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Eleanor, I told you a cleaned-up version of my life story when you visited. I wanted toimpress you, my daughter, the daughter I never knew existed until you called me six weeks agoat 7:00 P.M. on January 25th. I answered the phone, sure that it was a telemarketer because theyalways call at supper time. But to my amazement, it was somebody looking for a Mary Reilly - aperson who didn't exist anymore.

"Hello, is this Mary Reilly?"

"Yes, but my name now is Mary Reilly Webb. Who's this?"

"I know this is unbelievably shocking, but I'm looking for a Mary Reilly who had a babyon October 19, 1963. Hello... Hello... Are you still there?... Are you all right?... Can you talk?"I don't know how I was able to talk eventually. It was as if I had been struck by lightning.My tongue was paralyzed. "Yes I can talk. I did have a baby on October 19, 1963, but the babywas taken away from me. I don't know if it was a boy or a girl. I haven't thought about the babyin years."

I could barely squeak out the words, "Are you my baby?"

"Yes, I think so. You've had an enormous shock and so have I. Do you want me to callback after you feel better?'

"No, no. Don't go away. Please. I can't risk losing you again. Who are you?""My name is Eleanor Kirk Hastings. I was born at Southern State School for theFeebleminded and immediately adopted by Bert and Hester Kirk."

"How did you find me? I'm sorry I keep crying, but this is an experience I never thoughtI'd have. I never imagined my baby might find me someday. This is beyond my wildest dreams.My God. My God. My God."

And then we talked, but we didn't really say much of any substance. I suppose it was theshock that tied my tongue. When you get to know me better, you'll learn that I'm very talkativeso my reaction was totally unlike me. And during that first phone conversation, you weren't tootalkative either. There were these uncomfortable silences. We had so much to say, but we didn'tknow where to begin. We were both overwhelmed at how easy it had been for you to find me,and how eager we were to start a relationship. When you said you'd like to meet me, I wasoverjoyed. I was on cloud 9.

And then we did meet here in Chicago on March 16, 2010. You and my granddaughterWendy. Now that's a word I never thought I'd ever say - GRANDDAUGHTER. I love how thatword tastes in my mouth. GRANDDAUGHTER. I was overwhelmed with doubts about howour meeting would go. I cleaned my house over and over so there wouldn't be a spot of dust ordirt anywhere. I changed clothes a few times so I'd look attractive, but motherly. I even madeCharlie change his shirt. I thought it was too loud. I wanted him to look more formal, moredignified.

I wondered if you would reject me. You didn't. That hug you gave me when you walkedin the door was total acceptance. I thought I'd melt in your arms. And the hug you gave me asyou were leaving was even more loving. I wondered if you would hate me when you found outabout my life. You didn't. And I'm hoping with time that you might even grow to love me.Then I wondered if you would you be ashamed of me. Well, here the answer is probably yes ifyou knew my whole life story. I have a lot to be ashamed of. I tried to gloss over the bad parts ofmy life when we were together. I talked about my education and my job and my marriage. Iavoided saying much about my first 21 years. You didn't ask why I was in an institution for theretarded. You didn't ask who fathered you. You tactfully stayed away from the details of myearly life. You knew there would be a time when I would share the ugly parts, but not then. Notuntil we knew each other better. How can you tell someone that you want to love you that youwere a child prostitute or that you were labeled mentally retarded and locked in an institution?But now I'm telling you about my whole life without holding back the bad parts. I'll have toresurrect memories I buried. That won't be easy. But it'll be a lot easier talking into a taperecorder than talking to you face-to-face.

There was so much I wanted to hear about you over those two short days you were here.You only wanted me to talk about myself, and I only wanted you and Wendy to talk aboutyourselves. Eleanor, when I saw your curly red hair and freckles, I knew you were my daughter.But your height threw me for a loop. You're at least six inches taller than me. My neck got sorefrom looking up to you. But I'm looking up to you in another way. I'm looking up to you withpride at all you've achieved - a law degree and election to the school board and then mayor. Andnow you might be running for governor of the great state of Ohio. And that's what led you tome. You knew there would be lots of snooping around in your past, and the only part of yourpast that you didn't know about was me. So you took on the daunting task of trying to find me,and miraculously you did. How wonderful of your mother to tell you the details of your birth.She could have kept them secret as she had for 46 years, but she knew it was the right time foryou to find out. From an early age you knew you were adopted, but you were never curiousabout who your biological parents were, and of course, the Kirks didn't want to tell you unlessyou wanted to know. And how Wendy was able to use that information to track me down ismind-boggling. How she was able to find people who used to work at Southern who were stillalive and remembered me, especially Cora Jensen, the wonderful lady who worked in thehospital ward when you were born. When I visited her six years ago, I gave her my phonenumber and address, and that's how you how you were able to find me. Anyhow, I'm pretty surethat your political opponents won't be able to use my life against you because my past wascovered up. Dr. Warner and his son Walter made sure everything was buried. I don't thinkanyone else can find out about me unless they knew where and when you were born, and I don'tthink that's likely.

