Gael Downs Hancock and Karen DiMattia

Recorded December 7, 2005 Archived December 7, 2005 00:00 minutes
Audio not available

Interview ID: MBY000869


Woman talks about mixed feelings of getting in touch with biological family

Subject Log / Time Code

biological sister contacts her thru her adoptive father. Correspondence with sister, mixed feeling about meeting her, soon learned that she was much better off being given up for adoption than if her biological mother would have raised her. How this made her feel.
having her own children--first blood relatives she knew.
“I felt very empowered by being adopted.”


  • Gael Downs Hancock
  • Karen DiMattia

Recording Location

MobileBooth West


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00:02 Hi, this is Karen dimattia. I'm 31 years old and today is December 7th 2005. I'm at the storycorps booth in Henderson outside, Las Vegas, Nevada, and I'm here with Gail Hancock.

00:18 And I am I am Gail Hancock. I am 49 years old I am in it is December 7th 2005. And I also am in the story booth and in Henderson, Nevada just outside of Las Vegas.

00:35 Gael let's start by talking about your childhood where we born I was born in Little Rock, Arkansas and

00:45 Was born to a very young girl. She was 16 years old and was put up for adoption and was adopted by a doctor and his wife cherry and Jack bands and

00:58 Actually lived in a foster home for six months and then was adopted by them and began. My life is as Gale is Gael Downs?

01:09 When did you learn that you had been adopted? Oh, I knew that from the very beginning. I mean, I don't ever remember a moment when I didn't know.

01:18 What was your what were your parents like mother was very is very soft and very gentle sang in the choir very interested in staying at home bad was just the opposite. He was a hunter and a fisherman and wanted to be outside and probably would have been an excellent Mountain Man except that he was born in modern times.

01:46 It was some of those differences. I think that eventually caused them divorce divorce when I was 13.

01:53 Did have other siblings I had a brother who was also adopted from from another family and he was 3 years younger.

02:01 And we got along very well, I think part of that is because we weren't real siblings and had the same traits and things so we were different enough that we actually enjoyed each other and didn't normally didn't try to kill each other.

02:13 Did your parents tell you why they had decided to adopt its very interested? Yes. They just said they couldn't have children and because of that they were older than most of my friends parents because they had waited to make sure they weren't going to have children before adopting but they were not able to have children. My dad was was sterile, I guess so he was not able to to father children.

02:41 What's your earliest memory?

02:47 I think it's possible that I actually have just a visual memory of a time in the

02:56 In the foster home. We are the first six months and it was just a vision that I've asked my parents about but I remember the dogs that we had probably from two or three and the patio and being outside and we had a wonderful house and a wonderful yard my uncle. My father's brother was an architect and I always knew that our house was different but it hasn't been until recent years that I've really looked at it and realized here. We were in a fairly normal Southern neighborhood with a ranch houses and L shaped homes and everything and in our house was made out of

03:35 The outside was

03:38 Goodness, and I forgot the kind of wood. I remember at the minute but it was all stone that it all been carved. It had these huge high beams in it and cork floors. And and now that I know it was really more much more like a Frank Lloyd Wright home and all this recessed lighting and and stainless steel things in the kitchen and it was just in all of my friends always comment on how different my Housewives but of course since that was my house. I didn't know this just what I lived it and I didn't even really think about it. So

04:11 It was all they had stained Redwood stained Redwood and noticed a totally different look than than all my other friends albums. Did your mom still live there? No. No, she saw the house when I was about 20, and she and my brother both live in LaGrange, Georgia.

04:31 What were you what we like as a kid?

04:34 I was pretty outgoing knew everyone in the neighborhood wandered around and talk to people I had there was one neighbor who didn't have any children and I we played with trolls together the little Pearl dolls and she even wants to take me down to the Fourier that was in town and we got scraps of mink. Do all of my troubles had mink coat some collars and or a very expensive perfumes. And so I have quite a bit quite fancy trolls and she was young she would do that.

05:07 Didn't always get along very well with kids in the neighborhood. They were with some groups of girls that were pretty pretty hard on me and

05:17 But I had a lot of male friends and played for it and that kind of think so.

05:24 Not quite a tomboy, but certainly wanted to be outside more than inside and

05:32 What would what was the source of their? I mean, why would they pick on you?

