- Associated Press - Saturday, July 2, 2016

LITITZ, Pa. (AP) - Forty years ago, a widowed Amish woman and her daughter watched from their window late one night as someone in dark clothing walked up to their farmhouse near Gordonville and left a basket on the porch.

The frightened widow summoned her son from the attached house next door. They saw movement in the basket and assumed it was kittens.

Then they saw a pair of tiny, fluttering hands and knew someone had left them a baby.

The widow, 65-year-old Annie Lantz, sent her son, David, more than a mile on foot to a neighbor with a horse and buggy. From there he rode to a Mennonite home with a phone to call police.

Meanwhile, the baby waited contentedly on the porch, swaddled in a blanket and sucking her thumb. The widow and her daughter watched from inside, afraid to approach the basket until police arrived.

Forty years later, that little Jane Doe - all grown up and raising children of her own in Lititz - hopes to find her birth family.

Jane Doe

Diane Bell has been an artist and pastry chef. These days, she works as an independent driver while raising two children, 18-year-old Evan and 13-year-old Kaelie.

Bell was about 3 months old when she was left on that porch. Taken by police to Lancaster General Hospital, she was officially named Baby A in the pediatrics ward, although nurses called her Jennifer, Kitina and Sweetheart.

She was listed as Jane Doe by social services which, two days later, placed her in a foster home, where she was called Rebecca.

Seven months later, the baby girl was adopted by Don and Marlene Bell of Mount Joy. They named her Diane after deciding “Becky Bell” didn’t roll neatly off the tongue.

Bell celebrates her birthday on Feb. 10. It’s just a date her adoptive parents picked, based on her estimated age at the time she was found.

She also celebrates “porch day,” May 26, which is the day she was found.

“It’s a weird little holiday,” she says. “It marks my arrival on this planet. It’s like being an alien - I got dropped, and this is where I landed.”

Local celebrity

Marlene Bell says she and her husband were childless and on a waiting list to adopt “for quite a while.” They were delighted to be chosen to raise the mysterious Jane Doe, who had been the feature of several newspaper stories about her discovery, as well as a large-scale effort by police to track down the people who abandoned her.

Initially, only a few people close to the family knew the girl’s background, Marlene Bell says.

Details of the child’s whereabouts - who adopted her, where she was living - were kept quiet, Diane Bell says. Her parents fretted that someone might try someday to claim her and take her away.

Bell didn’t know she was something of a local celebrity until she was 15.

“I always knew I was adopted,” she says. “I was chosen, I was brought up feeling really great about being adopted, but I didn’t know the circumstances.”

She was assigned to make a family tree in high school, and without telling her parents she called the adoption agency to see what they could tell her about her birth family.

A woman from the agency contacted Bell’s adoptive parents and told them what happened. She didn’t want to be the one, she told them, to inform Bell of her origins.

“It’s unbelievable,” Bell says. “Everybody has somewhere they came from. Everybody has family trees. People can say if breast cancer runs in their family, or if it doesn’t. People can say their family has certain dispositions. I have none of that.”

Bell knows her love of music comes from her adopted mom, and her fondness for trains comes from her dad. But where, she asks, did she inherit artistic tendencies?

“It’s that whole nature vs. nurture thing,” she says.

She spent hours in the library reading microfilmed newspaper articles about her discovery.

Her first baby pictures, she says, are those that appeared in Lancaster Newspapers.

Bell’s doppleganger

Her desire to find her natural family - if not her birth parents, she says, maybe a sibling - has waxed and waned over the years. The desire was reinvigorated last week when Bell made a delivery in York to a woman who confused her with someone that, apparently, looks identical to her.

It’s happened before, Bell says. Years ago, an ex-boyfriend’s mother thought she saw Bell walking hand-in-hand with another boy. Even Bell’s own father swore he saw her at a pancake breakfast, but she insists she wasn’t there.

“There’s someone walking around who looks a lot like me,” she says. “I know, I sound crazy saying that.”

Unfortunately, no one has ever approached or been able to identify the blue-eyed, blond-haired doppleganger to give Bell a place to start on her quest for family.

“I even tried a psychic,” she says with a laugh.

“I love my family,” she adds. “If this was remotely hurting either one of them, I wouldn’t be pursuing it at all.”

But who knows, Bell says. “Maybe I have a twin.”

Her Amish connection

Besides trying to find her birth family, Bell was inspired to reconnect with the Amish family that found her.

“I met the Amish family last night. I found the porch where I was left,” she says.

“I did not actually get up on that porch. I don’t know why. I stood next to it. I took a picture. … I had a much more grandiose porch in mind. When they took me around to see it - I was like, that’s it?”

Annie Lantz and her daughter, Rebecca, are dead, Bell says. David Lantz, now 75, lives in the same house on Musser School Road with his wife and children, and he clearly recalls the night of Bell’s discovery.

___

“There’s someone walking around who looks a lot like me.”

___

The family, he told Bell, has long regretted not keeping her themselves. Lantz said the Amish community gave his mother a hard time for giving the baby up, Bell says, “but she didn’t feel it was right. She cried a lot about it afterward.”

Surrounded by people who, with a slight twist of fate, could have been her siblings, nieces and nephews gave Bell an odd feeling.

“How could you possibly put into words how different a life that would be?” she asks.

She spent time with several Lantz youngsters who were excited to learn that Bell enjoys baking and painting.

“Some of the granddaughters want me to teach them to paint,” she says.

“We’re going to have a giant get-together. We’re going to have a picnic,” she adds. “Apparently there are a lot of people in the Amish community who want to meet me. Who’d have thought, after all this time, it’s still being talked about.”

No longer angry

“I have no idea what I’d say” if her birth parents or siblings turn up, Bell says.

“Most of the time, it doesn’t bother me to be who I am. I don’t really think about it. I don’t talk about it,” she says.

“I’m not angry anymore,” she adds. “I definitely don’t understand it. But hard situations call for hard choices. There’s no way to know if (her birth mother) even had any part of the decision.

“I stopped being angry about it years ago. But when I became a mom, it became really confusing for me. There’s no way I could leave my children somewhere.”

___

“It’s like being an alien - I got dropped, and this is where I landed.”

___

Maybe her birth parents are gone, she says. But maybe they had one or more children who they raised - or maybe, she said, maybe there are others who were given away as well.

“They could be in the same position as me,” she says. “I’d want to meet them, at least to have a cup of coffee. If there’s someone out there, I’d love to sit down and have a conversation.”

Having a sibling, she adds, “would be really great. I wouldn’t know what to do. I’ve been an only child all my life. That would be pretty cool.”

___

Online:

http://bit.ly/291d9oo

___

Information from: LNP, http://lancasteronline.com

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide