The largest black market baby selling scandal in American history is forty-five years behind us. So why is it just now getting the massive media coverage it should have gotten on, September 13, 1950, when it was first exposed?
Many forces, primarily negative, suppressed it for their own gain and protection. Thousands of families could have been reunited if the right thing had been done. Politicians who feigned ignorance of the scandal were in essence furthering their own careers on the blood and sweat of thousands of innocent children. Since that time the order of things has been askew. The Tennessee Children's Home Society Scandal wasn't the only scandal, just the largest. How many more scandals are lurking in the dark waiting to be discovered? It is time to put order back in the adoption process.
Unfortunately, conditions have changed little in the forty-five years since the scandal. Children are still at risk, still being treated with indifference to their human rights. From a historical viewpoint, when major advances have been achieved in a particular area, e.g., Civil Rights and Martin Luther King Jr., Susan B. Anthony and the rights of women, Senator Claude Pepper and elderly rights, Dennis Means and Indian rights, a special person who is closely (usually on a personal level) related to that cause, emerges to lead the fight.
The Adoption Reform Movement (ARM) needs such a champion. Someone who has been directly affected by adverse conditions to the point where his entire existence is consumed and devoted toward the betterment of his fellowman. A true altruist.
Many times I have wondered what would have happened if I hadn't been a victim of the Tennessee Children's Home Society Scandal. But if I hadn't, then all of the wonderful things that are occurring now wouldn't have been possible.
I was not brought into this world to become the champion of adoption reform. Or was I? If it turns out that way, I will be proud to carry the mantle of responsibility.
I wrote this book with a plethora of reasons in mind. I have massaged all of these reasons and culled the most important one - I had to. The story revealed is one that can be an example to untold numbers who still suffer from missing their own identities. It is the story of just one of thousands of precious children denied their birthrights.
The "Right to Know Movement" is gaining wider support because, unlike our childhood days, thousands of us are now adults with voices that will not be beaten into submissiveness. The politicians will not turn their backs this time. Without the caring and action of the "Right to Know Movement", I would still be wandering in the wilderness.
Adoption reform is a major issue today. The numerous scandals that have been exposed over the past several decades are unavoidable examples of this nation's callous treatment of her young.
Whether in news reports or in television specials, adoption reform is being fed, in a major way, to Americans. The need is so great, that society is finally being forced to address the issue.
There are numerous pros and cons on the adoption reform issue. My only answer is that God's laws come before man's laws. No man has the right to deny another man what is rightfully his - his family. Demagoguery needs to be permanently retired.
I had a dream and I lived it. I now have new dreams to take the place of those come true. My ultimate dream is that not a single child be put through hell like I was.
I never dreamed that I would write a book. My dreams never went further than finding my family. I had no purpose in life - I do now. Only one element is missing to complete the necessary equation so that the adoption reform movement completes its appointed goal of Leadership.
I have given my respects to many loving people in the text. Ira White deserves a great amount of respect for his patience with me. I stretched his rubber band to the limits and it didn't snap - thanks, Ira.
To my sister, Kathy, I owe the most. She has been the one constant that has kept my universe from falling off of Atlas' shoulders. My sincere appreciation to Connie Daniel for her many hours on her computer proofreading, correcting, and running copies on the printer; and to Clifford Ward for the many hours he spent with me on his computer doing the original printing.
Thanks to all the people at the Modesto Bee, especially Cheri Matthews and Ted Benson. Also deserving my humble appreciation is Lani Nesbit, who's half hour interview on the Post-Newsweek weekly show, "Another Look", helped put further light on a dark chapter in America's history, but also a light on what needs to be done.
I didn't set out in life to be courageous. I did set out to discover the truth. Along the way, courage was my unknown companion. That and the prayers of my family, are what brought about "Tennessee Tears". I hope you, the reader, enjoy reading this miraculous story as much as I enjoyed living it and writing it.
Many thanks to Jeremy Geiger for the artwork on the cover. The backgroud is the State Capital Building in Nashville, Tennessee.
And the child lifted his heart and soul up to God on the wings of his beautiful young voice, needing nothing but God as his audience. And the Lord listened and drew the child to him.
From early childhood, "I'm adopted," became my battle cry. Many children are adopted into loving homes where two people, unable to have their own children, are thrilled to accept a child of God into their family. To them the sound of children laughing and running about is music that has been excluded from their lives. They feel thankful for their adopted children and treat them as if they were the fruits of their own union. This is not so for some of us. It was not so for me.
