Arthur Wesley Dow

On Sept 9th, 2013, Reuters published “The Child Exchange,” a devastatingly powerful piece of reporting on how Americans are using the internet to abandon children adopted from overseas. The practice is called “re-homing.” It was once confined to pets, but is now conducted in chat rooms and done to children in what Reuters called “a largely lawless marketplace.” Soon after the piece was published, at one case within hours, the internet providers acted to close down the chat rooms.


Re-homing. I see the word and feel a knife blade tingle at my throat. Then a cousin or an uncle or a father says, “ Be still now little darlin’ cause you gonna like the way this feels.”


But where I am now, there is no re-homing. Where I am now, I have something new to do. And every October I come back and do it. And it never gets old.


You’ll never see me. Not on this visit. Not on any. When you are re-homed, you practice being invisible. I guess that’s so you can be invisible when you get to where I am now.


Re-homing like being yanked, tossed and locked into pitch black and musty root cellar darkness, cold dirt floor and scurrying sounds just inches from my ear.


Re-homing was a word I never heard when I walked this world. But I guess that’s what they call it when the people you’re supposed to call “Mommy” or “Daddy” decide to drop you off with some other people, turn to give you one last look, saying something like, “If you hadn’t been so difficult, maybe minded your manners just a little bit better” then shuffle off to the car, with doors slamming shut goodbye, and the engine starts up while your heart slows to dust.


In my eighteen years, I was re-homed three times. But I remember only one of them. Even now. I remember one of them.

I remember Daddy said, “C’mon now little darlin, we are going for a ride.” Our farm was just outside of DeKalb Illinois. The corn fields rolling straight to the horizon. As if there were no more people. Just the quivering corn fields and the wind. It was late afternoon and the sun would be setting early because winter was coming. We headed west. Towards Galena and the Big River. It was just me and my Daddy. Not Mama. But I didn’t think too much of that. I was the big girl. I was eight years old now. And Daddy always showed me that he loved me. Sometimes he showed me so much that Mama’s face would get all red and I’d see her neck start throbbing. Then she’d get really, really quiet. But Daddy always showed me that he loved me.


That day in the car, I asked where we were going, and my Daddy answered “Chrissie, I got something to tell you. Your Mama and I, we adopted you. Now, you know what that means?”


“No Daddy.”


“It means I ain’t your real Daddy.”


“You ain’t my real Daddy?”


“Well, you see, it’s complicated Chrissie. You are such a beautiful big girl and now it won’t be too long to you’re all grown It’s just complicated. And your Mama just feels like. . .”


“Daddy, I don’t understand why Mama gets so quiet sometimes. . .”


“You see, I. . . .”


“Is Mama my real Mama?”


“We don’t know who your real Mama is. You were five years old when you came to stay with us.” It was getting darker now. The rhythm of the car going gliding through the corn fields. Like a feather soft pillow had come to fill the car and make me want to close my eyes and sleep.


“Well Chrissie, I don’t understand it all either. But like the man says, ‘It is what it is.”


“Daddy, what does that mean?”


“I gotta do what’s best for Mama and me and you too Chrissie. This way is better. I know it will be better,”


I looked out the window of the car and we had turned into some sort of trailer park. We pulled down this little trainer park street to the last one on the left. There was a tire on a rope hung from a tree branch. Two lawn chairs to the side of the trailer’s screen door. A beer cooler being used for a table, empties and ash trays smudging up the cooler top in a hopeless kind of gray.


Two big old fat people came rumbling out of the screen door just as we drove up. My Daddy got out of the car, slammed the door. I stayed put.


“C’mon now Chrissie,” Daddy never sounded like he meant it when he wanted me to something I didn’t want to do. But the three of them were staring back at me so hard.


“Chrissie, this is Rupert and Michelle. You’ll be staying with them now.”


I heard him say the words. And you know what was funny? I wasn’t surprised. I just got quiet. Like my Mama.”


“We can get your things sent over to you tomorrow. We all figured it was best to do this quick. So you’ll be staying here tonight.”


Daddy handed the fat people some papers. They wrote their names. Gave him back some of the papers. The fat people still hadn’t said a word. Daddy started to come towards me, his shoulders kind of shaking like they did when he showed me that he loved me. But then I saw his shoulders slump down. He stopped, put his hand to his waist and he gave me this little side to side wave. Like he was polishing a tiny window clean.


Then the fat lady lifted up her hand and told me with her finger that she wanted me to follow her. So I turned away from my Daddy, put my head down, and followed the fat lady into the trailer.


The screen door slammed behind me. Then I was re-homed.



But every year, in October, I come back.


So, if you can’t see me, how do you know I’ve returned?  Here’s how: If you can breathe in that one sugar maple moment when October’s weary smile turns the crinkled red and golden leaves up to face the sun, I’ll be here.


When October arrives, there is no more re-home. In October I am always home.

I come back for the folks who tell the stories like my story of re-homing, I come back to make sure that those story tellers write. That they keep speaking.


I’m the autumn breeze at the back of the writer, recorder, story teller, journalist. I’m what starts the healing just before that groaning last paragraph, image, smell, sound rhythm tap on the keyboard that makes the fingers start to bleed. I’m what prompts that one last question. The one that barreled straight out of the blue. I’m the shivering delight when the writer lifts hands and says, “Done.”


I come back to make sure the that the story gets told.


I come back in October for the story tellers. I bring along the message from the Book of Amos, “ Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”


In the loving, clean breezes of autumn, where there is no more re-homing . . .


I come back to make sure that the stories get told.


This story is for all those who try with their stories to make a better world. And specifically for the Reuters Team who did “The Child Exchange.” In memory of the late Allan Dowd, my cousin and Reuters reporter.


2 Responses to “RE-HOME SPIRIT”

  1. toritto Says:

    Nicely done Roger. As always.

    And a fitting memorial to Alan Dowd.


  2. chicagoguy12 Says:

    Thanks Frank!

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