“Once Upon a time, there was a little girl who didn’t have a mommy or a daddy.”
Beautiful families come together in a number of ways. This is the story of a Japanese-American woman named Anna and how she overcame grief, loneliness, racism and more in order to bring together a family and keep that family together.
Anna Akemi Ragle was born April 3, 1941 in Hawaii. She grew up there and later came to California with her husband Larry. Like any other 1960s woman, she was living a typical American life, filled with grocery errands, yard work and shopping trips. But unlike other typical Americans, she walked down the street wearing her long muu-muu with her long, straight, black hair swaying. Passersby would quietly stare and drivers would slow to watch the petite Japanese woman, an uncommon sight on the sidewalks in El Segundo, CA.
It was an unusual sight to see a Japanese woman in post WWII Southern California, and an even rarer sight to see her with a tall red-headed husband. But Anna and Larry leaned on each other when the world slung hurtful comments.
Anna and Larry were married 2 years. When no children came, they weathered the loneliness and grief together. At a visit to the doctor they learned that it would be possible to conceive if an expensive operation were performed, but there would only be a slight chance of success. The operation would cost $700, but adoption would only cost $200. Rather than take a chance on the possibility of conceiving, they chose the certainty of adoption. The doctor assured them that there were many Asian children who needed families. So Anna called the adoption agency and completed all the qualifying requirements.
Anna shared updates on the adoption process with her neighbor who offered a kind listening ear. It was nice to be able to talk about it. On a clear warm morning in 1964, Anna and Larry received a call to meet at the agency; a baby girl was waiting for them. They arrived and saw a social worker walking towards them, carrying a tiny 2 month old baby. They named her Lori.
Their family of two was now a family of three. It was what they wanted and it was overwhelming at the same time. As Anna and Larry pulled into the driveway with their daughter Lori, the neighbor stepped out onto the porch with a tentative smile, then came to help them into the house. As Anna commented that she didn’t know how to change diapers or take care of a newborn, the neighbor offered to help and offered one tear-filled piece of advice: “tell her now, how proud you are of your beautiful adopted girl. I haven’t told my daughter yet that she’s adopted, and I don’t know how.”
So Anna began a bedtime story that night, and repeated that bedtime story every night.
“Once upon a time there was a little girl who didn’t have a mommy or a daddy. So she went to Bob’s market to go shopping for a mommy and a daddy. She looked at all the mommies and daddies there. But she didn’t feel that any of them would be right for her.
So she went to May Company and looked at the mommies and daddies there. But she still didn’t feel like any of them would be the right parents for her.
She did this many times. In each store she looked at the mommies and daddies but didn’t ever feel that those mommies and daddies would be the right ones for her.
Then one day as she was walking down the street, she saw a tall man with red hair. She liked him right away, so she asked him if he had a little girl. He said ‘No, I don’t have any children and I want very much to be a Daddy.’ So she asked, ‘Can you be my Daddy?’ and he said that he would like that very much and he would talk with his wife.
So the two of them walked to his wife and asked her, ‘Can we be a family all together?’ and the wife said ‘Yes, I would love for us to be a family.’ So they brought the little girl home and that’s how you came to be our beautiful, adopted daughter.”
Anna told Lori this story every night, being sure to always let Lori know how happy they were to be a family all together. Eventually the family grew as Larry and Anna adopted three more children: Soana in 1966, Andy in 1968 and James in 1970. As they went through the adoption process each time, Anna adapted the story to include each child. For Soana, she told the story about how “Soana was shopping for a Mommy, a Daddy and a big sister named Lori.”
As Lori grew, her life took her far from her mother and father. Life brought financial challenges, relationship hurdles and eventually a battle with cancer. Decades had passed since Lori spoke with Anna, and now she was a mother herself. Lori never spoke to her children about their grandparents. One day Anna received a phone call from a young girl named Martha, Lori’s daughter. Martha visited with Anna occasionally on the phone, but Lori didn’t join the conversation until Martha began asking to come to California to meet her grandmother. After a 30 year absence from her parents, Lori came home.
And she told her daughter, Martha, “Once upon a time there was a little girl who didn’t have a mother or father. So she went shopping. But she didn’t see any couples in the stores that she liked. One day as she was walking down the street, she saw a tall man with red hair. She liked him right away, so she asked him if he had a little girl. He said ‘No, I don’t have any children and I want very much to be a Daddy.’ So she asked, ‘Can you be my Daddy?’ and he said that he would like that very much and he would talk with his wife.
So the two of them walked to his wife and asked her, ‘Can we be a family all together?’ and the wife said ‘Yes, I would love for us to be a family.’ So they brought the little girl home and that’s how your mother found her mother and father.”