Today's thoughts

Category: DIARY OF AN ADOPTEE (Page 1 of 17)

As an adopted child, my thoughts and research.

Retirement is not without Hassles: Cheers to 90-Years #2308

My chair yoga instructor is in Costa Rica today, so there will be no class. I hope to get to Costa Rica someday, reinspired by the Reluctant Traveler, hosted by Eugene Levy. He also went to Finland in last night’s episodes on Apple TV. I can easily relate to his comedic approach to avoiding nature. We had just finished Daisy & The Six, after growing stale watching Lost for months. It will have to satisfy the “Theater Tuesday” urge, since my wife needs to stay home today to prepared for her book club event tonight. I will escape in a friend’s Miata for a drive down the coast and dinner at Bobarino’s Pizzeria. It has just recently reopened after Hurricane Ian damage. 

My sister and her entourage may or may not come tomorrow. I was hoping to see my nieces all grown up, but an emergency room visit may send them back to Indiana early. Their father has been hospitalized on three recent occasions, again yesterday, and guilt has come into play. I certainly wouldn’t want my kids shortening their precious vacation time at my expense – I’m sure he wouldn’t either. Hopefully, he will feel better soon, but other factors like getting to SeaWorld and nasty weather may also interfere in their planned stay with us. 

My birth mother supposedly celebrated her 90th birthday on Easter. In past years, I’ve at least been able to see pictures of her on Facebook, but both of her kids have mysteriously stopped posting. There has been no word for some time on her health status, but 90-years of life is encouraging for me to think about. Cheers! Hopefully, I have some of those genes. My adoptive parents both lived to be 93, so I’ve been fortunate to see longevity run in the family. My birth father took his life at 79, so I figure I have at least ten more good years ahead of me. 

It’s a shame that I was never able to make contact with any of Edna Faye Banister’s family members. My bio-mom is still a mystery and apparently still wants nothing to do with me. No one has bothered to answer my letters or respond to my Messenger notes. Thankfully, it’s not that way on birth father Cecil’s side of the family. They have all been very gracious about staying in touch. At least, half of my genetic family history is clear. 




Retirement is not without Hassles: Thanks Mom #2241

As I continue with Storyworth, I’ve apparently ignored their suggestions on what to write about, as I recall lifelong memories for my family. One of those topics was apparently of interest to my son. “What was it like growing up with your mother?” was their question of the day. I’ve never followed a structured approach to writing, so this will be a different challenge. 

Let me start with a little background on my parents. My mother, his grandmother, was a petite lady and a former beauty queen, sorority sister, and college grad. She was a recreation major at Indiana University, so trained to keep people actively engaged. Before she married my dad, she also worked for Red Gold canning tomatoes. It was their top priority to start family, but allegedly due to my father’s ice hockey accident, they were unable to have children of their own. The alternative was adoption, a highly regulated and controversial process that involved raising someone else’s mistake. There were apparently extensive background checks, lengthy interviews, and rules to follow. They went to the Suemma Coleman Agency (a home for unwed mothers) in Indianapolis for guidance. 

I don’t know how long they waited or how costly the exercise was? All I know is that I was two months old when they took me into their Elkhart home around Halloween. It was a two-bedroom home, and it was required that I have my own room. When they added my adopted sister four-years later, our living room doubled as their bedroom with a fold-out couch, so Judy could have a required room of her own. This is a strong indication of how selfless they were in adding us to their family.

They did parenting right, whether it was demanded in the adoption contracts or not. They took me to church every Sunday, taught me right from wrong, curbed my language, and made me mow the lawn to earn an allowance. I was given everything but a sense of direction. 

Mom was a busy lady as a stay-at-home parent. She was involved in a bridge club, ladies club, collected stamps, and owned a small business called the Calico Cottage. She organized several big birthday parties for me growing up. If I ever needed to borrow a tool, she was a much better resource than my dad who was usually working at Miles Laboratories as Assistant Treasurer. He frequently traveled to Europe, but my mom was never into flying, so family trips were usually by car. Mom was never a good cook, relying mostly on the microwave, clearly evident when the pressure cooker once exploded while she was trying to make applesauce. She was, however, highly organized with a freezer full of neatly stacked soups and vegetables, frozen in the shapes of the very bowls they would be nuked and served in. 

