My oldest granddaughter, Baillie, turned twenty-two today. She, like all the grandkids, makes me realize how fleeting time is. It seems like yesterday we were driving to church together: laughing every time she closed her eyes on the bridges on Interstate 820 (she knows what I mean). In the last twenty-two years I’ve learned that cows eat pancakes for breakfast, books are a solid bet for acceptable birthday and Christmas presents, and Baillie looks at home in traditional Hindu clothing.
There must be some crazy recessive gene that took hold of Baillie. Her mom and I have often remarked that she couldn’t possibly be from our families because she’s way too together. If you knew our families would know why we say that…
I’m happy that Baillie still wants to hang out with her Pops. We don’t get to see each other as often as I would like. She’s an adult with adult things like a job these days. We went out to dinner a couple of weeks ago and I can assure you, some of the happiest times in my life are the hours I spend with Baillie.
That being said…
Happy Birthday Baillie! You are the love of my life. With all the love in my heart, Pops
Today would have been my dad’s 96th birthday. I found my biological father earlier this year and learned from his obituary that he died on January 16th, 2021. Hmm. One man was the most loving, selfless man I’ve ever known. The other didn’t even know I existed. I haven’t even tried to contact the half-sister I apparently have in southeast Texas. I think it’s better that way. Besides, I have a whole new family to get to know up in Kentucky.
I miss Dad this morning (my real or “adopted” father for clarification). When he retired from the railroad (early retirement at 57 and 40 years of service!) he stayed home for a couple of months and found retirement lacking many of the things he loved (Plus Mom couldn’t stand having him around the house all day). People for one, work another. So, he went to work for another ten years for a local developer and construction company.
He agreed to go back to work with the understanding that he would take a month off every January into February to work the Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo (FWSSR). He and one of his oldest friends, Jesse, worked security at the vendor’s and exhibitor’s gate. They’d go to work the week before the show started and work twelve hours a day, seven days a week, and for minimum wage, until the stock show was over. For one month he was no longer a Human Resources professional for a big firm in East Fort Worth – he was the guy in the Stetson hat that greeted you at the entrance.
Dad loved the Stock Show. It was a constant stream of people in and out and he knew them all. He used to bring huge amounts of food from the bakers, caterers, and food vendors for the show. I don’t think Mom had to go to the grocery store for a month! We never celebrated his birthday until the show was over, but he never minded. He was always the happiest working the FWSSR.
The FWSSR or “the Stock Show” as it’s more commonly called, began in 1896. The Southwest Exposition and Livestock Show (formal name) is longest running stock show in the country. It’s always been a big deal here in Fort Worth. I know few Fort Worth natives that haven’t been to the FWSSR. If attendance records are any indicator, even the new transplants to Fort Worth come in droves. I’m not sure if Dad would’ve liked that. He was the man who had one bumper sticker his entire life and it read: “If you love New York take I-30 East”. He was a bit “Texophobic”…
When I was young, the Stock Show was the highlight of the year. The Fort Worth schools even gave a day off for students to attend. We went every year to tour the livestock barns (especially the horses), the exhibit halls, and the show arenas. Dad would get us tickets to the Saturday matinee rodeo. Paradise was three weeks long on an annual basis. Attending the Stock Show was one of my first (and happiest) memories.
My Grandmother was a seamstress for “The Army Store” downtown (they sold army surplus and work clothes – I could wander the store for hours!). Her boss, Mr. Wimberly, owned champion Appaloosa Horses he both would show and race. His top show horse, Rustler Bill, pulled in awards from the stock show (and nationally I might add) every year. He was a beautiful horse and I wanted more than anything to ride him.
My father and I walked to the horse barns to look for Mr. Wimberly. I stared at this incredible stallion ignoring the conversation between Dad and Mr. Wimberly. My trance was broken by Mr. Wimberly. “Do you want to ride him son?” If I had died that moment, I would have died the happiest kid on Earth. I almost yelled “of course” and he helped me up onto the horse’s back. Handing me the reins, he said to walk him around the barn. I walked him slow so I could stay on him longer.
