My mother has been on my mind a lot lately. I lost her to congestive heart failure in 1980 when she was hours shy of her 75th birthday. I was 21. (I’m adopted, which explains the age difference.)
I was lucky to be adopted by this feisty Irish woman. While alive, she regaled me with tales of her marriage to my (step) brother Fred’s father, a lieutenant colonel in the Army. They had a nice home in Helotes, Texas, in the Hill Country north of San Antonio. She lacked for nothing. Her pride and joy was her big black Buick.
After she was widowed in 1957, for some reason known only to her, she decided to take on a baby (me) to raise. (Of course, I didn’t know that I was adopted. I didn’t discover that fact until we were in the car on the way to her funeral. One of my sisters-in-law blurted it out!)
But all during my childhood I was always made to feel loved and cherished. Even when I was being punished, I did not feel abused or unloved. Growing up I had a healthy respect for my mother and the belt that she wielded from time to time. It was a healthy fear, borne of respect (and a sense of not wanting to get a strapping perhaps, too). I didn’t want to disappoint my mother, to see displeasure or disappointment in her eyes.
She was ill most of my life. She had her first heart attack when I was four years old. She also suffered from emphysema. (I was the only one in my third grade class who could spell that word!)
By the time I was grown and had started working we were living on my starter salary as a secretary and her fairly generous (by today’s standards) widow’s stipend from the Army. It paid the bills and I was free to spend one of my twice monthly paychecks on clothes and other silliness.
I also remember having to make a car payment on my first car, a 1976 Honda Civic CVCC. I remember that we financed that car. $2995 and we toted a note! Of course back then, that was a fair amount of money. I think my car payments were $45 a month or something outrageous like that! Manageable on my then-current wage of $1.98 an hour.
We grew to be friends. “Our” theme song was Helen Reddy’s “You and Me Against the World.” The lyrics fit our situation exactly. The day my mother was to be released from the hospital was the day she died. I was devastated to say the least. I walked around in a fog for months afterward. I have only anecdotal evidence of things that I did or said. I must have done them and said them. Other people say I did. And I have no recollection one way or the other.
But eventually the pain of her loss subsided and I was able to brush back tears and remember the good times. The laughs, the giggles, the hugs.
Other things came to light after Mother’s death. And relatives came out of the woodwork. After having so suddenly learning that I was adopted, and the one person who had the answers to my questions was now gone forever, I turned to my family for answers. My first question, naturally, was “What 53-year old woman in her right mind would take an infant to raise?” My brother didn’t know anything. He was surprised I had a birth certificate. Examination of it revealed that the person listed as my mother was 32 years old at the time of my birth. But my mother was 53. And she didn’t have two children, she had three. In the space for father was listed “Unknown.” (Thank Bob “twin birth” was NOT checked!) I was delivered by midwife. The midwife’s name was Ofelia De La Vega. Very strange. Basically, my mother forged a legal document. She put in all the physical details of my birth mother and just popped her own name in as “Mother.”
Well, apparently, my Aunt Helen (Mother’s sister) told me that Thelma had always wanted a little girl. She’d had three boys of her own, plus raised Fred from the age of four. She wanted a little girl. My aunt and brother recall a woman who rented out Mother’s garage apartment. She had two small children. Her husband was overseas. Apparently this woman became pregnant by someone else. Back in 1958, you just didn’t go public with that kind of scandal. So rather than fess up to her husband abroad, the woman quietly had the baby (me) and my mother, who was a midwife by profession, apparently delivered me. Mother had simply switched her name with that of my real mother on the birth certificate. Made sense when you thought about it.
I’ve never been curious about my “real” mother. To me, Thelma is my mother, my real mother, and my only mother.
To this day, I believe she watches over me. In fact, about six months after she died, I had a vivid dream. It was so very lifelike, not surreal like most dreams. We lived in the house we were living in when she died. We had been grocery shopping at the local Skaggs-Albertsons. We came home and put the groceries away. Then I was in my room sitting on the edge of my bed, facing the mirror on my dresser. I was worried about something, I don’t remember what, but definitely something was weighing on my mind.
Next thing I knew, Mother came into the room and sat down next to me. She took my hands and patted them with hers, they were bony and arthritic, but I knew the touch well. She looked at me and said, “Baby doll, everything is going to be alright. You are doing fine and I’m so proud of you.”
I remember in the dream looking at her, puzzled, wanting to say to her “Don’t you realize you’re dead?!” I looked in the mirror. It was just me sitting there by myself. Mother was nowhere in sight.
But I think she’s right. Everything IS going to be alright. Finally.