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Something Happened

Written by Jeff Drake
8 · 19 · 22
I have a photo of me with my mother in the hospital where I was born. She looks happy. I’m feeding my face from a bottle. The photo looks so normal. Like a photo you would expect of a first-time mother. Not everything is always as it seems.

Between the time this picture was taken and my tender age of 3 months I do not know what happened with, or to, my mother, but something definitely happened, because I ended up in something called a “Foundling Home” (according to my grandmother) in San Francisco. My recent genealogy research unveiled this was not true. There was no such thing as a “foundling home” in San Francisco in the 1950’s, or anytime it seems. There were orphanages, of course, and hospitals, foster homes and sanitariums, but no foundling homes. I have canvassed everything I could, but to no avail. I don’t know where I was being kept when I was 3 months old.

Although I suspect this photo with my mother was taken at the San Francisco hospital where I was born, I don’t actually know that, but wherever my mother was in the first few months of 1951, it involved nurses, so it had to have been a hospital or treatment setting of some kind.

I know nurses were involved because my grandmother told me that the call she got informing her about my existence came from a nurse. And my uncle Mike told me that when he picked me up in San Francisco, a nurse told him that, “Under no circumstances is this child to be returned to his mother.” Neither he nor my grandmother had any reason to make up a story about a nurse. So, where was my mother at this time? Why did the nurse tell him that? These are questions I asked growing up. Repeatedly I was told, “In a foundling home,” and “The nurse wouldn’t explain.”

Being a trusting kid, I accepted these answers. Thinking back now, I regret that I didn’t press harder for more information as I grew older. Actually, it’s more than mere regret. I’m kicking myself. I find it hard to believe that my uncle Mike would have settled for that answer from the nurse without demanding to know what was going on with his sister. He and my mother were quite close growing up. But, if he ever asked, or if he ever got an answer, he never shared it with me.

I’d like to think that my mother, in an effort to make sure her baby got taken care of properly, must have told the people at the hospital, or wherever she was staying, to call my grandmother in Duluth to see if she would come and get me. But I don’t know if this was the case. Surely, that’s how they found out about my grandmother, but under what circumstances, well, that’s a mystery.

Thinking about it now, my uncle never mentioned my mother being present when he came to get me. Whether I was taken from her and put in the home or whether she brought me to the home/hospital herself and left me there, I will never know.  “Something happened” would be a phrase I would hear repeated many times over the years while growing up whenever my relatives got around to discussing the life of my mother. You see, much of my mother’s life was a mystery to all of her family.

A business school graduate who set records for typing and shorthand; a stint in the Army as a stenographer for the war crimes trials in Japan; finding herself in General MacArthur’s secretarial pool in Guam; later dropped off by the Army on the shores of San Francisco with $10 in her pocket and a message to never look for work with the government again. Her life after this point was a long downward spiral. She would never tell anyone what transpired. We were all left to repeat the mantra when talking about her, “Something happened.”

Let us know what you think…


1 Comment

  1. Tom

    Jeff — wow.


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Jeff Drake

Retired IT consultant, world-traveler, hobby photographer, and philosopher.