Her mother, Grace, was a competent cook, canner, and pie-maker, but seemingly only passed along a jovial nature, love of games, and strong will to her only daughter. I was mom’s treasured son long after the initial adoption agency monitoring was lifted to assure that I was never mistreated. It’s a wonder that I was ever allowed out of the house without constant supervision, but she was rarely over-protective. I remember being gone most of the day while allowed to roam the neighborhood, play in the park behind our house, and even go to the nearby stores. I don’t recall her having to escort me to grade school every day that was about a mile away. I mostly got everything I wanted, but there was a time when she wouldn’t let me go see House on Haunted Hill at the movie theater because it was too scary. 

I was a terrible teen, giving her every opportunity to regret ever adopting me. I was ungrateful, lazy, foul tempered, and disrespectful. She was the opposite of all this ugliness and somehow tolerated my hormone-raged moods. I slept late, lived like a slob, and never really liked myself. However, my two best qualities were saving money and getting good grades, important disciplines that they taught me. The only time I struggled in school they drilled me with flash cards to the point where Math was my best subject. 

I couldn’t have asked for better parents, but they were sadly never rich enough to satisfy me, whatever that means. We were Country Club members, lived in a nice neighborhood, paid for my college, bought me nice clothes, but somehow it was never enough. We didn’t live on the river, own a boat, take elaborate vacations, or own the first color TV. I’m ashamed of this now in realizing how spoiled I really was growing up. I only hope that she can forgive me. Thanks Mom, for all the love. 

Retirement is not without Hassles: Making A Mark #2236

“That’s gonna leave a mark,” is the movie line delivered by Chris Farley in the comedy Tommy Boy. In real life, however, to make your mark means “to do something that will be remembered or that makes one famous or successful.”  At 71 years of age, it’s unlikely that I’ll ever be famous, but I’ve been a successful brother, friend, father, grandfather, husband, stepfather, and businessman, with a few slips along the way. There has yet to be a statue to be erected, or a monument built in my honor, but I’ve seen my name etched on a few plaques, trophies, and certificates.

I continue to write for Storyworth, a gift from my family, that requires me to write my life’s story. It’s kind of like writing your own epitaph, so I apologize in advance for blowing my own trumpet. I can almost see myself speaking at my own funeral, so please bear with me. 

Both of my grandfathers, Ross Adrian Hancher and William Jennings Johnston, along with my dad, Burton Lee Johnston, have achieved military honors, with their names inscribed on the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument in Indianapolis. My greatest accomplishment might have been avoiding the Vietnam draft that took the lives of several of my high school classmates. They never had a chance to be a father, husband, grandfather, stepfather or businessman. I was fortunate to have a college deferment, attending both Albion College and Indiana University where I graduated in 1973.

I was married for the first time that year, had a son in 1974 and became a grandfather in 2007, 2009, and again in 2018. I remarried in 2001 while spending over 45 years in the media business (radio, agency, TV, and newspaper) before retiring in 2016. There have been no Hall of Fame honors, but the Indianapolis Advertising Club once named me “Man of the Year.”  I’ve also earned several sales awards in the business, but the main benefit was a rewarding career that comfortably helped to support a growing family all these years.

Being adopted, I really now have two families while discovering over 900 DNA connections. My birth name was Jerry Lee Bannister and I have met several members of this group. I often wonder what life would have been like had I not had the good fortune of being loved and raised by Burt and Cathy Johnston? They left their generous mark on me, the most important in my life. It made me what I am today. 

Diary of an Adoptee: Never Knew #2163

I sent a note to my half-sister telling her how often  we referred to her humorous quip after checking on our condition during hurricane Ian. When I told her we were in Alaska, she responded with: “Boy, you really know how to evacuate!!!” She must have been on my mind this morning as I composed this poem about the newly found sibling relationship with her and four sisters.  The brother died years ago in a car accident and the mother was not aware until 65-years later that her soon to be husband, now deceased, had fathered a child – me. Surprise! In all fairness, he probably didn’t know either. An Ancestry DNA test confirmed the bond and I’ve slowly gotten to know the family, starting with the “favorite.” Since our initial meetings, one of the sisters has sadly passed, and I got to meet “Fav’s” son, Gabe, who’s wife apparently initiated the test as a gift for his mother.

