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51 Birch Street

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"Block has made a sad, delightful and half-accidental movie about his own parents which was the outstanding personal documentary at this year's (SXSW) festival... Profound and humane."

– Andrew O’Hehir, SALON.COM

Sandy Romagnuolo (age 52)

Here I sit at my computer on Soundview Road (not Port near the movie theatre as everyone thinks, but Great Neck, NY) same as that day in August, 2005 six months after my mother passed away and BAM!! “Your were adopted at birth, Sandy and you’ll never find your biological mother because she just went into the hospital saying she was Marilyn”!!! Marilyn is the mother that raised me. I can’t even bring myself to call her my “adoptive” mother as I now see is the correct lingo as I register on all of these adoption search sites. 

Yes, we all could have lived at 51 Birch St. (I happen to know the street well - I work for Daniel Gale Sothebys Realty here on the North Shore of Long Island. So there I was 51 yrs. old, 3 kids (28, 25 & 15 yrs old) and life is pretty good. Fairly nice childhood.  We didn’t really have much money but we always had “budget” vacations, family dinners, unconditonal love and stability. My brother (he’s not adopted) & I were a good team and managed to get through very difficult health issues with both of our parents, now deceased, and even managed to escape with a minimal amount of “guilt”. Then the “BAM”!!

What I find especially interesting is the way our brain protects us from pain.  Kind of like the way our immune system works to attack illness through out our lives.  There were so many “light bulb” moments, clues, etc. during my life that kind of made ya say HMMMM!  We actually used to joke about that I’m probably adopted at almost every family gathering but I didn’t REALLY believe that I was. During the last 3 months of my mothers life she was bedridden and I spent many hours listening to her olden day stories. Her long term memory was vivid.  I thought, when she passes I’ll probably hike into Brooklyn to talk to her cousin, Dorothy and ask her if I was adopted.  Why didn’t I just ask my mother?

So she passed in April, 2005.  Didn’t think it was particularly appropriate or necessary to ask any of the relatives that attended the funeral.  My brother & I did our usual introduction to our co-workers who attended. “I’d like to introduce you to my twin brother” (very funny because we are completely opposite in our physical appearance).  August, 2005 I’m working at my computer.  The telephone rings and it’s Joanie, my mothers childhood friend from Brooklyn.  She’s quite upset with me for not telling her that my mother passed.  I apologize, her passing was expected, I didn’t have her phone number and knew she wouldn’t come to NY from Florida because she’s quite ill.  We started chatting and she started her “olden day stories”. As my eyes began to glaze over, I had a light bulb moment!  I hadn’t yet made an effort to speak to any cousins, nor was it tops on my list of things to do.  But, I thought, a friend from childhood is likely to know a lot more about your secrets than a relative....So, I threw out the ridiculous question “So Joanie, I said, I know I was adopted wasn’t I?” Her response (without missing a beat) “Yes you were, and I planned the whole thing and don’t even try to look for your mother because she just used Marilyns name when she delivered you”!!!  She had no idea I was going to ask her this and I tried to compose myself enough to ask the necessary questions and get off of the phone without her hearing my heart pounding out of my chest.  Just then, my 15 yr old (Alexis) walks into the room and I blurt out this information.  So much for being a good parent!  See, we all make mistakes.  Not that I shouldn’t have told my kids, but it shouldn’t have been done like that. Alexis is my “most jewish” kid.  She observes the jewish holidays and has made her Bat Mitzvah.  She was quite upset that she might not actually be jewish.

Of course, I had many more questions for Joanie and called her a few days later.  The story is: My parents were married about 4 yrs and unable to conceive.  Joanie was married to Rocky (she calls him “the cheater").  They all lived in Brooklyn and at one time the two couples even shared an apartment because they wer so poor.  Rocky at some point had a girlfiend named “Kitty” (hey, ya never know..it’s a small world).  Kitty happened to know of a girl by the name of “Bobbi” who was pregnant by someone in the service.  Bobbi was from Upstate, NY and her father was some kind of prominant figure in their upstate community (Chief of Police?/Pastor of a Church?) so she couldn’t let him know about her pregnancy.  Her mother did know, however, and was at the hospital (Beth El Hospital, Brooklyn, NY) and quite upset at the loss of me, her first grandchild.  It seems that, my parents made a deal with Bobbi and she came to Brooklyn during her pregnancy, delivered me and handed me over.  There was no attorney or legal record of the adoption.

Of course, I did find my way into Brooklyn. Cousin Dorothy & I sat across from one another at the diner and I said I know I’m adopted. She stuttered “Are you crazy?  Why do you think that?” But her eyes welled with tears and her face said something else.  She finally admitted that I was as did other relatives that I approached.  If all that’s not strange enough, nobody really know where I came from.  My mother actually pretended to be pregnant! “Bubby” my mothers grandmother was not one for holding anything back and she told everyone that my mother wasn’t pregnant and she’s full of shit!! When Bubby came to the house to see the newborn, her response was “Beautiful baby but it’s a “Schickser”!! (spellcheck?). 

I think my story is long enough for now.  I can go on & on about my feelings about all this. I want to be careful not to let this information consume my life.  Under the circumstances, with so little informaton it’s highly unlikely I will ever connect with any of my biological family.  I am so curious though, about so many things. So far I’ve only hit dead ends in my search.  I’m planning a trip to Florida in the next few weeks to visit with Joanie & give her a few pieces of my mothers jewelry as a thank you for her role in all of this. I also wanted to to see if I can find the aid who took care of my mother in the end.  They got quite close and I know she told her many, many “olden day stories”. The agency that she works for has given her my phone number a few times but she hasn’t called me.  Sandy

Comments

Wow, that’s quite a story, Sandy.  It’s so interesting to me that your parents felt so much shame around not being able to conceive.  To the point of your mother pretending to be pregnant.  There was just so much pressure on our parents to conform, it’s almost hard to imagine from our present-day perspective.  Hope you’ll be able to get to a place of forgiveness, at some point.  With my own parents, that was easier to do once I realized that they did the best they knew how to do.  They didn’t have any parenting manual back then.


By: Doug Block, on Oct 14, 2006

Sandy--

I want to respond because I think what you suffered is such a difficult difficult loss. I think probably other people were afraid to write anything because they (like I) just couldn’t think of what might be a comfort. I hope you will share the subsequent chapters of your story, here or someplace else. How you deal with this is a story, and it is an important story to share. Bless you.


By: A Daughter, on Jan 09, 2007

Mom,
I’m not upset!
When did you write this!??!


By: Alexis, on Apr 30, 2007

Oh my God! Alexis!  How did you stumble onto this website???

To: “A Daughter”
How have I dealt with this? 
1) I only allow myself to spend “x” amount of time for this search. The search can consume your life if you let it and I have too many wonderful things to enjoy.
2) I tell everyone, everywhere (given the opening) my story.  Why? Because ya just never know how our paths cross through life. For some reason, it was meant to be that I found out this information and will be meant to be if I should stumble upon a family member.
3) Instead of spending thousands of dollars on probate to open my hospital records which I’m told probably don’t even exist anymore, I remodeled my kitchen and use decorating as my “drug of choice”.  Not to mention my mother would be flipping out since she did everything to protect my brother & I from probate and all that stuff.

In the end, does it really matter or make a difference? No.  Learned to always trust my gut in all situations


By: Sandy, on Apr 30, 2007

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