I came to live with my foster parents when I was 6 months old. They were incredible, loving people. My memories of this time period are more like the square of a patchwork quilt – mismatched, not in any order, but they combine to be a tapestry of warmth and comfort.
We lived on Cardinal Lane in Chester County, PA. I’m not sure which town and there are several Cardinal Lanes in the county. Even if I were to visit all of them now, I doubt that I would recognize which place had been home as it was the mid to late 1960s when I lived there. Recently I used Google Maps to look at the various Cardinal Lanes and so many had lots that now held McMansions where humble little homes had once stood.
My foster parents had a daughter of their own and I remember that when I was 4 she was 19. I don’t remember much about her except that she had long hair. I called my foster parents Mom-mom and Pop-pop. They changed my name to Carol. Parental rights had not been severed so when I arrived it was not known if I was going to be put up for adoption or returned to my birth mother. She was released from prison after 2 1/2 years but she did not visit me (not sure if that was her choice or not) nor was she allowed to have me back .
The house was full of animals – I do remember a Siamese cat. My love of animals must have begun then. I did end up going to the ER because the neighbors had a German Shepherd that they kept in a fenced yard or kennel–the details are hazy. What I do know is that “toddler me” felt quite strongly that this doggie needed to be let out of his cage. He must have been growling (based on what happened next) but I was not deterred. Of course as soon as I got this dog out of his cage he attacked me. I ended up with a scar on my chest from a butterfly bandage as well as stitches from the top of my scalp down the side of my head behind one ear. I can still see the nurse (in those old nurse uniforms with the white cap on her head) trying to distract me with a Humpty Dumpty puppet. God bless her, she must have really been trying because I remember that more than anything else.
Another time I was in the hospital due to dehydration. This is something I’ve dealt with all my life. I’m constantly thirsty (and no, I’m not diabetic). Whenever I get sick to my stomach for more than a day, I end up dehydrated. I once ended up in the hospital dehydrated because I’d had too much caffeine (oops)! Another time my foster parents had to rush me to the ER to have my stomach pumped. Why? Because I ate a whole bottle of aspirin. Now, I think aspirin has a horrible taste so this is amazing to me. I think it must have been St. Joseph’s Baby Aspirin. At least that had the orange flavoring but still, after the initial taste there is a definite aspirin after-taste. So why I would have eaten more than one? I have no idea. But I did eat a whole bottle!
Mom-mom and Pop-pop were Welsh. My sister likes to remind me that when I was first adopted I’d come to her in my undershirt and ask “Is the tog in the bock?” My memories are few of these wonderful people but the feeling of being loved stayed with me. They were truly lovely people. I’ve always wished I could have known their names to let their daughter know that I realize how truly blessed I was to have had them as my foster family. You hear stories of people that are foster parents just to get the money and then treat the kids horribly. But I was loved, spoiled, and I’d never had the chance to thank them.
Pop-pop used to take me for rides on his motorcycle. I still have a vivid memory of his legs all bruised after a spill (I wasn’t with him). In my memory Mom-mom is always standing up ironing clothes in the living room and watching Days of Our Lives on the black and white television. I know that I had a friend named Robin but I can’t remember her. I have photos from fairs and other outings. I remember my Bozo the clown punching bag. Probably the reason I am terrified of clowns. C’mon – the unnatural smile, the frozen expression and weird clothes – I’ll never understand how kids find that funny and not creepy. Unreadable expressions are the basis of almost all of my childhood fears – clowns, the Scooby-Doo episode with the mechanical man at the amusement park, Dr. Who’s Cybermen, etc.
My adoptive family started visiting with me when I was 3 and I would go to their house to visit them as well. My mom says that I would arrive immaculate in a starched dress, white lace socks, and shiny, black maryjanes. I would spend the day catching frogs in the creek, playing outside with my brothers, and return to my foster parents all wrinkled and dirty. I don’t remember the adoption process. I do remember that when I was moving away to live with my adoptive family my case worker filled her VW beetle with my stuffed animals and I rode in another car with yet more stuffed animals. My Chester O Chimp toy and my babydoll, Agnes, never left my side. Unlike other beautiful dolls, Agnes simply wore an orange, terrycloth bathrobe. It’s as if my doll was unemployed and had given up!
My foster parents sent me off with a ton of toys, clothes, photos, and a letter for my new family. The letter stated that I knew when both clock hands were on the 6 it was time for The Flintstones. Mom-mom also wrote that I was creative and artistic but had to be watched as I liked to draw on the walls. Tagging the walls at age 3!
As I got into the car that day I had no idea I’d never see these wonderful people who I’d loved and thought of as my parents for 4 years. My heart broke when I realized I’d never get to go back and visit them.