My first memories of my mother aren't ones about the woman who actually brought me into this world. No, they are ones about the woman who brought me into her heart. I was five years old when my first memory came. I was in a station wagon, seated beside my three year old sister after being taken from the orphanage by a strange woman. Driving along the black asphalt road, I remember her telling me to roll down the window in the back seat. After doing so, she told me to speak my name into my hand and then toss it out the window – never to remember it again. I'm not sure if I was just that susceptible to the power of suggestion, but I obeyed and it took twenty-two years before I discovered what my birth name had been. Anyway, from the moment the wind carried my name away, I became a new person.
I remember arriving at a house I'd never seen before. Three people stood in the front yard, a man and a woman as well as a ten-year-old boy. As the social worker turned off the car, she told me that this was my new family – my new mother, father and brother. I remember being shocked when I asked her how long I'd be staying there and she laughed and told me forever. I'd been moved around so many times, shuffled between homes and families that it didn't sink in what forever meant.
A whirlwind of memories grew as the first weeks of my new life passed. The church threw a shower for both my sister and I. I was stunned at all the presents given by people I didn't know. I still have the small white bible that had my new name engraved in gold on the front. There were many new dresses as we came to this family with nothing but the clothing on our backs.
One of the funniest and yet saddest things my mother shared was the day she walked into the living room and saw me carefully ripping out every page in one of the new coloring books I'd been given. She asked why and I told her that I had to share with all the kids in the orphanage. She told me that she explained that every page was mine and then she went into her bedroom and cried.
My new mother told me years later, that for the first several weeks, I repeatedly asked, "What is my name?" She'd tell me yet again until one day I stopped asking, finally becoming that little girl. My younger sister had a very difficult time bonding with this family and as I grew older, my heart really hurt for her. Though you'd think a younger child would find it easier to slip into a new life, she'd never had any sort of bonding from the very beginning of hers.
Years later, my husband proposed to me and I told him I'd accept under two conditions. One was that he'd never ask me to iron anything – I had grown up ironing stacks of handkerchiefs every Saturday morning. Do you remember those glass soda bottles that you could stick a metal thingy in to turn it into a sprinkle bottle? Well, I'd have to dampen those handkerchiefs every Friday night, put them in a plastic bag and into the refrigerator. Then, every week, I'd pull them out, stand on a little stool and iron each one. Needless to say, I hate ironing unless it is quilt fabric – lol. And, as a side note, whenever I include a 'handkerchief' in one of my books, I smile thinking of those piles and piles of my father's handkerchiefs.
The other condition to becoming his wife was that, no matter how many children we had together, we'd adopt at least one. I was so grateful to have been chosen to be part of a family, to learn that no matter what I did, I wasn't going to be sent away again that I just had to offer that same love and security to another child. My husband agreed and we adopted not one, but two children from different families.
At the age of twenty-seven, knowing that my oldest adopted child was going to be asking those hard questions soon, I decided to attempt to find out more about my missing years. My adoptive parents had told me that my birth parents had died. Well, I discovered that wasn't the truth. Here's a note, never lie to your children – it hurts a great deal when they discover that you have.
At this point in time, I had been a foster parent to several other children and had learned the system a bit. Without help, I'm sure I never would have gotten anywhere in my search as I had absolutely nothing to go on. All I knew was the city where I was adopted and my place of birth from my 'corrected' birth certificate. Adoption in the early sixties was a secret – not the open forum you see today.
After a great deal of struggling, a social worker stepped into my life and helped me. Imagine my surprise to discover I had two older sisters that I never even remembered. I also was given two names – one was mine, one was my youngest sister's. I remember being very upset when I drove to my parents' house and had to ask them which name was mine – to discover they had always known. It did explain why when I entered school, I remember hearing people calling me what I thought was "Nan". I would say, I'm not "Nan" and give them my new name. As it turned out, my name wasn't Nan, but something similar. And, yes, the people calling me Nan were my two eldest siblings though I had no clue as to who they were. Our family soon moved away from that small town so no further contact was possible with anyone from my previous life.
From there, I set up a meeting to finally reunite with my missing siblings. I was slightly terrified – what if they hated me? What if they didn't remember me as I hadn't remembered them? The moment they walked through the door, both in their thirties, it was as if all of us were little girls again. The years simply fell away. The meeting went from a neutral place to my house and our husband's just looked on in awe as they watched us catch up on twenty-two years of life apart. We talked through the night until we were all hoarse. It was an amazing evening. I believe that only those people who don't know their history, could understand the magic of having those missing details filled in by siblings that had been there.
The three of us decided to try to find our birth parents. Our youngest sister, the one I was raised with, left it up to us, not being able to say how she really felt about it. Armed with knowledge the older girls had as they remembered their birth names, we set out and eventually were successful.
This little story was supposed to be about my adoptive mother. What I really want to leave you with is this – if it hadn't been for that woman I probably would not be alive today. If it hadn't been for her to insist that her family was not complete with her only son, no telling where I would have wound up. Those first five years of my life were hell – every year after has been heaven. Sure, my mom and I fought. I acted out and she made sure I knew that wasn't acceptable. She wasn't one to hug and kiss or to give compliments freely, but when she did, you knew you were the luckiest kid on the planet.
My parents had another child, a little girl, seven years after adopting the two of us. The greatest thing she ever told me was that, as my mother became gravely ill, she was talking about me. She said that "Maggie would give anyone the shirt off her back." Well, that might be true but it is only because this wonderful woman gave me the love and security to know that I was going to be okay.
I lost my mother last year and even today, I pick up my phone thinking, "Oh, I've got to tell mom." My heart breaks a little each time I remember that I can't ever talk to her again. But, I do – I look up to the heavens where I know she is and we talk.
There is a saying "anyone can be a father – it takes a special person to be a dad." Well, to me, this is truer for my mother. This woman didn't give birth to me but she chose me, she took me, a strange, frightened little girl of five into her home and into her heart. Thank you, mom, I love you so very much.
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