When Sherry was four, living in the Philippines, she said goodbye to friends as they left — babies, the blind boy — and studied pictures of her future family. Ours. We, in the U.S., studied a picture of her. Two years would pass before we met.
Back a few months
Lindsey wanted a sister, between ages four and seven (she was 10), maybe with special needs. We were moving from Altadena, California to Atlanta, Georgia, and, while Burt started work in Atlanta, the four kids and I would fly to Manila, the Philippines, first stop on a six-week “immersion” in life beyond the U.S. I’d write for World Vision Magazine, and we’d visit aid programs for children. Maybe we’d find a girl to adopt!
Knowing zero about foreign adoption, I called (meant to call) an adoption agency in Atlanta. I jumbled the number and got a social worker in Chicago. She whooped, “Oh! You have to go to Heart of Mary Villa! In Malabon, Metro Manila! The sweetest nuns …!”
A sign seen by accident
Airsick, jet-lagged, sleepless, we staggered off the plane into Manila’s oven heat. The World Vision driver aimed for our guesthouse in zigzag traffic—psychedelic jeepneys, beep-beeps, near-oopses! In the lurching and the blur, I saw a sign. “Heart of Mary Villa.”
“Stop, please!” The driver took a U-turn and eased under trees to a Spanish-style compound. Sister Mary Pauline, gentle, authoritative, served us tea in the breezeway. Did she have a little girl for adoption?
“We have babies …“ She paused. “We have a girl who’s four, very sweet. She has mild hearing loss, a stiff knee, a little trouble with speech.“ Her face softened. “We like to call her Sherry.” Sherry was on a day trip. We didn’t meet her. But Sherry was the one.
A year later
Done! Atlanta home study. Interviews. Financial, health, police reports. Fingerprints. Embassy documents for two countries. We could finally adopt Sherry! The adoption agency director stood over me, holding a letter, saying the Philippine authorities had rejected us. He would give no reason. What?
We grieved and prayed. I called Heart of Mary Villa, shivering, nervous, after midnight to reach midday in Manila. The desk nun exclaimed, “No, we didn’t reject you! We only had a question. ” The Atlanta home study stated, “‘The Chamberlins do not agree on age or gender of the child they wish to adopt.’” Didn’t we want Sherry?
Yes! We thought back. The caseworker had asked, “If Sherry isn’t available, would you adopt a newborn?” Jordan: “We’d take any child.” Jamie: “I’d like a boy, about my age.” Lindsey: “I just want a sister.” Tucker: “A boy, same as me!” Burt: “No!” I, chuckling at Burt: “What mom would say no to a baby?”
The director had prompted the question, twisted our answers, then lied, hoping we’d adopt locally and pay him big fees.
We started over with another agency.
Two years later
Burt was in Manila, sick. The concierge called. “Some nuns are on their way up …”
They knocked. Burt peeked out. Several nuns, much shorter than Burt’s 6’2”, beamed up at him. The tiny girl with them wore a leg brace, but she bounced anyway, pigtails flying, eyes jumping with nystagmus and excitement. “Hi, Daddy!
After a brief visit, everyone went downstairs and outdoors, weaving through a bustling Christmas festival — music, limos, celebrities, more nuns greeting Burt. One nun whistled with two fingers. SHREEEEET! A deuce-and-a-half truck pulled up. The nuns piled in, hauled Sherry up, and waved happily as the truck pulled away. (This was in 1983. The nuns would appear in 1986 news photos, holding flowers before tanks during the revolution against Ferdinand Marcos.)
Burt fought bureaucratic tangles for a week, and brought Sherry home for Christmas — a bubbly child: Sherry Noel Chamberlin.
She wanted to write to the nuns. I typed as she turned somersaults on the bed and dictated. “I like the sissers and babies! The blind boy! The cows push the fence! Fish fimming!” I prompted, “And your new sister and brothers?” She giggled and rolled on the bed. “I like the children! Plenty-plenty children!”
In 2010, when Sherry was 35, she lived with us in Ariel, Washington, near Mount St. Helens, elk, stars and huckleberries. Twice a week, we drove her to Vancouver for YMCA swimming with friends. Now Burt and I were moving to the coast for my allergies, and Sherry would move to town.
One group home remained to check. The woman who opened the door was from the Philippines. Specifically, from Malabon, Metro Manila!
Sherry sees Philippine TV and hears Tagalog spoken by Noemi’s relatives. With Noemi, she raises flowers, blueberries and tomatoes. Last week, Sherry had me taste her strawberries. Noemi: “She has a green thumb!” I: “And never wears gloves!” Noemi laughed. Sherry “feels God” when she digs in the earth.
Sherry has Turner Syndrome, osteopenia and developmental disabilities, but mostly she has love. She hand-crafts greeting cards, never misses a birthday, swims with YMCA friends, was named “Employee of the Quarter” at the hot dog restaurant where she washes dishes.
And that stiff knee? A few days ago, she bowled 133!