Tuesday, August 5, 2008
In memory of my Dear Grandmother, aka Grammy, whose birthday was this week. June 16, 1915 she came into this world with her twin brother. They were the last of about a dozen children. Her mother never fully recovered from the birth. Pennsylvania Dutch roots, she grew up on a farm, taking care of her mother. After her and her twin brother were born, the father abandoned the family and lived with a younger woman. He was also the teacher of the one-room school house in that town. One of the last trips Grammy and I took together was to the cemetery where her husband had been buried many years earlier. A cemetery behind a tiny church she went to as a little girl. After visiting my Grandfather's grave, we walked around and she pointed out the rest of her family's headstones. They were all buried very close to each other. The largest one was for her mother. She pointed to one for a brother who was a veteran, one for a brother who died very young. She told me a tidbit about this one, and a snippet about that one. She reached out her arm and points off in the distance. Her face pinches, as she tells me her father was buried "over there." As we walk that direction, with distinct coldness in her voice, she says to me "he was no Father at all. And she recalled to me that he was her school teacher, and she called him "Mr. S---, not Father." I learned from my great Aunt M---, their mother died while my grandmother was just a young woman. I also learned that my grandmother had been sent away to earn room and board while she worked for them. She shared several stories about their growing up days ‘back then.' There was a story Grammy had never shared with me, she carried it to her grave. Oh, how I wish she had used her voice. I wish she would have told me. It could have made the biggest difference to me, to my own family. I heard the story later on, but not from my Grammy. No, in fact she did not even tell my father. We know now only because of my Great Aunt M---. Around the time of my Grammy's last days, she shared it with my Dad. He kept it to himself, and it was sometime later that I heard this story from him. In fact, it was several years after my Grammy had already passed. I love my Dad. He's a funny, determined, and intelligent man. In spite of the ‘male gender' he is one of the people I will occasionally share some of my adoption pain with. He listens and always replies gently. My Dad likes auctions and flea markets. He especially likes to go to Saturday's Market. So for Father's Day, I like to do what Dad enjoys, so we met at Saturday's Market, and had breakfast there. Hot sausage and tater tots, yum!. I don't remember exactly how the conversation started that Saturday morning. But I vividly remember my Dad's eyes tearing up as he told me. My Dad a grown man, you know the ones who don't ‘cry.' I was surprised as I reflected to think on my own conflicting thoughts and feelings when he appeared, my long lost Uncle D. I had never seen him before, and suddenly there he was in my Grandmother's home. Standing in my Grandmother's former dining room, standing at my Grandmother's bedside. He is my Dad's older brother. I've never met him or even seen a picture of him, but suddenly there he was. He was also ‘adopted.' Part of me felt angry at him, where was he all these years? Why did he not care about her when she was well and getting around? Why show up now as her time with us is getting shorter as each day passes with the sunset? Why stand beside her now, at a time when she has no dignity left, unable to feed herself or even drink? So, back to the story at hand, Dad and I are sitting at this little square table at the flea market. We just finished our breakfast. And he tells me more about his older brother, my long lost Uncle D. He recalled the time Uncle D came to visit Grammy in those last few weeks. My Dad was moved by what he saw. He was the one who invited Uncle D to her house, during her last days. He did not know if my Grandmother would even recognize Uncle D. She never really talked about him to my Dad, and my Dad had no idea how she would feel about Uncle D being there, being in her home. Or, with her being a very private person, how she would feel about Uncle D seeing her in such a ‘condition.' After Uncle D left the room, my Dad asks her "do you know who that was? It's D---. D--- S--. Do you know who he is?" And this is the part where my Dad started to cry as he's retelling the story. He said he saw the spark in her eye as she replied, "Yes. Yes. My son, D---. He is my son." And until that moment, he never realized how much my Grandmother had loved her firstborn son, and how broken she was all those years without him. My Dad goes on to tell me the truth of the situation; this is what Great Aunt M--- shared. Uncle D was born when my Grandmother was not married. This happened at a time when that was a horrible reproach. She loved her son, and was working hard to earn money to take care of him. You know there is an evil villain in every story. Such is the case here, and I've just introduced to you, her brother and his wife. You see My Grandmother's brother had been married for many years. He and his lovely wife were unable to have children. So they opened their home to "watch" my Uncle D while my Grandmother was away working. I don't know how quickly, but unexpectedly things changed. Grammy would go to their house to get her son, and they would not let her have him. She would go to their house to visit him, but they would lie and say he was not there. They basically stole her son from her. After all, they were a proper married loving couple, and they deserved a child to call their own. My Grandmother, She carried him in her womb, she held him in her arms, and she worked very hard as a single mom in a society where she was scorned. Yet she lost him, betrayed by her very own brother. She lived with the loss and knife in her heart, never telling anyone. I'm sure it hurt too much to even form the words. Every time an expectant mom considering adoption tells me that she ‘trusts' the potential aparents for her child, I think of this story. I think of how even blood relatives will betray one another when consumed by desperation for ‘their own' child.' We're not talking about strangers that my Grandmother knew for only a few short months. The desperation was so great to them, that he knifed his youngest sister in the heart - forever - to get their hands a baby. --- Unknown to me, while I was feeling angry at Uncle D, it was at that same time, when my Grandmother was on her deathbed, that she was able to finally claim him again. She claimed him as her own. This time there was no on to steal away her son. May you rest in peace, Grammy. I hope you don't mind me sharing your story. For your own brother to betray you, I am sad That he stole your first son from you, I am very sad. That you got to have your son again, standing beside you, Before you left this hostile and cruel world, For that - I am happy and weep Weep with tears mingled with joy.