Eleanor, what a strong woman you are. You were able to get the good out of the life thatthe Kirks gave you, go on to college and law school, get married, and have two kids. You had itall until Phil died. Then a drunk driver snuffed out his life, and left you a widow with a 12 yearold and a 10 year old. But you survived. I think your ability to survive is genetic because I'mcertainly a survivor. When you learn about my life, you'll realize that I'm one of the greatsurvivors of all time. There's a T.V. show called The Survivor about people surviving in junglesand deserts, but that's not really about survival. No, survival is how we overcome what life givesus - death, loss of love, loss of freedom, sickness, hatred. I could go on and on.

I know you want to know my whole life story, and we didn't have a chance for me to tellmuch when you were here. And I really didn't want to say a lot about my life in person becausethe facts are so ugly. I just couldn't tell you face-to-face all the lurid parts of my past. So I'mdoing what you asked. I'm dictating my life story into a tape recorder. You wanted me to write itdown, but that's too hard and it'll take too long. And my word processing skills aren't the best. Idon't know how long this'll take, but it'll be faster than me trying to write out my autobiography.My autobiography. That sounds so impressive. Celebrities, politicians, and famous people writeautobiographies. Not everyday people like Mary Reilly Webb. But maybe I do have somethingimportant to share with my life story. And my story has a happy ending which is the key to anygood book.

Eleanor, talking for me is easy. So talking into this tape recorder isn't really hard. In fact,in a way I like it. I feel like I'm talking to you because I have a picture of you and the kids nextto the recorder. You're gorgeous with your red hair, but the kids are gorgeous too with theirbrown hair. I look forward to coming home from work every night, making Charlie supper, andthen talking to you. So, here goes....

I should start with my birth, but that's hard because I count my real birthday as the day Iwas released from Southern State School for the Feebleminded - October 1, 1971. I don't countthe day I came out of my mother's womb on February 2, 1950 as my birthday. I certainly neverhad a party to celebrate that day when I was growing up. I never had a cake or presents. Never.I would see T.V. programs with kids having birthday parties and I'd imagine that someday I'dhave a party with kids wearing pointy hats and a chocolate cake with vanilla ice cream andpresents wrapped in shiny paper and big bows. The kids would sing, "Happy birthday to you.Happy birthday to you. Happy birthday dear Mary. Happy birthday to you." Never happened inreal life when I was a kid, only in my imagination.

But at age 28 I had my first birthday party given by my beloved husband. He invitedfriends over and bought a cake with a princess on it, just like a child's cake. He told me that Iwas his princess and everyone oohed and aahed. He lit the candles and everyone sang HappyBirthday on top of their lungs. That was some emotional experience for me. It took 28 years, butat last I had a birthday party. Charlie gave me a ceramic dog for my present. It was wrappedbeautifully in silver paper with multicolored bows on top. He said it was too hard for us to have a real pet because we're away so much, but he wanted me to have a symbolic pet. So every yearfor my birthday, he gives me a different dog. I have a collection of 32 different dogs. I pointedthem out to you when I showed you around my house. What a thoughtful, caring man Charlie is.And maybe Charlie is so good about making me birthday parties is because he, too, didn't haveparties growing up. So I make sure that he has a party on August 7th of every year.There have been some years when Charlie hasn't been able to make me a party becauseof our busy schedules, but he always takes me out, maybe not on my exact birthday, but alwayswithin a day or two. We go to dinner, usually to the Olive Garden which is my favoriterestaurant, and then to a movie. He tells the staff that it's my birthday so they serve me a piece ofcake with a candle and all the waiters and waitresses sing Happy Birthday. I don't think mostpeople care much about having their birthdays remembered, but to me it's so important becausefor 28 years no one remembered that I was born. It didn't matter to anyone that I was on theplanet. And maybe that's the reason we celebrate birthdays - to acknowledge that the existenceof the person makes a difference in the world.

