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New Release | I Must Have Wandered: An Adopted Air Force Daughter Recalls by @melcmg #memoir

Title I Must Have Wandered: An Adopted Air Force Daughter Recalls

Author Mary Ellen Gambutti

Genre Memoir

Book Blurb

In 1951 South Carolina, a girl is born and relinquished, and a year later, is adopted by a military couple. I Must Have Wandered, is a hybrid collage memoir of letters, vignettes, and essays, and images that shows how family separation and transience, a culture of secrecy, and sealed birth record laws form barriers to an adoptee seeker's search for her truth.


This is my story of an infant who was brought into a family with roots and branches that did not belong to her. The roots of her adoptive family intertwined with her persistent fibers of self, often in confusing ways. The couple thought she came to them as a tabula rasa, a blank slate, and they hoped to etch their likeness, to imprint their heritage, on her. They nurtured, protected, and shaped her—these strangers—yet she remained unchanged: strong, determined, rebellious, and questioning.

This is my story of a girl’s and then a woman’s struggle to restore her identity. Some of my efforts were rewarded and some not. In South Carolina, my birth state, adoptees’ vital records have been sealed from our viewing and possession since 1964 when I was twelve. My adoptive parents likely weren’t aware of that sealing, nor would they have objected had they known. They had, after all, been told by the agency that next to nothing was known about my birth mother and her family, and they never questioned the authority of the church. I am a perpetual child in the view of church and state with no agency in a law that marginalizes me and strips me of a right to my identification. What is more, the agency, purported to be built on charity, is a willing participant in the law that falsified church and state documents and denies me my original birth records. My adoptee story was made complex by military life. As a subject of primal separation, my family transience and separations felt overbearing. I coped and asserted myself without a clear path and continuous connections that neighborhood, school, lifelong friends, and extended family can provide. Still, I reaped the benefits of an enlarged experience brought by Air Force life.

My parents’ duty was to protect and save me from what might have been. From the harms of abandonment. From my birth mother’s original sin. From the limbo of lost babies in the infant home. My story is told through old letters my adoptive parents wrote, baby book notes, myriad photos, and my memories. It’s a story of the recovery of pieces scattered and strewn like breadcrumbs when my natural

mother gave me up to strangers, and the pieces I’ve gathered to recover myself. My life stories resided in fable until my truth was revealed—expanded by discovery.

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Author Biography

In my forties and fifties, I'd operated a small gardening business. After a devastating brain hemorrhage and lengthy rehab, I decided to take online writing courses. I delved into the meaning, writing the truth, creative non-fiction, and memoir. I self-published Stroke Story: My Journey There and Back in 2016. The sequel, Coming to Terms: My Journey Continues, is a memoir of survival; a reflection in lyrical prose and poetry of trauma, loss, and return to self. I compiled content of both books in Fortitude's Footing: Coming to Terms With Stroke; a memoir of survival, with lyrical reflections of trauma, loss, and return to self.

I Must Have Wandered: An Adopted Air Force Daughter Recalls is about trauma and loss of another kind; the primal trauma of an infant relinquished at birth--often, following a stressful pregnancy. The child goes into temporary care, and, in my case, is adopted into a transient military family. I couldn't let go of my pursuit of truthful heritage after my dogged search and discovery of the woman who gave me life. Over many years, I've come to know a wealth of biological kin, and continue to research my heritage. My personal essays have been published in these and many other literary magazines: Borrowed Solace, Spillwords, BookEndsReview, mac(ro)mic, Halcyon Days, Portland Metrozine, and True Stories Well Told. The practice of writing has brought me closer to self-discovery. I hope you'll find value in my work.

My husband, Phil and I recently moved to Lewes, DE, where we plan to stay put and dote on our senior Chihuahua, Maxwell, and watch the birds.

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1 Comment

N. N. Light
N. N. Light
Aug 17, 2022

Thank you, Mary Ellen, for sharing your poignant memoir with us! I can't wait to read your story.

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