I can remember how special Sunday evenings were to me when I was very young. "The Wonderful World of Disney" was on television every Sunday evening. Kathy, my fraternal sister, and I would be on the floor like a couple of rug rats while Jon, my adopted brother, sat between John and Doris, my adopted parents, on the couch.
Tinker Bell would splash star dust across the black and white TV screen, Jimminy Cricket would sing "When You Wish Upon A Star," and in a hidden place deep inside me, I wished that some day I could find my real parents. I would think, "What a terrible mistake---I'm not supposed to be here with these mean people." I knew in my heart that God was good and kept asking myself why He had put me here. I was unwanted by my adoptive parents. They told me they loved and wanted me, but their behavior and abusive actions toward me conveyed a different message. They let me know time and time again that I was adopted (You're going back to the orphanage if you don't straighten up!), so I sometimes had the feeling that my real parents didn't want me either. What was wrong with me?
My sister was wanted by our adoptive parents. She had been chosen by them to round out a perfect family: one successful father, one mother to keep the home, a blonde blue-eyed little boy, our adopted brother, and a cute little girl. Then there was me, the proverbial two for one child. I love my sister very much, but I doubt she understands what it is like to feel unwanted as a child. Though some of the cruelty to me also fell on her, despite her being a "wanted child", she never knew about many of the atrocities inflicted on me. In her teen years, sis was served up her own Hell to deal with.
Jon, the "Golden Child", had been adopted as an infant from St. Peter's before my sister and I were. His treatment was special. He was put on a pedestal. I cannot remember his ever being a victim of corporal punished, for any incident of his. I was singled out for the rod, and even my sister had a taste of how it felt, but Jon's body went totally unscathed. He was, however, subject to verbal abuse. I never liked Jon, but I am glad that he was not brutalized. That is something no child should ever have to endure.
John William Bubnes, my adopted father, was born in Edinburgh, Scotland of Lithuanian stock. John was one of several children. I know of three sisters and two brothers.
At an early age his family immigrated to the United States through Ellis Island in New York where the family was asked for their name. The Anglo ears misunderstood them, so the true family name, Urbanas, became Bubnes. God, how I hate that name!
John was a coal miner in Pennsylvania when he met and married Doris Maud Brown. Sometime during their marriage, which lasted thirty eight years, they separated for a period of time. During their separation, Doris took up with a boxer, Harold Dugas. When John and Doris finally divorced in 1968, she moved back to Detroit, Michigan and Harold. This event coincided with my entry into the Air Force.
During World War II, John served as a mess Sergeant. I remember playing with his old army gear as a child. After the war, John, with the help of Doris' parents, opened up a butcher shop and grocery store in Detroit. He worked hard, and by the time I was adopted, he owned a flourishing business.
Doris Maud Brown is now eighty years old. If John were alive, he would be eighty something. John and Doris were about forty when they adopted Kathy, my older sister, and me. I draw your attention to their ages, because in my adult years I have observed people who became grandparents in their mid to late thirties. John and Doris were old enough to be our grandparents when they adopted us. By the time I was ten, they were fifty. Not once do I remember John playing football, baseball or any other game with me.
Doris, my adopted mother, was an only child. Her parents were from England. They were exceptionally nice people who treated me with more respect and dignity than their daughter and son-in-law. Wherever you are Grandma and Grandpa, I love you and thank you.
Physically, Doris was a beautiful woman. John used to tell me how she was so slender when young that he could put his hands around her waist. By the end of their marriage, I think they would both like to have put their hands around each other's necks.
Kathy, my fraternal sister, was born June 4, 1948 in Bluefield, West Virginia. I have never met an individual who surpasses her compassion and understanding of animals. There is an innocence about Kathy that unfortunately has been used against her by others throughout her life. The cruel advantage they have taken of her has hurt me severely, for I love her with all my heart. She is forty-five years old now, and people are still profiting from her innocence. I am happy that, even though she was taken advantage of, her innocence still survives, a monument that testifies to her continued charm.
Kathy is also one of the most beautiful women walking the face of this earth. It would have been difficult for John and Doris to have resisted her lovely brown eyes and that cute pixie face with the sunny smile which only hinted at the impishness hiding inside. They couldn't resist, and that is why they went shopping for one and came home with two.
I was a very small child, no older than four years, having been with John and Doris since I was about two, when something happened that is fixed in my memory forever. Before me in a soup bowl was a mixture of cold rice pudding and my own vomit. I liked rice, so I didn't understand at the time what had caused me to throw up. As it turned out, I had an acute nervous stomach disorder brought on by stress.