I Never Knew

I Never knew of you,
Didn’t have a clue.
But glad we finally met,
Now that I do.

If it weren’t for Gabe,
I might never have found.
My five secret sisters,
Scattered all around.

To meet you all,
My ultimate quest.
But “Fav’s” become,
The one I know best.

We were a match,
On the Ancestry test.
It was like opening,
A treasure chest.

Even Cecil,
Would be surprised.
Of this bond,
That he devised.

At the heart of the matter,
Is your mother so strong.
She’s lost three loves,
Then, I come along.

You’ve all stuck together,
As Bannister’s should.
In the eight-sided cabin,
Made of Scipio wood.

I’ll never be your favorite,
To your brother I concede.
But you can have another,
Should you feel the need.

Our twisted family tree,
With its hidden roots.
As I continue to search,
For yet revealed shoots.

This man I never met
Is in our hearts today.
He’s clearly in our eyes,
And in our DNA.

Copyright 2022




Diary of an Adoptee: Multiverse #2123

As an adopted child, I often wonder what life would be like being raised by a different father? In my case, it would have been two extremes. My adopted father was a successful financial executive with an 8 to 5 desk job, who frequently traveled to Switzerland, Italy, and France, as I recall. He worked for Miles Laboratories, manufacturers of Alka-Seltzer and One-A-Day vitamins, among other popular products, at their Elkhart, Indiana headquarters. My mother, also a Indiana University graduate, where they met, stayed home to care for me and my 3-years younger adopted sister. 

By contrast, my bio-dad, who was described as “gregarious,” held a factory job since graduating from high school and worked nights, the shift he preferred. He would proudly punch Clock #1 at Cummins Engine in Columbus, Indiana, an honor he was given upon returning from Korea. His wife was kept busy at home raising six children in tiny Scipio, Indiana. 

If there truly is a multiverse, as posed in science fiction stories, I can sometimes envision myself living life under these two different circumstances. Maybe more, if you consider that bio-dad probably never knew that I existed and obviously didn’t marry bio-mom. She was the youngest of a large farm family that secreted her to an adoption home to give birth to me. The other possibility in this multiverse is being raised by a single mother in times when this was rare and unacceptable. Fortunately, for me, they chose the adoption route.

I did grow up a Hoosier, living in northern Indiana as opposed to southern. I ended up in a city of about 40,000, at a school with over 1,000 in my high school graduating class, and in neighborhoods with sidewalks. I joke about this because my wife and I looked at a home once near Lebanon, Indiana. My concern was that there were “no sidewalks”- apparently a bit too “country” for my tastes. None of this would have been the case with the rural lifestyle in my multiverse options. 

I could have been the oldest of seven children in bio-dad’s household, if his wife to be had been understanding of my circumstances. She was certainly shocked when I showed up in her life as a result of a DNA test, matching one of her daughters. Fortunately, I was conceived over a year before they married in October of 1951, so he was not disloyal to her.  I also could have been the oldest of five children conceived by my bio-mom, Edna Faye Banister, through two different men, either of which could have been a step-dad to me. Or, my very  presence in Edna’s young life might have discouraged any further relationships on her part, as I fantasize about the multiverse of possibilities. 

Regardless, I had the opportunity to spend some time alone with my half-sister when my wife and I visited Tuscaloosa on our recent road trip. She gave me some background on what it was like to be raised by the man that contributed to half of my DNA. I also met her son who found my facial expressions to mimic those of his grandfather, a.k.a. Cecil Ralph Banister. 

Working a night shift, Cecil was rarely home, unless asleep, and spent most of his time outdoors and shirtless with a dark tan. He was an exceptional athlete who stood out at 6’2″ tall in high school basketball and excelled at shuffleboard and golf in his later years. He played industrial league sports with Cummins and was extremely competitive.  As an example, he taught his grandson to play chess and then proceeded to beat him 285 consecutive times, counting each one, before the poor kid finally beat him.