05:39 I'm not I'm not really sure. I mean they were really close and just I mean, I think it was part of it was just an outsider that they didn't want involved.

05:50 I was always I like to trade and I liked words that I probably acted sort of snooty and you know, I mean, who knows what all it was was part of that. So happy memories of childhood to have any that come to mind so it's been hours by myself and we had a huge yard and had a big boulders in it and a swing like a rope swing and balance beam and my dad built his an A-frame playhouse that had a an attic in it and he put a postal mailbox outside the door and and I would spend hours cooking. I would I would put in a big pot on the the barbecue and and starving soups in the med pine needle seasonings and and I still I mean there's nothing more wonderful to me than storing a soup. And so I thought those were good memories and

06:50 Playing with my brother and we skied water skied and did a lot of things we had some property outside of town. That was a wooded area. And so I mean I almost almost all of my memories.

07:04 Are outside doing and being in a hunting with my dad and doing those kinds of things?

07:11 What were you like as a student? What were your school's like?

07:14 As a student

07:17 I guess I studied fairly hard made relatively decent grades, I guess.

07:26 I was in all I guess you have the kind of the advanced classes and didn't really think much about it. But the main thing I did was I was always riding and I won some writing contests and and edited with on the school newspaper and junior high school and then was one of the youngest newspaper editors at a high school in the whole state edited during my

07:52 Sophomore year

07:55 How did you discover Your Love of writing?

07:58 Oh, I just knew since I was 5 that's what I was going to do. I mean, it just never occurred to me that that was going to do anything else.

08:10 Ended up pursuing that pretty much when I got ready to go to college. I chosen University of Missouri with their journalism school and my father had gone to a school in Conway Arkansas called Hendrix, and it's

08:24 Kind of the equivalent of Rhodes College in Memphis or it's one of those small private.

08:30 Methodist schools and he said well you can go anywhere you want to but I will pay for you to go to Hendrix. So I went to Hendrix for 4 years and it didn't really have a riding. Mater made didn't have up.

08:45 I will write with the small L liberal arts college, so it didn't have as many.

08:50 Opportunities and so I actually ended up with an accounting degree just because that was a little bit easier and I refuse to read DH Lawrence anymore and to have gotten out in the English Department. I would have had to do at least another term of DH Lawrence and I just wasn't going to do that. He don't like him. He just might be inside so

09:12 So I ended up with an accounting and economics grade. Would you work in this and that failed? I was actually I had enough credits to take the CPA exam and was getting ready to and they have a little course that you take before you take the exam and I went to take the course and by noon. I had met all these other people that thought they were going to be accountants. And I knew that I was not one of them and I call my dad from potassium said I'm not taking the test and I am quitting my job and I'm going to be a freelance writer. Not much. He was just so dumbfounded. I think that he was

09:47 But it was very interesting because that 15 years later.

09:54 Yeah, 15 or 16 years later. He called. He said I am really glad that you did what you wanted to do by then. He had retired. He was a physician took his position as it is a doctor very seriously visited patients twice a day and obviously was very stressed. He retired and moved most of the time to Wyoming. And the first time I went out there to visit him. I call my brother and I said dad has Alzheimer's we've got to get him to help him Fleming's happened. No, he's really not himself and it turned out that he was not ill that he was happy for the first time and doing things that we hate that he apparently always wanted to do and didn't feel relaxed enough to do so, and that was when he told you that after that he called and said, you know, I'm really glad you're doing what you want to do. How does that make you feel about the phone call out of the blue on a mid-morning day and I was just shocked that he would mean cuz he wasn't the type to really have those kind of ammo Express those kinds of feelings and he

10:54 And it has a blue for him to do that. I thought was pretty amazing.

10:58 Why did your parents get a divorce? I think this is a theory that I sort of now developed. I think that one of the most important things in a relationship is equal tolerance for risk.

11:15 And I mean to have even be the same kind of risk, but it just has to be able to tolerate that risk and dad was a risk-taker and mother was not and she Fred and worried while he was gone and it made him feel bad that she was fretting and worrying so he felt bad while she was gone and he was gone. And so I just I really think that that was a big part of it. I just think that

11:41 Do you have to be able to even if you don't want to go climb the mountain you have to be able to tolerate the risk of the partner doing that and I'm headed there before divorce affect you.