John, my adopted father, jerked me from my chair with one hand while scooping up the bowl and its contents with the other. Terrified and unable to escape his iron grip, I was hurled to the kitchen floor. I felt so small and so afraid. John reminded me of Goliath, and I was David. "When you're through with that bowl," bellowed Goliath, "I'm taking you back to the orphanage so you can live with the rest of the little bastards!"
I'm not sure which terrified me the most---the threat of being returned like a bag of defective merchandise, or Goliath towering over me ordering this small child of God to eat his own vomit. I also had a deep-seated fear of losing the only person in my life whom I truly loved, my sister. In my defense, I scrambled to Doris and attached myself to her leg pleading for clemency. This is a tactic I would use again in the future to save myself from being further brutalized by Goliath.
Sometimes I was not able to use this tactic. If I was in bed by the time John got home, I might be safe for the night. I would hear him tramp in and feel my heart begin to pound. Then the drinking would start. Lying in bed awake, trembling and listening to John and Doris begin the evening ritual of yelling at each other, I would strain to hear the conversation to see if my name was mentioned. If it was, I could expect to hear John stomp down the hallway knowing that, after the door burst open, I would be yanked out of bed and either beaten with his fists or, on special occasions, dragged into his bedroom, stripped of my pajamas and whipped with his belt.
Some nights I would actually be asleep when suddenly I would be ripped from my dreams by a red-faced Goliath who would then beat me. I wonder what my sister, Kathy, thought while this was going on. I know sometimes I was wishing it was she receiving the beatings instead of me. But when she took her own licks, it didn't make me feel any better.
There were other nights when I would vomit in my bed in anticipation of the coming festival of abuse. When this happened, I would try to hide the vomit. If John saw it when he came to give me my due, he would be even more enraged than normal. All I can say is that my poor Teddy was never the same after these episodes began.
Jon never had to worry. He had Doris to protect him. She would hold court when John came home, sitting in her chair with her knitting in her lap (She was an excellent knitter) and a highball standing neatly on a coaster on the table beside her chair. Jon played the court favorite while she solemnly served up an accounting of the day's indiscretions, meted out her judgment and dispatched the executioner to do his work. Jon would snicker under his breath at the end of these proceedings, just loud enough for me to notice. The strap wasn't all that burned my butt.
On my tenth birthday, I had a birthday party. Jon carried the cake from the kitchen to the carport where we were having the party. When he got close enough for me to see him clearly, he plopped the cake upside down on the sidewalk and flashed me a wicked smile. The Golden Child never got in trouble for this and was given all sorts of sympathy because he might have hurt himself.
Another time I was playing down the street minding my own business, when I suddenly felt something hit my hand. At first I thought it was a bee sting, but the welt on my hand did not look like a bee sting. Then I noticed Jon standing further up the road with his trusty Springfield BB rifle, smiling stupidly. I raced home and told Doris what had happened. She called Jon into the house and told him not to shoot at me again. I was flabbergasted. I knew I would have caught hell had I done the same thing.
I went on playing as I had before, but feeling a bit cheated. A little while later I felt another stinging sensation. I ran home again and complained to Doris that he had shot me again. When confronted with my accusations, Jon told Doris that he had not shot at me. He had shot at the asphalt road and ricocheted the BB into my behind. He wasn't even put on probation.
Jon was not immune to our adopted father's anger. He grew up with, what I believe to be, a stomach disorder from listening to Kathy and me get beat up and berated. The stomach problems are symptomatic of a larger nervous disorder. His hands are so unsteady that I am sure he has trouble putting the dipstick into its hole when he checks the oil of customers at the service station where he works. He was also shouted at, but John dared not touch one hair on his head. Oh, how well John wanted to take a swipe at this little boy as well. Each time he was thwarted by the evil eye of Doris and had to walk away shaking his head in total frustration. The loss of absolute control was like a knife twisting in his gut.
Doris was quick with a smile for every one---every one except me. I never bonded with her psychologically. I tried to gain her love, but her love was for no one except my adopted brother Jon, the Golden Child. All too many times, I have observed men who make fools of themselves trying to secure the love of their mothers, mothers who loved their other children more. It is a truly pathetic sight, one that I share with other unfortunate ones. The habit of attempting to secure love from un-reciprocating mothers carries on into adulthood with the women chosen to woo for marriage. Constant low self esteem permeates the process. Thus, I have been attracted to many beautiful women who have treated me the same way Doris did. Since the process works for both genders, my sister was also affected. Her three divorces, from men who treated her terribly, attests to this.
Doris was always wearing clothes several sizes too small for her. She shopped often and usually took me along. I disliked going, due to the beatings I would receive when John came home and Doris told him of the trouble I had caused. I had the uncanny knack of getting lost while in the local stores, a practice which earned me many a bruise when John was informed. Perhaps I was unconsciously searching for my real family. Doris eventually put me in a body harness. I was then trotted from store to store more like a dog than a family member.
