A debut memoir from a woman who was adopted at birth that explores the issues of identity and family.
Stice was adopted by Kenneth and Mona Venda Kirchner in Detroit in 1943, and she was 4 years old when she was told that she wasn’t their biological daughter. The information was barely comprehensible to her as a child, but it planted a question in her mind that she would spend most of her life trying to solve: “Who am I?” When she was 5, she told her cousin Mona that she was adopted, and Mona replied: “It means your mama isn’t your real mama.” It was the first of several comments that made Stice feel she wasn’t an equal member of the family that she thought of as her own. Although she was an only child, her parents both came from large families, including brothers, sisters, parents, grandparents, and many cousins, and so she felt connected to a wide, extended clan—until she didn’t. The most hurtful comment came from her father; a normal battle between parent and teenager turned especially nasty when the 14-year-old Stice was invited to a dance and her father refused to give her permission to go: “ ‘We have to be so careful with you,’ he says, ‘because we don’t know if you are going to turn out to be bad like your mother. Bad blood. It happens.’ ” In 2003, a few years after the death of her parents, Stice finally embarked on an earnest, and eventually successful, search for her biological family.
For financial reasons, the Kirchner family moved around frequently, and as a result, this narrative is enhanced by a great variety of backdrops, including Michigan, Kentucky, and Kansas; Stice and her beloved grandmother spent many summers visiting family members. Comparisons of city and suburban life versus farm life, as well as Northern versus Southern culture, form a portrait of mid-20th-century America. The young Stice emerges as a feisty child with a keen sense of justice. For instance, she was outraged when the family went to a segregated beach on Lake St. Claire, Michigan, and she mused: “A vague, uneasy feeling has come over me. I can’t name it, but it means, I don’t like being a Gentile if that’s the way we treat other people.” For the author, it was one more confirmation that she was somehow different. She reveals that at one family reunion, one of her cousins, Gerald, whispered to her: “Why do you like all those family stories so much? It’s not even your family.” This adoption story has an intriguing extra wrinkle, as her parents had actually met Stice’s birth mother but didn’t share that information due to a fear of divided loyalties. Many vignettes in this eloquent narrative could be those of any rebellious child growing up in midcentury America, but the author also layers her memoir with an ever present fear of rejection.
A painful, poignant, and ultimately triumphant story that will have special meaning for adoptees.