Camille's Story

It is true that God works in mysterious ways, and his ways have been a mystery to me.  I often times felt like a detective trying to unlock some of the mysteries surrounding my life.
  

I was given up for adoption at birth. In fact, my adoptive parents graciously baby-sat my two older brothers at the time of my birth. As I grew into childhood, I was told many stories of my two older brothers, Forrest and Keith. Forrest was the quiet one, and Keith was the one with a bubbly personality. I was told how precious they were and I began to love them. Pictures of them were being saved for me, but tragically, they were lost during Hurricane Betsy in 1965 when our home flooded. I never saw these pictures, which I would have treasured.

I was also told about my birth mother,  a single mom, a hippie, who was quite petite and soft spoken. She eventually moved to California, I was to learn later on not only did I have big brothers, but also a little brother and a little sister.  Wow !  During my early life, my thoughts drifted away many times as I wondered about this long lost family. Where were they? Did I resemble them in any way?  My teachers labeled me as a "day dreamer" at school. I spent a lot of time thinking about art stuff and envisioning my long lost family. 

 As the years passed, subsequently my adoptive parents were blessed with four children. As a child, I would escape to my room to find quiet time to draw and paint, my most favorite pass time, my hobby.

I grew into adulthood and I married an incredible man. We were blessed with a precious son and two beautiful little girls. Yet, I felt there was a void and emptiness in my life. The stories of my lost family helped some, but they were only bits and pieces of a puzzle (the puzzle of my life), which had so many missing pieces. I had been given facts and information but because there was no memory of this past, I had empty spaces in my heart - empty, empty places crying out to be filled. I felt as though I was expected to regard my birth family as dead, non-existent - if not literally, then symbolically.

In the summer of 1990, my adoptive mom gave me enough information for me to begin my search - my search for that lost part of myself.  She told me that my birth mom had wanted to meet me for many years.  She would come to New Orleans occasionally and contact the family about meeting me.  I was so excited to know that she wanted to know me.  Without the advent of internet and the amazing technology we now have today, my search was difficult.  I spent many months making phone calls and searching records.

On January 22, 1991, I went to the genealogy department of the downtown Library in Dallas, Texas. I spoke with the librarian about my search, but was told they were quite limited with recent information. Further, census information is not made public for seventy years, which meant census information taken during my lifetime could aid my search was not available to me. My heart sank within me.

 “But I do have a few states on file with some current stuff,” the librarian told me, hoping to lift my spirits. The librarian left to go look up the files in another room.  My heart raced with excitement,  after all these years I am now closer than ever to finding my birth mom.

A short while later, the librarian somewhat reluctantly walked over to me and handed me a paper. To my absolute shock, it was something that I had never expected, nor was I prepared for. I read the words “DEATH CERTIFICATE”. It was my mother’s death certificate. Emotion overwhelmed me, this successful search gave me joy, but the finality of the word “death” washed over me like a tidal wave, I was overcome with grief and tears raced down my face.

 When I regained my composure, I examined the document. Alameda County was mentioned. That evening I was able to get a telephone listing in the county stated on the certificate, for a “C. Holter”

 If I contacted any of my siblings would they even want to know me? Would I be rejected? Would I be accused of trying to ruin their lives by wanting to meet them, know them? What if the wonderful people I envisioned turned out to be mean and hateful? I knew that my birth mother had wanted to meet me, but I just didn’t know if anyone else would. The questions running through my mind seemed to be endless.

I nervously dialed the number.

“Hello?”

 “Hello, my name is Camille, and I live in Dallas, Texas. I’m doing some genealogy research; please tell me if you know any of these people - Forrest, Keith, Christopher, Jessica or Miriam...”

The voice on the other end responded, “Yes, I am Chris.”

“Well, do you know any of the people I just mentioned?” My heart was pounding as I asked.

Then Chris replied, “Yes, that’s my family.”

I became choked up as I said, “I’m Camille, your sister.”

He replied, “Cool! How ya’ been doing?”

We began to talk and to share our lives. We poured out our hearts to each other for almost three hours, as if we could recapture the lost thirty years. “We were told of a sister, Camille, who lived in New Orleans. We thought it was hopeless to find you” Chris shared.

