West Linn woman explores family history in 'Out of the Shadows'
West Linn resident Betty Dargis published her book, "Out of the Shadows," Dec. 30, 2020, nearly four months before her 95th birthday on March 31.
While "Out of the Shadows" is a work of fiction, it closely resembles all Dargis learned about the lives of her mother and grandmother on an international journey to answer questions about her family.
The primary thing Dargis wanted to know was why her grandmother, Estevania, gave away her daughter, Maria (Betty's mother).
Dargis' daughter, Liz Winther, and niece, Jeanne Mullen, who worked together to publish the book, said being given away as a baby was something Maria often mentioned but never went into detail about.
"'My mother gave me away!' I heard this from my mother, Maria, frequently throughout my life, with no real explanation ever provided," reads the description of the book. "But was it true? Did my Puerto Rican grandmother, Estevania, really abandon my mother? Why would she do such a thing? And could this explain the unhappiness my mother experienced throughout her life? I had to know."
Dargis knew Maria was given away to the Seventh-day Adventists before moving to the United States with a new family and eventually settling in Oregon.
In 1995, several years after Maria had passed away, Dargis went looking for the truth of her family's past. She began her search for answers at the Seventh-day Adventist church in Sabana Grande, Puerto Rico, where she believed her mother was born. According to Winther, who, along with her sister Jenny, joined Dargis in Puerto Rico a few days after her search began, those at the church told Dargis they had no answers for her but said she might find luck at city hall.
This set Dargis off on a journey where she would find several friendly people to help her in her search for answers and, eventually, find her cousins.
Dargis and her new acquaintances were able to identify the house from one of Dargis' old photos. The photo showed Estevania in front of the home and Dargis' new friends led her straight to the house, where Estevania's grandson still lived.
"All these people just made mom a part of the family. They took her into the house; they fed her; they told her old tales," Winther recounted.
One of the cousins Dargis found had a collection of old family photos. While looking through them, Betty and her cousins came across photos of Dargis herself and her sister as young girls in Portland. Maria had returned to Puerto Rico in the 1940s and shared with her family photos of her daughters, Winther explained.
While in Puerto Rico with members of her family who knew Estevenia, Dargis wanted another question answered: Who was her maternal grandfather?
Unfortunately, Dargis never learned the truth of who fathered her mother, though she heard the rumors.
Dargis learned Estevania was a devout Catholic and close with a priest who was eventually defrocked for having an illicit affair. The priest was sent away but the rumors about him and Maria remained in Sabana Grande.
Knowing this, Dargis might have assumed the priest was her grandfather, but the matter was complicated by rumors about another man. According to cousins in Sabana Grande, Estevania had also been close with a Spanish sailor quartered on the island.
These rumors eventually led Dargis to northern Spain, the reported home of this mysterious sailor.
In all, Winther estimated it took Dargis about two years to gather all her information and write "Out of the Shadows." Initially, Mullen said, Dargis made a small effort to have the book published, but for her the quest was more about finding her own answers to her family's past.
"It was fascinating (learning everything for the book)," Dargis said. "I knew some of it just from living with my mother, but it was nice to really pin some things down."
It wasn't until recently that Winther, her sister Jenny and Mullen made the effort to publish the book for Betty.
Dargis said it was special to connect the earlier generations of her family to her own daughters and niece through the book.
You can buy "Out of the Shadows" on Amazon here.
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