KidsTheseDays.org is pleased to present this weekly serial from writer, Shirley Kurth Schneider. Shirley and her husband moved to Alaska in 1962 and in 1965 they broke ground on a rustic two-story cabin, located off the grid just outside Fairbanks. It was the same year that they decided to adopt a baby. Adoption: Alaska-style is Shirley's story about becoming a mother in rural 1960's Alaska, excerpted from her memoir-in-progress and presented here in five parts. Read parts 1, 2 & 3
Somehow, I made it through the afternoon and early evening. When it was time to retrieve Larry from work, I dressed Christopher in his snowsuit and, hugging him tightly, climbed the 16-percent-grade driveway to the car.
Pulling up in front of the building where Larry worked, I waited for him to appear in the doorway. When he slid into the passenger’s seat I shoved the letter at him, scarcely allowing him time to close the door before I began to weep.
“Hush, Shirley. Calm down. Give me time to read this,” he said in a soft, admonishing tone.
But I couldn’t calm down.
“They’re going to want him to have his own bedroom,” I sputtered. “Larry we have to scrub the walls.”
“Don’t worry, Shirley, we will,” Larry said, holding the letter in his hand as he stared out the windshield.
There wasn’t anything else to say. Except for the sound of my sobbing, we rode home in silence. Christopher sat quietly in his car seat between us. Occasionally, he reached out, tugging on one of our parkas, but there was none of his usual baby talk or laughter.
After dinner, Larry and I attempted to clean the walls in the kitchen. We may as well have saved ourselves the effort. It was still too cold to open the windows and therefore unsafe to use a stronger, more toxic cleaning solution, but the Spic and Span cleaner again proved worthless. Hours of scrubbing did little to change the walls’ appearance.
The next day, with my heart in my throat and Christopher in my arms, I arrived at Myrnie’s house. A barrage of words and a stream of tears followed my step over the threshold. She listened patiently as I described our dilemma. Then she encouraged me to use her phone to place a call to the Department of Social Services and schedule a family interview. I took her advice, figuring nothing could be worse than not knowing. I arranged with Social Services to meet their representative at the office and bring her out to our home three days later.
Although it wasn’t worth my effort, I continued to scrub the logs. Keeping myself busy saved me from jumping out of my skin. There was nothing Larry could say to ease my worry. In appeasement, he often joined me at the wall.
Finally, the day arrived. I was relieved when Larry left to collect our guest. However, he hadn’t been gone five minutes before I felt deserted and more afraid. I moved restlessly about the house.
Coffee cups sat on saucers next to the silver tea and coffee service. Damask napkins lay ready and waiting on the kitchen counter, beside a cake piled high with seven-minute frosting. My silver cake server and the forks from the silver chest lay next to the dessert plates. The scene was set.
I dressed Christopher in a short-sleeved white shirt and a pair of black velvet knee-length pants with flower-embroidered shoulder straps. We played “This little piggy went to market” on his toes before I slipped on a pair of white knee socks and his first pair of ankle-high shoes.
When the dogs alerted me to Larry’s return, I grabbed Christopher up into my arms and waited for the two of them to enter the house. With pretended composure, I invited the SS woman to join us in the living room. I put Christopher down to take her coat. Guardedly, while Larry engaged her in conversation, I watched her eyeballs move about in their sockets, giving the place a once-over. After offering her cake and coffee, I joined Larry on the couch.
While she and Larry ate, I watched as Christopher, with broad smile and dark eyes flashing, crawled up to the coffee table. From the moment she walked through the door, he had begun to flirt with her. Now he pulled himself upright and, leaning toward our visitor, laughed in beguiling manner before withdrawing to the security of my embrace.
Unable to bear the suspense any longer, Larry asked.
“Well, what do you think? Are you going to recommend granting permanent adoption?”
Read the final installment - Part 5: The Decision