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Patty’s Journey: From Orphanage to Adoption and Reunion

Donna Scott Norling
Afterword by Priscilla Ferguson Clement
Copyright Date: 1996
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 208
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  • Book Info
    Patty’s Journey
    Book Description:

    This inspirational story of one girl’s search for a home is an engaging first-person narrative of life during the Great Depression and World War II. Readers and critics alike offer lavish praise for Norling’s graceful prose and the redemptive tale she shares.

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-8770-1
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. Preface
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  4. chapter one A Taste of Home
    (pp. 1-12)

    Excitement was rare and precious in 1936. Grown-ups talked often about the Great Depression, which I sometimes pictured as fog: silent, invasive. Other times, it was a tornado in painfully slow motion, shattering dreams, uprooting families, sucking the smiles from their faces and scattering them somewhere above the clouds.

    But on a sticky-hot morning I remember clearly, our small Minneapolis apartment overflowed with the gleeful energy of two small girls. My sister had just turned six; I was “going on four.”

    Yvonne and I were having a tug-of-war over a new box of cereal. The struggle started at the table,...

  5. chapter two Owatonna State Public School
    (pp. 13-26)

    On the night of my fifth birthday I discovered I could fly. I’d tried before, but this time it just happened.

    It was December 27, 1937. My home now was the fifty-year-old State Public School for Dependent and Neglected Children in a small Minnesota town called Owatonna. Legend states that frail, sickly Owatonna, daughter of the great chief Wabena, was restored to health by theminnewaucan(curative waters) at the edge of town.

    That December evening, while supper dishes were cleared from our long table, a woman from a local service club gave me a toothbrush wrapped in white tissue...

  6. chapter three Foster Family
    (pp. 27-34)

    When I left the sanitorium, after four months of isolation from all but medical personnel and other tubercular children, they gave Jane back to me.

    Through a battery of physical tests, the doctors had determined I was no longer contagious. It was common for TB patients to lose weight dramatically, but it was not so with my mild case, discovered in its earliest stages with a routine six-month Mantoux test. My face was even rounder than before, from inactivity and the prescribed high-calorie diet. I felt slower, restrained by invisible bonds.

    My examiners seemed genuinely puzzled by my mental and...

  7. chapter four Foster Group Home
    (pp. 35-40)

    I awoke when the car stopped and the solemn woman stepped from the front seat. Somehow, I already knew they weren’t taking me back to Owatonna, to my own sister and brother. Not to Minneapolis and Momma either.

    “I’ll be back soon,” she told the driver, who seemed nervous. He had glanced anxiously at me a few times without speaking. In his mirror, I saw his eyes follow me while I examined my tender right cheek. It carried an imprint from the Ford’s woven straw seat covers.

    The woman reappeared after a few minutes. “Let’s see if we can make...

  8. chapter five Back to Owatonna
    (pp. 41-50)

    After my second experience with foster care, another pair of state agents delivered me back to Owatonna’s state school.

    Yvonne was overjoyed to see me, after more than a year. Her hug lifted my feet off the floor. “Oh, honey, honey,” she cried, pressing her wet cheek against mine. And she was surprised how much I had changed.

    “What’s the matter, Pattycake?” she asked when I wiggled away from her smothering kisses. She sounded like Momma. I couldn’t explain that I was afraid to get close, even to her, again.

    They had told me that Duane was gone now, adopted,...

  9. chapter six Adoption
    (pp. 51-62)

    A steady February snowfall slowed our drive from Owatonna to the northern edge of Minneapolis. I tried hard not to be carsick because I didn’t know if it would make this Mom and Dad angry.

    Mrs. Scott sat between her husband and me. Mr. Scott said little, except to comment on driving conditions and the cost of the trip. He sat far back in the seat, so that all I could see of him was the front brim of his homburg hat, the bowl of his pipe, and long fingers gripping the gearshift that rose tall from its floor mounting....

  10. chapter seven Becoming Donna
    (pp. 63-76)

    It was late spring, and the lilac hedge in our back yard had burst into blossom and scent before I made my first journey to Howard Lake to meet my new grandparents. Dad’s monthly night off finally coincided with clear roads along the fifty-mile route.

    More than a dozen people had assembled there for my extended-family debut, including their pastor and the pastor’s son. It was confusing to meet so many at one time, and I would clearly remember only a few from that day.

    Mother fussed with my hair and sash and coached my manners, obviously wanting me to...

  11. chapter eight A New Family Tree
    (pp. 77-90)

    I was not yet familiar with this saying, so I didn’t suspect I should be fully formed. I kept trying to reinvent myself, to become a creature with a clean past and a secure future.

    I gathered up the strands of my life—stifled secrets, dark dreams, fading memories—and tried to force them into a new fabric. But they did not lie flat and neat, woven through like the yarn that grew into soft afghans beneath Grandmother’s rhythmic needles. There were frayed and knotted places. The damaged ends, receiving no attention, seemed unlikely to mend by themselves.

