Thursday, August 24, 2006

Dotty’s Baby

Fragrant rambling roses climbed up the back porch trellis at our Washington D. C. home on Brandywine Street where we moved in the early 1950s. Each block had a back alley. I remember a neighbor had to leave after being denounced as a Soviet spy. Spring brought hyacinths to our front garden. Summer smelled of tar as I skipped rope on the hot sidewalk with my girlfriends. I remember how we would go to great lengths not to step on the lines while walking to school. What I don’t remember is little Dotty’s coming from Long Island to live with us all of a sudden. Since Bea’s mind is clear as a Cape Cod sky on a cool autumn night, I ask why Dotty came. Bea says simply, “She was pregnant and couldn’t marry the guy. He made love to her. She had no protection.”

As a child, I used to associate Dotty with the home for unwed mothers, up Brandywine Street. Actually, her baby was born in Yonkers, New York. Here is Bea’s version of what happened:

“We lived in a two-family house. There was a doctor in the other half. That was a surprise, because usually doctors are prosperous, and you don’t find them living in two-family houses. He caught on fast enough. And actually later they put the baby up for adoption.”

I don’t want her to skip over Dotty’s pregnancy, but she already has. I need to hear about my cousin who passed away this spring, a victim of pneumonia, caught in a nursing home. Devoted to Bea, in 1999 Dotty even traveled from Long Island to participate in my dad’s memorial service, right before Parkinson’s declared itself.

Bea is moving on with the story: “Some people from the South adopted the baby.”

“But, what about Dotty? How old was she?”

“15?”

“She must have been so grateful … I guess she didn’t want to have an abortion.”

“Nobody wants anybody else to have an abortion.”

“Did you ever see the baby?”

“You bet. It was a lovely baby. We looked her up long after. How I wish I didn’t talk in this feeble voice! I feel ghastly. But you can’t stop time.”

“You mean you saw the baby again?” This revelation seems incredible.

“When we went to the adoption agency, I said I wanted someone who was religious, a religion comparable to mine. The people were so very happy with the child. I told Dotty.”

I assume she means Dotty, her niece, not Dorothy, her sister.

I am not sure how much of Bea’s story is true. Dotty did spend several months with us on Brandywine Street where her aunt encouraged visits to the National Gallery of Art. Dot would spend hours there.

Bea remained involved afterwards, but to exactly what extent I do not know.

Dotty tracked down her baby once she was a grown woman.

Younger sister Ellen emailed, “I know my mom named my grandmother as godmother so she could get to hold her during the baptism, secretly thinking that once her mother held the baby she wouldn't make her give her away. It didn't work, but I think it did make it a lot harder for my grandmother, which considering how hard it was for my mom was probably some cold comfort to her at that time in her life. I've always marveled at the things she did - naming her Damaris, a name in a book she was reading that was so unusual she figured - at her tender age even - that if the baby had an odd name, it would be easier to track her down some day. She even breastfed her for a while before giving her up. How awfully hard!”

I sent Dotty’s daughter, renamed Beth, a condolence note at Dotty’s passing. Beth responded, “I think Dot found Bea a role model she could never quite successfully inhabit. And I also know the time spent at your home in DC while she was pregnant was a consolation since she was feeling so outcast and isolated. And I wonder what influence my little neonatal cells might have picked up there …”

I remember now. The week Dotty left, I cut some of those red roses and placed the bouquet in her room. I missed my cousin after she went back to New York ...

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