Nick Holman’s poignant stories recall growing up in a rural La Porte City foster home
Editor’s Note: At just six years of age, Richard “Nick” Holman, a member of the La Porte City High School Class of 1963, was placed in the state of Iowa foster care system with his large group of siblings. For the next twelve years, he grew up on a farm in rural La Porte City. Following a successful career in the United States Navy and working as a plant manager and long range planning for an international food company, he began writing a book about his experiences. In the Foreword, he writes, “Virtually all foster kids come from dysfunctional family environments and they absorb the bulk of the broken home fallout. The common thread they all share while in foster care is the uncertainty of what lies ahead. This uncertainty can cause them to think and act in ways others may not consider or understand. When they eventually leave the foster home, their futures will range from heartening and uplifting to unsettling and tragic. All incidents that unfold [in these stories] actually occurred during the time I and my siblings – three brothers and four sisters – were growing up in a foster home on a farm [near La Porte City in the early 1950s and 1960s. However, some events have been slightly changed to avoid potential embarrassment for yet-living individuals. All the names [except my own] have been changed, only their ages remain the same. This is the story of a close-knit family of siblings as they struggle to stay together in extended foster care. It’s also a story of life on the farm, but a life and a farm few have ever known or experienced, even those born and raised on a farm. It’s told through my eyes but relates more than just the experiences of me and my siblings. As you’ll see, it all comes to a rapid and unexpected conclusion.”
By Nick Holman
I find irony in being asked to be adopted by foster parents that raised me from age five to seventeen, considering all the anguish I had over the years about being adopted away from my siblings. Admittedly, the fear receded as the years passed, but the early years were filled with dread over the uncertainty of that possibility. And it is poignant that the offer for adoption found me standing by the same chicken house where, eleven years earlier, I’d witnessed the adoption-related abduction scene of my two younger sisters, “never to be seen again”. What about those two little girls? What ever happened to them? It would be a literary crime to leave that chapter unresolved if the author had some answers. And I do, thanks to serendipity!
I’m in my first year at the Naval Academy, nearing the end of fall semester. I get back to the dormitory, Bancroft Hall, from afternoon classes and see a note posted on my door. My sister, Beverly, called and wants me to call back. After the evening meal I have a few minutes, so I go down to the public phones in the basement of the dormitory and place a collect call. Beverly accepts it right away.
“You’ll never guess what happened this week. Go ahead, guess,” she says excitedly. My military training takes over and wants to go straight to the point of the call.
“You’re right, Beverly, I’ll never guess, so just tell me. I’ve got some studying to do.”
The gist of her detailed – she loves to talk – conversation is the following.
I’ve mentioned Bill, one of the foster kids on The Farm, in an earlier episode. He was four years older than me. He and his sister had come to The Farm about two years after me and my siblings and left right after graduating high school. He remained in the area and was trying to establish himself in farming. He rented land to farm while also doing part-time seasonal field work for other farmers. This past fall he decided he wanted a Boxer-breed dog and began checking want ads in the Waterloo Courier. An ad showed up from someone in the nearby town of Gilbertville and Bill gave them a call.
Two days later he’s at a well-kept property on the edge of town to take a look at the dog. The owner, an older gentleman, meets Bill at the door and invites him in. While sitting in the living room discussing the pedigree of the Boxer for sale, Bill notices a photo of two girls displayed on the nearby piano. They look to be ten to twelve years old in the picture. He does a double take because of the strong resemblance they have with two girls he grew up with on The Farm. The girls in the photo had the same high cheekbones as the girls he knew, which are my older sisters Beverly and Midge. Bill always had a crush on Beverly while on The Farm, so he knew her face well. One of the girls in the photo looked so much like Beverly at an earlier age that he initially thought it might be her.
Bill casually asked about the photo and the gentleman indicated they were his granddaughters. They lived with his son and daughter-in-law over in Independence. Then he said something quite startling to Bill.
“I guess technically you could call them my adopted granddaughters. My son and daughter-in-law adopted them at a young age.”
“Is that a recent picture?” Bill asked, trying to conceal his growing excitement.
“No. They’re both in high school now.”
Bill never met my two younger sisters. He came to The Farm after they were taken away. But he knew about their adoption. When he returned home, with a Boxer puppy in tow, he eagerly called both Midge and Beverly. He related the incident in the seller’s living room and gave them the last name of the gentleman – Myers.
