I will talk about something different today—no politics, no social commentary, no discussion of my writing style, etc. Instead, I want to talk about something deeply personal.
As you know, I write under a pseudonym. I pick and choose what details from my personal life to share (I think it’s valuable for readers to know something about the person behind the words). In deciding, the line between sharing and stopping is often a moving target. I suspect today will be a tightrope balancing act for me.
This last weekend, I went home to help bury a dear loved one. The departed died much too young. This person was loved by many and left their mark on many. The service was exceptional. I was simply stunned by the soloist. It felt like I was listening to one of the Three Tenors, though the young man doing the singing is probably half my age.
I went into the weekend knowing I had this event ahead of me. I wanted to strike a balance between supporting my loved ones and celebrating the life of our dearly departed. As often happens, God surprised me with show-stopping news while trying to make sense of loss.
Let me be clear. God brought me good news, or, at least, information that will eventually feel good once I make sense of it. It never ceases to amaze me how He works in our lives.
If you have read enough of my blog, my novel, or my guest writing for other sites, you may have gleaned that I am adopted. I was Graced—one of many times—by our Lord when he gave me a forever family a month past my third birthday. The circumstances of my adoption have always been murky. We—my adopted family and the only people I refer to as mom and dad—knew bits and pieces from the records that came with me. We learned a few more details along the way. After I turned eighteen—more than twenty-five years ago—I was legally allowed to petition the state for any other records they could share with me.
With that in mind, right around twenty years ago, I came into another cache of records from the state of Kansas. It added depth to the little bit we already knew. It didn’t change the arc of learning more or less than we suspected all along. Everything seemed like the same dead-end it always felt like. As a result, I put to bed the idea of knowing myself in a way many people get to know about their own stories. There are no pictures of me before I was two-years-old or so. I didn’t know anything about my birth family aside from what was written in court records. I knew my name had been changed and that I was, in fact, adopted.
You see, I was removed from my birth home because some very courageous people stepped in to save me. They also saved a sister I’ve never met. I could see in the records there was at least one other child by my birth mother. He seems to have been taken away, too, though my knowledge of that comes entirely from one sentence on one record that simply states he was adopted. I don’t know his name now. I don’t know what his name was then. Records from the 1970s in Kansas weren’t as detailed as they are now. Add to that the fact that all records from that time were paper records that have copy marks, items redacted or crossed out, and other signs of age, and you are left with a fuzzy picture about who you are.
I want to sidestep here before I return to this story. I love my family. God blessed me with far more than I deserved. He gave me a wonderful mom and dad. He gave me an understanding and loving extended family. He gave me so many blessings over the years that I can’t count them on my fingers and toes. Wanting to know about my personal history from before I was adopted has nothing to do with the love I have and share with my family. I imagine most people would want to know what they could about where they came from. I expect I’m not much different than anyone else in that regard.
Getting back to the story, long ago, I made peace with the idea that I would simply never know the facts surrounding my birth. I have no memory of anything before I was two. I do remember living on the farm with my foster family at that point. I remember wearing overalls, no shirt, and no shoes. He wore overalls, and I thought it was just how things were done. I’d go out with him and call the cows. I even have a plastic toy cow from that time. I’ve kept it all these years. It’s faded to a dull yellow over the years. I don’t mind. It reminds me of a different chapter in my life. (For the record, my mom always buys me something related to Holstein cows each Christmas. It’s our little connection to the lives I’ve lived. I cherish her thoughtful gifts so very much.)
Well, this weekend got underway. I was home with my folks. I was mentally preparing for the funeral and all the attendant emotions that would come with it. The night before the service, I was sitting at the kitchen table with my mom and dad (if you’ve read my novel, you’ll get my reference to kitchen tables and their special place in country living) watching the NCAA basketball tournament. My mom pulled her chair up next to mine and opened an envelope. I wasn’t quite sure what she had in mind, but I was going to follow along. After all, she is my mom.
As she opened the envelope, she handed me copies of my adoption records I had lost over the years through one move or another. As a curious sidebar, it was me losing some of those records that prompted my wife and me to petition the state of Kansas for records again earlier this year. At any rate, I was excited to get my hands on the papers my mom had so I could add them to my collection of bits and pieces about where I came from. What came next floored me. I still haven’t processed it. I expect it will take some time for that.
