Sunday, May 17, 2009

Luck of the draw, or destiny?

The lady above is Lillian Joyce Crawley. She is my biological mother. She gave birth to me on May 15, 1948 in Chicago, Illinois, and I was given the name Linda Irene Crawley. Originally from Galveston, Texas, she had become pregnant at the age of 18 by a navy guy stationed there or on R&R, and he was from Chicago, so she had gone looking for him. Unable to locate him, or perhaps rejected by him, she went into an unwed mother's home.

Upon giving birth to me at Chicago's Cook County Hospital, Lillian had to decide what to do - keep me or put me up for adoption. The decision was pretty much a no brainer - her dad, my grandfather, told her that if she came home with me, he would kill me, her, and my grandmother ( Rhoda Irene, above). And he had a history of abuse to back up his statement. Considering her age, and the fact that her home life was such a mess, she gave me up for adoption. I was released directly to Lake Bluff Orphanage after a two week stay in the hospital.

I would spend the first three months of my life in the orphanage. I've always wondered what those three months were like, especially when seeing how many photos we took of our own daughter's life in those first three months! I would have loved to have had at least one photo of that time, either of someone holding me in the orphanage, or especially of Lillian holding me before she signed the relinquishment papers.

The photo above was taken in August 1948, and that's my new mother in the middle. Her name was Irene. It's the first day of the rest of my life, the day that I leave for my new home with my new parents. One of these two ladies is with the orphanage and the other is a social worker.

This man is my new dad. Tom Ecklund. My new name would be Linda Jean Ecklund.

Little did any of us know that day that this happy little family would not last. The short version is that they had decided to adopt a child to shore up a shaky marriage. She was an alcoholic who promised to stop drinking, but that promise was quickly broken. In 1949, we would move to Ft. Worth, Texas, and a year later they would divorce, when I was three years old. She retained custody of me, but drinking and men would cause me to be taken away from her seven years later.

Every year on my birthday, beginning when I found out I was adopted at about age 9, and even now at the age of 61, I think back to my beginnings, to those weeks that my mother agonized over her decision, those three months that I was an orphan, and to the new parents who had hoped that this little baby would save their marriage.

I always wondered if Lillian remembered me on May 15, if she was thinking about me at the same time I was thinking of her, the mysterious and romanticized lady who had given birth to me. When I was going thru the nightmare times living with my adoptive mother, and later with my step-mother, I would think "if my REAL mother had kept me, my life would have been so different!"

When I turned 30, I had occasion to find my birth family (more about that another time). My mother was dead, but I had three half-brothers and two half-sisters, and an aunt who I found out all this information from. I found out from her that my mother and grandmother had called to check on me after she got home from Chicago, and were told that I had died in a fire! (This was not an uncommon practice back in those days to keep the birth mother from looking for her child.)

When I went to visit them for the first time in Galveston, I met an old lady who had been like a second mother to my mother, and she pulled me aside and said "every May 15, Lillian would come to my house and sit at this very table and cry for the baby she gave up for adoption". I can't tell you how much that meant to me.

Oh, that perfect life I would have had if she had kept me? Lillian later became a hardcore alcoholic, and all five of her children were taken away from her about the same time I was taken away from my adoptive mom, Irene. The social services records state that she was the poorest excuse of a mother they had ever seen. The private detective records from when my adoptive dad, Tom, went to court to gain custody of me verified what I already knew, that she, also, was a poor excuse for a mother.

This is an old story for me, and everyone who knows me knows about it. I certainly don't feel sorry for myself, and I always considered it just the luck of the draw. But, even to this day, I can't help but ask the obvious question: Was this just the luck of the draw, or was this fate, was this my destiny? I'm not the least bit religious or spiritual, believing in neither the after life or reincarnation, so I don't have a burning need to know the answer. I just can't help making comparisons between my two mothers.

The sad thing for me about this story is that, despite having had two mothers, I never knew or felt the true love of a mother, and have no memory whatsoever of a motherly bond with either of them. I'm very grateful that I have these photos, and when I look in their eyes I look deeply for those bonds, for some kind of feeling, and it's just not there. It wasn't until I became a mother myself that I knew what the love of a mother was all about.

And so, on this rainy Sunday afternoon in Georgia, I have finished my yearly pilgrimage to my beginnings, and am ready to put it to rest for another year. I don't guess it'll matter if I'm 16 or 61 or 81(I hope!), I will continue to make that journey, even though all other witnesses to the event are gone.
When my daughter has a birthday, we share our memories with her, looking at photos of the pregnancy and when she was a baby, recounting details of her birth and infancy and the absolute joy involved with her arrival. When I'm on my annual journey, it is always alone, and most of the story is third or fouth hand information or conjecture on my part. And that's ok, because I have re-written my life script, and redirected any residual sadness to being the best possible mother I can be to my daughter.


Ginger said...

Back in those days women were treated awful if they were pregnant and unmarried. I'm glad your mother had you and gave you up for adoption, instead of aborting you. I wonder if the pain of giving you up and the embarassement she felt from her father, caused her to start drinking.
My father's mother died in child birth and his dad couldn't take care of him, so he was placed in an orphanage for the first few years of his life. I knew him as a stern father who could never show emotion. I think it was from his up bringing.
It's great that you are able to over come it all and be a wonderful mother to your daughter.

Midlife Jobhunter said...

"And that's ok, because I have re-written my life script, and redirected any residual sadness to being the best possible mother I can be to my daughter."

I bet you are the best possible mother. That garners this a success story. We all have our tales, but having learned from them separates those who do and those who don't. Sounds like you have done just fine. Thanks for sharing this emotional journey.

Wendy said...

Your story makes me really believe that advice that wiser people than myself say, "It isn't what happens in your life, but how you react to it."

And you've reacted wonderfully. I mean, you're a wonderful mother and grandmother, probably more because of, than despite, your past.

And Happy Birthday. Again.

Love you.

Lorna said...

Your post made me cry, because I felt for both your mothers (biological, and adoptive) for what they wanted to do and couldn't. I cannot imagine what it was like for your mother to give you up, and the heartbreak of that memory must have led to her alcoholism, because maybe she never could resolve that in her heart. If she came to that house and cried every year for having given you up, I so totally could see that affecting her. Perhaps it's not so much the event itself but her feelings about it. I feel that she must have thought you were better off at the time, and never suspected the challenges that would face you in the times ahead. Maybe one of the reasons she was a poor excuse of a mother and ended up having her children taken away was because she felt she didn't deserve them, because she gave you up. Who knows. I feel for your stepmother as well, for trying and failing to be a 'good' wife and mother. It is good to see what you have done with your own life after all this, as a wife and Mom. It shows that we can rise like the phoenix out of challenges and come up stronger and on a good path. Sorry, waxing poetic... I'm happy for your happiness. Peace.