Excerpt from Helen Doss, The Family Nobody Wanted, 1954


Source: Copyright Wayne F. Miller, Magnum Photos, available in "Life Visits a One-Family U.N." Life Magazine, November 1951.

Two of the Doss siblings

This classic adoption narrative was reprinted by Northeastern University Press in 2001.

Our children never thought of themselves as looking particularly different from each other. One day, when Donny was eight and Alex a year old, Donny crouched on the floor to encourage his little brother to walk. Alex reached out both hands, took a hesitating step, and tumbled into Donny’s arms. The high-pitched giggle interlaced with the hearty boy-sized chuckle, then Donny looked up at me, blue eyes wide and sincere under his thatch of blond hair.

“Mama,” he said, glancing fondly at the Oriental ivory face beside him, at the black appleseed eyes that crinkle into slits when Alex laughs, “if he was seven years older, and if I had black hair, everybody would think that him and me was twins!”

They felt that much alike, our children, and often they took it for granted that this alikeness would show. Naturally they could see that there were minor and inconsequential variations, that Rita had “the blackest, shiniest hair,” that Teddy could toast browner in the sun than the rest, but persons bearing such unearned distinctions were polite enough not to gloat. There are only two times I can remember when differences within our family seemed to be of any concern, and then, each time, it was only because a small child developed a sudden fear that a minor dissimilarity might be a physical handicap to the bearer. Once Teddy looked into the mirror at his own brown eyes and then studied Donny, solicitude puckering his face like a walnut.

“Donny?” he asked, “how can you see out of blue eyes?”

Also there was the early-winter day when Timmy watched Carl trim brown spots from apples with the point of a knife.

“Why do you do that, Daddy?” he asked.

“Bad spots,” Carl said.

Later I noticed Timmy staring at me, his usually frolicking brown eyes now worried. “Daddy gonna cut pieces out of you?”

“Heavens, no,” I laughed. “What made you say that?”

His fingers slid gently over the freckles on my arm. “Bad spots,” he said.

It is the outsiders who imagine that our family is made up of incompatible opposites. Those who have never ventured beyond the white bars of their self-imposed social cages too often take for granted that a different color skin on the outside makes for a different kind of being, not of necessity completely human, on the inside. . . .

Some of the skeptical find it hard to believe that people of all races are born with the same kind of vocal chords for speech, the same kind of taste buds in the tongue, the same type of digestive apparatus capable of assimilating a wide variety of foods. Differences between national or racial groups are mostly just differences in culture. It is not heredity but a cultural pattern that makes the British love their royalty, the Chinese reverence their scholars, and the Eskimos relish partially decomposed and frozen raw fish. Cultural mores, not genes, determine the language we speak, our notions as to the wearing of a sarong, a kilt, or a stuffy business suit, and whether or not we think it polite to belch after a meal.

We try to explain these things, whenever we think the backs of the misinformed are strong enough to bear the truth; but the boners go marching on. One afternoon a businessman was talking to Carl at our front door. Rita whizzed down the driveway sloping from the church to the road, made too sharp a turn and flew off her trike, landing square on her nose.

“Wow,” Carl said, poised to take off at the first wail from down below. “My daughter took quite a spill.”

But there was no wail. Teddy was beside her in an instant, helping Rita brush herself off. They giggled as both hopped back on their tricycles and sped off around the circle drive again.

Carl relaxed and smiled. “I thought she was going to yell her head off from that bump. She’s a tough little kid, though, and a good sport.”

The man shrugged. “Actually, coming from such a primitive stock, she couldn’t possibly have felt it the way a Caucasian would have. I doubt if her nerve endings are very highly developed.”

Primitive nerve endings! Our children don’t need the studious anthropologists and ethnologists to tell them that such fantastic notions are hogwash, because they already know that people are more alike than different; nor do they need the proof of microscopes and IQ tests and statistics covering years of careful research, to believe that modern science finds no race superior to any other.


Source: Helen Doss, The Family Nobody Wanted (Boston: Northeastern University Press, 1954), 164-165, 166-168.

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