One day, Lea brought me a beautiful, handmade girl’s dress which was exquisite. The dress was outgrown some time ago, but Lea had made the dress one of her keepsakes. “Who made this for you?” I asked. “Grandma Dottie,” she replied. “The missionary lady who cared for me when I was a baby,” she explained. “Where is Grandma Dottie?” I asked. “I don’t know, I used to get letters from her, but I don’t get them anymore. I still have the letters she sent me.” Lea responded.
The letters and cards sent by Grandma Dottie were still in the envelopes they were mailed in. Each had a complete return address and the most recent postmark was more than five years old. I showed Lea where the return address was, and I told her that is where the letters came from and probably was where Grandma Dottie lived. Grandma Dottie’s address was in Florida, we were in California. I called information and there was a listed number for this address. It would be good for Lea to talk with someone who knew her as an infant and toddler. I called the number in Florida and introduced myself as the foster mom for Lea. Dottie was very pleased we called, and asked to speak with Lea. I stood next to Lea as they spoke on the phone. After about one minute, Lea told me that Grandma Dottie wanted to talk to me.
Grandma Dottie wanted to know if I was Christian (I was not religious), if I was married (I was single) and if I was willing to let Lea go to visit her. I did not have the authority to send Lea out of state for any reason but it would be nice for Lea to communicate with someone who knows her origin. I gave Grandma Dottie our address so she could write to Lea and I confirmed that the address we had for Dottie was correct. Following this conversation; Lea asked me for a stamp almost every day, and several times per week, a letter arrived from Grandma Dottie.
Not long after my first contact, I received a phone call from Dottie. She called to let me know that she was coming to California and there were seven days of her visit that she would be able to stay with us. I was stunned; I had never even met this woman who has just invited herself to stay in my home for a week. The week included the Thanksgiving Holiday where we had been invited to my brothers. She would arrive on a Friday and would leave the Friday following Thanksgiving. Initially, I could not agree to this. It was too presumptuous. I told her I wanted to think about it and I would call her the next day. I decided that Dottie could come and stay for a week. I rationalized that it was only for a week, it would be a good experience for Lea, and I would learn new things. I called Dottie and warned her that I had five children, a chaotic, messy and busy life but if she wanted to join us for a week, she was welcome. I made several important discoveries from Dottie’s visit.
Dottie was an evangelist missionary for a Pentecostal church. I was raised Episcopalian and as an adult, I did not practice any religious ritual whatsoever. I was and am not a believer. I respect the ways of Jesus Christ as rules for living, and I teach many of those rules to my children because they are good rules. I do not speak of Heaven or Hell except that to a child, I would say that “Heaven” is a nice possibility but I do not believe in Hell so people cannot go there. As a gesture to Dottie, I showed her the telephone book and said we would attend church with her at a church she chose. We all sat in a pew in our “Sunday best.” Dottie’s presence had a good impact and my children were quiet and well behaved. I listened to the sermon politely until the pastor began to rail about “false religions.” I had never heard the term; “false religions” and as I listened more closely, I realized the pastor was referring to all faiths except the Protestant Christian faith and I was alarmed. It was very disturbing to me to hear this person of leadership and respect refer to other mainstream faiths with disdain. Later, I told Dottie that my sister in law was Jewish and that one of my cousins was “gay” and we would be seeing them at Thanksgiving. I let Dottie know that if my children denigrated my sister in law’s faith, or showed any disrespect to my gay cousin, that they would be punished by me, for sure. Dottie was very subdued at Thanksgiving.
In spite of the fact that Dottie’s proselytizing irritated me, we talked about things we both agreed on. I noted to Dottie that I was confused by the number of US citizens who go to the expense of going overseas and adopting children when we have so many orphans who need parents right here in the United States. Dottie rightly pointed out to me that when the life of a child can be saved, it should be done. I learned about the baby games Dottie played with Lea, a few details about the family that brought Lea home from Haiti and how Dottie was successful in getting Lea removed from the foster parents who were gay when Lea was five years old.
This was a learning experience for all of us, especially Lea. Grandma Dottie was a real person, an elderly, opinionated person who cared for Lea. I know that Lea was as glad when we took Dottie to the airport as I was. Years later, after Lea was adopted by me and I had the freedom to put her on an airplane to visit Grandma Dottie in Florida, I did. Lea met many of Dottie’s friends from Haiti and when she returned she let me know how glad she was that I was her mom.