11:54 But in some ways I was not really surprised my mother and brother. I think we're a lot more visibly affected by it that had been seeing some other people in other knew about it. So there was no she was very unhappy and very betrayed by that. My brother was very

12:15 Very gentle soul and that scared him that was just tough. He was very strict and very tough and I had kind of a loud voice and I mean they were scared me scared bill. So it was probably good for bail my brother and then when they got a divorce dad bought This Old House that have been owned by the

12:39 One of the editors of the Arkansas Gazette. So it was this huge old federal-style building so they didn't have any furniture in there were these huge rooms that were all carpeted and if it had basement two floors in an attic at an elevator that went all the way from the bottom to the top then it had a full

13:02 Area with a telescope and the Dome I need to pull these change in the dome window was open it would turn around. I mean just up and it was just it was just supposed to Star place to have someone move into your here. I'm 13, and my brother is 10 and yeah, I'm trying out for cheerleading and doing things and I all of a sudden I have this huge giant living room all carpeted with no furniture to do flips and then it was just really it was another really strange house to be in it have all these little nooks and crannies and his head of a Gatehouse. And anyway, so it was it was very interesting moving into that strange old house. Did you live there full-time know we were there weekends and then a couple of weeks during the summer, but it was in the same town. So I mean we were there fairly often.

13:51 And and how did your mother Fair after the divorce? All right, she worked she dated some people and never remarried and mother still living. She's 82 and just had her in the hospital. But actually she is out and going to be much better than she was when she went in and and so my brother and I feel like we've given her the gift of good health. I had to fly down there and help him get her in the hospital. I was sort of a Hired Gun. What was her condition post she had them.

14:28 Ulcerative colitis and had lower intestinal disorders to deal with that and it be I was eating like a tablespoon of mashed potatoes a day. And so she was so weak she wasn't walking in and if it don't tell me that you can be so stubborn that you could kill yourself. I mean just by being stubborn and refusing to do it needed to be done. And so we're both just a static that she's so you actually gotten that checked out and some other things she needed. She hasn't been to a doctor in 20 years. She was on no medications at 81. She may be the only woman of that agent in this country. That is not on two or three different.

15:09 Different meds as I call them and has your father passed away. Dad died about 5 years ago.

15:18 Actually had multiple myeloma, but he actually died of prostate cancer and his one of his last request was that we take his ashes up into the Wind River range where you done a lot of backpacking and so his wife my stepmother Fern and some of their friends and my brother and his wife at the time all done horses and spent four days in horse backpack and carry dad's ashes up into this. Totally totally remote area felt a little Karen and left them all there and it was really amazing. We had I am an Episcopal priest that went with us and

16:05 One of the

16:07 Friends of dads had planned all of this and he had taken an extra pair of boots with him. And so he put his boots going backwards in the Spurs and let them up and put the ashes on it and I ain't we had all the Wranglers were weeping. And I mean, it was really it was just gorgeous the place that we left him and and to think of him being there is really pretty pretty incredible.

16:33 And that was a I mean the trip was just breathtaking and none of us have been back in there. So it was really a

16:40 The gorgeous gorgeous time a nice memory.

16:46 Do you want to talk about your biological family contacting you what just just briefly it was it was very interesting and

16:56 For anyone that has not had this experience. It sounds really my reaction to it sounds very bizarre and very most inappropriate. But I've talked to other people would have been a better adopted that have either been found or something. My dad was in the hospital trying to get out while he had just had a stem cell transplant. So I mean he had his immune system taking down 2-0. Yo pick him back up, you know, so he was very ill you in the process of trying to fight his multiple myeloma and the phone rings in his room and I don't know exactly how this person found him and my stepmother has his phone she says cherry and that was my mother's name and she said no. No, this is firm and she said well, my name is Debbie Jones and I think I may be Gayle sister.

17:51 And apparently everyone to spell out Jeep was able to give the phone to my dad and and his son and I I just really admire him for being able to have a sick as he was to be able to do that the other tot chatted for a moment. He said well, yeah. Well this may or may not beat the case, but I cannot give you Gail's number. Let me take your number and for him to have had the wherewithal to kind of take that that I thought was really good because phone calls I guess you immediately afterwards. I have no idea exactly the time frame and she called and she said scale.