The only way I know that February 2nd is my birthday is because I have a birth certificatethat says my name is Mary Reilly, my mother's name was Eileen Reilly, and my father's namewas Mr. Blank. There was no father. I was a product of immaculate conception. Not really. I'mjust kidding. There was only one immaculate conception, and that was Jesus Christ. I wasprobably the product of my mother having sex with so many men that she couldn't tell who myfather was. Even if she knew, she'd never tell anyone. I'm not sure if she was whoring when sheconceived me, or if she was just having free sex with lots of men, or if she had one boyfriend. Inever asked so I don't know what her life was like in 1949 when I was conceived. And even if Iasked, she would never have told me. She never talked about her life. In fact, she rarely talked tome at all. As a kid I made up a romantic story about her being in love with a soldier who got herpregnant and then went off to war and died so he couldn't marry her. Of course, there was nowar in 1949, but it sounds good. It makes my birth less of an ugly accident.Let me tell you a little about Southern State School for the Feebleminded. Feebleminded- that word's not used today and a lot of people don't even know exactly what it means.Although some people do use the word "feeb" to describe a person who's dumb, just like theyuse the word "retard." They probably don't even know that feeb comes from feebleminded. So the word is still around. Anyhow that's the politically incorrect word for the politically correctterm intellectually challenged. You might ask why I was called feebleminded when mostfeebleminded people can't talk or can't talk well, and I'm good at that. Feebleminded peoplecan't plot and plan, and I'm great at that too.

Well, of course, I'm not feebleminded or mentally retarded or mentally disabled orintellectually challenged or an idiot or an imbecile or a moron, or any of the words that havebeen used over the years to describe the people I lived with during my teen years when I shouldhave been going to school and to football games and to dances. Well, if I'm not feebleminded,you wonder why I was placed at Southern. Well, that's easy. I was a wild animal of 13 who gotpregnant. I'd have sex with anyone as long as he paid. I was a whore who screwed to stay aliveand get enough money to support herself and her mother. I was a sex slave whose mother madeher earn money so she could get booze. I was the breadwinner of the family, if you could call usa family. My mother was too sick to whore so she put me to work. Food, rent, and booze - thosewere our expenses. In order of importance though, it was booze first, and then food and rent. Mymother lived for only one thing - the bottle. I was a desperate animal who scavengered forsurvival. I did what I was told because I had no choice. I couldn't rebel, or we'd starve or I'd betaken away to someplace unknown that might be worse than where I was living. Today, I can'timagine a worse place than where I was living, but as a child I had no idea that I was in the worstsituation possible. I hated the sex. I despised it. It was the most disgusting thing in the world.But whoring was my job for a year and a half, from the age of 11 and a half to 13. And for thenext eight years after that, I was a prisoner at Southern State School for the Feebleminded. Andfor the next 39 years I was transformed into a human being, thanks to my beloved conspiratorswho helped me cover up my past. To two of the kindest men who ever walked this Earth: Dr.Warner, a true angel from God, and Charlie, another angel from God who wants only two thingsin life - to make me happy and do whatever he can to make the world a better place.Let me explain the name Southern State SCHOOL for the Feebleminded. Illinois had four"schools" - Eastern, Western, Northern, and my home for eight years - Southern. I don't knowwhy they called it a school. There was certainly no schooling there. It was a warehouse forhuman beings where they were stored until they died. It should have been called SouthernStorage. It was an institution for mostly people with mental retardation, and some who were mentally ill, and a few like me, who were normal. We weren't crazy and we weren't retarded.We just went against what people thought of as normal and we had no one to take care of us, nofamily and no foster parents who would take us in. We were lepers who society wanted to hideaway. When I was at Southern, I read about lepers in the Bible, but I didn't fully understandtheir significance. One day when I was living with Dr. Warner I came across the word leper insomething I was reading so I asked him about it. After he told me, I said that we at SouthernState School for the Feebleminded were like deformed lepers with no noses or fingers or toeswho had to be locked up so we didn't infect anyone with our disease, only our disease wasmental retardation and that wasn't contagious. Dr. Warner said that institutions were like lepercolonies, without lepers, only humans who were considered sub-human. Long ago, someinstitutions for the retarded were even called colonies, just like leper colonies. And then therewere penal colonies for convicts. These colonies were different from the American coloniesbecause no one went there willingly.