Soon thereafter, Beverly goes out to The Farm to talk to Mom. It’s late in the day and Mom is in the living room, sitting on the couch, working on bookkeeping stuff for the Williams Rest Home in La Porte. Beverly tells Mom about the phone call from Bill and asks if she knows anything at all regarding the whereabouts of our younger sisters. Mom is taking all this in without stopping what she’s doing. She finally puts her paperwork aside and looks up.
“Why don’t you sit down, Beverly. I have something to tell you.”
Our birth mother, 13 years ago, signed an agreement with county social services. That agreement allowed them to adopt out our two youngest sisters, Eileen and Wendy, if the remainder of the siblings could be kept together. It stated that the county would not tell her who they were adopted by, nor where they went to live. Our birth mother was forbidden to ever contact them in the future. In return, the county would do its best to keep the rest of us together. That signed contract agreement had previously made an appearance at The Farm.
Recall that, thirteen years ago a man in a white shirt and black tie from the county had made an unwelcome appearance at The Farm. He’d pulled a sheet of paper out of a folder in his hand and handed it to our foster mom standing on the front sidewalk. It was the sheet of paper she’d been reluctant to reach into her apron to get her glasses to read. The paper that, once she’d read it, caused her shoulders to slump in resignation as she turned to go get the two little girls. The sheet of paper that could witness, but not hear, the cries of two little girls as they were pried from their big sisters’ arms, pulled into a car, never to be seen again. That was all our foster mom knew. She had no idea where they were.
When she was done talking there were tears coursing down her aging cheeks. Tears of shame because she’d never told us about the agreement? Tears of sorrow from the memory of two scared, crying little girls hugging their sisters in desperation and then being pulled into a car and whisked away into the unknown? Likely both. It was clear the incident had the same shattering impact on her as it did to us siblings.
Our birth mom may have signed a document to never contact the two little girls, but their siblings had not. Beverly called older sister Midge and they discussed what they should do.
Two days later the two show up at the Independence High School administrative office at ten o’clock in the morning. They are very forthright in why they are there. They explain to the administrative assistant that they are relatives of two sisters at the school named Myers and could the assistant please have them come up to the office for a short visit? The assistant immediately picks up the phone and calls the principal. Beverly and Midge are soon ushered into her office where they again explain why they are there.
It’s not clear what their plan will be if the principal just says no, the school can’t pull the girls out of class. Will they wait outside after school and see if they can see one of the girls exiting the school? There are several doors, so that might prove difficult and fruitless. And the girls could be involved in after-school activities, too, and then what? Would they even recognize them? Fortunately, Beverly and Midge don’t need to make that decision. Momentarily, a woman in her mid-forties walks through the door into the principal’s office.
“Hi. I’m Mrs. Myers. I understand you want to see my daughters.”
Our two younger sisters’ adoptive mom is a teacher at the school and the principal had called her out of class. After a couple minutes of discussion, it becomes clear to Mrs. Myers that the two young women standing in front of her are claiming to be sisters of her adopted daughters. Their likeness to her daughters is uncanny and undeniable. From her body language, it’s apparent she wishes this weren’t happening. But she always knew it could. At this point it would be senseless to refute the obvious, and pointless to try to keep these two from seeing their younger sisters. However, she wants to do it in a more controlled and thoughtful way. The two girls know they are adopted, but were never told they had siblings, nor their birth family’s history. There will need to be lots of family discussion before her two girls are ready to meet their siblings. My two older sisters and Mrs. Myers discuss how and when to arrange a meeting.
Beverly ends our phone conversation by telling me that she and Midge are meeting our younger sisters this coming weekend. I also want to meet them when I’m home and ask Beverly to pass this on. I indicate I’ll be back in Iowa for Christmas vacation in a few weeks.
I ring the doorbell to the modest two-story house in a quiet neighborhood of Independence. I’m nervous but looking forward to seeing my sisters again after 13 years. I’m wearing my dinner-dress-blues uniform from the academy. I’d been corresponding by mail with my two younger sisters for a few weeks and they invited me to attend their high school Christmas dance. The oldest one, Wendy, but now called Marti, is a senior and set me up with a close high school friend for the dance. Mrs. Myers greets me at the door and invites me in. The girls come down the stairs together in their evening gowns. They both look gorgeous. I’m not sure what to do or say. My social behavior around girls has never been a strength. This is even more so with two sisters I haven’t seen in such a long time. My tongue is lodged in the back of my throat, blocking my feeble attempt to say something. Wendy/Marti senses the anxiety. She is apparently quite sociable and knows exactly what to do. She comes over and gives me a big hug.
“Hi, Nick. I’m glad you could come.”
Next Week: The series comes to a close as Nick returns to The Farm one final time.