    Dad ruled...

  12. chapter nine Winds of Change
    (pp. 91-102)

    Seventh grade, with all my new feelings and freedoms, turned suddenly grim, first interrupted by Grandmother Patrick’s frequent illnesses. I remembered occasional sudden train trips to Howard Lake during my last two years of elementary school. Mother and I rode the night train, using Dad’s railroad pass; I jerked sleepily from side to side, leaning against Mother’s shoulder, trying not to be sick. The conductor would call out a town’s name as we approached the depot that stood in soft-lit welcome between the tracks and the silent town. “Wayzata,” he called, announcing our first stop. “LongLake.” He accented each...

  13. chapter ten Branching Out
    (pp. 103-114)

    I still thought about Yvonne. Not daily, as I had after we were parted, but in response to random memory triggers: a pink hairbrush, apples fallen from a tree, a mention of July 11—her birthday. I scrutinized grainy newspaper photographs of anyone named Yvonne who could be about two years my senior, looking to see if she rimpled her chin when she posed for a picture. A girl the right age—by any name—drew my attention if she had my nose and mouth in a narrower face. I knew my sister would be scouting for signs of me,...

  14. [Illustrations]
    (pp. None)
  15. chapter eleven Rain and Roses
    (pp. 115-128)

    My blind date bounded up to our front door in a downpour, my first clue that he would be different from boys my age. They’d have used the rain as an excuse to stay at the curb, honking the car horn. And he actually conversed with my mother—not just a nod and a mumble—then took my umbrella and covered me while I picked my way, in open-toed shoes, around the widening puddles. His own head, more than eight inches above mine, was at the mercy of wind and water. Luckily, the stiff pompadour wave in masculine vogue then...

  16. chapter twelve Myths and Realities
    (pp. 129-140)

    In the 1940s, Hollywood produced many memorable classic films likeCasablanca, Mrs. Miniver, andThe Best Years of Our Lives, but the movie screens were dominated by war stories, B westerns, and predictable musical comedies (“We can save Pop’s diner by putting on a show in the old barn”).

    Continuing episodes of Tom Mix and Hopalong Cassidy serials drew crowds of kids to ten-cent matinees on Saturdays. Adults were lured by Tuesday “bank night” (“Your ticket stub might be drawn for cash!”) and Wednesday “dish night” (“This week each and every customer receives a cereal bowl in the lovely Starlight...

  17. chapter thirteen Milestones
    (pp. 141-148)

    A nurse came through the door of my hospital room, a bundled infant cradled in her arm. Like Jane and me, I thought. But this young woman was smiling broadly, her cap cocked forward to accommodate a bristle of ponytail. A cloth diaper for my shoulder swung from her hand. In her, I saw all that I had lacked that momentous day when I climbed down from the attic: humor, confidence, preparedness.

    She laid the baby in my outstretched arms. I stroked his fine hair, like silk, and looked into dark blue eyes like mine. Feelings of warmth and wonder...

  18. chapter fourteen A Time to Weep
    (pp. 149-164)

    It was an autumn like no other, in that eighteenth year since my marriage. The trees, under dull gray skies, had surrendered their leaves early, before their blazing colors peaked. At the same time, the long hopeful days of summer deserted us, leaving harsh, bitter reality.

    My brother arrived for the second time, from his home in California, to assess Mother’s condition and decided again that she would recover fully. It was easy for Patrick to believe something he wanted so desperately.

    My own denial had been assaulted with hard evidence—her rapidly failing memory, drooping eyes—over the last...

  19. chapter fifteen Remembrance
    (pp. 165-170)

    Ever since the day Yvonne and I had driven to Owatonna and found few traces of the children, I had watched for Owatonna stories in my bookstore and in the library’s copy ofBooks in Print. In ten years, I found only a single chapter in one book, describing the author’s brief stay in cottage five.

    I began to research the opening of the state public school, gingerly at first, in a detached way, as if it had nothing to do with me personally. (So why the guilt pangs?)

    In the course of that effort, I heard about plans for...

  20. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 171-172)
  21. Afterword
    (pp. 173-186)
    Priscilla Ferguson Clement

    Between the eighteenth century, when the first orphan asylums opened in what would become the United States, and the 1940s, when most ceased to exist, thousands of children spent portions of their lives in orphanages. Some of these children and countless others lived in foster and adoptive homes, yet comparatively few ever recorded their experiences. Donna Scott Norling is the exception. She gives us a unique child’s-eye view of orphanages, foster care, and adoption. It is the purpose of this afterword to put her remarkable chronicle in historical perspective.

    Government intervention in the lives of poor children has a long...

  22. Back Matter
    (pp. 187-187)