March 16, 2014

Bitter-Sweet Surprises

(Originally published in 2009)

Since my Mom's fall and move to assisted living, I have been busy cleaning out her house ~ the same house I grew up in.
It is surreal to go back all these years later and revisit childhood memories.

I have found some sweet surprises in the midst of the clutter. One thing I found really made me smile. It was a small wallet-size photo album filled with pictures of me growing up.
Thinking it was my Mom or Grandmother's (Nanny), I started leafing through the pictures and surprisingly found my Aunt Kay's old AARP card in it. I realized it was hers and then pulled out a folded-up, yellowed paper. It was so neat to unwrap this small surprise and find a poem written in her own handwriting.

Aunt Kay passed away in 1984, when I was in the tenth grade. It was a traumatic three years watching my Nanny (her twin sister) walk right beside her as she battled cancer. Aunt Kay was a beautician and I spent many a day in her "shop" on Florence doing my nails and hearing her little gray-headed clients tell stories of yesteryear. She gave me my first hair-cut.
I so looked forward to her annual New Year's Party. If I try real hard, I can still smell the delicious appetizers, and feel the tickle of sparkling Cold Duck. I remember the low drone of football roaring from the living room tv. Uncle Olan would somehow make sure my favorite number #10 was the winning football team in the annual "pot" and every year I believed them when they exclaimed how "lucky" I was. Isn't it amazing what memories stay with you from childhood? 
 It saddens me that my son will know hardly anyone from my adoptive family.
Only his Grandma is left, and some wonderful cousins who live out of state. 

After my reunion, I marvelled at the fact my first Mother was ALWAYS within a few miles of me my whole childhood.

She adored all kinds of animals and always wanted to live in the open where she could enjoy many around her.  Little did I know (this little animal lovin' adoptee ~ remind me to write about my one and only detention in H.S., due to illegal posting of PETA posters on all the bulletin boards), that all the while I was a preteen, busy exploring (among other things) my Aunt Hazel and Uncle Dean's new acreage and homestead in Collinsville, that my first Mother was living just a few miles north in Ramona.

I spent a lot of time at my best friend's house by the elementary school we attended, never knowing that her Dad, L.D., worked at the carrier company my first grandfather, Papa Sid helped establish just a few blocks away. How many times did my first family and I pass each other on the old Admiral "traffic circle" over the years? Or were in the same store. The old TG&Y my Nanny managed or Borden's Cafeteria?

The first time I laid eyes on my Grandmother Carolyn (the first birth relative I met, my first Mother's mom), we had immediately decided to meet at that first phone call, and the closest place we could think of was the Grandy's where I had worked all through high school.   Never realizing she lived less than a mile away and frequented the restaurant regularly.  She also used to get her hair done at Aunt Kay's house occasionally.   

Finding out things about my first Mother gave me goose bumps ~ like how we shared the same favorite color, love for animals and writing, and we both attended "beauty school" (although my lame 11th grade vo-tech attempt only lasted a couple of days, when I found myself an official "beauty school drop-out" realizing real quick it was going to be a lot harder than learning how to "just cut hair" lol).  My First Mother's grandfather (my Great-Grandfather Ernie Terrell) owned a barber shop on Cherry Street and was friends with Uncle Olan (from my adoptive family) who owned Anchor Barber shop on Harvard. 

The "synchronicity" in adoption is truly amazing. Almost mind-blowing when you let yourself think about it. Treasured pieces of information that help define who I am. Yet having to wait until adulthood to find one tidbit here, another there, rationed over the years of my reunion.
No matter how much I learn, I still yearn for more.

I so wish I could sit down with my first family yet again (even 20 years in) and pour over every detail and morsel of their lives and mine.

This process of reunion is so painful that most of the time adoptees and first families take it in tiny increments and then back away emotionally, trying to integrate and survive the loss they experience, even in reunion. Like the waves of the sea, waxing and waning.