Anyhow, girls like me who were "sexually promiscuous" were institutionalized. I lovethat - sexually promiscuous - it's a fancy way of saying that we were wild, we were loose, wewere out of control. Only I didn't want to be wild and loose. I had no choice. That was my job. Iwanted to be a nice, innocent little girl, but I couldn't. More than anything I wanted to be avirgin. And the normal boys were placed at Southern because they were "anti-social." Theybroke the law and were violent, and in those days there weren't many jails for young boys. Butall of us had one thing in common - we had no one to take care of us and society didn't knowwhere to put us so they put us in a school that was really a cruel institution that dehumanized us.If we weren't animals before we got there, we became animals after we arrived. But in my case, Ibecame a tamed animal. I learned that wild animals didn't survive long at Southern. They wereput in solitary confinement with no human contact, or they were beaten until they were broken orbecame wilder or went crazy. I was smart enough to see that obedience was rewarded, and I wasobedient. I never made trouble. I became the best worker at Southern. I took care of the severelyretarded babies, the ones everyone called vegetables. I could never call a human being avegetable no matter how retarded they were. They were created by God, and they deserved to betreated like human beings. They needed kindness more than anyone else because of how Godcreated them. I think one of the reasons that God made them is to test us, to see if we have lovein our hearts for all His creations. It's easy to love a pretty, cooing, smiling baby. It's not easy to love a twisted, ugly, crying baby. But that baby is the test of our humanity. And by loving thosebabies, I learned that I was good and I learned to love myself. After 13 years of living, I fell inlove with the person I became at Southern.

I worked seven days a week, eight hours a day. They didn't pay me. Well, they did - mypay was food, shelter, and freedom from brutality as long as I did my job and didn't maketrouble. I hadn't had three meals a day before Southern, and although the food was what youwould call institutional food, I thought it was great. There was fruit. I couldn't recall eating anapple or a banana in my house before Southern. I didn't care if the apple was over-ripe andmealy and the banana was black and mushy. I thought they were delicious. And they gave me aclean bed and clean clothes. I had lived in filth for so long, I felt dirt had actually penetrated myskin and coated the inside of my body. I loved white, starched things. They made me feel cleaninside and outside. I still like clean clothes and a clean house. And Charlie's even morecompulsive about neatness and cleanliness than I am. You saw my house and how everything isput away and everything shines, especially the kitchen. You could look under my bed and neverfind a dust bunny.

There was another group of normals at Southern besides those of us who were placedthere because there was no place else for us. These were the babies who were born at Southern,but couldn't be adopted because they had some kind of obvious problem, like my friend Judywho had club feet. The normal ones like you were adopted as soon as you were born. And therewere unwanted babies who were given to the institution by their families because they weredifferent and couldn't be adopted. They weren't retarded. They often had physical disabilities. Iknew this girl Paula who had a horrible cleft lip. She was an illegitimate baby born to a localfarm girl. When the family saw her cleft lip, they wanted to get rid of her so they dropped her offat Southern and never saw her again. In a way Southern was like the SPCA, only for unwantedhuman beings, not unwanted pets.

I thought I would be at Southern for my whole life unless I could figure out a way toescape. Even if I could get out, I knew there was no one on the outside to help me. I had noplace to escape to. I couldn't live on the streets. I knew from experience that didn't work. Thendeinstitutionalization came along. Society thought it was wrong to lock people in institutions sosociety opened its doors to freedom. People like Bobby Kennedy who visited Willowbrook, a famous or infamous institution in New York, led the crusade against institutions. When I wasresearching the topic of deinstitutionalization for one of my psych classes in college, I rememberseeing newspaper pictures of Kennedy leading reporters through the wards of Willowbrook, andthinking that could have been Southern, or just about any other institution in the country. But formany who were deinstitutionalized, life afterwards wasn't always better. Sometimes it was evenworse. It meant living on the streets or living in dirty, rat infested housing or being abused oreven murdered by other people on the streets. But I was lucky, oh so lucky. For me, it meantfreedom and a good life. I went from one extreme to the other. I started with hatred and crueltyand I ended with kindness and love. I could never have dreamed the good things that wouldhappen to me, never. There was one very, very tragic thing that happened in my life after I gotmy freedom, but the rest of my life of freedom has been blessed. Even that tragic event had agood outcome - it led Charlie to me. Oh, I've been so blessed these last 39 years. Every day Ithank God for being so good to me. I think God has a plan for me and part of that plan is for meto give back to society for the goodness He has shown me.

If we were talking face-to-face, you would probably ask me how I know words likedeinstitutionalization and the technical terms for mental retardation. I learned to read during thefew years I went to school. And at Southern, I read comic books and magazines and newspapersthat the staff left around. And most importantly, I read every word in the Bible countless times.Reading the Bible saved my life. Most importantly, it molded my soul. Reading hard stuff,especially the Bible, proved that I wasn't retarded. It was evidence I could use to prove that Iwas normal. Only nobody cared if I could read, or if I was normal. When I was released, I readconstantly. Thanks to Dr. Warner, I got an education. Who would think that a resident ofSouthern State School for the Feebleminded would someday get her bachelor's degree? I provedto the world that I was intelligent. That college diploma that's framed in a gorgeous gold frame isproof. It's one of my most precious possessions. You saw it hanging on my living room wallnext to my wedding license and an enlargement of my social security card and my voting cardand my driver's license. They're all proof that I am a normal human being who is a contributingmember of society. That's my wall of competence.

