about it someday.
Obviously I couldn't talk to any spiritual ministers about anything else going on in my life. And I had made a mistake not waiting until I knew someone long enough for them to trust me before asking them for help. Next time I would wait longer.
That was what went through my concious mind at the time. For over 40 years whenever I consciously remembered it, that is all I thought about, that and the image of the thumbs of his clasped hands. It was not until I finally committed to writing about it after years of dithering that I realized my subconscious had ruminated on it for a long time, and reached conclusions that I did not fully realize were connected to this memory.
In my subconscious I realized other things as well. I realized that my parents could do anything they wanted to my little sister and I and no one would rescue us. According to the preacher, they weren't the only ones. Any "member of the church in good standing" could do anything they wanted to us and if my parents didn't stop them no one would. That meant no one would protect me not only from my father but from any man at church who wanted to abuse me in any way. It meant that the church would attract abusers who wanted to be "members in good standing" for the cover it provided for their abuse.
But it's church, right? There can't be many abusers there. At the time I believed that. I didn't have any evidence of any other abusers -- other than the preacher's disturbing response.
Time would prove me wrong. The evidence would mount. And I would have a hard time feeling safe in a church again.
Meanwhile I had a decision to make. I was being abused at home, and apparently the larger community in the form of the my community's spiritual leader thought that my abuse was the right and proper way of the world. Where did that leave me? At this point there were two things I could believe. Either 1) there was something wrong with me that made people think they could get away with treating me like shit, or 2) the whole damn system was fucked.
I'll take Door #1, Monty.
I can hear the chorus now. "You just wanted to be a special snowflake!" Nothing could be further from the truth. I knew that what distinguished the scapegoat from the rest of the herd was the mark that others placed on it. If I could figure out where the scapegoat's mark was on me, I could wash it off and vanish into the crowd. If #1 was correct, that meant I could someday escape. If #2 was correct I could never escape an entire world that saw all children as suitable playthings for monsters. I originally chose to believe #1 not out of shame, despair, or any perverse pride; but out of a desperate, desperate hope. In time that hope would fade, and despair would take it's place. In even more time I would realize that what I had refused to believe was true. The whole damn system was fucked and no one was doing anything to fix it.
And then I would begin to get angry.
But I was eight and still in the grip of Persephone's cruelest demon, hope.
(It would be 41 years later before my husband pointed out the most disturbing part of that conversation: the preacher did not stutter or fumble his words. To the veteran schoolteacher that meant only one thing -- he'd had plenty of practice on other girls and boys.)
**inserts Galaxy Quest with a flourish**
It's gonna be a good New Year's Eve.
The Hollywood Baby Snatcher: The sinister story of the woman who stole children and sold them to the stars
For 30 years, Georgia Tann made millions selling children. A network of scouts, corrupt judges and politicians helped her steal babies. She also targeted youngsters on their way home from school, promising them ice cream to tempt them away from their homes.
As she watched her baby coughing in her cot in a corner of her tiny apartment, Alma Sipple felt increasingly desperate.
A single mother in Tennessee, she could not afford medical care for ten-month-old Irma. Suddenly, a knock on the door heralded a turn in her fate: there stood a woman with close-cropped grey hair, round wireless glasses and a stern air.
She exuded authority as she explained she was the director of a local orphanage and had come to help. Alma rushed to show the lady her sickly child.
Examining the baby, the woman offered to pass her off as her own at the local hospital in order to obtain free treatment. She warned Alma not to accompany her, explaining: ‘If the nurses know you’re the mother, they’ll charge you.’
Lifting the child from the cot, the woman turned on her heel and disappeared. Two days later, Alma was told her baby had died.
In fact, Irma had been flown to an adoptive home in Ohio. Alma would not see her daughter again for 45 years.
For far from being her savior, the woman who had taken Irma was a baby thief.
For 30 years, Georgia Tann made millions selling children. A network of scouts, corrupt judges and politicians helped her steal babies. She also targeted youngsters on their way home from school, promising them ice cream to tempt them away from their homes.
Legal papers would be signed saying they were abandoned – most would never see their families again.
Now, her story has been revealed in a new book. After painstakingly contacting her surviving victims and a forensic search through the archives, Barbara Bisantz Raymond calculates that Tann sold more than 5,000 children – and killed scores through neglect.
