This isn’t a medical story per se, but I offer it here as an example of how important family relationships and history are to health, healthcare, and general happiness and well-being. And the story does have medical implications, which I will explore at a future date.
In the meantime, I hope you enjoy what is intended to be a heartwarming story of loss and recovery.
It appears here with my family’s permission.
Part 1: Adoption
At the tender age of 20 months, I made a decision about my newborn sibling: I didn’t want him. How dare my baby “sister” be a . . . boy!
Soon after his birth on May 25, 1954, my new baby brother, Wayne, was placed in my lap by our mother so I could get to know him and give him some love. According to Mom, as soon as he was settled in my arms, I stood up and let go. Wayne was on the floor, where he deserved to be. At least, that’s apparently what my toddler mind thought. (Just for the record, I don’t remember any of this; but I suspect Wayne does.) My problem? I had told my mother she was to bring home a baby sister. And look what she came back with!
Notice that this series of posts is called “My Sister’s Story.” By this time, I guess you realize that another chapter is coming. But on that May day, I was distraught that nature hadn’t cooperated, and neither had my parents, in giving me what I wanted.
I guess even at 20 months I had strong opinions . . . and even stronger feelings!
I did find happy consolation, however, in the close relationship I had with my second cousin, Linda. Many families may not have a close connection with “numbered” cousins, but I’m thankful mine did. (Linda and I are second cousins because our fathers were first cousins–her father was my first cousin once removed, meaning removed by one generation, and my father was her first cousin once removed; she and I are of the same generation.) Linda and I were 18 months apart (she’s older . . . I’m glad of that now!), and we were very close friends during our childhood and teen years. And thanks to Words with Friends, we stay in daily touch now.
My other happy consolation was my friend Sandee, the star of Friday’s post.* I’ll continue her story in the near future. (In the meantime, you can click on this one-page vignette, An American Friendship_Associated Memory, to learn a little more about her). Sandee’s entry into and departure from my life eerily coincided with the story I am now telling you.
* * *
As I wrote on Friday, Sandee and I met in second grade when we were just turning seven years old. That was in September 1959 (yes, that long ago). Although we didn’t remain as close when we were adults as we had been when we were kids, we had “imprinted” ourselves on each other at a tender age, and the sister-like bond was never broken.
That September, just after I’d started school, my mother was pregnant and about to “pop” at any moment, which she did on September 15. What happened next remained a mystery for many years, but when Mom came home from the hospital, it was without her baby. Because Wayne and I were so young, our parents thought the only explanation we would understand is that the child had died shortly after birth. It wasn’t until I was 18 that my paternal grandmother told me that the little girl had been given up for adoption.
At the time of our sister’s birth, Wayne and I had just been through a year of trauma. Our parents had separated the previous Christmas (1958), intending to divorce. Despite our young ages at the time, he and I both remember what happened the night our family fell apart. After the holidays spent at our maternal grandmother’s house, our father flew my brother and me down to live with our paternal grandparents in Florida, where I was enrolled in the second half of first grade.
I had entered the first half of first grade during a time of terrible turmoil in our family, but I learned to displace my fear and pain away from what was going on at home to what was happening with me in the outside world. For example, on my first day of first grade, still in Philly, I remember bursting into tears because I couldn’t get the colored end off of my crayon-shaped pencil box. And, more devastatingly, during the second half of first grade, in Clearwater-Dunedin, I developed “11th-child syndrome.” One of my friends was having a birthday party that consisted of 10 friends going out for pizza after seeing a Disney movie (Sleeping Beauty, I think). We were all so excited. But on the day of the party, I was informed that the party was for 10 total, not 10 friends plus the birthday girl. When I got off the bus after school that day, I remember shuffling along a dusty dirt road heading “home” to my grandparents’ house with the number “11” etched into my psyche, where it remains to this day, while my friends headed off to “Disneyland.”
Enough about me and my childhood traumas. This is a happy story about a family reunion . . . really. But my delicate state of mind helped prepare me to take a new sister-friend into my heart.
Sometime that spring (1959), our parents decided to reunite. Our father went up north to bring our then-pregnant mother down to Florida to live, but nobody in the family liked the oppressive heat and humidity down there (I still don’t). So we moved back up north, settling in Northeast Philly. For private reasons, our parents decided to give the baby up for adoption immediately after birth so that our family could resume as it was before their separation.
All this was happening at the time I met Sandee. As I described on Friday, I was powerfully drawn to her family, which was full of life and happiness and love, and they were a lifesaver for me and diverted me away from some of the bewildering aspects of life in my own home. And I had found a “sister” in my new second-grade friend.
But, unbeknownst to me, I had another sister. And she was growing up not that far away from us.
* * *
Dad died in December 2008 of COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), and my brother and I were left to manage his affairs. Sorting through his personal papers, Wayne came across a birth registration for a baby girl, named Susan Mary, born September 15, 1959.
This got me to thinking about the sister we never knew. So that winter, while my husband was away and I was still mourning the loss of my father, and after getting a family-oriented email from Sandee, I decided to register with an online matching agency that reunites lost and separated relatives. I didn’t get any hits.
Then on Wednesday, August 12, 2009, as I was stepping onto an airplane to return home from Greensboro, NC, where I had been visiting my son, Matt, my cell phone rang. It was my father’s second wife. She said, “I just got the weirdest phone call. It was from a woman named Vicki, and she said she was adopted and that her birth date was September 15, 1959—and that her birth name was Susan Mary.”
After the chills shot through my body, I had just enough time to say, “Oh my God, that’s my sister!” before we were instructed to put away all electronic devices. The plane was taking off.
* * *
Part 2: Recognition tomorrow.