18:24 And if so, how are you and I said, what's up? Because I knew I mean that one word that something really life-changing probably had happened and I was really afraid of course it was sad and I'm she said this woman is called and she thinks she's your sister and and I had mine and I had cherries name and your father's name and and I don't know any way it turns out that

18:47 I had her call back and say is this a medical emergency?

18:53 How is this young money to transplant or something as if something I need to make a decision about that was not the case. And so I said, please let her know that at some point. I will be in touch with her, but I need to be become okay on this and the feeling was I was 36 years old.

19:12 I had had a son so I had a year old son, which was my first Blood relative that I've ever known and I felt like everything has been taken away from me. I felt like if I found out who I really was I couldn't be who I become and I've heard other people describe it as like being caught up in a huge Vortex and like falling down into an abyss or I mean, I felt like my legs have been cut off but apparently you had like I said from the things I've read in the end some of the people I've talked to you. That's a fairly common.

19:43 Moment of cuz you have the sweeping moment of total lack of identity.

19:50 And I mean you recover from that relatively quickly that that was the first thing and it was very interesting. I had wonderful support from my family. I called my brother and talk to him about it and he was sort of jealous kind of pushing that his family would find him.

20:05 And he said I thought what if my what if they're all axe murderers or something and then he very carefully went through all this strange family members that we had in our adopted family in and then ended up saying do you think it could be worse? We have no like everyone we have strange relative and my mother was very interested in it and they have to say now you don't have to get back in touch with her if you want to don't want to shortly thereafter. She sent for in a letter and she forwarded it to me with some photos. I even had a forensic artist look at it. He was used to know drawing from descriptions and things and had a look at these pictures and look at me and see if that would work then I call the welfare department which is

20:57 I was adopted to the welfare agency and had them I had just talked to one of the people there and she said well, in fact that is a family we would match you with I mean that it that is your family. They had a system where both parties wanted to know. They would put them together after they had I think it was maybe even three sessions of counseling because what she said why she said usually these do not work if there's someone who is very

21:28 Needy or something and it just doesn't work and I had never looked for a number of reasons one is because I'm the kind of person that I'm pretty I'm just pretty happy with what I've got and I had a family and I didn't see any real reason to go looking for another family. I was pretty excited side with myself in the way. I not real confident but pretty confident and then I saw a movie I guess when I was 18 or 19 and this girl were some of this family is his hi. I'm your daughter and the mother had never told that new husband that she had had a child. And yeah, I just couldn't imagine doing that to someone and the final one.

22:16 Of course you spent a lot of time thinking about it and it really occurred to me that.

22:24 If I went and found someone

22:27 And I said, yeah and I talked with my husband about it. I said, you know if we go if I were to go and find someone and find them poor or needy or I can just turn around and say oh well, so sorry, you don't feel too needy but it would almost be like the Chinese saying if you save someone's life you're responsible for them forever. I don't know. I just and I and I didn't really feel like I could commit especially after I was married is funsar time and energy to that. So anyway, so I was I was not looking and

23:00 I waited six months before I saw her.

23:03 I did write to her within that I brought her a very long letter and a couple of things within that letter I told her.

23:11 That probably one of the best things I could do for her with a not let her meet me cuz this is the end of a 19-year search.

23:19 And what she did was she paid $10,000 to a government County worker and he showed me at one point the document where I Lane Kaufman became Gale dance.

23:34 So they didn't actually know she had paid someone to break into the seal Fulton and get the paper. But but in relation to you not telling her not letting her meet me. I said no matter how nice I may or may not be I will never be what you imagined.

23:53 And and really that turned out to be very very true I could tell from her first letter that she was the kind that wanted to sweep sweep in and do a lot of hugging and have a dramatic moment. Didn't know the family would have just loved to have had you and all these things and I'm just not that type. I mean, I'm very practical and I'm very capable and confident and I didn't she didn't find someone who needed sweeping away that she had sort of a hard time with that. So she was the daughter of your biological mother might my biological mother who died and my mother was 16 years old when she had me and I had always assumed that I would have younger brothers and sisters. They are that she might have remarried or something turns out I have an older sister. She was 14 when she had Debbie.