Grandpa would take him on long nature walks while teaching him to speak Pig Latin. His only son, besides me, died in a motorcycle accident at age 16. Words like “country,” “outdoors,” and “nature” don’t seem to be in my vocabulary.  I do enjoy sports but was never much more than an average participant, while my adopted father was short and left-handed, so fundamentals were not easy for him to teach me. At least, I was fast!

Cecil was a professional shuffleboard player, he would win prizes, including liquor bottles that he rarely touched. He once sat all the kids down at the table and had them sample the booze, hoping to discourage them from drinking because of the unpleasant taste. I don’t think it worked!

My adopted father had a bad temper but he was mild-mannered. He never hit me. Cecil, on the other hand, didn’t hesitate to slap the girls and used switches on all the kids. He was not violent with his wife, sticking to hands-on discipline around the house. I only got in one fight in my life and was certainly never encouraged to use my fists. Wrestling practice was as close to combat as I ever got. 

Cecil could be a controversial figure. He painted a swastika on his shuffleboard stick and golf balls to identify them as his. It caused a stir in various competitions where he participated. Why not just his initials CRB?

Guns and hunting have never been a part of my life. I could have never fended for myself or protected my family. Cecil was a hunter and owned a gun. He sadly shot himself with it through the eye at age 79. The pain was apparently more than he could stand after surviving the war, by-pass surgery, and the health issues associated with lymphoma. 

My adopted father, Burt, bought a sailboat, the closest he ever came to commuting with nature, with the exception of his well-kept lawn and petunias. After the war, he promised himself never to spend another night in a tent. The one time we went camping together, he stayed by the fire all night. Cecil thrived on being outside and hand-built an octagonal cabin on his Creekside, Scipio property with mirrors so he had a 360-degree view of the land and creatures around him. Burt, on the other hand, never owned a tool box. We just used my mom’s!

One of Cecil’s daughters gave me a spoon engraved with USMC on the handle. It was obviously something he took from the Marine’s Mess Hall and is now the only possession of his that I now own. I also have a few pictures, newspaper clippings, and an obituary. I have lots of pictures of the only man I ever called “dad” and all of his “years of service” pins from Miles. The only thing the two of them had in common was a “love” for IU basketball and Bobby Knight, something that I also shared. 




Diary of an Adoptee: Biology of Family #2096

The Fantasticks were not fantastic. It’s the second straight local theatre performance that we’ve left at intermission. It also seems as if my computer is working against me, considering the loss of my entire post this morning, a couple of power shut-downs, and content freezing. I may have a virus – maybe my machine caught Pink Eye? I’m growing more and more impatient with trying to keep this site updated with fresh content. I just renewed the site for two more years but I’m running out of things to write about. Poetry ideas have been few and far between. Maybe this 3,000 mile drive will be inspirational or at least get me out of a rut. 

We leave in four more days with the first stop being Schnauzerville to drop off Tally before spending the night in Panama City. Tally will be away from us for her longest stint ever, but she will be with her puppy friends. I’m sure she’ll miss the dog park and hanging out with us by the dinner table. She probably will not get the quantity or variety of treats that we feed her. Definitely, Tally will miss sitting in my chair most of all. I’ll probably miss sitting there myself.

I did find a couple more Ban(n)ister DNA cousins this past week. They’ve been ceremoniously added to the Jerry Banister Family Tree in Ancestry. Two of the stops on this upcoming trip will be with DNA relatives – one on my birth mother’s side and the other on my bio-dad’s. I’m still trying to find clues as to my existence. I pulled out The Adopted Family book during the course of a sleepless night. It’s allegedly the book that the adoption agency gave to my parents to help them deal with the adjustment of having me in their home. It suggests that I was “special” because I was carefully selected rather than born into their family. It conveniently ignores the fact that there is no natural connection. I’m still trying to sort out the biology of family. 

Retirement is not without Hassles: Searching #2033

I got up about a half-hour earlier this morning after yesterday’s bout with the Florida heat. I nearly collapsed on my run after the first couple miles with little shade or breeze and took the walk of shame the last half-mile back home. It was much more tolerable today with the sun not so high in the sky, and I easily jogged the distance. In the time change, I stole a little extra time under the covers and am now just starting to adjust to the change. It also gives me a little extra time to swim and write before my now 4-year old granddaughter soon arrives. 

