“I’m not really a writer,” said Pam Cates. “I’m actually an artist.”
She creates watercolor paintings and makes jewelry in her home in Missouri Valley and she works as a substitute teacher in Missouri Valley, Council Bluffs and West Harrison.
Even though she doesn’t consider herself to be a writer, she has authored two books that will be published this year.
“I just felt the need to write these stories, so I’m learning how to be a writer along the way,” Cates said.
The stories she tells in her books are about herself and about her two families from Denison.
Cates was delivered at Crawford County Memorial Hospital by Dr. Dayrle Crabb and was put up for adoption.
Jack and Maisie Bierwirth, who lived on a farm just outside of Denison in the 1960s and early 1970s, adopted her.
They also adopted her half brother, Matt.
“We moved away when I was five, so we’ve been gone a long time, but I still have family in Denison,” Cates said.
Don and Judy Groth are her uncle and aunt; Troy Groth and Cindy Reis, of Denison, and Scott Groth of Omaha, Nebraska, are her cousins.
Her grandmother, great-grandmother and her father ran the mail route from Denison to Boyer, Deloit and Kiron.
Her mother worked for the elder Dr. Crabb.
“I knew from birth that I was adopted,” Cates said.
For most of her life she assumed that finding the identities of her biological parents was impossible.
“I never thought that much about looking because I didn’t know how – and the law is the law,” she said. “I was told they were closed adoptions; you could not find your birth parents.”
When she started exploring genealogy a few years ago she discovered the task was not as impossible as she had thought.
“I thought it would be nice to know my ancestors and I found out through a genealogy class that you could take a DNA test,” Cates said.
“When you take the DNA test you get ethnicity results, but you also get cousin matches.”
She took a DNA test through Ancestry.com and received information about cousins and their family trees.
“It took me a long time to figure out where I fit in,” she said.
Cates contacted a newly-discovered cousin who knew who her mother was.
“She put me in touch with the family,” Cates said.
Her biological family was also from Denison.
Her mother was a McCoid.
“There aren’t any McCoids that are my close family that are still in Denison but there are some relations there,” she said.
The family didn’t know anything about her or her brother.
“Finally we were able to get what they call ‘non-identifying information’ filed at the courthouse,” Cates said. “That has only been available to adoptees for the past two or three years. In the non-identifying information they take out the names but it tells you a little bit of information about your family.”
The information provided enough detail to confirm that she had three biological sisters.
“And so we met,” she said. “At first it was a big deal but now we’re trying to figure out how to be family - yet we’re really strangers that are getting to know each other.”
Cates had lots of questions: Who was grandma? Who was grandpa? What did they do?
She wanted to know all about the family history.
“After a while you get to know them more as people and for themselves,” Cates said. “That is where we are with it right now.”
She was also able to find out the identity of her biological father, who was from Georgia. He was an airman her biological mother met when she lived in Omaha, Nebraska, and he was stationed at Offutt Air Force Base.
“It wasn’t just a basic teenage romance; she was a little older,” Cates said. “She had two older daughters and then Matt and me and two younger ones.”
She traveled to meet her biological mother, Alice, who now suffers from dementia.
“She doesn’t even know she met me, unfortunately,” Cates said.
“Daughter Reassembled” is the name of the book about her journey to find her biological family.
She said the book is a voyage of discovery about her own history.
“I never really had a sense of how much my people were involved in the history of this country,” she said.
She now knows that some of her ancestors were involved in the Revolutionary War and some were pioneers who went west seeking a better life.
“I never really got that before,” Cates said.
She is also working on a book about her adoptive family.
After leaving Denison, her adoptive parents bought Limmer’s Resort on Rush Lake in Ottertail County, Minnesota.
“We lived there in the summers and we lived here in Iowa in the winter,” Cates said.
“A lot of people from Denison went up and stayed at our resort.”
She recently posted a message on the “You are from Denison, Iowa” Facebook page looking for anyone from the Denison area with memories of traveling to the resort.
“A few people have said they remember going up there so it was nice to make that reconnection,” she said.
Cates’s book about her parents’ resort will be called “Summer People Like Us.”
It will be based, in part, on letters her grandmother and mother wrote to each other.
“I have over 1,000 letters, over the years that we lived there, that they wrote back and forth every week,” Cates said.
The letters form the narrative of the events at the resort; Cates fills in the gaps with her memories and those of relatives who stayed there.
“I would say it’s ‘creative nonfiction’ because it is all based on true events and what it was like to live in the resort,” she said.
She received an added bonus from the connections she made on the “You are from Denison” Facebook page.
“I had a kindergarten teacher (in Denison) named Miss Buckley,” Cates said. “I asked if anybody knew where she was.”
Someone did know.
“She lives in Spencer. Lo and behold I found her address and I called her up and I told her, ‘You know, you were so important in my life because you were the first person who identified me as an artist,’” Cates said. “You said ‘Pam draws eyelashes on her people and looks at details’ and you said, ‘You’re going to be an artist’ and I am an artist.”
Her former teacher was thrilled to hear from her and thanked her for calling.
“It was neat to reconnect with her that way,” she said.
Cates said she is using her enforced time off during the ongoing pandemic to finish her books.
“I’ve really felt compelled to get these stories out while I can,” she said.
“Daughter Reassembled” will be available on Amazon.com in early June. She hopes to have “Summer People Like Us” finished by the end of the year.
Individuals with information to share with Cates may contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.