By Roger Barbee
"I had hoped for a bicycle."
This was a young woman's reply when asked how she felt upon buying her first car. Just turned 18 and a recent high school graduate, she had saved money and needed a reliable car to get to work and travel to the community college she would be attending in the fall.
The teller of this story was the adoptive parent who, like several from his church, had heard of the plight of children in the Ukraine and done something about it. He and his wife, the parents of four boys, adopted two girls and moved them from a Ukrainian orphanage to an upper middle class life in Williamsburg. It was while we were visiting to celebrate our niece's high school graduation, (who was from the same orphanage) that I heard Tim's anecdote about one of his adopted daughter's bicycle wish and the human spirit.
About six years ago, couples who felt the call to adopt from the Ukraine did so. In the close-knit community to which our relatives belong, there are about two dozen adopted Ukrainian youngsters. Our niece, Irina, was 11 when she moved here. Like her friend Katya, of the bicycle wish, she knew just a few words of English. I am sure that like Irina and Katya, all of the children had hopes and dreams and fears upon leaving the Ukrainian orphanage, but I wonder if their dreams ever matched what they have accomplished.
Over the years, as we have gotten to know Irina and other Ukrainian children, we have been impressed with their poise, resilience and intelligence. Three summers ago, Irina and Katya visited us for a week, and they enjoyed being surrounded by the mountains, which reminded them of the Ukraine. They were great guests who showed interest in and humor with all activities that we, two grandparent figures, offered them. They were gracious and lively and the week's visit evaporated too quickly. But we got to know them and they us, so we learned a bit of their frustration with school work and the complexities of learning English and American ways. Mary Ann and I encouraged them and reminded them that they would manage it all. This past weekend we celebrated their not only managing, but their soaring.
Katya came to Irina's graduation party briefly because she had to go to work, but Mary Ann and I enjoyed our short visit with her as she shared her plans for college study. She had done so well with her academics that she finished her course work in January, but had walked with her class earlier in the day, and like three years ago, she was the same kind, poised young woman whose smile would brighten any room.
Irina was close to her grandfather, but she had to live in the orphanage because, like so many of the other children, alcohol and its effects had caused her family to collapse. Irina's grandfather was a woodcutter who did what he could for her, but a woodcutter in Ukraine does not have much to give. In fact, Dale, Irina's adopting father, purchased a chain saw for him to use in his work.
I have never been to Ukraine and have difficulty imagining the life Irina, Katya, and the other children must have lived in such a poor country. The little I have heard causes me to admire these youngsters even more. I try to think of them as they were leaving the home they knew for a life in America, but I can't conjure up the mixture of fear, excitement, and hope they must have experienced. And for Irina, there was one more event -- a few years after arriving in Williamsburg, her adoptive father died of cancer. One more loss for such a young person. But, here she is, like Katya, a high school graduate with skills and plans for her future with the support of her mother, sister, and father who recently came into her life.
Like many families this time of the year, we were excited as we celebrated Irina's graduation and the success of Katya. I hope that Irina and Katya and all the adopted children realize that their journey has continued from that orphanage. The hoped for bicycle is now a memory, and who knows what will come next.
Roger Barbee is a retired educator who lives in Edinburg with his wife Mary Ann, four dogs and five cats. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.