24:44 And when she had me when she was pregnant with me, she got in some sort of fight with someone and just from the I have met you numerous ants and things now and I'm piecing together these stories. I have the feeling that she had this fight with the daughter of my father. I mean, I think she I think she would said gotten pregnant with an older man and something happening on sea had this altercation with his daughter.

25:09 And was put in reform school.

25:12 Well in Arkansas if you're in reform school, and I'm pregnant you at that time you had to put the baby up for adoption. So that's how I ended up in the welfare system and but when she got out she ran away and kidnapped Debbie and try to live on your own at 16 years old and she would leave Debbie and she would say I'm going to be I'll be back at 4 to be back in four months.

25:39 And no telling what you know, what all she did to keep herself together. And and I think she was married five times never had any more children was very unhappy. Yeah just really did not have a good life. And in the end, of course neither to Debbie. I mean she was abandon the half the time and left to kind of grow up with wherever she could with whomever and Debbie was married three times. She still living of course, and I'm at that was the other thing. I mean Debbie wanted.

26:12 Yeah, like I said to rescue me then of course, it was just the fact that it was the end of a 19-year search. I mean people that you know climb Everest get depressed because they've Reach This goal and it's kind of like now what I mean, so that was a very logical reaction, but then she also kind of went into the Y maze. Yeah. Why were you raised by this doctor and get an education and all these wonderful head art and Mei was wonderful growing up and when I went to see her

26:43 My husband I was taking my son my 18 month old son and getting ready to drive from the in Oklahoma where we're leaving go down to Florida to see my mother and come back through and see her and Van Buren Arkansas and I asked my husband I said, may I take your truck?

27:00 And my husband and I have have conversations that last for days like it will go off and then come back and so we don't we don't often sit down and just have a whole conversation. It's these thrown out things. We came back in a couple hours. He said why do you want to take my truck? If it well? Yes, I take things for Ian and I can take his tricycle and goes off and he comes back and he says

27:23 What do you really want to take my truck as well? Yeah, I just got something for you. And he finally he said Gail. What are you drive? I said a Mercedes. He said take your own damn car.

27:32 And he realize of course immediately that I was trying from the get-go to be something that I wasn't cuz I already talked to her enough to know kind of what she was like and I didn't want to go up there if my Mercedes but it was the best thing I could have done because if I'd started trying to pretend for the very beginning it would not have been the right thing to do. So did you feel fortunate I see you got to know her and so I've always felt fortunate. I'm one of the Grateful ones. I mean, I mean I wake up everyday grateful that we have water and yeah, so I always had them but yes after meeting her and realizing what could really happen. It's just like, oh my God, thank you. Thank you must be I mean

28:16 You know in here we hear how lives change in the blink of an eye and just to think how your entire life. That's okay. You can turn it off now it's over there. So you just wait forever. You think I'm so sorry. I really thought I turn it off. It went blank. I should have waited to tell you to turn it off.

28:41 And you have you have you thought about how?

28:45 Easy, it would have been for your life to be completely difference. Oh more often than you can imagine and and I have been so blessed with your educational opportunities and travel and the experience of meeting people and that wonderful music and wonderful friends. And and when I think I just meeting Debbie, I mean Debbie is very bright. Very capable has never been to school. She works in restaurants and bars and liquor stores. Probably doesn't have enough.

29:24 Can Social Security to even make a dent and what she's going to need at some point? She's been married three times. I think I mentioned that and I mean our lives are just totally different. I've had one husband for 24 years. I'm fairly settled and so yeah. Oh, I just I can't imagine and also because of our differences we don't have a lot of levels to communicate.

29:51 I mean she doesn't we just don't are you are you in touch? Regularly? Oh we talk.

30:02 At least once or twice a year and we certainly send Christmas cards and and that kind of thing the aunts mothers sisters.

