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by Jennifer Verner Fennell

Phoenix Fire, by Ragen Mendenhall
Phoenix Fire
by Ragen Mendenhall

On October 28, 1959, a baby was born in a Dallas hospital. Four there witnessed that birth. One said, "Goodbye," one said, "Hello," and two decided, "We'll call her Jennifer." I've later been told that choice was result of a late-night Jennifer Jones movie. Being too young at the time to have a clue just who that was, why I became a namesake, or what the tiny grin on their faces truly explained, I never tread backward toward explanations. Jennifer Diane it was, then; Diane, my mother's name.

My adoption was never a secret to me--far from it. The first baby book I can remember was called The Chosen Baby, all about the Smiths, who adopted a baby girl. Thinking back, choice was the key in that earliest teaching. "It was you we wanted," I can still remember my parents saying to me.

Over the years thoughts expanded regarding this "chosen" notion. My parents wished for 11 years to bear children before their choice to share life with me. Only now, after 17 years of marriage, do I begin to have full appreciation for that timespan.

Choice. Somewhere on this earth, a woman exists who also faced choice on that day. I have three beautiful children of my own, now, and have lost child-life, as well. Lord, the empathy, honor and thanks I feel toward this creature that I know not, but come from. Reasons for the choice matter not. My love for she that brought me here will never be shaded, though my respect for that choice to release me from her means a connection I will never attempt to directly seek.

I remember as a young girl watching all of the then popular girl-strikes-out-in-search-of-natural-mother films in the late 60s and early 70s. I watched them with my mother, sometimes curled beside her on the couch. Each o f us always cried. Never did I internalize the plots as personal need. My tears were for the mothers, not the child. I can remember feeling anger at Susan Dey, daughter on the screen, seeking past, as she pouted at the woman at that door . . . God, how her mother must have felt, again faced with flush and fury of past choices, the "whys" and "how could you's." No wonder I could never again watch Dey in dramatic roles-- how could a serious character have no heart whatsoever, while over on channel 9, sing of teeny-bopping-rock-and-roll-bliss with her new-found family offering her Partridges, if not a proverbial pear-tree?

Vaguely, I remember one experience at about age 7 that touched me in a most inexplicable way. While shopping with my parents in a mall in East Texas, I wandered away, gazing in store windows. Suddenly, in the reflection of one, I focused differently and saw not one, but two images of myself. Blinking hard, I stared into the glass, and fought an odd mix of panic and excitement. I whirled around, face to face with a girl shorter than I, visibly younger in years, but incredibly the same. Close behind her, a younger boy followed, and further back, pausing to examine her purse, the woman I assumed to be their mother. They all resembled one another closely. All resembled . . . me! I caught my breath, turned, and ran to find my parents.

One time and one time only have I had serious desires to make contact with the woman who gave birth to me. Oh, questions have presented themselves at other times . . . medical histories, for example. "Any family history of . . . ?" (Heck, no clue!) "Sometimes these symptoms indicate a condition that might be hereditary . . . Does anyone in your family have . . . ?" (More shaking of my head.) Never, through those issues, did I feel a need to go back, to trace steps to my origin. One instant the desire washed over me--as I held my first son for that first moment. I wanted her to know, wished her to feel yet another circle completed. Her courage gave choice, love that gave life, and that life, a tiny new love now held.

More than once, soon after, I ranted with thoughts of anonymously sending a letter to Dallas papers, asking them to publish the envisioned declaration for me. Sappy. Melodramatic. I chose not to. Honestly, I was afraid th ey would jump at sensationalism, and I ripped up the letter with warped images of Susan Dey portraying a character writing to the mother she'd never seen, while humming "I Think I Love You". No, my eventual circle back to her would be a quieter choice.

Choice. Family. Choosing life. My earliest lessons in the unconditional aspects of love and life, of a life of love, and of the gift of a love of life.


Jennifer Fennell is a writer and artist whose poetry, short stories, essays, photography and artwork have appeared in numerous magazines and publications. Art Editor for Maelstrom Magazine, Contributing Photographer/Artist for Emotions Magazine, and private fine arts instructor, Jennifer resides well north of her Southern childhood, in Chicago, with her husband, three children, and fearless wonder-beagle, Casey Jones. Recent publications and projects include Poetography: Image As Muse, 1999 and Artstarts: A Creative Toolbox For Children and Adults.


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