Close to forty years ago, my parents, after a painful still birth, decided to place their hearts in my hands. [I will always refer to my adoptive parents as “my parents”.]
At six months old, I was left at the Chong Yang Ri police station on May 24, 1968. No name, no information. I became the Holt Adoption Program’s #5596. I was given a name, Sook Hyun Kim, and a birthdate, November 15, 1967. In the first images of me, I appear frightened. But by nine months, when my parents received their highly anticipated letter, my photographs revealed a chubby, happy girl.
For obvious reasons, I remember very little of that time. All I know is from photographs and my mother’s recollections. I spent my first birthday away from my parents, but my foster parents were kind enough to send photographs of me on that traditionally special day in Korea. I wore the full traditional dress. And I appeared to be walking, this fact hurt my mother deeply. “I wanted to be there for that milestone,” she once told me. When I was eventually brought to Tennessee to meet my mother’s family for the first time, my grandmother ran over and grabbed me out of my mother’s arms, saying, “Give me that thang!” From that moment on, I was theirs and they mine.
I became quite the novelty in the small east Tennessee town of Newport. At that time, there were no Asians in Newport as far as my family knew. I was just one of them. On occasions, people would stop my mother to chat about the little “China doll” that sat in her shopping cart. One woman asked in a whisper, “Will you tell her she’s adopted?” My mother replied calmly, “Oh, she has only to look in the mirror! But yes, she knows she was chosen.”