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Remembering My Moms' Gardens
My Adoption. My Birth parents. My Birth certificate. My Siblings. My Brother. My Sister. My Adoption.
Welcome through Fred's Garden Gate! We human-types, as a rule, tend to "lean" toward today and the future, but seldom toward the past—especially if that past is dimmed by advancing years, declining memory, or the hustle and excitement of today. Why, some of us have even preferred to forget great chunks of our past. Others cherish the reawakening of every long-lost or misplaced fragment of what's gone on before.
For me, some of the most cherished of all are those recently shared by my brand-new big sister, Ernestine, as she described Mom's—and Dad's—warm and, I'm now certain, satisfying relationship with the soil. Sadly, I popped up 3,000 miles away and a few years too late to have personally shared that very same love of earth, plants and changing seasons in the garden with my birth parents. Take a walk with me as I stroll back through the years, remembering both of my mom's gardens.
Actually, the real passion for gardening began with my two dads—George, the longshoreman and the only father I'd known until recently, and Carl, the professional landscaper who was also my birth father. It was they who fought back brush and bramble, broke and tamed the soil, and set the stage for what was to come.
My adoptive mother, Thelma Pearl, had a true passion for the "desert" look. There were always cacti, unusual rocks and flotsam gleaned during vacations into Southwest arid regions. Their back yard in Roseville, California, was almost totally "desert"—with a distinctly Spanish flavor. Many types and varieties of sedum, echeveria ("Hens 'n Chicks"), and cactus were attractively accented by ceramic burros, napping vaqueros—complete with sombreros and serapes—and the fibrous skeletons of a type of cactus the name of which now escapes me. Mother also had an irresistible attraction to camellias, hibiscus, and fuchsias—all of them, as I recall, nearly reaching the roof! Colorful shrubs like these were always in the front yard...and passers-by would never have guessed the sharp contrasts between the front and back.
It was my adoptive parents, George and Thelma, who encouraged an early interest in starting seeds and watching vegetables and flowers grow to maturity. Much later I would learn the real origin of those seemingly "built-in" tendencies of mine.
Not many miles away, in the town of Placerville, California, another couple whose children had begun families of their own, were also communing with Mother Earth, but with a slightly different focus. Long-time gardeners and stewards of the soil, Carl and Loretta Schmidt—the birth-parents I hadn't seen since age 3½, were out in the garden in jeans and plaid shirts, nurturing the fruits and vegetables that would stock their larder and root cellar for another year.
Nearly always working as a team, Mom and Dad concentrated on the mostly utilitarian side of gardening, he the garden architect and soil manager, she the weed-puller, bug-squisher, stone-gatherer and harvester. For Mom, deep satisfaction came after the "picking"—washing, cutting, blanching, freezing, canning, and organizing, with detailed and accurate inventory control that would even impress Martha Stewart!
Then would come the gathering, preparation, and careful storage of the seeds for next years' crop. Two important seed stories come from my sister Ernestine's treasured cache of Mom-memories. First, the tomatoes: "I remember Mom spending a long time picking through an old, rotten-looking tomato, and carefully laying each seed in rows on paper towels to dry. Then [early the following spring] she'd plant paper towel and all in the flats. I asked Bob [our brother] why she did that; he said because the seeds stuck to the paper towels, and it was just easier." Well, I think it was a nifty trick that I intend to try next year!
But a real treasure most special to me is a handful of "magic beans" (purple on the poles; vivid green when cooked) that have been preserved, season after season, by close friends and neighbors of theirs since the early 1930s. Ernestine, recalls, "I remember how very carefully Mom chose the purple beans; I think she refrigerated them. It was serious business!" This spring, I'll be planting my magic beans—the actual in-line descendents of those grown and cherished by two very special persons that I never had the pleasure of meeting, but for whom I share deep love and affection with my new-found family in California.