When Doris and I went shopping, we always wound up in the women's lingerie department where Doris was always buying girdles packaged in long round tubes. I swore that when I grew up I would never set foot in another women's lingerie department. Well, no sooner did I get married to my first wife than I found myself once again led through the women's lingerie department. I'm not quite sure what the problem is. Lingerie has never been a problem in other circumstances!
Doris was a high school graduate, and her husband was an elementary school dropout. Despite these facts, they were well off. Besides two homes, one on Prevost Street in Detroit, Michigan and the other on Bogie Lake, they owned an adjacent lot next to the house on Prevost. They drove brand new cars, and had the services of a maid, Ardella, a sweet, portly, black woman, and a handyman named Barney. There was private school for Kathy and me; membership in the John L. Ivory Polo Club; trips to Florida every winter (Jon would go on the trips but Kathy and I were left behind at Grandma's); and Royal Dalton China to adorn the dining tables in both homes. John would donate large amounts of food for events at Immaculate Heart fund raisers. He was also personal friends with J. Mennen Williams, Governor of Michigan. Last, but not least, there was the quarter horse, Ford.
One might wonder why I was given private school and Jon was sent to public school. Believe me, it does not show a willingness to make up for loss of favoritism in other areas. I was sent to private school because my behavior was so anti-social, the public schools would not have me. Anyone surprised by this admission does not know the world of abused children. Children of alcoholics have a similar reaction in their struggle to cope with a world that even to a child seems out of whack. There are two roads for these children to travel: they may become overly responsible and take the world on their shoulders or they become totally irresponsible troublemakers. The overly responsible child earns high marks for behavior and his work in school. The irresponsible child is the opposite. What they both have in common is the damage they have suffered. One is eaten alive from the inside out---the other from the outside in.
I was adopted into, and raised in, an abusive alcoholic family. In addition, I was continually under the threat of losing the family I had. There were times when John actually jumped in the car with me and began to drive off to the orphanage where I could live with the rest of the little bastards. I might have welcomed that happening if it were not for the fact that both John and Doris pummeled me with how they had rescued me from a life of evil at the orphanage. There was also a feeling of terror over and above the apprehension of losing my adopted family. Some forgotten memory was associated with my stay at the orphanage, and were it not for this memory instilling terror in dusty corners of my mind, and the loss of my sister, I would not have been affected by John and Doris' threats to send me back. I might even have challenged them to go ahead and send me back. Years later I would solve the mystery of the forgotten memory and uncover another mystery in the process.
There was one instance when John became my protector. I lived in a fantasy world most of the time. Superman, Tarzan, and Robin Hood were my constant companions. I still identify with Peter Pan. We were both lost boys, orphans who never wanted to grow up. I called my fantasy world Sherwood Forest and was playing there when the Sheriff of Naughty, an older boy in the neighborhood, sexually molested me.
I streaked home, terrified. John was already two sheets to the wind. He went off like a rocket when he heard what I said. He snatched me up, and we flew out the door. I didn't know what to expect. I figured I was in trouble again, because the old man had the crazed look in his eyes that he would get when it was time for a good thrashing.
An argument ensued at the boy's house. I never saw the boy again. I have often listened to other adults, abused as children, relate how their step-parents protected them from the abuse of others. It's almost like they are saying, "If this child is going to be abused, it will be kept in the family".
Doris was not innocent when it came to dishing out physical abuse. One time I was playing with the knobs on the kitchen stove. Doris discovered me doing the forbidden thing, and being the voyeur of physical punishment that she was, instructed Ardella, our maid, to turn on the electric burners and place my hands on them. Ardella, as I have said before, was a sweet lady. In the past she had been quick to follow my adopted parents' instructions, knowing that to please the boss was to keep the job. In this case, however, she refused, and strongly objected. Doris was forced by her sick mind to do the deed herself.
"Leave It To Beaver," was a favorite television program for millions of Americans. I didn't buy it. When Beaver got into trouble, he was never smacked around by Ward, his father. Mrs. Cleaver was also too incredibly sweet to be genuine and too understanding to have ever dealt with the real world. Now I enjoy watching reruns of the program because they seem so absurd to me, they make me laugh. One of my favorite lines from the show is when June Cleaver says to her husband, "Weren't you a little hard on the Beaver last night, Ward?"
