What a wonderful opportunity the pandemic has given us—the gift of free time to sort through old files and letters that we have been procrastinating about for years. The time has come to unearth them from the bottom drawers and old boxes stuffed in garages and storerooms. We hang on to these memorabilia to connect us to a past event or time in our lives, and, when we touch them again, they trigger a flood of memories unavailable to us without that little piece of paper, that letter, that card, that document.
While sifting through the stacks of old papers I found: my 1926 Paris birth certificate; my first poem, written when I was eight years old and published in a children’s magazine; my grades from 1933 at the Catholic school I attended (because it was close to home); my summons to appear in front of the judges of Ellis Island when my parents, brother, and I were seeking entry into the United States as refugees; my naturalization papers; and my various graduation certificates from high school all the way through to a Ph.D.
Another treasure I found while sifting through the stacks of old papers was my father’s honorary discharge from the First Mounted Patrol of the California State Militia. He patrolled the Santa Monica coast on horseback looking for Japanese submarines. I remember riding that horse in as-yet undeveloped Beverly Hills. I also ran across my husband Herman’s release from active duty in 1944 with an honorable discharge as Naval gunfire liaison officer.
In between all of these documents, I found a letter which triggered a memory. The letter was from a man thanking me for the wonderful little boy whose adoption I had arranged. He called me “Oliver’s official godmother” with an invitation to a celebration of his adoption at their home. This was in 1964. Soon after, I left the United States to live in Switzerland and lost touch with the family.
That year I was getting my master’s degree in social work at Columbia University in New York. My internship assignment was a year working with the Spence-Chapin Adoption Service. Mutual friends asked me to call a couple in the throws of deciding whether or not to adopt. I was glad to help and had several conversations with this young couple, who did not want to go through an agency and were looking for a private adoption. At that time I was also a research assistant at the Child Development Center. One of my colleagues told me about a young woman who was about to give birth looking for a couple ready to adopt a baby. I told him about the couple who wanted to adopt. My colleague described the couple to the young mother-to-be while I told the couple about the young woman; both agreed it was a match. Back in those days, we did not know whether it would be a boy or a girl, so I suggested that they furnish a nursery in yellow. A few days later, I was able to bring the baby boy to the waiting arms of the teary-eyed couple and into a sunny nursery.
Looking at that letter, I wondered what happened to that family and that little boy who now must be in his mid-fifties. Thanks to Google, I found several people with the same name. Looking down that list, I was able to eliminate by age. There was a mention of a wedding listing the names of the groom’s parents; I recognized their names. I had found Oliver! He worked for a business that listed a phone number. I called and left a message that someone by the name of Natasha was looking for him. The next day I received a callback. It was Oliver who said my name was familiar to him, but he couldn’t remember why. I told him the story of the letter and of his adoption. We had an amazing phone conversation. Oliver told me about his life. He was married with children, a successful businessman, but sadly his parents had died. And so it is that I reconnected with my “godson.” When the pandemic is over, he wants to visit me, his newfound godmother.
It is strange how a pandemic can bring forth memorabilia which would have otherwise remained buried until after my death—and then thrown out. The serendipities of life forever astound me. As I marvel at and treasure these unexpected discoveries, my life is a little sweeter.
Natasha Josefowitz is the author of 21 books. She currently resides at White Sands Retirement Community in La Jolla. Copyright © 2020. Natasha Josefowitz. All rights reserved.