It’s been fifty-plus years since that day. I continued to make the FWSSR every year until the boys grew bigger. They weren’t interested in the cows, horse, and other livestock anymore. They’d grown out of it they said (My oldest son worked training cutting horses for a few years though). I took the grandkids several times, but they too, have lost interest as they’ve grown.
As for me, Opal’s Farm and family keep me busy. I never seem to have the time. I don’t do large crowds well anymore, especially during the pandemic. I thought about going this afternoon It’s tradition after all, but I’d rather have my memories than current experience. It’s just not the same if Dad’s not there…
A bit of Irony…
I mentioned learning of my biological father this past summer. According to the information and the obituary I found, he was quite the cowboy. He coached a local high school rodeo team in steer wrestling and team roping. He was a member of the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association Gold Card member, Original Team Roping Association, and the Texas Rodeo Association. The irony of his passing on January 16th isn’t lost on me. Could it be genetics…
I’m adopted. I often think about my birth mother. It doesn’t diminish the love I have for my adopted parents. I couldn’t have asked for a better mom and dad (and they were my Mom and Dad). I’d just like to know where I come from. Do I have siblings? What is (or at my age, was) my mother like? Does she ever think of me? Is the profile the adoption agency gave my parents even true? A recent NPR/Think interview with Gabrielle Glaser, the author of American Baby: A Mother, A child, and the History of Adoption, casts doubt on the adoption process during the post-war Baby Boom years.
I get all stoked up to find my own birth mother every time I hear of miraculous reunions of birth families. It quickly ends up on the back burner and is soon forgotten. The desire to know about my birth mother is real but, if I’m to be honest, is also terrifying. What if she was glad to send me away? Would she even want to meet me? Would it be too traumatic for her? Am I uncovering things best left buried? The list of questions goes on and on.
I’m told by those closest to me and, most importantly, by someone who has given up a child for adoption, that not a day goes by that the child is not thought of. I’d like to think that is the case with my birth mother. Like the story that caught my eye, I’d like to think that my birth aunts, uncles, cousins, and siblings have been looking for me; that I’d be welcomed with open arms. It’s a great fantasy, but reality can have a far different result. They are more likely to be somewhat apprehensive of someone claiming to be a long-lost family member. It would be for me.
The search for “bio-mom” didn’t feel right when my mom and dad were alive. They had provided me with the personality profile of my birth parents that was given to them at the time of my adoption. That should be enough. I didn’t want to cause them harm or unnecessary anxiety. That was more in my head than theirs. Several years before Mom died, she asked me why I hadn’t tried to find my birth mother. She let me know that it was perfectly fine with her. She wasn’t offended or stressed out. It would be perfectly natural to be curious. I’m good at offering excuses – adoption searches are costly financially, mentally, and time wise. Besides, I’m too busy right?
The quest became more important after my son Jeremy died last May. Jeremy was always frustrated that I wasn’t diligently searching for my birth mother. He wanted to know more of my past than I did. He loved his grandparents but never hesitated to remind me that we weren’t blood related. He wasn’t content knowing we were supposedly of Irish and Scottish descent. He wanted to know who we really were. Maybe it would answer other questions too like the addictions and depression that lived in our little family.
I’ve thought about this a lot over the last year. I joined Ancestry.com a few months back. Jeremy always reminded me how meaningless it was to look at the Joel family tree – it simply wasn’t us. So last year’s birthday present to myself was a DNA test.
It wasn’t unexpected when DNA matches began to arrive. We’re far more connected and similar to other folks than we’d like to think. We share 99.9% of our DNA with other human beings. The .1% sure seems to cause big problems for such a small percentage, but that’s another story…
I have a plethora of 3rd, 4th, 5th, and so forth cousins. You get the picture. There have only been three close family matches so far. I ventured messages to each, but I’ve never received a response. I’m not sure how to process that. It’s early in the journey so I’ll let it slide for now.
I’m finally stepping out Jeremy. Your brother and the three grandkids will keep me on task. So, this is how it begins…
My youngest grandson turned a year-old recently. We were unable to have all the family gathered due to COVID, but six of us shared the day with him. No one should have to go without celebration for their first birthday! It was just my brother-in-law and his wife, my stepson and granddaughter, and my wife and I – and of course, Easton.
