I wish that all children had an opportunity to learn some form of music. It is so good for the soul and I honestly believe it helps them to be able to learn other things as well more easily. If every child in every culture, every nation, had music from such an early age, do you think we might have a more peaceful world?
I was born November 22, 1941, very shortly before the bombing of Pearl Harbor and our full involvement in the war. My father was an Army non-commissioned officer for most of his days in service. He went off to the war shortly after I was born; I am not really sure how long he was gone or what countries he was in.
When I was perhaps two or three, my mother and father and I drove to Rhode Island from Ft. Jay, New York, where we had been living and where I was born. We drove to get my maternal grandmother, for my grandfather had passed away, and she could not afford to live on her own. In those days, a widow whose husband died in the army, a sargent I believe, got some $50 a month.
My father’s background was very strange. He came home from school one day when he was 16, at the heart of the depression. He had other brothers and a sister, but his family had abandoned him. So I think he might have struck out to live as best he could, and as soon as he was able, he joined the army. In order to be accepted, he had to give his salary to a poor family. He would receive room and board, but they would get his salary. He told me once that they never once sent him a card or thanked him.
Dad apparently found out where his birth family was living, but they never accepted him back, and to this day, I live with the mystery of what caused that. I do know that his only sister who was younger than he was committed suicide, shooting herself in the head. Even after my dad and mom got married, his family still never accepted us and so we never knew them at all and no one spoke about the issue.
Neither my mother or father ever finished high school, so schooling was very difficult through all elementary and high school learning. We lived in the same town in El Paso, TX until I grew up except for a couple of years when we were sent to Okinawa. But we returned to El Paso afterward and we always lived on the outskirts of town and only my mother had friends, and that was later in life. I was not allowed to have friends except the little girl my same age next door. And she never came into my home; any playing we did was outside or at her home.
I cannot remember when it began, but my father began to molest me. I might have been as young as three or five. For a young child to have to suddenly think of the people who are considered the world and all the child knows and learns from to suddenly be faced with people they somehow know but who have turned into monsters is almost unimaginable. Everything that is known must be unlearned because nothing seems to make sense anymore. The mother is not there for the child, but accuses the child of being the cause of the issues when she is confronted with the truth. The world was suddenly shaken on its very foundation, and the child caught amongst people who were no longer there to attend to her most basic needs.
Every little child has a sacred little place in his or her mind where he or she goes into and no one else enters it. It is the place of childlife magic. It was as though someone went in that little sacred place and broke all the dishes. Even if the dishes were to be repaired, they could never be capable of magic again.
This was how I lived my early life. I felt ashamed and yet there was no one I could trust to tell, and in my mind, I was probably the only one in the whole world with such a burden on my soul, one that I struggle to understand to this day. But somehow other children saw something in me that conveyed my shame at being a victim, and they bullied me all the way through school. I hid on the playground in the bushes at recess, and would only go home when all the other children had left. But as hard as I tried to avoid them, I often failed. One day another young girl held a knife at my chest; to this day none of it seems real. Another day some boys grabbed me after school and threatened to cut off my fingers with some kind of equipment that looked like a guillotine and was used to cut cigars. They ultimately let me go, but the layers of needing to hide and not being accepted were building up thickly.
I often wonder which nightmare was worse. I ran away several times, but always got caught, for I had no place to go. And I could not give a reason to the police who found me riding my bicycle after dark down the streets not so far away. I was punished of course, often staying in my room for a month or two at a time when I came home from school, even eating my dinner alone, and no one speaking to me, though my grandmother shared my room. I think she would have, but she was a vulnerable hostage as it were too. She did manage to whisper good night, but that was it.
We went overseas to Okinawa with my grandmother for a couple of years when I was in 2nd and 3rd grades. By then, my younger brother had been born sometime before we went to Okinawa. He was five years younger than me. I remember his innocence and how I felt a need to protect him even though I had no one to protect me.
The whole world seemed to be insane. The wives and children of the men there seemed really crazy. One day a woman who lived nearby in another quonset set her home on fire and ran down the street naked screaming. The children were even worse, and bullying was an everyday occurance, and this time instead of one or two children it was a gang regularly. I was shot with a B B gun, luckily with no long-term damage from where the B B hit, and I wad “crowned” with a skull as I was tricked into going into a cave in the hills. And once again, I was threatened with having my fingers cut off with a film cutter that looked a lot like the previous cutter that I had experienced.
We lived through typhoons that threatened to topple our quonset, and weekly practices of having to run into foxhills on the beach and take shelter until we were released verbally. My father shot and killed a boa constrictor that somehow had found its way into our quonset. The beaches were littered with the remains of landing crafts covered with rust, and the hills and mountains contained many jars filled with bones and belongings of native peoples who had died in the war. The native peoples were extremely impoverished, and the military people were ordered to take in at least one person to help with household chores and make sure they were fed and cared for. When we got sent home again, they ran all the way to the ship we had to board, holding onto my parents’ legs and sobbing to have them come with us.
This is a long and painful journey to recount to you, so if you have difficulty reading this, you may want to stop reading now. I will be posting the next episode within likely a few days, There IS a good message to come from this living nightmare and pain, but as in all horror movies, you have to watch the bad parts first. This is written to all those who have suffered in some way in their lifetimes from painful memories whose doors they have not been able to close. Most of us have chosen over the many years to hide issues of identity and abuse away because it is too difficult to deal with and we are living in fear that society will judge us negatively and perhaps hurt us physically. In the end result, we hurt ourselves more than anyone else possibly can.
This photo is a baby girl named Anne, and it is some 76 years old approximately. Oh how she loved to be read to aloud, or how she loved to “read” her own little books. There were never enough books, and her favorite person to read to her was her Grandma. She was still sitting on the floor next to her Grandma in her rocking chair. And Grandma would tell little Anne stories to capture her memory and to make her days memorable.
