From the beginning it is likely they had a good idea what orphanage I would be sent to. I’m sure the Wayne County, Indiana professionals in the Department of Children and Family were considering their options–that I may well have been a topic at staff meetings, even brainstorming sessions. How cost effective could it be for a social worker in Middle America to spin her wheels looking for a family that might legitimately want to adopt such a conundrum?
The social worker in charge of my case had three daughters all nearly full grown. She and her husband had always wanted a boy. I’m told I was one of those very personable, fat and happy babies. The story is that she and her husband decided if no one else was going to adopt me, they would.
But that was not to be. In the same town, Loureide Jeanette Biddle, a feisty, compassionate, in-your-face woman barely five feet tall, had taken it upon herself to expedite the adoption process for her son Bruce and daughter-in-law Ellen who had just suffered their fourth miscarriage in as many years. Loureide was no ordinary woman. Neither was her husband Bill. Together, during the thirties and forties, they forged a new approach to applied social science that they called community development. Drawing on principles of anthropology, social work, and religion, community development meant helping solve the problems of the poor and destitute by going out and living with them, participating in their way of life, understanding their values and the needs of their town or village. Then, from within, using the networking smarts of the social worker, Bill and Loureide would work with group leaders to solve the problems of the community. Bill was a very respected thinker in the progressive and liberal world of social science and education. By the fifties he was a professor at Earlham College, a small Quaker liberal arts college on the western half of the town of Richmond, Indiana (besides my mother who did graduate work at Earlham, my brother Jesse received his BA there thirty years later). Bill was busy teaching his theories in 1958. Impish, frenetic Loureide was a super-bright woman in her own right: an accomplished musician and political activist who had organized the socialist democratic party of Philadelphia in the early forties, and was also the first female lower school principal at Friends Central, a private school in Philly’s privileged mainline. In slow-paced Richmond she was champing at the bit for a new project, a new challenge. Bruce and Ellen were living in Lexington where he had his first job as an associate professor of social psychology at the University of Kentucky. Louriede pushed for adoption and, as the story goes, figured they all had a better shot in sleepy little Richmond than Lexington.
In my early years, I saw my grandmother Loureide tell off and boss around any number of people. She never took No for an answer. She had the remarkable skill of being domineering and even bitchy in order to get her point across, all the while never leaving you with the sense that she’d done anything other than sweetly ask you to do something for her. I can only imagine how the social work agency responsible for me dealt with her.
Ellen Horgan Biddle and Bruce Jesse Biddle became my parents on May 5, 1958. I’m sure I was dumbfounded and overwhelmed by the love and happiness surrounding me. On my birthday every year for my entire adult life my mother would send me a card reading the same words: “Dear David, when I first saw you I fell in love with you. I loved you then and I love you now. I held you in my arms and smiled down at you and you smiled right back at me and cooed like a little dove. Happy Birthday. I love you.”
For the first twenty-four years of my life, that love was all I needed. Faithfully, I never felt the need to know anything about my origins. People would always ask me: “Don’t you want to find your birth parents?” But my answer was always the same. “No. No, I don’t need to find them. I belong to this family. That’s more than enough.”
But it wasn’t enough. I spent the first two decades or so of my life ignoring something so fundamental and personal that it may permanently have warped my sense of identity. In the heart of my heart, I was nothing to the world and I was nothing to myself.