In this time before Thanksgiving, when we gather in families and thank God for our gifts of food and life, I want to share a story about my adopted daughter. When you purchase my debut book, A Bird and the Dragon: Their Love Story: a Memoir you will get to chapter seventeen and read it, most likely feeling sad as you put the book down. The chapter is entitled “May.” She is the daughter that my first husband Harvard and I adopted.
A few weeks ago when May, now in her fifties, received her copy of my book she called me crying hysterically. Between sobs she screamed, “Why did you ever write such horrible things about me?!” And all I could say back was, “What was I supposed to do, lie? Your story as a young person is so sad and I’m sorry that seeing it in print hurts you. I never meant to hurt you.” The outcome of this conversation is that she told me some of the horrible things that happened to her when she ran away from us and the school in Pennsylvania…things she had kept hidden from me, I suppose in an effort to protect me and perhaps to protect her.
This story is the counterbalance to the preceding introduction. May must have been about six or seven and we had never hidden the fact from her that she was first a foster child with us and then we adopted her. We chose to adopt her because her biological mother had only written two letters to her in five years and never managed to come to see her. It is a bit unusual to adopt a foster child but we felt it was important in this instance.
On this particular day, once again, May had done something to get me upset and irate with her. I commanded her to go to her room. She looked up at me with her big eyes and feisty seven-year-old disposition and declared, “I don’t have to do what you tell me. You’re not my mother!” I was dumbfounded for an instant and then I said, “Pull down the neck of your jersey.” She looked at me with a quizzical stare and then did as I asked. As she was pulling her neckline out of shape, I’d pulled down the neck of my turtleneck jersey. “See this mark?” I asked pointing to a mole on my collarbone at the base of my throat. “Look at your collarbone.” She did and glancing back up at me she said in disbelief, “We have the same mole! Okay! Okay!” And off she trotted to do my bidding.
There have been several times in later years when one or the other of us has said, “Remember, we have the same mole!”
So I’m asking you: Is it blood lines that make a family, as my mother taught me, or is it moles on collarbones and love in our hearts? That longing to see a sister, brother, child, aunt or uncle doesn’t follow blood lines, it follows the heart lines. So I’m wishing you this Thanksgiving that you have a chance to enjoy all of your heart lines, be they based on blood or on moles.
Both pictures above were taken when May, as a teen-ager, was home from boarding school on Thanksgiving vacation. You can see she is eating a banana from the Thanksgiving fruit bowl. The second picture shows May with her sister Felicia and the dog Megan, which the family rescued from oldest sister Cora’s bathroom. This second picture shows the beginnings of May’s ability as an “animal whisperer.” Today I tease her that she got this talent and her green thumb from my father, which you read about in last week’s blog.