As the resident sob sister for the Knoxville News-Sentinel a quarter of a century ago, it was my duty to come up with a sweet and sour story every holiday. Mother's Day was the worst.
Sometimes I was lucky -- a train ran over a car, killing the mother but not the children. That one was easy to write, and the children were covered in a tidal wave of tear-streaked toys sent by the readers.
But my city editor, Joe Levitt, believed you couldn't always be so fortunate, so he planned ahead. He had this file, divided by dates and months.
One day, he called me up to his desk and explained that his wife was on the board of the Children's Bureau in Knoxville and that he was tired of hearing her say they had all these children farmed out in temporary boarding houses at great expense.
"I told her," he said, "that we could get them all adopted by putting them in the newspaper."
I was sent over to talk to Beatrice Garrett, then the head of the bureau, later with the national office, who was rightly dubious of the whole proposition. But Garrett agreed to let us photograph and write about the impossible-to-place children.
We took the easy ones first, the sister and brother who wanted to be adopted together because they were the only family they had. And then came the redheaded child, who needed at least one redheaded parent or, if worse came to worst, a redheaded grandparent. Sometimes the children were older, and had lived their whole lives in temporary homes or even institutions of varying bearability. We had dozens and dozens of letters for each child, and they were all adopted.I got to be very cocky about it.
And then Garrett came up with the topper: a beautiful little girl, I remember, about 4 years old. We called her Janie. She had red hair. She was blind.
With each new temporary boarding home, she'd start again to sort out what each new voice would promise or threaten. She'd learn all over again which path to follow, which led to destruction.
How could you bring up a child who couldn'st see the danger of a car approaching too fast, or the delight of a face full of too much love to speak?
I wrote the story. And the letters came in, full of sympathy, empty of offers to adopt her. I felt awful. If I'd only written it better. If only I could make it right by adopting her myself. Some days I hated Joe Levitt and his bright ideas, and thought it was his obligation to adopt her himself.
Months went by. Then one day, I opened my mail, and the letter said something like this: "We were greatly touched by the story of the little blind girl who needs a home. Several years ago, we adopted a blind child. We love her very much and she seems happy with us. We have known for some time that our daughter has a progressive tumor which someday will take her from us. So far, we've been happy for those years we were able to snatch. Now your story offers us a second chance, and we'd like to adopt Janie."
It's been a long time, and I don't know if they lived happily ever after.But I do know that on the next Mother's Day I didn't cry