I am writing these words on a chilly morning, near Vancouver, B.C.
It’s been a quick trip up here, a place I have never been before, visiting relatives that until recently I didn’t know I had, and learning what it feels like to be among people with whom one shares a genetic link. I prepared to speak words directly to the woman I had never met, who gave birth to me 62 years ago.
During my decades in the Bayou Region I have secretly envied those who know the story of their ancestors — their direct lineage — even if the details are fuzzy and incomplete.
Blessed with an adoptive mother who, with my late adoptive father, took me into their home 60 years ago as a baby and showered me with affection and taught me more than I could ever give thanks for, I didn’t have a need or desire to know anything more of my heritage.They also gifted me with a sister whom I greatly cherish, with whom I shared the process of growing up. But as I got older and found myself writing about the heritage of others, a yearning to know my roots grew.
Having been born in Quebec, Montreal to be exact (I am a U.S. citizen, having been officially naturalized at the age of seven) the details of my roots were shielded from me by strict laws. Detective work over the years led to a labyrinth of conflicting facts that I had to sort out one by one. During the course of it all I learned not so long ago the name of the woman who gave me life. I also learned of her daughters, born well after me, and their father — not mine — whom she married and made a life with.
The details of all this are still unfolding, and the time for telling the full story of this miracle will come in its time.
But I learned enough to make this quick journey, to spend time with the fellow who would have been my step-father, perhaps. He is a special man, opening his home and heart to the child his wife had borne a decade before they met, and of whom he never knew. I came to realize, as I spent time with him and one his daughters that my birth mother’s choice to leave me affected many lives including her own in a positive way. This choice set in motion a butterfly effect which I can only categorize as miraculous. I never had judged her decision, really, just accepted it and gave thanks that for me things turned out alright. Had she remained, there might not have been a trip to Vancouver for her, the meeting of the man who ten years after my birth became her husband, and therefore no birth of the daughter I had the privilege of meeting and spending some time with, who herself is the mother of a delightful young woman with quiet ways and a winning smile.
So many lives were affected by this one decision of a woman in 1956 to give up her first-born.
But there could have been another decision made by her.
She could have decided not to have me at all.
This past weekend the moment came for reconciling all of this, for saying what I had to say in her very presence.
And I did.
With a pot of tiny roses in my hand, I drew closer.
I read the inscription on the bronze plaque, which said that she had died in 1980, that she was a beloved wife and mother.
Kneeling there, at a cemetery in the western Canadian hills, the first words I said to her were “thank you.”
I said that I hoped she might be proud of me, and that if she had ever wondered on my birthday whether I had amounted to any good most people would say I had. I told her that on my birthdays, even over all those years in which I never knew her name, that I certainly thought about her. I told her that during my visit people who had known her filled me in on her likes and dislikes, talents and abilities, generously sharing their memories.
Another thank you and a Hail Mary later, it was off to a tour of Vancouver, and then preparations for my trip back home.