March 2022
Leaves from My Notebook
Elaine Greensmith Jordan


On identity and place

Mom! The adoption searcher just called. They’ve found my birth family!” My daughter’s voice over the phone from Oregon sounded thick with urgency. “I couldn’t even talk to the lady,” she went on. “I started crying ... I can’t believe it!”

“That’s wonderful,” I said, meaning it.

We’d been searching for Mia’s birth family for ten years and had never broken through the barriers of secrecy. I’d spent over four thousand dollars paying the expenses of detectives, internet geniuses and outright scammers. Then one day Mia’s aching stomach made her angry about not knowing her health history. She and her two daughters had a right to know. She went to a website and paid for another searcher she’d learned of on a television show — Montel I think it was called.

“They live in Oklahoma on the Comanche Reservation,” Mia went on, and I could hear her fighting tears. “I guess I’m a real Indian …. My other mother works in a smoke shop. Isn’t that funny?”

“Doesn’t matter. It’s just wonderful … smoke shop?”

“I think the searcher must’ve called everyone on the reservation. I’m so scared ... wish you were here.” She started to cry. I could picture my daughter on her back patio in Oregon, a green lawn and vegetable garden extending out from the small cement pad. She’d be holding her cell phone, a cigarette in the other hand, tears streaming.

“I’ve never been to Oklahoma,” I said. “I picture tornados …. Comanches are plains Indians, I think, and they’re expert riders. You’ve always loved horses.”

“All I can think of is Dancing With Wolves,” she said, her voice in a higher register. “Mom, she’s almost got my name — Maya. I wonder if I could join the tribe. I mainly want to know where I came from — to see it and learn about it. I think they’ve a college there — maybe my kids could go. I’m so excited. Sometimes I forget to breathe.”

“It would be fun to give your kids Indian names.”

“Yeah,” she said, coughing. “I think I’d call my Sara, ‘Runs With No Shoes’”

I turned to look outdoors at the wind-tossed flowers on our deck. Though I lived in northern Arizona, those few pansies and petunias evoked the colors of California I’d always miss. Perhaps my daughter’s spirit craved an Oklahoma landscape in the same way I yearned for California.

You might wonder why I’d tried so hard to assist on this search for my daughter’s birth mother. Mia had been a cranky, sullen youngster who fought with her brother and the neighbor children. I worried that she suffered abandonment issues. Then my wild child became an angry teen, and I’d become convinced that Mia needed connection to her heritage for both of us to find peace.

“Mom,” Mia said, “It’s so great not to be lost any more. Did you know I’m related to Jim Thorpe? I looked him up on the internet. Cool.”

“I’ve been waiting so long for you to claim your Indian heritage,” I said. “I’m excited too.” I wondered who Jim Thorpe could be — a hero of some sort?

“I know,” she said. “You kept putting Indian stuff around and trying to get me interested. Now I’m really interested. Maya says I have two brothers. Oh Mom, two brothers! Maybe they look like me.” Mia paused as if absorbing a universe of images.

“Son-au-uuat,” Mia said. “That’s my birth grandmother’s name. I’m going to find out what it means.”

Photo courtesy Museum of Indigenous People.
Photo courtesy Museum of Indigenous People.

I don’t know if that name translates or if I could pronounce it. For me, the word resounds with unfamiliar, untold stories of older cultures, of deep urges for identity. I do know that with a living birth mother and family, Mia could fill the “hole in her heart,” as some have phrased the feeling of not knowing their origins. She’d said she felt lost, and I know how sad and frightening that must feel. I used to have dreams of being lost, unable to find my way home.

I’ve read that our children are not ours to own, but are like arrows we send out from us. That image fits my Native American daughter well. A month after that first telephone call, Mia packed her car and drove from her Oregon home with her husband and daughters, on their way to meet her Comanche family and her two half-brothers. She sailed — as if shot from a taut bow — to Oklahoma, and came back with a calmer stomach and a landscape as firmly fixed in her heart as California is in mine.

Elaine Jordan, author of Mrs. Ogg Played the Harp, is a local editor who’s lived in Prescott for thirty years.