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!