After finding out my first Mother passed away so young, another memory came back to me ~ attending a funeral in 6th grade of the mother of one of my girl scout friends. The most disturbing part of this vague memory is hearing the constant, judgmental criticism coming from some of the other Mothers about my friend and several other girls who apparently "had the nerve to 'play' at her own mother's funeral."  This little girl was coping the only way she knew how.

For some reason that really made an impact on me and bothered me a lot. But I didn't know why.
As an adult looking back on this, and now knowing that my own first Mother's funeral was literally taking place around this same time, right around the corner, it really hurts. 
These women had no idea what this young girl had gone through losing her mother so young and really shouldn't have gone on and on about her behavior, no matter what she was doing.

Maybe the reason this memory has bothered me so much, is that it finally hit me that, in a sense, adoptees are actually EXPECTED to "play" at our own Mother's funerals. Society gives us little freedom or validation to appropriately grieve losing that profound connection and how it permanently alters our very identity, emotions, childhood, and life-long experiences. Instead, we find ourselves in hiding, behind plastered-on-smiles at "Gotcha Day" PARTIES, complete with streamers, balloons, and cake.
All these memories came back to me after I carefully unfolded this tiny, yellowing paper tucked away in the photo book. It seems like God uses little reminders to guide me gently through bitter-sweet memories ~ even though I sometimes feel like a stranger in a foreign land.

Here are the beautiful words I read and continue to bring comfort: (Thank you, Aunt Kay)

"God is no stranger in a far away place.
He's as close as the wind that blows on my face.
It's true I can't see the wind as it blows,
But I feel it around me and my heart surely knows.
That God's mighty hand can be felt every minute
For there's nothing on earth that God isn't in it."
(Helen Steiner Rice)


Eve said...

This *is* beautiful and very sweet. I'm glad you're finding these gifts for your soul. You deserve them.

Cassi said...

Amazing story Peach! Thank you so much for sharing it.

**The "synchronicity" in adoption is truly amazing.**

I agree completely! My son was never told that his adoption started out open and that we had visits for the first two years of his life. He was led to believe that immediately after I gave birth to him, I handed him over to his adoptive mom and never saw him again.

So, a little over a year ago he was telling me about a memory he had that he was sure, growing up, he had made up in his mind since he never knew we had been together after his birth.

He remembered being at a school with me in some kind of auditorium or gymnasium. He remembered there were people around and that I was talking.

I was so shocked when I heard that because when he was six months old, his adoptive mom had brought him to my high school for a talk our school nurse asked me to have with our school's teen support group. We weren't in a gymnasiun or auditorium but we were in a large classroom and I stood up in front of a dozen people to talk to them about my experience with teen pregnancy and I was holding my son at the time.

He was only six months old so actually having a firm memory of that is hard to beleive. But somehow, someway, it became a part of what he held on to during the years we were separated from each other.

Lori said...

That is beautiful. You were blessed in a lot of ways, even though it took 20/20 hindsight to see it.

My daughter spent the first three years of her life with me. And, while she denies it, she remembers my voice, my smell, the laugh we share. She never even questioned that I was who I said I was the first time I talked to her.

I often wonder, does she remember more? Does she remember when we buried my sister? Or that her grandfather let her "color" on his easel (my father was an artist)?

I guess, unless she decides to talk to me, I will never know. I hope she asks all this before I die, I would hate to think I left her ignorant of who she is and who I and the rest of her family (adopters abandoned her as an adult) are and wht we believe and think and do.

Sigh.....I guess that is why I keep huge photo albums and journal and, of course, blog!

a Tonggu Momma said...

That was beautiful... thank you so much for sharing your memories.

Jenn @ buildingmommymuscles said...

What a heartbreakingly raw story you have...

HisFireFly said...

God knows exactly where we are at all times, and who we are related to, for He has always held all the cards --
I am astonished that people would assume you would not be touched, moved, even broken by a death

praying you are always able to own your feelings, no matter how unpopular

Trudy said...

I'm so glad God is helping you through the bitter-sweet memories. I love the poem! Thank you for sharing this story.

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