Over the next two months, I had many heartwarming conversations with my new found siblings. My sister Jessica, a journalist, was able to have a copy of a photograph of our mother made at the newspaper where she worked. She sent it to me. After opening the envelope and seeing it, all I could do was to stand there in amazement. My hands shaking, I took the picture and peered deeply into the black and white photograph. This is her! This is what she looked like. I wish it could have been a video! I wanted to hear her voice, hear her laugh, see her smile. What were her mannerisms? What kind of things would she talk about?

 

Mariam Holter's photo                                                                                       Camille Barnes

Mariam Holter's photo                                                                                       Camille Barnes

One day, Dave told me, “It’s time to meet your family face to face. I’ll buy you a plane ticket and baby Rachael can go with you; I will take care of Ben and Bethany for you to go.”

 My heart beat with joyous anticipation as March 7, 1991,  the long awaited dayfinally arrived. The drive to the DFW airport was a long one for me.  

        My mind meandered back over the last thirty years, as I remembered the compelling desires that brought me to this day, and the stories that were told to me...  

It all began at The Seven Sea’s bar, the pleasant stranger said to the man on the bar stool, “Hi, how are you?”

"Fine, thank you and you?"

“Oh, I’ve been better,” quipped the stranger “my name is Paul Schroder. Good to meet you. I was just thinking about my girlfriend Miriam. She’s pregnant, and needs to find a home for the baby.”

“Really?! My wife has had three miscarriages, and we desperately want a child. Let’s talk!”

Their meeting resulted in my being legally adopted at birth, just a couple of months later.

In the 60’s, the morning talk shows were filled with psychology. Guests warned parents about nutrition and fast foods, about the ill-effects of spanking children, and about the negative results of not telling children when they are adopted.

Before I even understood what the word “adopted” meant, I was told I was adopted. All my life relatives referred to me as “adopted.” I always felt loved, wanted and chosen, but I also felt “adopted,” which made me different from my siblings. A natural curiosity ensued which developed into a burning need, a compelling and necessary need to know.

 During the flight to Oakland, California, my emotions intensified. What would my brothers be like? I wish my sister could be there too. Would they welcome me? Would they like me? The resolution of all of my life’s questions had been answered for me in only two short months. I felt a miracle was in the works which would transform my life. I was so excited and so very nervous.

As I exited the airplane off ramp, there they were - Forrest and Keith, my “big” brothers, with their wives. “Oh God, I hope they like me” I whispered to myself as I descended the escalator, seeing them below waiting for me. I was to meet Chris later that day. When we were all together there was an instant bonding. My brothers were some of the most wonderful people I had ever met. My dry wit that had been so out of place at home was something we all had in common. THEY WERE LIKE ME! I WAS LIKE THEM! The house rocked with laughter that week-end. I wanted to savor every last minute with them.

There was one thing that really made me feel uncomfortable. Many times during quiet moments, I would notice they would all be intensely staring at me. I did not expect this, nor understand it and did not know how to react. Forrest recognized my discomfort.

“Oh, I’m sorry, Camille.” he said. We seem to be staring. It’s just that you are so like her - like our mom. He continued, “I wish you could have known her. She was a wonderful person.”

“And so talented,” added Keith. “She not only was an artist, she also played the piano and sang.” I proudly announced “So do I!”

I learned many things about my mother that week-end. Her own mother died when she was young, and my mother had to be a mother and maid to her many brothers and her not-so-kind father. At the first opportunity, she eloped with a young soldier simply to get away from home. He was the father of Forrest and Keith and may have also been my father. Only a DNA test could reveal this mystery, but it was too costly for us. We’ll never really know for sure, but it doesn’t matter. This man was listed as “missing” by the military and my mother took up with someone else.

The one thing that I could not explain to my new found family that first weekend we shared was why I was so grief stricken over the death of a person I had never known. I found out that weekend from her dear friend Rosalind, my mother had mailed packages and written poetry for me. I never received these things from her. I wanted so badly to meet her, to let her know that I loved her and that it was okay that she had to give me away. That week­end, I was trying to deal with the reality of my mother’s death. I understood why no one ever found me. This understanding gave me peace.

All too soon, it was time to say good-bye.

We had a long tender group hug before I left for the plane terminal. The embrace was tender; it felt good. I felt complete, whole.

The first time we met.

The first time we met.

