Everett woman was 17 when she gave up her baby for adoption
Imagine it’s 1935. You are 17, unmarried, and pregnant. The young father isn’t the marrying kind.
You do the most unselfish thing on earth — you give your baby up for adoption.
That would be the end of most stories, but we have a long-overdue update: At age 84, Luellen Garner of Everett was recently reunited with the 66-year-old daughter she only knew for a few months.
"Meeting my daughter was the highlight of my life," Garner said. "I got tired of hearing about other people’s grandchildren."
Garner was never able to have more children. A fabulous organization helped her find her daughter, Barbara. At vsn.org, you can register on a Volunteer Search Network and someone called a "Search Angel" will lend a hand with legwork such as making a trip to the library or courthouse. Garner’s Everett Search Angel did not want to be identified. She said she did her work anonymously, like hundreds of other angels.
"This is an act of love," the angel said. "Thousands of us do it every day. Poor Luellen didn’t have much of anything and even had the name spelled wrong. She did know the adoption was in Fort Peck, Mont., and that the father was an engineer."
The adoptive family were fairly wealthy and had used an attorney for the paperwork. In an unusual stroke of good luck, a judge provided names to the searcher. A kindly librarian in Iowa found a 1999 obituary that provided the daughter’s married name and city with a note about surviving relatives.
From there, the searcher overcame a few stumbling blocks but eventually found Barbara in Iowa. The opening phone call to someone who has been adopted can be tricky, the angel said. The searcher said the person may not even know he or she is adopted.
"I’m intruding in their life," the angel said. "I call and say my name and that I am a volunteer search network, and I am looking for so and so. Then I tell them it is about an adoption issue. They clam up or spill their guts."
When Barbara called her mother from her home in Iowa, it was very emotional.
"You can’t understand it," Garner said. "I had to catch my breath."
The two were recently reunited in Everett where they spent a few wonderful days together.
"I thought I would be a blubbery blob," Garner said. "We hugged and kissed, and nobody cried."
When I called Barbara, she said they had a wonderful reunion but she did not want to be interviewed.
As they got acquainted, Garner said her young life had hellish moments. Estranged from her mother, Garner was bounced from one foster home to another when she was growing up.
"I never learned how to love," she said. "What children don’t get, they can’t give."
She was working as a maid in a nice Seattle home and going to high school when she got pregnant.
"I remember nothing about the father," Garner said. "Not even a silhouette."
Garner stayed in a home for unwed mothers operated by the Florence Crittendon Association. When the baby was a few months old, she traveled by train to Montana. Garner scraped together enough money to buy her beautiful, blue-eyed baby a pillow to sleep on for the trip.
"People were wonderful to me on the train," Garner said. "I washed out diapers and hung them out the window to dry. That’s the best way to dry diapers."
Reunited in Montana with her mother, the women placed the baby for adoption.
As she told me her story, she apologized up front for crying. She said having such a reunion for a lady her age was very emotional.
"To have a child out of wedlock in 1935 was a cardinal sin," she said. "I’ve talked about her through all these years."
Garner said her daughter has had a wonderful life.
It began with a unselfish mother who did the right thing.
Kristi O’Harran’s Column appears Tuesdays and Fridays. If you have an idea for her, call 425-339-3451 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.