30:13 I'm really maybe closer to one of them then Debbie and it was very interesting meeting her. Apparently the family was really dirt poor group. Grew up in Jonesboro Arkansas literally in a dirt floor and it was she was telling me that

30:31 I never got Christmas presents never got any presents that they were the father was very strict and and she kind of teared when she told me that and she said but that didn't bother me. None of this bothers me. I me out the way we grew up just really didn't affect me at all where house is totally packed with stuff. I mean, there's this stuff everywhere and it I don't know exactly how old she is Pike Place to 70 sheets at her. She's a CPA. She's at her office at 6 in the morning and stay still 7 and has enough employees that she wouldn't have to do that at all. I just thought it was very interesting that she is she thinks there's no effect of this and really it's just all around her. It didn't go very obvious that it it probably did have this being poor.

31:21 And I'm it was also interesting her husband at a twin sister that died and but but this twin sister.

31:30 We need the family and camp with them. So that's how close I came to meeting them.

31:37 Yeah, maybe even earlier. Is there a physical resemblance? Apparently I look exactly like my mother. I mean the minute then the aunt saw me she was just I would have known you anywhere on the street because I'm a

31:53 Well, actually I'm 5 4 and 1/2 and she asked me she said how tall are you in a civil? I'm 5 4 and 1/2 sheet that you're one of the tall ones. I tell my husband that he said so you're from a family of four Wars. Well, perhaps we don't know and

32:10 Most of them have dark hair, but I'm the only one with blue eyes.

32:14 But obviously that's not from that side of the family.

32:18 So what was it like to have your own kids? I mean

32:23 What it was when I had a key and my son is 36 years old and it was literally the first Blood family member ID for know and it was really just an astounding thought to think that you could actually be related to someone. So that was a real gift to have a real children in and of course to talk to them. The other difference is that

32:50 I talked to them.

32:53 About John's family and his Heritage probably more than mine because his is blood linked and mine is legal.

33:05 So we don't know we don't talk about traits of them of their grandpa that they would have and I'm not sure if they've picked up on all that yet and know the difference. I remember I was talking one day about when I got Ian.

33:17 And when my girlfriend's looks at me, she said girl you had Ian and I realize what that was a terminology that I grown up with when we got you.

33:26 And so I've had to kind of rethink that pic. Okay, so we didn't get him.

33:31 So

33:33 So there's some interesting ways that you do that. I've written a book. I would love a publisher to publish entitled the day we got you and so many children have this these wonderful stories of family painting the rooms and now being pregnant and waddling around and having things in and this this is a adoptees story of you finding out that they were getting your going to be able to but they've been approved and you're going to be approved and then the time frame of getting the house ready and then getting the call late one night and I still had to go pick up a few more things like no diapers in and how excited they were and I talked to all all along it talks about the longing for having a child and then being handed the child in that taking care of that longing.

34:24 It sounds really nice and it's just such a niche market that yeah. Yeah. It's going to be hard to get a picture book or for little ones.

34:38 Buttom

34:42 The part of what I wrote Debbie.

34:45 It never as far as I can tell I mean, you know, someone could analyze all this and say different like I felt very empowered by being adopted. There was no one like me I could be exactly who I wanted to be.

34:58 There were no trades that I was supposed to have of someone else's or

35:07 And I'm incredibly fortunate that I had parents that when I plunked on the piano and was able to play by ear. They heard that and honor that and I had piano lessons and when I started to write and draw, they saw that and paid attention to it and didn't try to make me be like them or

35:28 So they really

35:30 Identified your talent and didn't try to make you like them. Exactly and I mother says him every once in awhile. She would look at me and go know where did she come from? Because I would be something that I really like some style or something was so foreign from what she wanted and and

35:51 But that was kind of her that was that was growing up.

35:56 But we have about four minutes left. Is there anything else you'd like to talk about?

36:03 Not so much necessarily. I'm just I'm very glad you're doing that. This is a really really important. This will be very valuable someday. Now, this is a great story to to including the archive. So I'm Glad You Came what? Let's see if your kids listen to this one day. What are your what are your hopes for them?

36:31 I guess this is what I've learned through. All of it is to be who you are and honor that and it doesn't matter where you came from or who you came from and

36:45 If you are today, here are some of what you've been but tomorrow you can be totally different if you want to be.

36:52 And I and I guess that would be my

36:55 My gift to them from the F. It's just to be pleased with who they are and and make the most of that.

37:02 Anything else you'd like to add for we want to make that's it will sink store coming. Thank you very much. I appreciate your time.