Editors note: I am SO thrilled to be adding Maralee to our HVFH team. I LOVE listening to her mom moments on My Bridge Radio and hearing about her mothering mishaps. She is known state wide as an advocate of adoption and a great source for parents wanting to become foster parents. Please welcome Maralee.
Written by Maralee Bradley (photography by Rebecca Tredway).
I love Thanksgiving. What’s not to love? Food, fall weather, family, and a nod to the ingenuity and unity of some Pilgrims and their Indian friends. This has been an especially meaningful holiday for my family because of the genealogical efforts of the historians on my mom’s side. Believe it or not, they can trace our ancestry all the way back to The Mayflower, so Thanksgiving has always seemed a bit more personal as we imagine what it would have been like for us to have experienced the harsh reality of “The New World”.
And then it got even more personal. In February of 2009 we brought home a little Lakota Sioux baby from the hospital. We had received our foster parent license in the mail on the same day we got a phone call about this little guy. Born too early and too tiny, he was waiting for a family to step into the unknown of what his life might be like. And we decided to be that family.
At nearly four years-old now, he asks me over and over to tell the story of when we first met him. It always brings me to tears and he laughs and laughs about what the nurse said who first introduced us.
Me: I remember the nurse asking me, “What do you think of him?” And I said-
Danny: He juss booiful.
Me: Right! And then-
Danny: Mommy cried. ’Cause you love me so much.
Me: Yep. And then the nurse said-
Danny: ”Well, he a hairy monkey.”
And he WAS a hairy monkey! He had a full head of jet black hair that covered not only his scalp, but was also pretty prominent on his forehead, his bushy eyebrows and all the way down his back. I remember thinking he might be one of those wolf people, but I already loved him too much to care.
Now being a decedent of German Mennonites on one side and Pilgrims on the other, you’d think it would have been a shock enough when we adopted our first son from a West African orphanage, but somehow I was more prepared for those challenges. I knew there were going to be major cultural differences and I wanted to embrace them. But for being a Nebraskan, there was a LOT I didn’t know about the Native Americans in our area. And becoming an instant mother (fostering our son for 17 months and then adopting him) to a little Lakota boy was a crash course. When we were told he was Lakota my first thought was that just meant he might be a little more tan than I was. When I saw him. . . he would have looked totally at home swaddled and in a papoose. There was no getting around this child’s origin. My husband and I are both fascinated by history (are we the only couple that takes our anniversary trips to presidential libraries and homesites?) so we’ve embraced this opportunity to come to love a new culture as we love our son. Although at this point he may be more interested in dinosaurs than in Native American culture, we know there will come a day when he will ask more questions and we want to be ready to present him with the information.
Sometimes I think about my prairie-settling ancestors and wonder what that moment will be like in heaven. What will they think when they meet the child who carried their history and family traditions and their faith and he looks a lot like the people they spent their lives mostly fearing? I wonder if they ever imagined that would be a possibility.
And that’s why I love Thanksgiving. I wish I could have been there to see my Pilgrims and those Wampanoag Indians sitting down to dinner together. I hope there was mutual respect in spite of the cultural differences. As they thanked God for their blessings, I hope there was an acknowledgment of the love and dignity God put in each of us that goes past our skin color. I like to imagine that maybe my ancestor Susanna White had a vision of what this country could someday be- a country where a little Lakota boy would ask his very white mama to sing him to sleep.
So this Thanksgiving along with the rest of our family’s traditional foods, I made frybread. It isn’t what the Wampanoag Indians would have brought to that first Thanksgiving, but it is something Native American families eat today and have been making for the last 140 years. It’s a dish with history and symbolism. I’ve learned to embrace these new traditions for our family as an act of love for my son and respect for the beautiful woman who gave him life.
When I bow my head and give thanks to God for his many gifts to my family on Thanksgiving and every other day, I can’t help but be thankful to live in a time where we can see God’s love for all His people as we feel our love for this little multiracial crew that sits around the table with us. I think those Pilgrims and Indians had it right. I think Thanksgiving is a day to celebrate that what unites us- our dependence on God and his blessings. . . maybe our love of turkey, too.