I spent some time in Ban(n)ister World yesterday, adding a few more names to the Jerry Bannister Family Tree on Ancestry. There was a whole nest of Texas/New Mexico descendants that I tried to sort out, including the author of the William Lawrence Banister 1833-1898 Facebook site. There are several personal DNA links on this side of the family. I was probably inspired by the Harlan Coben book, The Match, that uses some creative ways to search for missing relatives. Genealogical sites often try to protect identity by hiding the details of the living while focusing on obituaries. When you couple this with DNA donors that provide false information about themselves and their whereabouts, it adds to the many mysteries in building a family tree. 

People die with their secrets, as will eventually be the case with my unsolved mystery of life. (See Post #2032). I continue to work with the DNA puzzle of the Ban(n)ister family, knowing that any answers probably won’t change my life. It’s simply a strong curiosity that drives me to search for answers. Perhaps, it’s my animal instincts that have given me a taste of my own blood, something that was missing from my years of living with an adopted family. Even our own dog Tally seems to be attracted to other dogs of the same schnauzer breed. Surely, this is what I’m searching for!

Diary of an Adoptee: Gone but not Forgotten #2032

Thanksgiving 1950 was on November 23rd. Cecil Ralph Banister was 19 1/2 years old, while Edna Faye Banister was two years younger. They went to the same North Vernon, Indiana high school but Cecil had graduated the year before. He was working at Cummins Engine in Columbus where he would retire in 1985 after 35-years of service. Military leave took him to Camp Pendleton in San Diego, California and to Korea as a Marine. Cecil married Marilyn Jean Foist on October 8, 1951. Edna, on the other hand, never finished high school after giving birth to me on August 27, 1951. He most likely never knew.

Edna is still alive but unresponsive while, Cecil sadly passed eleven years ago on this day. DNA solidly connects me to him as the biological father and adoption records to her as the birth mother. She was recently acknowledged for her 89th birthday on Facebook by her daughter, but I must be blocked by the son because there are no recent posts. Up until now, it’s been the only source of photos of her, even though it often felt like stalking.  I honestly don’t know if she’s still in good health or if dementia has taken away any memories of me. Nonetheless, I have no current information on her whereabouts or condition. She’s the only person left that could possibly tell me how the two of them got together. It’s an intriguing saga of the bastard child that is the frequent subject of Hollywood dramas. 

I’m speculating that it was a family get together for Thanksgiving that resulted in my birth nine months later. It might have been just the two of them hooking up for a date during the holiday break from school and work? They were distant cousins in a small town with limited dating prospects, so the fact that they were related never really mattered when it came to the attraction. He was older and getting ready to go into the Marines so that was certainly part of the appeal. She was the youngest daughter of a railroad crossing guard who also did some farming. Edna also had seven older siblings so she also could have snuck away undetected for this fateful rendezvous with an older cousin. I probably will never know the true story but it’s fun to use my imagination. After all, without this night or more together, I would not exist. Rest in Peace – Cecil – you are gone but not forgotten!

Diary of an Adoptee: Pro-LIfe #2025

I like to joke that I have “multiple mothers” as we celebrate Mother’s Day every year. After all, it took more than one woman to raise me, along with Mother Marriott to watch over me when I travel the world. I’m not a religious man, so Mother Marriott takes the place of Mother Superior. Silliness aside, I give all the credit to my adopted parents who rescued me from the Suemma Coleman agency. I also know the identity and whereabouts of my now 89-year old birth mother. Sadly, she does not acknowledge my existence even though she made it possible over seventy years ago. 

Being a teenage mother is difficult in any era, especially in the early 1950s when unwed pregnancies were shunned. I can only imagine the shame that was imposed on my birth mother by her family, friends, and society, forced to give me up to strangers whether her decision or not. They undoubtedly tried to hide her condition and took her far from home to give birth. I would guess that there were times when she tried to figure out a way to keep me as part of her life, and moments when she hated me. Since abortion was not a safe option for her back then,  I was probably better off raised by the loving couple that I’ve always proudly called  “Mom and Dad.” I could never blame her for trying to erase all the memories from her mind. 