I dedicate this story to my friend Jennie, who teaches preschoolers at a private school back East. Her favorite way of teaching is reading aloud to the students, something they all love so much. She combines it with so much creativity. One day, she was asking the children if they wanted to have a new story, and instead of telling one child who was talking a lot, she told the children if they wanted a story to say “Ravioli, Ravioli.” It changed the climate immediately and all the children began to say that.
I am so glad I grew up loving to read. To this day, it is perhaps one of my most wonderful adventures in life. I hope any of you who have children will take the time to read to them as much as possible. Let them pick out books from the library. And teach them to ask in funny ways such as “Ravioli, Ravioli!”
Photo Courtesy Pexels
When I first moved to Calimesa in Southern California, I noted that the Garden of Angels in Desert Lawn Cemetery was located in my city. I had read about the cemetery in 1996 when a wonderful lady, Debi Faris, living in Yucaipa (next to Calimesa) heard a newscast about a newborn baby found dead in a duffle bag that had been tossed out on the San Pedro freeway.
Faris explained how that newscast impacted her life. “He was placed, I assume by his mother, in a pink duffle bag with the word ‘lifesaver’ written on the outside of it. This little child would change the course of my life,” she said.
“When I heard the news report about that newborn baby in the duffel bag … it touched me so deeply that I could not turn and walk away. He was a human being, so innocent and vulnerable. It tore at my heart that his mother could not see the ‘gift’ she had been given.”
Thus Faris began her life-long quest to make sure there would be a place to bury these abandoned or murdered children and she made education of teens and young people her priorities.
Soon thereafter, she contacted Senator Jim Brulte to get the laws of child abandonment changed. The abandonment law passed after some time and in 2001 the Safe Surrender for Newborns law became part of her legacy.
“On August 26, 1996, we buried the first three children in the Garden of Angels. Two abandoned newborn baby boys and a little girl about the age of two, apparently murdered, who had been found floating in a river. I gave them their names, Matthew, Nathan and Dora. Their names all have the same meaning … a gift from God.” She said her dad made wooden crosses and sent them to her from Oregon.
The names were important she said because, “These children had a name now … they would not be just a Coroner’s number.”
There is even one adult buried in the Garden. Grandpa John’s stone cross sits on the edge of the garden amidst the forest of monuments dedicated to the tiny children.
In 2002, Faris had received a call from the Los Angeles County Coroner’s Office asking if she knew anyone or group who would take the body of an adult and give him a proper burial. “I said I didn’t and asked why,” she said.
The person on the other line proceeded to tell Faris they had a man who had died and as they were trying to find family to notify them of his death, they learned that as a baby, he had been found discarded in a trash can in July 1936.
The man, legally named John Doe Jr., had suffered brain damage, possibly from being thrown into the trash can and had apparently lived his life in institutions, she said.
“I told them I would take him,” she smiled. “Now he’s surrounded by all these children and he won’t ever be alone again.”
Debi Faris in the Garden of Angels
I attended several of the funerals at the Garden of Angels since I lived in the general area then. The first one I attended was for three babies, all in tiny caskets, and all wrapped in receiving blankets. Two of the caskets were no bigger than large boxes that might contain boots.
Debi Faris would drive from Yucaipa, CA all the way to Los Angeles, where the bodies of babies would be kept, along with every other person who was unidentified and/or unclaimed, and all the bodies would be cremated as one might burn trash. She would get the babies, clean their tiny bodies and wrap them in clean receiving blankets. Then she would sit with the babies for a short time, rocking them in a sort of loving action that a mother would make. And then she would bring them back to Calimesa, CA, to the Garden of Angels, and they would be put in their tiny caskets for the funerals.
The funerals I attended back around 2014 were beautiful ways to acknowledge a life that otherwise might have passed into the netherworld without their lives having been acknowledged. All the babies are given a first and sometimes middle name. They cannot get a last name because of legal issues, I imagine lest someone comes to claim any of them, which has never happened. There is singing. The song I heard was “I’ll Fly Away Home,” and it was truly touching. I know I shed some tears. When the little caskets are taken outside to the burial site, people stand over them and pray for them and white doves are released. They circle higher and higher in the sky over the site, and eventually begin to fly back home. At every holiday, the little graves are decorated with flowers and other gifts brought by different people who visit the cemetery. The Garden of Angels is a special part of the cemetery all of its own right near the front of the mortuary. There is a little pool nearby and birds and ducks come there frequently to visit the pond. It is a beautiful ceremony, and though sad, I think the fact that the babies are honored instead of being thrown away in trash cans, dumped in rivers, left out in the desert, or otherwise thrown away as a life without any value other than perhaps a 20-minute sex act (if that).
I have always been so touched by what this one woman did, a woman who was not wealthy, and who sold her family car to have money to bury the first three babies, that I too decided to do something as well in their honor. So I began collecting blue and white quilt blocks that various women have donated. I will ultimately bind each block individually and put them together horizontally so that the quilt can continue to grow. I had made a list of the babies and their names, and some people have chosen to embroider a child’s name on a block. I think when someone is talking to the young people at the high schools, it is a good visual aid to help them understand the reality of the issue.
Prior to the passing of the Safe Surrender for Newborns law, it is estimated that there were some 500 babies abandoned and/or murdered outright. Today as it stands, there are more than 100 babies in the cemetery. I have not been there lately so I am not sure of the exact number, but one baby is too many. For information on California’s Safely Surrendered Baby Law, go to babysafe.ca.gov.
Footnote: Debi Faris, after working so hard on this issue, actually won the lottery and her payout out of $26,000,000,000 was $9,000,000,000. She contributed some of it to the nonprofit organization that I believe now exists.