I always have a slight amount of tension around my wife’s family. They tend to be ultra-conservative and well, I’m not. They don’t hesitate to voice their opinions freely, much to my dismay. I cringe when I hear the references to Fox News and quoting right wing radio hosts. I try to hold my tongue with family members outside of my wife and kids as they degenerate from a discussion to an argument and hard feelings quickly.
The get-together was going smoothly with Easton the center of attention – but once gifts were opened, and he went down for a nap, things changed. A commercial talking about “Black History Month” came on. My brother-in-law commented, “What about white history month?”
My stepson remarked that “he and his daughter were just talking about that the other day”. In the background I could hear my sister-in-law saying something about special treatment and tearing monuments down. I was livid but held my tongue; taking a moment to ponder the consequences. I had to get up and go outside. Mom always said, “if you can’t say anything nice then don’t say anything at all”.
I came back in later. The conversation had shifted, and my in-laws were preparing to leave. Good-byes were said and we got ready to go as well. My stepson wanted to go outside and smoke before we left. I saw this an opportunity to say something about the racist comments made. If we don’t talk about issues of white supremacy (“Why don’t we have a ‘white’ history month”) and why that’s a racist comment, then we can never teach each other how to love and how to overcome structural racism.
I explained to him that the history we’ve grown up with is white history – seen through the lens of white privilege and supremacy. My wife reminded him that “white” history is yearlong. That’s why Black History Month is so necessary.
There’s a huge difference in being a “non”-racist and an “anti”-racist. Non-racists still judge people of color by very white standards which is the subtle form of white supremacy that infects so many. Non-racists seldom take the time to step outside their comfort zone. Even if they’ve began to understand issues of white supremacy, guilt, and fragility they remain silent in the face of the very racism they claim to void of. Silence is complicity.
An anti-racist is someone who raises a voice in situations like my grandson’s party – opposing white supremacy and structural racism in its various manifestations. Anti-racism makes for some uncomfortable conversations, both with family and with friends who haven’t awakened to its depths among white society.
I missed an opportunity with my brother in-law and his wife. I’m not sure that it would’ve been a conversation as much as an argument. I was relieved when they left if I’m honest.
I spent some time with Ms. Opal Lee recently and I told her about what happened and how I felt about it. I felt guilty for the missed opportunity. She reminded me that “if people can be taught how to hate, they can be taught how to love”. This doesn’t happen in a classroom or a church. This happens one-on-one – we intentionally seek out one person and open the door to conversation – which requires seeing and hearing someone even if we don’t agree. “Each one, teach one…”
I’m honored to be surrounded by great teachers. Black History Month is a great opportunity to learn how to listen and how to love. It’s full of a richness that the predominant white culture has failed to share.
“There is no Jew or Greek. There is no slave or free person. There is no male or female… You are all one… Abrahams descendants…” Paul’s Letter to the Galatians 3.28 ff (NIRV)
Ms. Opals will be at the National Press Club this Wednesday, February 25th to celebrate Black History Month. The celebration will be livestreamed at 11:00 AM (EST) at: To register for the in-person press conference email firstname.lastname@example.orgTo tune in virtually via YouTube from 11:30am EST click here. Click here to tune in virtually via Facebook from 11:30am EST. To sign Ms. Opal’s Change.org petition visit her website.
About Ms. Opal Lee Ms. Opal is the oldest living board member of the National Juneteenth Observance Foundation (NJOF) that was founded and led by the late Dr. Ronald Myers, Sr., whose initiative is for Juneteenth to become a national holiday. To bring awareness to the cause, she started her Opal’s Walk 2 DC campaign in 2016, where she walked 2.5 miles to symbolize the 2.5 years that it took for slaves in Texas to know that they were free. Ms. Opal launched a petition to make Juneteenth a national holiday on Change.org, and in September 2020 delivered the 1.5 million signatures it had received to Congress. Ms. Opal believes that freedom should be celebrated from the 19th of June to the 4th of July. Head here for more.
About Unity Unlimited, Inc. Unity Unlimited, Inc. is a non-profit organization whose main mission is providing educational activities and resources to people, young and old, to foster unity and harmony within the community, the city, the state, the nation and the world regardless of race, culture or denomination. For more information visit: www.unityunlimited.org/