Mother’s Day for me is a time for reflection and appreciation, as I try to make sense of my life. I no longer have a mother to honor on this day. I hate to call it indiscretion that gave me life. I prefer to think of her as being naïve and caught in a moment of passion. The birth father was about four years older and preparing to enter the service. I’m sure that neither of them thought about the consequences, but she had to live with the “mistake,” while he probably never knew that a child was on the way. She got little support and undoubtedly lots of criticism. I’m simple grateful that there was a special couple that wanted a baby when they couldn’t have one. As a result, I became a treasured part of their family when I could have been a burden to a teenage girl. 

Because of me, my birth mother’s life drastically changed. From what I’ve been able to uncover, she had to quit high school, get a factory job, and struggle with doubts of desirability and prospects for future relationships. She was a tainted woman, harboring a secret for the rest of her life. I made my best efforts to let her know how grateful I was for life and what I’ve done with that time on Earth. I’ve made serious misjudgments just as she has, and it’s sad that we never got to know each other. She might even be proud. 

Abortion was never a legal option for her as Roe vs. Wade didn’t happen until 1973, Consequently, I can’t give her or her family credit for preserving my life in the womb and allowing for my adoption. They never had a choice, as women have today. Adoption is always the best option with a healthy child and mother, but it comes with emotional and physical hardship. Those that have gone through it, like my birth mother, are strong, selfless individuals who preserve lives and enable others to raise families. Depending on the circumstances, all women should have a choice when it comes to their bodies, so it’s hard to belief that the 45-year law is now being seriously  reconsidered. I’m so thankful for life on this Mother’s Day, especially since it was such a hardship on my birth mother. I have life, but I’m not necessarily Pro-Life. 


Retirement is not without Hassles: Leap Forward #2000

The year 2000 was special–even though it wasn’t the start of the 21st century–because it was a leap year. This according to Scientific American. “Julius Caesar devised the leap year to correct for the fact that the earth circles the sun in 352.24219 days. Because this is not a whole number, the months of the year would slowly fall out of sync with the seasons. A fairly precise correction to the Gregorian calendar debuted in 1582, and stated that a century year will only be a leap year if it is evenly divisible by 400–which is true for Y2K.” Mathematic or astronomical nonsense aside, “the official calendar millennium did not start until the year 2001. We, therefore, celebrated it twice, although my wife to be severely cut her fingers making dinner, so we spent New Year’s Eve 2000 in a hospital waiting room. In 2001, we were making plans for our wedding. 

This morning I marked day 4,850 of “The Streak.” I’m now lucky to break a 15-minute mile, as I slowly chug along, far from “leaping,” on our neighborhood streets. Wind has been a factor these past few days, but it’s been fortunately at my back after the half-way point of my 5k daily journey. It’s also my birth mother’s 89th birthday, but she sadly doesn’t acknowledge my existence, although my wife insists that she hasn’t forgotten. I hope to see some Facebook posts to assure me that she’s all right. It’s been a year since I’ve seen any pictures usually posted by my two living half-siblings on her side, who also have not responded to my letters. Today always brings out the Jerry Lee Banister side of me, as was recorded on my birth certificate. The birth father’s family has been more than welcoming.

Tomorrow is National Siblings Day, so I have eleven  people to remember. First, is my sister that I grew up with that was also adopted. In addition, there were six Banister children from my birth father, with five girls are still alive. The son died in an accident as a teenager, so I’m the only living male on that side of the family. I’ve met four of the now women, plus their mother, and frequently stay in touch with one. I will visit her again in July. My birth mother had four children after me. Two have passed, so technically I now have seven partial siblings still alive to honor on this annual occasion. I regularly maintain a Ban(n)ister Family Tree on Ancestry that ties together all the members of my adopted and DNA families, as I continue to search for genetic connections.

2024 is the next leap year, having seen five go by since the year 2000, and ran on three February 29ths since my streak started in 2009. In my mind, the only distinguishing factor is that extra day in February. Otherwise, there are 365 days every year, with one additional running day every four years. I just hope I can continue to Leap Forward for many years to come. 


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