Later, as the years went by, when they finally had to make that ultimate decision to sell and move back to the city with family, "Mom still kept a little vegetable garden wherever she was," remembers Ernestine. "She began to like flowers a bit more, too. Her favorites were daffodils, tulips, dahlias, ranunculas, and starting geraniums from cuttings. She also liked marigolds because she believed the dreaded earwigs [her most hated enemy in the garden] were repulsed by them."
All this has now become some of our most cherished memories to be passed on to new generations. I'd like to hear of any special memories of your mom's or grandma's garden that you'd like to share with our readers. Just jot them down—before you forget—and send them to the editor at The Town Line www.townline.org or to Fred email@example.com.
Here is the actual feature story as it appeared in The Town Line, Feb. 16, 2002
On July 18, 2001, Fred Davis of Palermo received an unassuming letter in the mail. It read: "Dear Mr. Davis: I am searching my family history and hoped that you may be of help. In my research, I have found a Frederick Davis, born April 20, 1936, who may have been born somewhere in the San Francisco Bay Area. His parent's names may be George (born about 1902) and Thelma (born about 1906). If you think you may (or may not) be of help in my research, please return the enclosed postcard to me. Thank you so much, in advance, for your help. Very sincerely, Ernestine Schmidt Bach, Jackson, California."
Ernestine included her email address, so Fred answered: "Well, Ernestine, that would be me. You got the name right, the birthday correct, my dad's name was George (though you missed the birth date by a year), and you hit my mom's name and year of birth right on the nail. So...what would you like to hear from me? (I can't wait to hear more about you...if you are, indeed, a relative!)"
The response that Fred received from Ernestine began a series of startling revelations that literally would "rock" his world.
"Were you adopted as a child?" Ernestine asked—a question that puzzled Fred and made him cautious. "I need to know more about you, your motivations or purpose, and what you hope to accomplish in your search," he wrote back.
Then, as if a dam had been broken, the floodwaters of a past that had been kept unknown to him for 65 years, burst open—exposing, for the first time in his life, a family of siblings and their families living in California!
Fred's new-found sister Ernestine (Ernie) explained: "My parents [and yours] Carl and Loretta Schmidt (now deceased), had six children in the midst of the depression. Unable to support their family, they turned to friends to care for all but their youngest, Frank. Two of us (Bob and I) were sent to stay with a friend for a short time and were ultimately reunited and raised by our parents.Our parents intended to have all six children back home again. As things happen, each of the other couples fell in love with the boys. Two of the three boys were legally adopted by their foster parents [the third, Carl, was never legally adopted but disappeared with his foster mother]. I live within a few hours of two of my brothers, Richard (Dick) Tippin (adopted by John and Frances Tippin) and Robert (Bob) Schmidt. Our younger brother, Frank is now deceased. I have been looking for our other two brothers for 15 years now and believe that you may be one of them." The photo above shows Fred, left, and his siblings, l-r, Bob, Ernie and Dick.
When all of this information sank in and Fred received photos of his siblings that show a strong resemblance to himself, he recalled the things—little things—he had wondered about all his life, and they began to make sense.
Why had there never been baby pictures of him; his photos start at about age 5?(He was adopted at about age four.) Why did he have brown hair and hazel eyes when his mother had red hair, freckles and blue eyes and his father also had blue eyes? And why had two aging aunts in Texas once referred to him as the "boy that George and Thelma adopted"? (He thought they were confused.) Though his parents never told Fred about his adoption, his mother used to tease, telling him, "I found you under a rose bush. "Since he's now learned that his biological mother loved working in her flower garden, Fred's heart twitches at the memory.
He wrote his sister Ernie back that the news of having siblings was the second most exhilarating event of his life (meeting his wife, Linda, was the first).