Even though Kathy is fourteen months older than I am, we were placed in the same grade at Immaculate Heart School in Detroit. I was told that Kathy had a mental problem, a fact I had already come to believe based on her inability to articulate properly. Several of the same cruel children who made fun of my braces and eye patches and called me a bastard informed me that my sister was retarded. In reality, every one was wrong. Kathy only had a speech problem, which is under-standable due to the circumstances.
While working on my Masters Degree in Special Education, I learned that many children who had speech problems were the victims of early childhood trauma. A typical child speaks in sentences comprised of a number of words which parallel the age of the child. For instance, a four year old will speak in four word sentences. When Kathy was adopted at about four years of age, she was only capable of articulating the phrase, "Da da." The trauma that impaired her ability to learn speech had to have occurred prior to her adoption. Probably during her stay at St. Peter's Orphanage. Perhaps with some further investigation, I will be able to solve this mystery as well.
My sister and I got along for the most part. There were, however, several instances of her being uncommonly mean to me. In one case, she threw a dart at me. The dart pierced my ear and came close to doing some permanent damage. I threw the dart back at her and stuck her in the leg for retribution. She also used to pull me under the water when we were swimming and not let me come up. After I had fought to the surface and struggled free of her grasp, she would laugh at me. I still loved her. She wouldn't let other kids abuse me in any way. On several occasions, she beat up bigger kids for being mean to me. This is similar to the way John reacted to the kid who molested me. Kathy was abused herself and as a result she abused me, the littlest one in the family. And how did I react when the only one in this world, whom I felt truly loved me, also abused me? When I thought I could get away with it, I retaliated by blaming her for things I did that would get me in trouble.
I remember one incident, when I was six years old, of Kathy being mean to me. I was confused about it until just recently. We were playing on the playground at Immaculate Heart School in Detroit. Kathy coerced all the kids to sing the old nursery rhyme, "Georgie Porgie Puddin' Pie," to me. They nearly drove me crazy. She was four when we were adopted, and had remembered my given name. All I knew was that I was Brian.
I was called other names by the "normal" children, as I grew up. The most damaging of these was "bastard."
In the fifties, it was almost a crime to be a child born out of wedlock. If you were adopted, most other kids assumed this was the case and stuck you with the label. The "normals" got this from their parents who were outraged that two people could have sex without being married and who stupidly assumed that all children at orphanages were bastards. My status as an adopted child was well known by my classmates. I never heard the end of it. I was not one to allow such despoiling of my name. Consequently, I regularly went a round or two with some of the normals who insisted on referring to me as a bastard. I wanted desperately to find my family so I would no longer have to deal with this horrible name. Now there are so many children of questionable origin that the word, "bastard", has lost its impact. Still, I have made sure that the children I fathered have my name.
During the fifties there was another form of abuse visited upon myself and other children. Children in some nursery schools were made to wear clothespins on their body parts for unacceptable behavior. I would walk around with clothespins attached to my nose, lips, ears and fingers looking a little like a Christmas tree. It was all legal, of course. This was an acceptable deterrent to antisocial behavior designed to "teach" the perpetrator a lesson. What lesson do you think all of us little anti-socials really learned?
The seed of desire to find my biological family found little nourishment in those early years. What started as a dream, watching Disney, received lots of negative motivation. Each time I felt the welts growing on my young tusch, each time I was clobbered with fists, felt the plunger or broom handle exploding on my tender flesh, I became more resolved to unearth my true family roots.
The first piece of information I ferreted out of Doris was a result of the following question: "Why did you go all the way to Tennessee to adopt me?" Doris's reply was that there had been a baby kidnapping ring in Michigan, so they were forced to go to Tennessee to adopt me. The way she said it made me feel like they had gone to great extremes to adopt me, and because of their extreme efforts, I should be even more grateful.
A few years later, a second piece of information fell into my life like a paste jewel dropped into a highwayman's bag. Doris alleged that my biological mother, after having signed the surrender papers on sis and me, changed her mind. She supposedly returned to the orphanage, kidnapped me and took off for Chicago.
As the story goes, she was arrested in Chicago, and I was returned to St. Peter's.
With just these two pieces of information to hold on to, I spent forty years in the wilderness of life with only hope and my fantasies to nourish my soul. For years the seed planted within me grew with my fantasies, and the horrors of my life would be temporarily obliterated by an imagined last minute rescue by my mother, the good fairy, or my father, every bit as swashbuckling as Erroll Flynn. When I began to drink at an early age, however, the tree grown from this seed withered in the face of a drought that lasted for many years after the poison of alcohol had left my system. It lasted until a kind friend poured a drink of sweet spring water around the roots of the tree and green shoots again appeared. Mom, Dad, did you love me? Mom, Dad, where are you now?