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Wednesday, October 20, 2010

My recent book tour (October 2010)

I had a blast!
By Trace L. Hentz (formerly DeMeyer) 

 Sometimes it takes me awhile to process what just happened. In other words, I had to recover from my recent mini-book tour/road trip to Wisconsin.
 Driving is my therapy. I think best while driving. This time I used the 30+ hours to pray and ask “what should I read?”  Great Spirit answered loud and clear. Four times I read from One Small Sacrifice and each time was different!
The first time I visited the Menominee tribe in 2001, it was to attend the Wiping the Tears ceremony, led by the most sacred holy men Chief Arvol Looking Horse and Elder Chris Leith. Here I was, nine years later, back there with my own story. That ceremony for adoptees was the first one ever and the miracle I attended was not lost on me. My writing about Lost Birds feels like ceremony.
On Sept. 27, I met my friend Jackie in the Milwaukee suburb of Brown Deer and she shared recent updates about Ben-Ani, who is an adoptee currently incarcerated. I’ve known Jackie a few years and we talked about “abduction trauma,” while others may refer to this as “being adopted by non-Indians.”  Ben is Anishinabe-Menominee and he’s agreed to tell his story in my second book, Two Worlds: Lost Children of the Indian Adoption Projects..
Monday night Jackie and I drove to the Menominee rez and stayed at their casino (their new guestrooms are even fancier than casino hotel rooms out East).  Tuesday for breakfast, we met up with Colleen, a Lost Bird from the Menominee tribe, who went full circle – from a stranger adoption in Pennsylvania to a reunion with her tribal family and is back home living on her rez in Wisconsin. Colleen is my relative now and always will be. It was Colleen who graciously arranged for me to read at the tribe’s high school and then at their tribal college.
Tuesday: One of the saddest moments for me was when I asked the high school students how many of their parents had attended boarding school and practically all their hands shot up. Their parents had been sent as far away as Texas and California. Stranger (not traditional kinship) adoptions and traumatic boarding school experiences permeate every American Indian experience, one way or the other. I think of this as “generational trauma.”
Next stop: the audience at the Menominee Tribal College was perhaps keenest and most sensitive to the Lost Bird/adoptee experience. Colleen was sitting up front with me and told of her own experience to the surprised group. The hour-long talk was taped. I answered all their questions and they asked if my talk could be used later in their classrooms. Of course I said YES! (News from Indian Country will later post this video on their internet TV channel. I’ll post a link on my blog when it airs.)
Late Tuesday afternoon I drove north. I was going home. I’d see cousins, old friends and even friend’s parents who remembered me but lost contact when I moved away after college. This was going to be the real test, sharing my personal life. Writing at 4 a.m., I would often think about my friends and relatives and what I never told them about my childhood being raised by an alcoholic who molested me. If they read the memoir, they’ll know every single gory embarrassing detail. Even writing it, I felt nauseous.
My grade school classmate Julie helped me to process this by letting me talk. I stayed with her and her husband Mike in Billings Park. By the time I read at the Superior Public Library, I was truly calm. (Thanks Julie!) Former mayor of Duluth and Superior, my awesome SSHS classmate Herb Bergson, was there to introduce me. Herb promoted my Twin Ports readings with emails and an update on Howie’s blog:
Wednesday morning, I was interviewed by the local National Public Radio (NPR) affiliate at the University of Wisconsin in Superior: that interview was broadcast on National Native News later! Even my friends John and Sara heard me in Tuba City, Arizona. This was fantastic!
On Wednesday night at the Public Library, I read a few chapters about my younger days in Superior as a rock musician and even had 'em laughing. I also showed them the shawl my adoptee friend Kim Peterson gifted me for high school graduation. Across the street from the library was the apartment building where Kim was murdered. I’ll never forget Kim, I told them, and her photo is where I can see her every single day. Kim is who I credit for surviving my troubled teens, and why I dedicated my book to her.
That hour went by so fast at the library, I barely remember details. There were a few tears. I did survive emotionally, I told them. What irony I was reading on the birthdays of my favorite uncle, Chet McIntyre, and my own birthmother, Helen Thrall. Neither of them lived long enough to see this homecoming or know I wrote about them in my memoir.
 On Friday, the reading at Jitters in Duluth felt so good, it didn’t seem like a book reading. I caught up with new friends from Facebook and met classmates from high school. Gary, the awesome Jitters coffeehouse owner, made Julie and me his famous Mocha Malt. I have to admit, if every reading went this smooth, I’d never stay home.
 That week I had dinner with my first cousins Scott and Mary Margaret and had lunch with a family friend, Faye from Allouez. They gave me the greatest gift of all – their memories. They shared stories that made me so full and happy, I felt a profound peace. I do hope they realize this “troubled kid” can see her parents as people now. That gift, peace of mind, I wish I could give to every adoptee I know.
 I didn’t catch the bug going around during my week in Wisconsin but my sore throat was a sign it was time to head home to western Massachusetts.
To wrap up my talk, I shared this story with the high school students on the Menominee rez:  “The old story goes there was a farmer who found a wounded eagle and placed him in a chicken coop to recover. The eagle started to act like a chicken, he bobbed his head like a chicken, he ate like a chicken, and otherwise thought he was a chicken. Until one day an Indian came along and asked what the eagle was doing with the chickens. The farmer told him the story, and the Indian asked if he could remove the eagle. The Farmer gave his permission to do so. So the Indian took the eagle to the mountain and said, “You have to know who you are and what you stand for...” The eagle started to flex his wings. His keen eyesight started to return, and the strength in him started to come back. The eagle flew and soared and everything came back to him, who he was and that he wasn’t a chicken. He gained everything back he lost because of where he was placed.”
I told the students Lost Birds are that eagle and every adoptee raised away from their tribe and traditions needs to return home.

Thanks to everyone who helped make the readings of One Small Sacrifice a success: Colleen, Dale K and the Menominee Tribal Nation, Janet and Maggie at the Superior Public Library, Gary at Jitters, Mike Savage and Kalisha at UWS, the honorable Herb Bergson, Faye and her Allouez Book Club, my friends Julie, Mike, Jackie, and JRey, my cousins who I love so much, and my heartfelt thanks to everyone who showed up!

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