Day after day, Fred and Linda heard from Ernie and her daughters April and Joyce—who take great delight in writing warm and exuberant letters to "Uncle Fred and Aunt Linda." April wrote: "Dear...yikes! Uncle Fred and Aunt Linda. I had to write and tell you how happy you've made my mother.... My mother [Ernie] is the most generous, loving, gracious, selfless person on the planet. She has cared for everyone else all of her life and never thought once of herself. You would not believe how much courage it took for her to search, write and respond. To hope against hope...and we didn't even know about how amazing it was that you even got the letter. Too cool! In that very long and wonderful note, you've turned her life around. The sky is clear, the birds are singing... you're out there! You're really out there! And you sound really wonderful." (The reference to the "amazing" letter sent by Ernie is that the letter was addressed to a box number the Davises had given up two years prior.)
While they were alive, Fred's biological parents had forbidden their children to search for their missing brothers. In spite of this, however, they began searching, but, after a time, gave it up in frustration.
They again took up the challenge a few years ago at Dick's suggestion, and the Schmidt clan has spent endless hours in the library, researching newspapers of the 1930s. They found Fred's birth announcement and "amended" birth certificate (the real one had been sealed), then tried to find his parents, but to no avail, and joined an Adoptee Search Group (ALMA) [see Note below.] It was ALMA that brought them priceless information early in their search, giving Fred a real identity to them. Then they hit a dead end and the search was stalled for several years.
From fear or pessimism—perhaps a bit of both—the family all but abandoned the search in the early 90's. In 2001, Joyce got her first computer and subscribed to "People Search" on the internet and asked for information about every Frederick Davis born April 20, 1936, to George and Thelma Davis. Only one absolute match was found!
Little by little, the California family filled in the gaps of 60 years, and Fred and Linda, in turn, told of themselves and their children—sons Tim and his wife, Joanna, Tom and his wife, Ofelia, and daughter Becky, as well as their grandchildren, Justin, Talan, Bobby and Sarah. (The Davis children are in awe and amazement of their new-found aunt, uncles, and cousins, too!)
Last October, even in the wake of the September 11 attacks, Fred and Linda flew to California to visit Fred's family and celebrate their 40th wedding anniversary. Needless to say, they were welcomed with opened arms and tear-filled eyes. For Fred, who had always wished he'd had siblings (according to Linda), a dream of a lifetime had come true. Linda said she found a treasure of a sister-in-law in Ernestine—"She is thoughtful and sweet— I love her to death," Linda said.
Fred and Linda now know that Fred was born Herman Frederick Schmidt. His biological father, Carl, came from Germany, was well educated and was gassed just before the end of WWI, which affected his lungs. He and his friend, Herman, emigrated to the United States in 1925. Carl was 25 years of age. He met and married Loretta Hummer in the San Francisco Bay Area of California when he was 29 and she was 17 (in 1929). After the depression years of struggle and having to give up some of their children for adoption, Carl became a farmer and landscaper (Coincidentally, Fred has operated Hill Gardens Nursery for many years).
Ernie, at age 8, remembered visiting the adoptive home of her brother Herman (Fred) only once (probably in 1940 on the day the papers were signed) and being envious of his nice bedroom with his own bed, bureau, desk and lamp—and she remembered especially a Teddy Bear (the first she'd ever seen) sitting on a rocking chair. Fred still has that Teddy Bear. When he told this to his sister, that was the clincher—she broke down and cried knowing in her heart that Fred truly was her brother!
Since the Davises have returned home, he stays in touch with his California family. Along with the elation he feels to have found them all, he has had to deal with mixed feelings regarding his adopted parents. Though he loved them, he was not a particularly happy child, he said. He ran away from home regularly—mostly to avoid the wrath of his extremely strict father—although he admits that, as a child, "I was a handful." He left home at age 18 and rarely looked back.
One may not be able to turn back the clock—but, for Fred Davis, the amazing discovery of his true family has sparked a "rebirth"—the years have melted away as he has returned to the boy of his childhood. With the help of his siblings, he can see his past clearly now—for him, too, the sky is blue and the birds are singing.
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