During the time she ran her ‘business’, the infant mortality rate in Memphis was the highest in the country.
Tann molested some of the girls in her care and placed children with paedophiles.
She charged fees to couples desperate to be parents
Some victims were sold as underage farm hands or domestic skivvies. Others were starved, beaten and raped. The lucky ones were sold to wealthy parents, with Hollywood stars, including Lana Turner and Joan Crawford – who adopted twins Cathy and Cynthia – lining up for babies.
Some of the children were featured in magazine articles. A number were placed with families in Britain.
So, who was Georgia Tann and how did she come to ruin so many lives?
Born in Hickory, Mississippi, in 1891, her father, George, was a high court judge and her mother, Beulah, a Southern belle. Inside their lavish house, all was not well.
Tann’s father was an arrogant, domineering womanizer. From an early age, it became clear Georgia was a disappointment to her strait-laced parents.
Big-boned and broad-shouldered, she wore flannel shirts and trousers: unacceptable clothing for a woman at the time. A car accident had left her with a limp.
Social work was one of the few acceptable careers for women of Tann’s class, and despite having no empathy with the vulnerable, she saw it as an escape route from her staid home.
She developed her own theories on society. In eugenic language which would be echoed to infamous effect in Nazi Germany, she described wealthy people as ‘of the higher type’.
After getting a job at the Mississippi Children’s Home-Finding Society, she began to translate her beliefs into action.
At the time, adoption was uncommon in the USA. Tann would change that.
At first, she simply placed orphans for adoption. But soon, she realized she could make money by charging hefty fees to couples desperate to become parents.
Mothers were falsely told their newborn had died
By 1920, exploiting the lack of regulations on adoption and her father’s position as a judge, Tann began placing children she had kidnapped from poor women.
Asleep inside was pregnant Rose, who was young, poor, widowed and suffering from diabetes. Her two-year-old son, Onyx, was playing on the back porch.
Tann lured the sturdy, black-haired, brown-eyed boy into her car. Her father signed legal papers declaring Rose to be an unfit mother and Onyx an abandoned child. He was placed with an adoptive family. Rose engaged a lawyer, but was unable to regain custody.
In 1924, Tann started work at the Tennessee Children’s Home Society, where she turned part-time baby snatching into big business.
‘I can still hear her steps down the hallway. She had big feet and wore black lace-up shoes,’ says a former resident at the children’s home.
‘She always went upstairs to see the babies. There would be masses of them one day. They’d be gone the next.’
Tann acquired the protection of Memphis’s corrupt and all powerful mayor, Edward Hull Crump, and eventually set up her own orphanage, at 1556 Poplar Avenue.
By then, she had met her lesbian partner, Ann Atwood Hollinsworth, who helped Tann ferry babies around the country – as far from their natural parents as possible.
Tann adopted a daughter, June, in 1922. June’s daughter, Vicci, says: ‘Mother said Georgia Tann was a cold fish; she gave her material things, but nothing else. I don’t know why she bothered to adopt her.’
By the Thirties, Tann was charging wealthy couples up to £100,000 in today’s money for babies. So, how did she arrange a steady flow of children she could sell?
In some cases, single parents would drop off their children at nursery – when they came back to collect them, they would be told they had been taken away by welfare officers.
Tann offered accommodation to children whose parents were in trouble and targeted the most beautiful infants she could find, dressing them in lace outfits to meet prospective clients.
Older children would be instructed to ‘sit on that man’s lap and call him daddy’.
Newborns were most in demand. Tann bribed maternity hospital nurses, who falsely told mothers their babies had died.
Irene Green remembers being told her baby was stillborn. ‘But I heard him cry!’ she protested. She asked to see the body, but was told it had been ‘disposed of’. In fact, Georgia’s workers had snatched the child.
Tann would falsify birth certificates
Mary Reed was a typical victim. In 1943, aged 18, she gave birth to a baby boy. She was barely conscious when she was presented with a ‘routine paper’ to sign by a woman dressed in white.
By the time Mary came round and asked for her baby, the child was in New Jersey.
She hired a lawyer but never got her child back. Tann would alter the children’s records and falsify birth certificates to make them more appealing to prospective adopters.
