Family of Choice
A friend and I were trading histories, sharing stories. I told her how my family is a little short on blood relations, by the usual reckoning. Many cruxes and joins of the tree have been made by deliberate choosing. There once was a family gathering, what we consider close relations, of probably a dozen people with only 2 genetic connections. The friend was curious. So I went on to explain about 4 adopted children, another who wasn’t even legally adopted but taken along to cook for the field hands, and of course the marriages. After I had finished the story of my family, the friend asked if I’d ever written about it. I hadn’t, thinking that everyone has a family, so why would anyone care to read about mine. But she was on to something. Something others in any of a variety of blended families might like to hear. How adopted children grew up knowing that this is their real family and the biological child never noticed that we don’t even look alike.
The first choice ~that I am aware of~ was 3 generations ago. A couple went to an orphanage and adopted a baby boy, Ralph. They graciously offered to take an older girl, Esther, as well. She would be their servant. She knew that she had another family, brothers and sisters, but little Ralph didn’t understand such things. She was his big sister, simple as that. They grew up and married, Ralph to Gertrude and Esther to Joe. Joe was my mother’s uncle. So Esther became my mother’s aunt. When Ralph and Gertrude had a son, John, he was in everyone’s eyes and heart, Esther’s nephew. Obviously my mother’s cousin. Esther and Joe had no children and were very much a part of my mother’s growing up, she an only child. Her own mother died when she was 21. My mother, Margaret, married Herb and after some time without the arrival of children, they adopted a girl and later a boy. From the time they could understand it, they knew they were adopted. It’s no shameful secret. That meant that their birth parents had made the very difficult decision that they would be better off with someone else. Those someones-else went through a rigorous process and paid fees and waited and waited for their children to come home. My brother would even tell people that he was “bought in Chicago.” My mother was mortified. I think it only shows that even as a little tyke, he understood his worth. He never doubted that he was wanted. Nor did my sister. When I came along some years later, it was quite the surprise to everyone. And from the time I was old enough to understand it, I knew that Mom & Dad had gone to great lengths to bring Bonnie and Brian into our family. Not so much me. But they all loved me nonetheless!
Here is the 1st lesson: I had a friend who was adopted, then her parents birthed a son. They let her feel like a placeholder, 2nd chair to their own child. I saw that little girl’s broken heart turn to one of stone as she became a teenager. She went down a dark road and I’m afraid she never got over it. Her family could have been so much like mine. I didn’t understand why she wasn’t equally treasured.
But our story doesn’t end here. Cousin John married Anna (who, I just have to say, is the most optimistic, positive-outlooking person I have the pleasure of calling kin). Because of a known heritable disease in her family, they chose to adopt their son, W.R. Being the son of my mother’s cousin, he would certainly be my cousin, right? 2nd or once-removed or somesuch, but family. Growing up, he about five years older than I, we didn’t know the backstory on Aunt Oie (my mother couldn’t say “Esther” when she was small ~which, by the way, is Eh’ ster, no ‘th’ sound) and his Grandpa Ralph. They seemed like siblings to us. Being family, we all got together regularly, more often than friends who just can’t quite seem to find the time. Remember, my mother was an only child; her mother’s only sibling had no children; I believe her father’s brother and sister had no children. That is one barren family tree, folks. So we graft with love and thank God for every branch. In college, I even found a cousin who is the grandson of Aunt Oie’s biological sister!