February 1st, 1979, had been one of those hectic days that a mother/housewife experiences more often than she’d wish. It was cold and cloudy, I was babysitting for an active one year old in addition to my four year old, and they had been at each other’s throats for hours. By 4 o’clock my head was throbbing, my neck was killing me, my nerves were shot, the house was a disaster, and dinner was still a mystery. I had been staring at some of my search papers, at many of my dead ends, and had half convinced myself that the whole thing was probably hopeless. At about 4:30 the phone rang.
“My name is Helen Caballero, and I’m calling from Galveston, Texas. My aunt passed along to me a letter she received from you concerning the descendants of Dennis and Maria Crawley.”
I was dumbstruck. My body started shaking. Mouth went dry. Bees buzzing in ears. Mind blank. After what seemed an eternity, I managed to begin a conversation. Yes, she was a daughter of Rhoda and Martin Crawley. She had a sister named Lillian and a brother named Edward. Lillian had been born on December 29, 1928, but had died in July 1971.
Lillian, born December 29, 1928. Lillian, died July 1971. Lillian, my mother. I had prepared myself for the possibility that I’d never find her. I had prepared myself for the possibility that she wouldn’t want me in her life. I had even prepared myself for the possibility that she’d be dead. Or so I thought, until it became a fact.
Somehow, I managed to say “may I be frank with you?” “You certainly may.” “I was born on May 15, 1948, in Chicago, and the name I was given way Linda Irene ...”. Before I finished, Helen yelled “oh my God, you’re Lillian’s oldest daughter!”
The next few minutes of the phone conversation were filled with exclamations, tears, disbelief, exchanging of stories. I still couldn’t believe my mother was dead - but my Aunt Helen couldn’t believe that I was alive! They had apparently contacted the orphanage after my mother had returned to her family, and had been told that I had died in a fire. Lillian eventually married and gave birth to two children, then later to three others by different men. She, like my adoptive mother, had a drinking problem, and all of the children had been taken away from her at almost the same time that I was taken away from my adoptive mother for the same reason.
The news that I had two sisters and three brothers was more than I had hoped for in regard to siblings, but didn’t quite make up for the loss of my mother at that moment. Having been raised an only child, I had always dreamed of having brothers and sisters somewhere, so half of that dream had come true. But half of my dream was shattered - the idealized version of a mother that I had envisioned in my youth had instead been an alcoholic and an abusive mother who had died young of cirrhosis of the liver, destitute and lonely.
When my first conversation with Aunt Helen ended, I was left both drained and elated. One of my brothers was living with her, and it was arranged for me to call back that night to talk to him. In the meantime, I had to digest all that had been said. To know that I had found my family thirty years after my birth, and after only a five month search, was almost more than I could believe. I knew that I would have to actually see and touch them before I truly believed it.
The most difficult thing to accept was that my mother was dead. I cried for her that night as if she had just died that day, which for me she had. I mourned her as if I’d known her and loved her all my life, and mourned the fact that I would never be able to know her. This went on for several days, until one night I had a dream that ended my grief. In the dream, I was visiting her grave and talking to her, telling her about my search and how I’d found Aunt Helen and the other kids. I told her “Lillian, you let me down twice in my life. First you gave me away after I was born, for which I can forgive you and maybe even thank you. Then you died before I had a chance to find you, to know you, to know a mother’s love. But you left me a family, an aunt and brothers and sisters and cousins, and for that I’ll be forever grateful”. As I walked away from the grave in my dream, I woke up with tears really streaming down my face, and cried the last tears for the lady who had given me life.
Lillian’s legacy to me was a family. Lillian’s legacy to life was six emotionally scarred children. My life and the life of each of her other children eerily paralleled each other in various ways. As their stories became know to me, I couldn’t help but wonder about fate, genes, life patterns. (to be continued...Part 6 here)
6 years ago