A conversation at the kitchen table
A Conversation at the Kitchen Table
I recall a warm, humid, mid-July morning at my childhood home in the small hamlet of Center Moriches. The air was thick with tiny gnats whirling about. My ten year old self was quite busy in a secluded corner of our large backyard behind the never used outhouse. I’d just turned over a large stone, and spotted the writhing body of a garter snake when I heard my mother’s voice calling from the house. “Willie, come here, now!”
I recognized the tone and knew that it meant to come right away, so I eased the stone down over the snake, careful not to crush it, and ran to the house. My mother was waiting at the door. I followed her into the kitchen, and sat in my usual chair at the table. The look on her face told me there was something serious coming, and I immediately began to think back about what it was I might have done, and what excuse I could offer. Mom was a short, plump soul with a pleasant face, and thinning black hair streaked with gray. Her usual manner was robust and talkative, but this morning she was oddly pensive. After sitting down, she removed her glasses and began to speak.
“I’m going to tell you something important that I think you’re old enough to understand.”
“Daddy and I are not your real parents.” Just a year earlier, my dad died, and if that wasn’t bad enough, now she was telling me they weren’t my real parents? I struggled to understand. She continued. “When you were five days old, we adopted you. What that means is even though we’re not your birth parents, by law; you belong to us and our family.” She paused to allow me to grasp this information.
“We hired a lawyer and did everything the right way. You can never be taken away from us. Your mother was just a teenager who lived with her aunt and uncle. They knew she wasn’t ready to take on the responsibilities of a mother, so they forced her to give you up. You were born at the University Hospital in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on August 19th. A few days later, we brought you home.”
She sat there with her hands clasped together on the table. I noticed the thickness of her fingernails, and looked deeply into the first face I had seen standing over my crib. I didn’t respond for a while. We sat there as the sun’s strong orange rays came through window causing the room to grow warmer. Finally, I asked, “What did she look like?” Mom furrowed her brow and let her mind travel back, then said, “She couldn’t have been anymore than sixteen, maybe seventeen at the most. She was small and childlike, with soft dark eyes and smooth silky skin. I think if she had smiled, she would have been very pretty. Never believe she didn’t love you, and want to keep you. She even gave you a name, but the decision was not hers to make. We were glad it worked out the way it did. Daddy and I couldn’t have kids of our own, so we considered you a gift from God.”
I shifted in my chair and tried to understand and accept what she had revealed. I would think about this day many times in the years to come. She put her hand on my shoulder and smiled. “So, do you understand? I simply replied, “Yes.”
My adoptive mother was what we in our small eastern Long Island community called, ‘Down home and folksy.’ She had a way of telling you a thing and getting straight to the heart of it without being overbearing or harsh. As far back as I can recall, I’ve always loved my folks, and even to this very hour, have never considered them to be anything, but my parents, so this news did not affect me in any negative way, but caused me to be more curious. There was so much to know.
Over the years that followed our conversation, I asked all the standard questions, such as who was my dad? There was information on my mother but nothing on him. I wondered if she ever thought about me, especially on my birthday. Did she ever imagine how I might have turned out, or sit alone in the dark and cry? I’d often felt I was different than my friends; kind of special in a way; sometimes imagining that my birth mother; now a rich and important person, would someday seek me out and claim me as the child she’d lost so long before. This was a silly notion for sure, but one that I entertained from time to time. Today, I still fantasize about meeting her, but in a more practical and realistic way, hoping it will happen before it’s too late.
I hold no grudges or feel any anger toward her; only a deep desire to know her, and see her face and realize my true lineage. I have dreamt about embracing her and relishing in the knowledge that we are of the same blood.
Some years ago, I hired a company that claimed to find lost relations, but they turned out to be less than reputable. It was expensive, and the so-called search quickly came to a dead end. A short time later I met a genealogist on the internet. She asked for no money. She gathered data, and we corresponded for two or three months and appeared to be making progress. She narrowed it down to a certain person, an address, and a phone number. It took three days for me to work up the courage to call.
I sat in my office and prepared a script of things to say that would assure her I was not looking for anything, or attempting to disrupt her life in any way, but only wanted to know her… if that was possible. After reading and rereading it, I felt I was ready to make the call. I willed my fingers to dial the number. The whole time thinking what a huge event this was in my life. Someone I’d been waiting to meet all these years: a shadow person I had given so much thought to, and inserted into so many different scenarios throughout the years: this person may be at the other end of this call. I had the highest of hopes at that moment that my search would be over.
It rang three times before an answering machine picked up. I certainly didn’t want our first contact to be via this mechanical entity, so I hung up. After a night of weary anticipation and fearful hopes, I tried again the next morning. A diminutive female voice came on the line. My heart was racing and for a few apprehensive seconds, my thoughts were scrambled. I managed to slow myself down and speak. When I ended my rambling speech she politely said that she was sorry, but she was not my mother. After expressing empathy and wishing me luck in my search, she assured me that she was not pregnant the year I was born, but attending school.
She inquired as to how my search was going and didn’t rush me off the phone. Her tone was patient and she was quite pleasant. I didn’t know what think; it had been such a good search and everything had pointed to her.
When we broke contact I felt spent. I sat beside the phone hoping this very nice lady with the tender voice would call back and say; I am your mother, and I’m so glad you found me. You’ve been in my thoughts and prayers since the day you were born. But the phone hadn’t rung twenty-five minutes later, and I felt that maybe I’d handled it wrong. I recalled the genealogist’s warning that in some cases the birth parent might be in denial after so many years of having to pretend the child didn’t exist, and then experiencing first contact.
That was ten years ago and I’ve stopped waiting for that call. Maybe she wasn’t my mother; I just so badly wanted her to be. Fear of another disappointment has caused me to put the search on hold. As each year passes, success seems further away and less likely.
I can’t honestly say I don’t feel cheated, in a sense. Although I was fortunate to have had my adoptive parents, there remains a blank space in the texture of my life. Deep down where the hope lives I still want to believe, but unfortunately… the days are passing.