Do you know who your biological father is? Do you know what your heritage is? I do, but some children do not because they were left for adoption for some reason or another. Do not misunderstand me, adoption is a great thing, and there are plenty of children without parents right now waiting to be adopted. I have the distinction of knowing who my father is. He and I have the same last name. My heritage starts and ends with my father. This is where my troubles begin, my father was a war baby and the morals and values of society at that time did not allow for such transgressions.
My biological grandmother on my father’s side had an affair while her husband was off fighting in World War II. My father was put up for adoption through a church and adopted by a family with the original last name of Shell. In her essay, Kadaba talks about how names were changed or Americanized so to speak. For example, she talks about how Christopher Annas changed his last name, due to embarrassing mispronunciation in English, Lini S. Kadaba, “What’s in a Name? ” (pg 175). My heritage is already forever changed by my last name as Milton had changed his name from Shell to Schell.
Florence and Milton Schell were the names of my father’s adopted parents. They were a deeply religious couple of the Lutheran faith. Both Milton and Florence came from a large family, as was the custom of many families from the late 19th century. Milton had eight sisters and brothers, while Florence had three brothers and sisters. Growing up my dad had lots of aunts and uncles and family reunions were very big. I never knew any of my biological grandmother’s kin. That portion of my heritage is lost forever. My father’s biological mother name was Dorothy Blanteno. She lived in a little town near Harrisburg Pennsylvania called West Fairview.
I can remember some talk when I was in my early teens about Dorothy being my biological grandmother and I had heard a rumor that Dorothy had had an affair with a man whose last name was either Stago or Horvath. Now I do not condone affairs; I am merely stating the facts here. This is how my father was brought into this world, forever bereft of his heritage and losing his name to history. Even though my father lost his name, he gained one. However, before Milton adopted my father, he had changed the spelling of his last name thereby also losing part of his and my father’s heritage along the way.
Kadaba talks about losing one’s heritage as a result losing your name in her essay Kadaba (pg 177). This was not the case for Milton he changed the family’s last name. In changing his last name, my grandfather lost some of his heritage, but it allowed him to create his own. By adopting my father, it allowed my father to have a heritage of a loving home despite the circumstances of his birth. We cannot choose our parents; we can only choose our friends. Our genetic makeup dictates our personalities. Our parents could only nurture what nature had given us. We alone can choose how we react to life.
We can choose to embrace our heritage, to learn from it or even ignore it if we so desire. For years, my father chose to ignore the heritage of his birth by not looking for his birth mother, but I could not. I had to learn what my roots were, more importantly what my father’s roots were. Kadaba states in her essay the people are reclaiming their heritage either by creating new names in the case of Richard Kenyada or by making corrections to the spelling of their names as with Jane Kamarov, Kadaba (pg 175-176). I had this burning desire to reclaim my roots. In 1992 while visiting at Christmas time, I tracked Dorothy down.
I figured out where she was living and I went to meet her. I went alone so as not to overwhelm her with my family. I saw her for the first time in the hallway of her apartment building. She was with her son. I guess I startled both of them, as I knew her name based on the address of the apartment she was going into. I asked her, “Are you Dorothy Blanteno? ” She responded “Yes”. Her son was with her and wanted to know who I was and what I wanted with his mother. I explained that my name was James Schell and that I believed she was my grandmother. Dorothy immediately sent her son away.
After her son left, I never did get his name, she invited me in, and we sat and talked for about half an hour. I apologized to her for making a problem with her son. She said the other children did not know about my dad. How much of their heritage was lost because they never knew about my father. Dorothy said she could tell by my facial features that I kin to her. Funny, Dorothy had not seen my father since he was adopted back in1946 and as far as I know she had never seen me. We talked about my dad, her other children, and my daughter Jamesen, her great granddaughter, whom she had never met.
While she did talk about the kids, she would never reveal who my grandfather was. She admitted to being ashamed of the incident. At that point, the incident was in the area of 45 years old. For good or bad, Dorothy could not get past her mistakes. In her essay “What’s in a Name? ” Kadaba (pg 177) talks about how we cannot escape our past “At the same time, none of us can escape our past or, apparently, want to”. This is Dorothy to a T. She feels judged by her mistake even 45 years after the fact. She does not have a scarlet letter on her forehead either.
So who would know? The pain of the incident was still present for her and my presence had only served to inflame it. The plot of “The Scarlet Letter” by Nathaniel Hawthorne seems to be Dorothy’s life. She had an affair and had a child as a result. Society in the 1940’s was a little more reserved than today’s society. In the book “The Scarlet Letter”, the child Pearl grows up only knowing the shame of her mother’s incident. Unlike Dorothy, Hester never wanted to be separated from her daughter Pearl; Dorothy’s husband did not want anything to do with my father.
As an infant, he was sent away to be adopted never knowing who he was or who his family was let alone his heritage. I asked if she mind if I sent her some letters from time to time and she declined. My chances at finding my roots were slipping away as I got the feeling I had overstayed my welcome there. I desperately wanted her to accept my brothers and me, as we were, after all, her grandchildren. I explained to her I understood her situation and that I would respect her privacy. As I left her apartment, I realized what I had learned from her generation through my father, i. e. hat hard work was and is, what it meant to sacrifice, what it meant to punish ourselves. I had learned from her that you could be your own worst enemy.
That we are frequently are own worst critics. We destroy our self worth with bouts of self-criticism. We destroy our relationships with our families. We cannot change the past because it is gone. We cannot change tomorrow for it is not here. We can only change our behaviors today. Those changes will affect our future and the world we give to our children and our children’s children. We are only here for a brief moment, we must make the best of it to define the heritage for our children.
So do you know who your father is? I know mine and his name was Dennis Eugene Schell Sr. He was born June 10, 1946. He died of a heart attack at age 39 on February 13, 1986. His heritage was one of proud blue-collar work, family, and public service. I am his son, the second of four. My name is James. I have three brothers, Dennis Jr. , Andrew, and John. Our heritage is one of public service and sacrifice for our fellow man. We have all served in the armed forces, Andrew is a Lt. Colonel in the Army, Dennis is a Staff Sergeant in the Army with the 101st
Airborne, and John became a Restaurateur after serving a hitch in the Army as well. As for myself, I became a Fire Fighter with the City of Tukwila after I did my time in the Coast Guard. My heritage is a combination of my values, ethics, and morals with that of my ancestors. My wife & I are just renters here on earth if you will; it is up to us to make this world a better place for our children and for our children to make this world a better place with a better heritage for their children. That is their heritage and their roots. What is the heritage of your children?