Their mother would be described as ‘the daughter of a doctor’ who had fallen pregnant accidentally, while the father would be ‘a medical student’.
She knocked years off the children’s age, so they appeared precocious – and to stop them being traced.
Some youngsters were accused of disappointing their adoptive families. Joy Barner was told as a teenager by her father: ‘I paid 500 dollars for you – I could have gotten a good hunting dog for a lot less. You come from the lowest scum on earth.’
She later found out she had been stolen in 1925 from a loving family living on a houseboat.
Many of the children were abused. Jim Lambert and his three siblings were taken from their mother by Tann in 1932.
The Chicago couple he was placed with divorced and Jim’s stepmother hung him up from a hook in the basement.
He and his siblings eventually traced their birth mother, only to find she had died. In her Bible, beside the names of her stolen family she had written: ‘The children of a brokenhearted mother. I have no one to love me now.’
He later said: ‘I feel angry, frustrated, as if I was cheated out of a whole lot of life.’
Billy Hale recalled being driven away from his mother, crying, in a limousine, with two women in black.
His loving adoptive parents repeatedly reassured him no such event had occurred.
Through his childhood, he suffered from seemingly motiveless rages. It was only many years later, when he researched his background, that he realised his memory was correct.
He tracked down his mother, Mollie, only to be told by her brother she had died of cancer eight years previously, calling out for her son at the end.
He was told: ‘She looked for you all her life, Bill.’
‘She was a relentless, cold-blooded demon’
By 1935, Tann had placed children in every U.S. state. A social worker who knew her says: ‘She placed with no regard to whether children would be happy in their adoptive homes. She wanted to get her hands on every child she could.’
Among the most disturbing cases are the adoptions by single men of young teenagers – Bisantz Raymond suspects they were paedophiles.
Keen to make more money, Tann began running ‘Georgia’s Christmas Baby Ads’ in the local newspaper under the headline: ‘Want a real, live Christmas present?’
A brilliant publicist, she gave lectures on adoption, arguing that adopted children ‘turn out better’ than birth children, saying: ‘Ours is a selective process. We select the child and we select the home.’
She was lauded in the national Press as ‘the foremost leading light in adoption laws’.
Eleanor Roosevelt sought her counsel regarding child welfare, and President Truman invited her to his inauguration.
But by 1940, alerted by the rising infant mortality rate in the city, some people were on to Tann.
‘She was a relentless, cold-blooded demon,’ says a paediatrician who tried to curb her. ‘She got bigger and bigger the more power she had. She was pompous and self-important, riding around in a Cadillac driven by a uniformed chauffeur. She terrorised everyone.’
By 1950, officials began a long-overdue investigation into Tann’s business. State investigator Robert Taylor reported the horror of what had taken place at Tann’s orphanage, saying: ‘Her babies died like flies.’
Infants were kept in appalling conditions in suffocating heat. Some were sedated until they could be sold. Many were ill. Some were sexually abused – Tann preyed on young girls and a male caretaker would take little boys into the woods.
A news reporter believed he saw a body being buried in the garden.
In 1945, a bout of dysentery caused the deaths of between 40 and 50 children in less than four months.
The damage suffered at Tann’s hands could never be undone
The net was closing, but Tann would evade justice. Three days before her death due to cancer, the governor of Tennessee revealed at a press conference that Tann was not the ‘angel of adoption’ she claimed to be.
He did not mention the grieving parents or dead babies, but focused on the illegal profits she had made while receiving state funding.
Conveniently for the corrupt politicians who had collaborated in her black market baby trade, Tann was too sick to be questioned about her crimes. She died in her four-poster bed at 4.20am on September 15, 1950.
What became of her victims? Many never saw their families again – after Tann’s crimes came to light, there was no attempt to return children to their rightful homes.
They were granted rights to their birth certificates and adoption records only in 1995, after a long battle. A small number were reunited with their birth mothers, but the damage they had suffered at Tann’s hands could never be undone.
Forty-five years after Tann had walked into her apartment, Alma Sipple finally found Irma, but they were unable to form a lasting relationship.
‘Only someone who has lost a child this way can know how horrible it is,’ says Alma. ‘There’s a hole in my heart that will never be filled.’