You see, for our anniversary, my wife ordered me a DNA kit. She’s wanted to do this for some time, and I finally relented. I don’t quite know why I was hesitant for so long. I suppose I had discarded any idea that I might learn more about my past and simply became stuck in my ways. Sometime after my wife did that, my mom took it upon herself to do some digging of her own into my genealogy.
My mom volunteers at the local genealogy library and has access to records and software that escapes the resources most of us can scrape together. Unbeknownst to me, she put these resources to use. She’s always been very open with me whenever I asked about my adoption or what she knew. I’ve always appreciated that. At the same time, I guess I never expected that she would want to participate in my search, so I never asked.
Sitting at the kitchen table, she began handing me document after document about my birth mother and her birth family. You see, my birth mother was adopted too. She was also taken away from her biological family and placed in another home. (She was from Missouri, though. By the Grace of God, I’m from Kansas.) The records were fascinating and gave me several possible leads to learn more information. I’m not going to get my hopes too high. I’ve hit dead-ends before. Still, that is not the piece that turned my world upside-down.
My mom saved the best for last. In her research, she came across yearbook photos of my birth mother. I was utterly shocked. I haven’t ever seen any pictures of her or anyone else that shares a blood relation to me. I’m still trembling as I write these words. I’m on the verge of tears each time I think about it. They’re not happy tears or sad tears. Instead, they’re great tears.
I’ve lived forty-three years of life, not knowing what my birth mother looked like. I’ve never known who I looked like. When she handed me the photocopy of a black-and-white yearbook photo (we are talking about my birth mother in 1971, after all), it stupefied me. I look like my mother. We have the same complexion, eyes, face, chin, and hair—well, before I went bald, anyway. Her image is burned into my brain.
It’s surreal to discover things like this about yourself when you’re my age. It rocks your world. The last time I learned something of this magnitude about my past was when I was fourteen. At that time, I discovered I had a sister. Bear in mind, I knew I was adopted, but that came from my time in foster homes. I have no memory of anything before then. I stumbled into learning about my sister almost thirty years ago. In a second, my world changed even though I knew it was only a change in the knowledge I gained. The same thing happened to me this Sunday. (I considered writing about it on Sunday for my blog but thought better of putting anything on paper until I’d had at least a few days to process it.)
My mom gave me such a wonderful gift. She selflessly researched my past, ignoring any emotional or psychological turmoil it may bring her to do so. In so doing, she gave me the gift of more knowledge. Much of what I learned is valuable only as knowledge. Nearly all of the people from that time in my life are passed on, including my birth mother. I’ve long felt as though that may be the case. It neither disturbs me nor pleases me. Learning those sorts of facts is like reading information on a page. I don’t wish ill on anyone—even my birth mother, may she Rest In Peace. Neither will I have any worry beyond what I have for all mankind for those I never met. I wish all well, knowing I will meet only a fraction of God’s children. Aside from that, I focus my emotions on my loved ones. They’re the ones who’ve earned it.
One idea I can’t shake, though, is how attractive and pleasant my birth mother seemed in her high school yearbook photos. She had demons to contend with. We knew that from the court records. She had her own trauma to overcome. Still, I see what seems to be a person most would likely smile at on the street and a young lady who probably had her share of boys chasing her. Because of that, it is hard to reconcile when her demons got the better of her.
She clearly was not a good mother to the three children I know she had. There is some evidence to suggest she may have had more children. Some of that evidence suggests these demons followed her until her death. That is all speculation, as the evidence is still circumstantial at this time. I don’t hate her or bear any resentment—after all, I was the lucky one. I was taken away before things went too far off the rails. I was given a second, better chance at life and family. I have spent the last forty years trying to make the most of that chance.
Nevertheless, I am grateful to have learned what I did this weekend. I have a few more details about where I’m from. I know who I look like and what she looked like. Mostly, I am grateful to my wife and mom. They pushed me to open this door again. I’m awfully glad they did. I wouldn’t know near as much otherwise. I still have more questions than answers. I suspect that will always be the case. Setting that aside, I want to dedicate this post to my wife and my mom. Thank you both. I love you very much. You are two of the three most important women in my life. The other, of course, is my daughter.
As always, this has been the World According to Chris. Please hit the like button or leave a reply.