I remember the ride in the car and I remember wondering where we would be going in the middle of the day on a school day. I remember asking about our destination and being told that I’d see when we got there. Jane was with us, my parents, Jane and me.
In the counselor’s small office I sat on a chair between my mother and Jane. My father didn’t come up in the elevator with us.
He stayed downstairs.
The counselor said “Katy, I understand you have some questions about being adopted.”
All kinds of thoughts were going through my head at that moment. The big question was if they had brought me here because they were giving me back to the orphanage. Seriously folks, this is not the way to tell a kid about their birth parents!! I was terrified!
Then the counselor lowered the boom and told me that Jane was my mother. I looked from one woman to the other, the counselor, my mother and then at Jane. Jane was beaming with pride. My mother was staring straight ahead, stoically. She looked angry, but I wasn’t sure why. I wondered if I had done something wrong.
“Do you have any questions about this Katy?” the counselor asked me.
I was eight years old and not even sure where babies came from! This whole concept that Jane was my mother was impossible! How could my sister be my mother?! Did these people think I was totally stupid?!
I told the counselor that Jane was my sister.
Then I got up from my chair and walked to the window to look for my Daddy. I was wishing he would come up there and get me. This was a mistake. I wasn’t supposed to be here and I was betting he knew that. I saw him standing on the corner of the street below. He was leaning against a light post, smoking his pipe. He wasn’t looking up, but I willed him with all my heart to look up and then to come running to rescue me. Like he did when Jane had a “spell”.
But he never looked up at the window where I stood watching him, from a room full of women that were trying to make me believe something that I knew in my heart couldn’t be true.
I remember going back and crawling into my chair. I remember being incredibly confused about why they were doing this to me and I had no idea what was expected of me. “Am I supposed to call you mama now?” I asked Jane. Jane didn’t answer me, but looked at my mother instead. My mother was still staring straight ahead. Jane looked at the counselor and the counselor smiled at her. Jane look confused too. I asked again “Do I have to call you mama now?”
I did not understand. If I called Jane, Mama, then who was this angry woman sitting next to me that I had been calling mama all along? The fact that she was my grandmother never occurred to me. The fact that the man downstairs was my grandfather was not registering. Were he and Jane my parents? How could that be? How had that happened? And who was this angry woman sitting next to me? Who had I been calling mama all this time?
Did I have questions?! You bet your sweet ass I had questions!
“Is that my Daddy out there?” and I pointed to the window.
Now it was the counselor’s turn to look confused because she had no idea who I was talking about, but my grandmother did and she exploded “Oh for heaven’s sake! Dellie would never have relations with his own daughter!” My eight year old brain was busy processing away. Re-lay-shuns? Wonder what that word means? Re-lay-shuns….But I knew better than to start asking questions right at the moment because Granny was on the warpath. I decided I would look that word up in the big Webster’s Dictionary when I got back home…if I got to go back home.
To open my mouth right then probably would have gotten me a smack. My grandmother was a notorious slapper. She never slapped me hard enough to knock me off balance, or to leave a handprint. She had a ladylike slap, kind of like what a gentleman would do when he slapped you on the cheek with his glove to challenge you to a duel.
It was the humiliation she was after. Slapping someone in the face is all about humiliation.
She had adjusted her hat, stood up, buttoned her coat and was holding her pocketbook like it was a weapon. She said her goodbyes to the counselor, who was probably feeling like she had done a very bad job. I was thinking this was great! I had been given a stay of execution because today was not going to be the day I’d be sent back to the orphanage! We were going back home!
I trailed after her to the elevator and Jane followed me. Not a word was spoken on the ride down to the first floor. We walked to the car and I crawled in the back seat with Jane. Not a word was spoken on the ride home either.
My grandfather concentrated on his driving, which was actually pretty bad. He liked to come to a dead stop by standing on the brakes and when it was his turn to go, he liked to punch the accelerator. In the age of no seat belts, this could end up giving you perpetual whiplash if you weren’t used to it.
My grandmother sat in the front seat with him, on her side. She sat ramrod straight and was holding her pocketbook in her lap by the handle using both hands. It always reminds me of a little old widowed Italian lady that has her life savings sewn into the lining of her handbag and will hold onto that purse and carry it with her everywhere so no one can get into it.
Jane sat in the backseat with me with her body turned so she could stare at me. I looked up at her once and saw the expression on her face. It was one I recognized. Her face was contorted into this look like she couldn’t decide if she wanted to smile, or start crying. I’m sure she was pretty upset, but I knew better than to say anything to her because I had no idea which edge she was going to fall off of. If she had a seizure in the car and we had to pull over to get her under control, I would get blamed. Then I’d be in BIG trouble.
So I studied the back of my grandmother’s hat. If I could have made the bird with the fake feathers on the back of that straw hat fly that day, I sure would have tried to.
In another era, I might have been sitting back there wondering if I had been abducted by alien pod people.
Who were these people I was riding in the car with?
It was the decade of free love! What Jane had done was mild compared to what was happening all over the world at the time. Woodstock was going on that year! Why was she held to a standard from an era long in the past? Was my family hopelessly stuck in the 50’s? Was my grandmother ever going to stop shaming her and me for breathing the same air she did?
When we arrived home Jane whispered to me that I could call her Mama if I wanted to.
I stared at her.
My grandfather hugged me and said I would always be his baby girl.
My grandmother was busy removing the hat pin from her hat and she announced “I don’t want to hear anymore about this today!”
And I went to my room lugging the big Webster’s Dictionary with me.
Talk about mixed messages! There wasn’t a word in the big Webster’s Dictionary that could ever define this moment in my life because the only thing you could call this was Clusterfuck!
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