After my release from Southern, I wanted to learn as much as possible about institutions.I went to the library and got books on the topic. I majored in psychology in college and learned more. When I got a computer at work and then at home, I learned how to google, whichexpanded my knowledge of everything in the world. In my own way, I've become an expert onmental retardation and institutions because I've read so many books on the topic and because ofwhere I lived for eight years, eight long years that seemed like a hundred years. And myprofessional life has been devoted to improving the lives of retarded people. Those eight years atSouthern led to my life-long career as a caregiver and advocate for people with retardation.I've had so many blessings these last 39 years, but certainly one of the greatest blessingshas turned out to be you - my daughter - Eleanor Kirk Hastings. I never thought that my childwould find me. I never really thought about you at all. Before I was committed to Southern mymother was dying and I was on the streets selling myself, totally unaware that I was evenpregnant. After she died, I was sent to Southern where I spent the last four months of mypregnancy in the hospital ward. When I had you, they put me to sleep so I wouldn't see you. Ididn't know if you were a girl or a boy, and they wouldn't tell me when I woke up. They told meto forget about you. I would never see you again. Who would think that 46 years later youwould find me? And I'm glad you had DNA testing done so that there's no doubt that I'm yourmother. I can sit back and take credit for something I had nothing to do with creating - you.Eleanor, you are the creation of the wonderful parents who adopted you. You were solucky to have people who loved you and gave you the best of everything. They adopted you eventhough they knew you came from Southern and could be retarded. Fortunately, they were specialeducation professors at a university near Southern who believed that the environment was themajor influence on a child's development, especially in the first few years of life. They were twoof the top advocates of the nurture side in the nature-nurture issue. I read the articles they wroteabout their views and even the article they wrote about their follow-up study of kids who hadbeen adopted from Southern including you, but of course, not using your real names. You startedout as an experiment for them, but became their loving child. How lucky you and Bert andHester Kirk were to have each other. They must have been so proud to see you graduate fromlaw school. It's sad that your dad died before you were elected mayor, but you know he wassmiling down from Heaven when you were sworn into office. He's there with your husband andthey both must have had a celebration for you. There was dancing in heaven on that election day.

When I think of the nature-nurture issue, the enriched environment explains how youbecame the great person you are today. But how does the importance of environment explainme? I had the worst environment possible the first 13 years of my life. I had a mother who didn'tlove me as much as she loved her booze. I don't remember her ever hugging or kissing me. Shesaved that for her clients. She never really wanted me and would probably have aborted me ifshe could have. During my preschool years, I was either left alone in a crib to watch T.V., or Iwas taken care of by uneducated, poor neighbors who might have been nice to me, but theydidn't love me or even care about me. I shouldn't have been able to become an educated personas an adult when I dropped out of school after fourth grade. I shouldn't have been able todevelop kindness towards my babies at Southern when I never experienced kindness fromanyone until I met Judy and Dr. Warner. I shouldn't have been able to love Judy like a big sisterand Sarah like a little sister and Dr. Warner like a father. And I certainly shouldn't have beenable to have a loving marriage after the sexual abuse I experienced. And Eleanor, hopefully, Iwill learn to love you as a mother, even though I was never loved by a mother.But when I think of heredity, I think you did get something from me. You have the drivethat I have. My motivation to overcome the bad things in life has been my greatest strength and Ithink it's yours too. We're survivors, but more than that. We're thrivers. We thrive on adversityand overcome it to prove ourselves. When we were given the opportunity to achieve, we tookadvantage of it. And I think our drive to succeed has been passed on to your children. Imaginemy grandson Paul, studying abroad in China and my granddaughter Wendy, a social worker.Without Wendy and her detective skills, you wouldn't have found me.Well, let me get back to my story. To make it easy I'll start at the beginning and gochronologically. Amazing isn't it that a person with a tested IQ of 65 at age 13 can use a wordlike chronologically? I'm a visual thinker and when I talk, I think of the pictures that go with thewords I'm saying. I have a movie running in my head. I hope you can do the same. The wordsyou'll hear on this tape will bring to your mind pictures of violence and hatred and that will begood because you'll understand the terrible life I led. I don't want your pity for what I've beenthrough. I want your understanding. But the words I say will also bring to your mind pictures ofpeople speaking kindly to each other and of people touching each other with affection and respect and that will also make you understand what happened in my life. So try to listen to thiswith pictures in your mind.