Puzzle Pieces: Picking At Scabs

My adopted dad was named Skip. Well, actually it was Martin, but nobody called him that. His family called him Marty, everyone else called him Skip (except for the Friermuth family, who all called him Mushy). I called him Dad, but after I got to be about twelve or thirteen, I never really felt like he was my father until shortly before he died a few years ago.  I rarely called him by the name of dad.  When speaking to my mom about him, I would just refer to him as “HE” or “HIM” with an ever-so-slight note of contempt in my tone.  When referring to him with others, it was uncomfortable and unnatural calling him “my dad.”  I did so for the sake of clarity, but not so much because I felt he was my dad.

Skip had a scab on his ear for years. He had a habit of picking it every night while he was watching television. I remember arguing with him over it. “It will never heal,” I said. He claimed he was “letting the bacteria out” every time he picked the scab. To my knowledge, he went to his grave with that sore on his ear.

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I don’t remember that day at all. The day my mother Ellen died. The fact that I have no recollection of Ellen Urell McGinnis at all, other than a few scattered photos and the things my brother Michael has told me about this beautiful woman, pains me greatly.

I know that it was an awful day for my brothers and my grandfather. I found an old newspaper article stating that Ellen fell from the loft in a barn, and that Michael had gone to Carolyn Gray’s house to call an ambulance. Michael was all of eight or nine years old.

I think of my daughter Rachel, who is nine…I imagine her running to Mrs. Weaver’s house to call an ambulance for her mother who is dying on a barn floor…and I cry for the pain and fear she would feel…

Ellen was riding horses that day, Michael tells me. He told me she had been up to the Hartnett home and was riding their horse, and actually got thrown from the horse…that was one pretty bad fall. She later came home to take care of her own horse, a paint named Babe. Then she went into the loft, and fell….again.

Her spleen was ruptured; she bled internally, and died on the way to the hospital. My mother’s stepsister Anita told me years ago that Morfar said my mother’s last words were “Take care of my kids, Pop.”

I think of these things often, and resent the fact that I only have second hand information on my mother. As I grew older, I rarely felt as if I belonged, or fit in, with my adoptive family…I lay awake at night, dreaming that Nick would come back from his desertion and want me and Michael back. Influenced by soap operas, I imagined that Ellen was not really dead, just lost somewhere, unable to get back to us.

Picking at the scab….

Every time the kids at school called me “Slimey Keimey” I would either wilt, or seethe, inside, and say to myself “My name is KAREN McGINNIS, not KAREN KEIM!” And I would wish that Nick and Ellen McGinnis were real, living people and not just names in the shadows of my past.

Picking at the scab….

One time, when I was about twelve, I found my social security card.


I confronted my adoptive mom and asked her who it belonged to, though I knew it was mine. I said “Why did you change my name?”

Picking at the scab…

Unless you have been adopted, I guess you can’t understand the way I felt. I can still remember Doris and Skip sitting me down when I was wee little and saying “You can not call us Doris and Skip anymore. You call us Mommy and Daddy.” And I complied, because it made sense to me. Michael has a different perspective on that – and I often wish that I had been more resistant to cutting the ties of my past.

Though, at one point, I did resist…I was talking to Mom, my adoptive mother that is, about her late parents, who died before I was even born. She grew annoyed that I always referred to them as her mother or father. She said “You should call them Grandma and Grandpa.” And I said “Why? I never knew them. They are not my grandparents.” I guess that probably hurt her feelings, but I had my own grandpa, and his name was Morfar.

I guess it sounds like I am ungrateful for being adopted; like I didn’t love my adoptive parents, and that’s not true. I did feel like an outsider, like an anomaly to them. They were in their late 40s when they adopted me; all of my cousins were much older than me…in fact, they were all grown up with children of their own. My aunts and uncles were all old. They were of a different generation; my mom and dad often shook their heads at my crazy ideas…

Unless you’ve been adopted, and don’t have any recollection of your birth parents, I guess it’s hard to understand. I am pained that my children do not have grandparents…their Grandma died when they were very young; Grandpa died several years ago and they only have faint memories of him…and we can’t even go back to keep the memories alive.

I miss all of my parents. I miss what we didn’t have, I miss what could have been…and most of all, I long for Ellen.

Dad picked at his physical scab for many years. I guess I’ll keep picking the emotional one…

More of my Puzzle Pieces Journey, if interested: Click Here

Karen Rice, AKA Wizzy


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