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Wendy's Roots

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I was about 10 minutes early as I searched for my customer's address on Barre Street in Montpelier. I could have engaged the GPS on my smartphone, but that would have felt like cheating. (I'm like the obstinate logger who spurns the chainsaw for his trusty ax.) This 8:30 morning pickup was on the early side for me, late-night cabbie that I am, but I hate to turn down lucrative out-of-town work.

After a couple of passes, I finally found the place: a wooden, three-story walk-up, rickety and faded yellow, the stairs open to the elements in a tilty, unwalled porch. It was located up a driveway behind a nearly identical structure, the forward version rusty brown in color and just slightly less woebegone. It occurred to me that these old apartments must have originally been built to house Barre granite workers.

As soon as I pulled in front, my customer, Wendy Jones, came down the stairs with her two bags. She appeared young and breezy, not at all in tune with the creaky building from which she emerged. Loading the luggage into the trunk, I asked her, "Where you flying today?"

"Back home to Cali," she replied. "I had a wonderful visit with an old friend. This is a girl I've known since middle school. She just got a job up here. In fact, she just moved into her place, like, last week."

Wendy was an attractive woman, in her mid-thirties if I had to guess — an Asian American with a distinctly southern California accent. Settling into the shotgun seat, she continued, "What a cute town. We wandered around yesterday discovering things."

Pulling back onto Barre Street, I asked, "Are you much of a reader? Have you heard of She's Come Undone by Wally Lamb, I think it is?"

"Yeah, I have. It's been on my reading list for a while."

"Well, at some point in the story the protagonist moves to Montpelier. I mean, it's a terrific novel apart from the Vermont connection, but you might really enjoy revisiting the town fictionally, having been here."

"Well, now it's moved to the top of my list," she replied with a warm smile.

We negotiated our way out of the small but bustling capital city and merged onto the interstate en route to the Burlington airport. "So it sounds like you and your friend had a great time," I said, picking up the conversation.

"We sure did," Wendy said. "We had to work out some stuff first. There were issues about me not coming east to visit her for so long. But we talked it all out — some tears included — and now our relationship is back on a great basis."

I chuckled and said, "That is so not a conversation two male friends would have. I mean, not to be sexist, but that's not typically how guys work these things out."

Wendy laughed, saying, "Hey, I understand. I'm married, and we have an 11-year-old son."

"So which California do you hail from?" I asked. "Because the north and south are, like, different worlds."

"Oh, I'm an LA girl," Wendy replied. "My whole life except for my first year."

"Did your family immigrate here?"

"No, I'm a Korean adoptee. My parents brought me here at 9 months. I guess they liked what they got, because they later adopted my sisters, two more Korean girls."

Wendy seemed at ease with her history, a story she undoubtedly had been telling her whole life, especially if — and this was an assumption on my part — her adoptive parents were white. Or black or Latino, now that I thought about it.

"What was it back then?" I asked. "I guess there was a window of time when it was fairly easy to find and adopt Korean babies?"

"Yeah, there's a ton of us here, now mostly in our thirties and forties."

"Have you ever been drawn to explore your Korean roots? I've known a few adopted folks, and some have a deep urge to uncover their birth parents. For others, not so much."

"You know, there are actually tour agencies in Korea that cater to the American-raised adoptees who want to explore their roots. I've thought about doing that. One of my sisters is also interested. The younger one couldn't care less, though that could change, of course, as she gets older."

"Wow, that's fascinating," I said. "Does the agency also assist you in locating or visiting your biological relatives?"

"Well, you have to investigate on your own, if you want to. But, if you do have information, they will help you get to the places where your relatives live. That can be worked into the tour."

"Have you thought about finding your Korean parents? Is it even possible?"

"It is possible, but not easy. Back then, the adoptions were mostly what they call 'closed.' The thinking was, this was the best for all concerned. But I'm not really interested in my biological parents as much as finding my foster parents who raised me for those first nine months. I'd really like to meet them and get to know them a little bit."

"I bet they were real loving folks," I speculated. "I say this because you seem like an emotionally grounded and well-adjusted person. Those first months of life are vastly important to our lifelong well-being, and I imagine that your foster parents nurtured you and gave you a lot of love while they had you in their charge."

Sometimes I get carried away. Because of the nature of my job, I'm accustomed to spending time with random people, often making surprisingly deep connections, fleeting though they may be. Not every cabbie approaches the work that way, but I do, and I embrace it. On the flip side, I worry about being inappropriate — making unwelcome assumptions and saying too much. For a gregarious person like myself, it can be a fine line.

"That's always been my feeling," Wendy said, and I breathed a small sigh of relief, knowing that she was OK with my comments. "And that's probably why I would like to have this reunion someday — to look them in the eyes and express my gratitude and appreciation."

All these stories are true, though names and locations may be altered to protect privacy.

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