As many of you know, I had an unexpected, exhilarating reunion with two sisters recently -- a meeting that gave all of us many hours to review and reflect upon our respective lives, mine as an adopted child and theirs as the daughters growing up with my original mother. As I pulled out photos and mementoes of my life growing up, I found myself thinking often about my a-parents' special qualities and the security of love I always felt in our home.
That's my brother and me dressing up cowboy style in our backyard!
I knew that my mother loved me fiercely from a very young age -- I think I was in kindergarten crossing the street with her hand-in-hand when she happened to overhear a member of the safety patrol call me "Bucky." (I would later need several years of corrective braces to straighten my protruding teeth!) She really let that kid have it, and I'll never forget it. I knew that she always had my back!
My a-mother on her wedding day in 1938
My father was the outdoor guy, the adventurer, always thinking about what fun activity we might try next. He loved boats, and he loved the seashore. He taught me how to sail, how to body surf, and how to water ski. He was a whiz on skis himself -- had little trick skis on which he could perform 360 degree turns and on which he could ski backwards. I never did master those tricks, although I did become a proficient slalom skier and always loved it.
Besides teaching me how to ski, my dad taught every one of my friends who showed the slightest interest. He would bring that boat around time after time, patiently instructing the student to keep the arms straight, heels down and knees together. He was full of life, and he passed that enthusiasm on to all of us. When we could, my husband and I bought a little ski boat, and we spent countless hours teaching our kids and their friends to water ski. Now my daughter and son-in-law are taking a look at day boats. The outdoor traditions my dad began live on!
My dad and my brother by Barnegat Bay off Long Beach Island
My mother lived quite a few more years than my dad, and she gave us all a great gift -- she showed us by example how to age gracefully. I think of her so often now as I'm facing a serious health challenge myself. When my mom turned 80 -- she lived until age 89 -- I wrote her a Christmas letter listing the qualities I most admired about her, and they are the qualities, I think, that make for a happy life. Here are some of those traits I always cherished in her:
Her determination to keep forging ahead: My mom had three hip operations in two years and recuperated in a hospital bed in my living room all three times, cheerfully and in a determined manner. She suffered a stroke in her 80s, but through sheer determination and willpower, managed to recuperate in time to attend both of my daughters' weddings and preside as the proud matriarch of the family!
Her special gift for setting tables and adding just the right touch of style: My mother always set a beautiful dinner table, decorated with flower arrangements and illuminated by candles. She also helped us sell our first house in a day! She arranged flowers, helped me to reorganize closets, and delivered sweet-smelling potpourri. The house never looked more beautiful.
Her sense of humor: My mother loved to laugh, and her laugh was infectious. She spent years in her later life prefacing every conversation with, "When I go to Medford Leas," ... (a continuing-care community) even though she was someone who loved her home and resisted change mightily. After a while, we all just laughed when she said it, and she laughed right along with us. She always enjoyed poking fun at herself.
Her genuine interest in everything about her family: We could never have asked for a mother more interested in her children, their families and her grandchildren. She reveled in every achievement, saved every note, commemorated every occasion. She bragged about the kids' impressive grade point averages and sports achievements, and she helped to finance my daughter's medical school expenses.
Her interest in people of all ages: Unlike many grandmothers, my mother often invited other young mothers on the street over for coffee, and enjoyed hearing all about their challenges with the schools and their young children. She was a people person, interested in others, so people always enjoyed being around her.
Her sunny outlook on life and appreciation for her family, friends, fine food, beautiful gardens and panoramic views: It is a special gift to be able to see and appreciate beauty wherever you are. My mother had that gift.
My life review as an adopted person has been so fulfilling because I am able to fill in all the blanks now. Legal and cultural barriers to the truth of our histories remain, but I was able to circumvent them and find two sisters who could not have been more loving and helpful. I love these sisters dearly, and I love my original mother too, even though she was unable to do more than say over the phone, "I love you in my heart." She has had her hurts, and she has her limitations. And how I cherish my a-parents, who have passed on to me a zest for life and a legacy of love that I am proud and honored to pass on to my own children and grandchildren.