“I was five when my sisters and I were kidnapped.”
“I was five when my sisters and I were kidnapped,” Mabel began, showing a framed photo of four beautiful sisters. The “Baby Thief” Georgia Tann had invited the girls for a ride, but the children never returned home. Miss Tann popularized adoption, and lobbied for the rules of secrecy for adoption records. She had good reason – child and infant mortality rates peaked in Memphis while she operated her orphanages.
Stories first leaked, then poured forth at the Show and Tells hosted for Personal History Month. Seniors gathered at their community centers and activity rooms, bringing memories. Everyone had a story, and some were startling. Tornados, earthquakes, floods; vaudeville, immigration, mysterious unnamed portraits, family heirlooms and sometimes, family secrets. It became a Time to Tell event for many!
Mabel and I became friends and I learned she was one of the luckier Tann orphans – she suffered little physical abuse, though she was constantly told she was “a bad brat.” Sadly separated from her sisters. Mabel was adopted into a loving family and set so many precedents for women in her region that NOW, the National Organization for Women, visited her. Mabel told the women, “I’ve taken the opportunities I’ve been given, that’s all.”
She’s created an opportunity for me. First, Mabel inspired me to write a song, Time to Tell. Then, I realized there was no music specifically designated for personal history. As a singer-songwriter in Nashville, I could remedy this, and find a way to promote personal history in yet another medium. After a year of work, Been There Before is one of the songs soon to be released. It’s a direct response to the Show and Tell experiences, as the chorus reminds us:
Respect has a reason, they’ve been there before
Fire, flood, hunger season, they know the lore
Life, love and loss, they paid the cost
Just ask the elders, they’ve been there before
– Deborah Wilbrink, Been There Before c. 2015
To hear the work in progress, use the link http://tinyurl.com/TimeToTell. There are advance track samples at this link, and it’s the background music on the video about Time to Tell (also on You Tube). If you’ve been wondering about crowdfunding, you’ll see a sample LIVE. More of Mabel’s story is part of the project. For more about bringing your own stories to light, or about Show and Tell for adults, visit personalhistorians.org. That’s the Association of Personal Historians. After all, for advice:
Just ask the elders, they’ve been there before!