Sunday, March 20, 2016

The Family Nobody Wanted

The Family Nobody Wanted is a 1954 memoir by Helen Doss (née Grigsby). It retells the story of how Doss and her husband Carl, a Methodist minister, adopted twelve children of various ethnic backgrounds besides White Americans (Chinese, Japanese, Filipino, Korean, Mexican, and Native American). The couple appeared on a 1954 episode of You Bet Your Life with Groucho Marx, where they talked about their story.

The story was featured in a 1956 episode of Playhouse 90 directed by a young John Frankenheimer and made into a 1975 TV movie starring Shirley Jones of The Partridge Family fame.

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Reader Reviews of The Family Nobody Wanted from

5 Stars
Probably my favorite book of all time...
By Amazon Customer on September 23, 2002

I first read this book at the age of 10, after ordering it from Scholastic book services. I have since read it uncountable numbers of times, each re-reading bringing warm feelings at the familiar passages. This reprint has been highly anticipated, as I had wondered for years what had happened to the Doss family after the end of the book. It is the story of a man and a woman, and their desire for a family. But it is also much more. It is the tale of the strength found in a loving family, a family made by love and not biology. It is a reminder that we are all family, flesh and blood or not, skin color and ancestry aside. And it is filled with the humor that only small active children can provide! I highly recommend this book for readers of all ages, and would suggest it to families to read aloud together.

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5 Stars
An all-time favorite
By Ken Pierce on June 9, 2001

Only my closest friends are given the privilege of borrowing this delightfully written true story; the long out-of-print and (before the days of the internet) irreplaceable book has been one of my most closely guarded treasures since childhood. Any family with several small children, of course, will have a store of hilarious anecdotes; children raised with love combine insouciant joy with freedom from adult assumptions and habits of thought, so that any house full of love and children is a house full of unpredictability and laughter. But Helen Doss, unlike most parents, can capture her children in her writing and pass the joy on to us. I don't know anyone who has managed to read the book through without at some point laughing to the point of tears.

But the book is much more than a connection of Readers' Digest anecdotes strung together. Ms. Doss reveals, through deft and honest touches, her own weaknesses and struggles, her impetuosity and her grit. She communicates with power the pain that can come in so many different ways to a woman with a tremendous need to love, especially when obstacles - infertility, unreasonable adoption agencies, poverty - rise up to keep her from satisfying that need. And the portrait of her husband Carl, who changes as much as the children do, is vivid and telling. The Carl who says, "Let's take `em all" at the end of the book is a very different Carl from the one who agrees to the first adoption largely to humor his wife and to keep her from moping weepily and endlessly about the house, and whose annual refrain for many years is, "This is the last one!" You expect him to come on board, of course; but his path is a bit surprising and most revealing of the essence of the man. In particular his ability to close ranks against outside interference shows the degree to which his love for his family is as strong as his wife's, however differently it might be expressed.

As a family memoir alone, it would be a classic. But because the children were of mixed racial ancestry - in the `forties and `fifties - the Doss family became an unwilling catalyst for the ignorance and prejudice of the time. It is part of the Doss magic that the love in the family was strong enough to triumph over the unpleasant incidents, so that those incidents enriched, rather than poisoned, the Doss childhoods. (Not that this made them less unpleasant, of course.)

The book is never preachy. Nevertheless, it is a vivid documentary of how racism was built into the attitudes of even "nice" people of that time. It is a sermon of a kind, a sermon lived out in the lives of the Doss family. It is a primer on how to overcome evil with good, a standing lesson to a nation still struggling with racial resentment.

But the genuinely remarkable thing is that, despite the frequent intrusions suffered by the family from racially prejudiced outsiders, the book is not about race. No doubt this is because the Doss family was never about race. When the book crosses your mind in the days after you've closed it - and it will, frequently - it will not be as a book about race. It will be as a book about a uniquely special family and about the triumph of love and joy and grace and laughter over whatever might vainly try to overcome them.

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