My adoptive parents felt it in “our” best interest that this woman not have any rights to me whatsoever. After all, she had willingly given up all of her rights.

My parents were afraid of any painful repercussions that might result which is understandable. I cannot be bitter in any way because I do not know what I would have done had the roles been reversed. In today’s news there are horror stories of natural parents ripping babies from the loving arms of adoptive parents. Emotions of all parties involved in an adoption run very deep, are complicated, and seem to grow in complexity as the years pass.

The plane left with its pensive passenger reflecting on the last four miraculous days. The kind lady sitting next to me spoke to engage me in conversation. I began to share my story with her. We talked for a long time, even through our landing and take-off in San Diego. We were interrupted by an announcement by one of the flight attendants.

“As we announced earlier,” she began, “I have a round trip ticket to give away in appreciation for your re-boarding so quickly in San Diego. We are now back on schedule. We don’t usually do this, so I’m not sure how exactly to go about this.. .If someone would come up here and sing a song, this ticket is yours.”

From a front row seat of the plane, a man jumped up and grabbed the microphone before anyone else had a chance to respond. He crudely burst into a chorus of “Happy Birthday to you...” rather off key. The passengers looked round at each other questionably as if to say, “Certainly this guy isn’t going to get that ticket!” The flight attendant reluctantly handed him the ticket and sat down.

I said to my new friend, “I wish I would have done that so that I could have had the chance to see my family again. I don’t know when we’ll afford another ticket!” Then I noticed the restroom was free and excused myself.

As I returned to my seat, the man who had won the ticket stood up and handed it to me.

“Happy Birthday!” he smiled.

The flight attendant announced, “Ladies and gentlemen, this young lady has just met her birth family for the first time this past weekend. This fine man has just given her the round trip ticket so that she can see them again.”

I stood in total amazement as everyone on board clapped and cheered. The dear lady sitting next to me told them my story when I was in the ladies room.

The very next week WAS my birthday. I know this was a part of God’s plan in answer to my life-long prayer.

We arrived in Dallas on schedule. Dave and the children seemed so happy to have “Mommy” home again. I could not stop talking about my visit to Oakland. In fact, I told anyone who would listen about my joyous experience.

A few days later, there was a knock on our door. A neighbor handed me a plane ticket to Oakland, California! She said, “Camille, I booked this flight way in advance, but can’t use the ticket because I’ll be in the middle of final exams. It was a deal where I couldn’t get my money back, so I hope you can use it. Oh, it is scheduled for a baby too!”

“Of course, I’m thrilled, but Dave will never let me go to Oakland in May. I just got back from there. It’s too soon!” I said, and she noticed the disappointment in my voice.

“Well, just keep it and use it if you can,” my friend responded, “and if you can’t, give it to someone who can. I’m off, now.” And, she was gone in a flash.

Between March and May there were three times that I could have given away the ticket to Oakland, but each time something inside stopped me. I didn’t know why, but I held on to the ticket even though I felt rather guilty about it.

Late one evening, my brother Keith called me with tragic news; his baby girl had been still born. The funeral was to be May 16. I looked at the ticket my friend gave to me to Oakland, the date was for May 15.

Standing at my niece’s grave side, Keith turned to me and said “We could never understand how you could grieve so over someone you never knew. Now, we all understand. You know, Keri is in Heaven right now, and Mama is rocking her.” Keith then hugged me like a big brother does so well.

To this day, I believe that Keri was a part of God’s perfect plan. No one can really understand her death. Perhaps His purpose was to enable all of us to understand ourselves and the depth of our emotions and ties. We lost precious Keri, but somehow her death seemed to strengthen our family bond. She rests in a beautiful place. I look forward to the day we can meet her.

God has blessed my life so much. He helped me search for and find the answers I searched for in my life.  He directed me each step of the way to find my missing family and restore to me so much that it's hard to put it into words. 

I was never able to see my birth Mom or any of the art she created.  I'm sure it must have been beautiful.  She raised such wonderful children and had to have been an awesome person. My heart's desire is to use the talents, (that I inherited) to bless others and touch the hearts of those caught up in the routine of today's complex busy lifestyles.  

   Today Camille continues to keep in touch with her family in California. She currently lives in Louisiana and continues doing artwork, illustrating books and paints.