Friday, April 12, 2013

A Story of What Love Can Do For a Life - Mine



The last time I posted, on Good Friday, I mentioned New Bedford, MA, where I grew up, and the fact that I was adopted.  How that  happened is the stuff of good fiction - not because I'm involved, but because of all the wonderful people who populated my childhood.  I feel close enough to all of you to share, and hope you'll indulge me in this. 

I was born in January of 1945, the youngest of 14 children.  My natural mother, Estelle, died on April 11 of that year.  In three or four weeks, World War II would end in Europe, and my adopted father, Mike, was up to his ankles in mud with Custer Division somewhere near Rome.

My adopted mother, Jeannette, 4'10", 39 and childless, was working in a propeller plant in Connecticut when a man arrived with a telegram for her.  All work around her stopped because that was the way a family was usually notified that their soldier was dead or injured.  Her co-workers crowded around her.  She told me she couldn't breathe, yet remembered hearing herself gasping.  She tore open the telegram and learned that her sister had died at 42 of a sudden heart attack.  She sobbed with grief over Estelle - and relief that Mike was alive.

She drove home to New Bedford to help my natural father, Wilfred.  Two of my older sisters were married and rallied to help.  Three of my brothers were in the Army and far away.  Eight children were horrified by the loss of their mother - five of them under 10 - and one baby was forgotten in her crib in the conrfusion and disbelief - me.

When Jeannette got home, she said the din of everyone crying and trying desperately to make a plan for the family drowned out the sound of wailing from upstairs.  (I'm sure I was a mouth, even then.)  She heard it, though, and went upstairs to rescue me.  She took me to her tenement over the store, so the family wouldn't have to worry about me until after the funeral.

Dazed, Wilfred agreed when the older siblings began distributing the younger ones among themselves.  Jeannette asked  him if she could adopt me and my sister Lorraine, who was nine and the next youngest girl.  That was, provided the Red Cross could find Mike and he approved.  It took a week,  but she finally received an answer to her telegram.  Mike said yes, but reminded her that the war wasn't over yet and though he had every intention of coming home, anything could happen.  If she chose to go ahead, she had to realize that she might be raising us by herself.   I've often thought about how brave that was for both of them.

Then peace was declared in early May, he came home, and we became that happy little unit in the tenement above the corset and dress shop.  Because we stayed in the same town until I was ten, Lorraine and I grew up close to our siblings.  Today, there are three of us left of the original band, and a brother and a sister eight and ten years younger than I from Wilfred's second marriage.  I'm so grateful for them.

Often,  the happiness of a life can hinge on someone else sacrificing comfortable elements of his/her life.  Because I was so young when Estelle died, I have no memory of pain or anguish over her loss, so while the story holds a lot of drama, my life didn't.  I was cozy, comfortable, and very secure.  I remember feeling so loved. But,  I'm very aware of how different things could have been for me if the people in my life, in my family, had been less generous.

No wonder I write about love!


21 comments:

  1. Muriel, I enjoyed every word, and not just because I was fairy tale adopted too.

    Do you read Dorothy Garlock?

    I repeat what I said last week. This needs to be a novel. I would be a keeper.

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    1. I haven't ready Dorothy Garlock, but I'm guessing I should. I've thought for years that I should do something with the story. It's been percolating for years. Do things still 'percolate,' or do they just do a Mr. Coffee drip? How are Mikey's other fish?

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    2. So far, they're still kicking... er swimming. LOL
      Go find a Garlock. She writes the era you're writing in and having read your supers, you have the same strong voice.

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  2. Beautiful post Muriel! Your adoptive parents are angels:)

    My husband's ex-wife and her husband are in the process of adopting their four year old niece. The biological parents are just not able to care for her, so I'm seeing now with them how it can create a lot of uprooting-their selling their home, etc, but they feel it's all worth it to give that sweet little girl the best life possible.

    xo
    Jen

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    1. Are they having to move? Big sacrifices! But what generosity to ensure her happiness and opportunities. Thanks for weighing in. (Did you do your 20 minutes this morning? Or is that tonight?)

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    2. Their home has three bedrooms, but only one on the main upstairs level, so for now, they have turned the huge walk in closet into a bedroom for the little girl because they want her to be close-she's afraid to be too far from them, so they just bought a more family-friendly home:)

      I work out several times throughout the day in my office, then run for half an hour at night:) How about you? Did you get your walk in today yet?

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    3. Yes, did our 7:15 a.m. walk - about 20 minutes. Then just a brief walk around the back at lunch. But I'm doing proofs, so I need my brain to work!

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  3. What a beautiful and true story about the power of family and community to support one another. I feel as though I just read a really really good short story- one I want to keep reading! Your adoptive parents were so brave, as was your natural father. It's no wonder you are such a caring, generous, and kind person given the amazing people in your life! Thank you, Muriel, for sharing your story with us :)

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    1. Thanks, Karen. I'd intended to add this tidbit, but by 1:30 a.m., for got it. I recall being at church with my parents and my brother when I was about 15. (Matt who'd been raised by my sister, Rita, was 19, in the Marines, and came to visit us.) On our way out of church, the usher asked my mother of Matt, "Is that your son?" and she replied without thinking, "No, that's my daughter's brother." The poor man looked so confused I had to stay behind to explain. Thank you, Karen. Contact with you is always like a shot of adrenalin.

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    2. lol, your story reminded me of one of my own. I never knew my biological father, but my dad who raised me since I was four has always acted that way as well. Growing up, we had sooo many people say to us that I looked just like him and we'd just smile and say 'yup'.

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  4. How beautiful :) And incredibly generous, selfless and brave of your mother Jeanette to take you and your sister despite the awful uncertainty of the war.

    I'm a foster mother so have seen children move from our home back to their natural parents or on to an adoptive home. Seeing those children become part of a new, happy forever home is truly wonderful.

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    1. Hi, Catherine. How generous of you to do that. That has to be a wrench for you when they leave. I imagine the knowledge that you've affected a young life in a positive way at a difficult time makes up for a lot. We have three adopted children who spent two years in foster care before we got them and I thank God for them - the kids had many happy memories of their time there.

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    2. Hi, yes an awful wrench :( Made better only because we know the children are going to their forever homes. Seeing the look of joy on the faces of new parents is the best thing ever!

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  5. Muriel, love this memory. And I agree with the others: it needs its own book!

    I've always had a heart for adoptive families. My oldest niece was adopted, and when people tell her she looks just like my cousin, we just nod and say, "yep, it was meant to be."

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  6. Isn't it wonderful that there's a place for everyone. And bless the generosity of the people who open their arms to make that happen. Thanks, Syndi!

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  7. I loved this. You tell your own story as wonderfully as you do everyone else's, Muriel!

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    1. Thank you, Liz! Sometimes truth is better drama than fiction.

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  8. I told you all that since I was running behind I might not post, but Muriel, your life story moved me to comment. I agree with everyone who said your true story would make a beautiful book. Our newspaper today had a story about a couple who have adopted 10 children and fostered 39 others. The happy smiles on the children's faces said everything about how great it is to have a forever home. Roz

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    1. Roz - thank you for breaking that precious focus to check on us. Life is so much more precious when you know how lucky you are. And I do!

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