I buried my Mother yesterday.
Those that know me might have some confusion at that statement. “Wait just a minute. Your Mom died three years ago.” Yep, that is correct.
Or, they might be creeped out, thinking that we either just now buried Mom after three years of waiting, or the poor woman was exhumed and re-interred.
None of the above would be correct.
I was adopted into the best family an adoptee could hope for. I have frequently commented that I was adopted into the Cleaver household, making reference to the TV show, “Leave it to Beaver.” I was raised well, given an education, and loved my entire life. Unfortunately, my Dad (John Peters) died in 2000, my Mom (Myrtle Dillaman Peters) in 2011, and my only sister (JoAnne Peters) this year. Weird to think I’m an orphan.
But the story doesn’t end there. Since my youth, I have known I was adopted. I guess Pop knew of other adopted kids that learned of their adoption from other people when they were teens or later, and had a bitter time of the knowledge. He was determined that would not be the case for me. I remember he called me upstairs and sat me down and told me of my adoption. How when a baby is born, the parents love the child that was given to them, but they didn’t know anything about the baby before the baby was born. But sometimes, a family gets to choose their baby, and that’s what he and Mom did with me. They were lucky enough to have the opportunity to choose a baby to love as their own, and that was me.
I guess the words sunk in, because I recall them fifty-some years later. At the time, I just remember thinking that somehow this must be important to Dad, because he’s being so serious, but for me, he had interrupted me in the middle of a TV show, and could I please get back to “Lassie?”
Mom and Dad could have easily shut out all discussion or speculation of my birth Mom, but they did not. My entire life they made sure I honored her, that she was a good woman who had been in difficult circumstances, and did the best for her baby that she knew how to do. Bit by bit, piece by piece over the years, I put together a lot of the story. It had been a private adoption. My bio Mom had personally contacted Mom and Dad, asking them to adopt her child when born. Mom and Dad ultimately said yes. I was born in Spencer Hospital in Meadville, six weeks premature, and with a blockage between my stomach and small intestine that very nearly ended the story before it barely had begun. That at about three days old, a Nun ran down the hall to my parents, and with joy was repeating over and over, “He had a bowel movement! He had a bowel movement!” And that at five days old, my birth mother walked down the hall, put me in my adoptive mother’s arms, hugged my Mom, turned, and walked away.
My biological mother, Wilma Angerer, had been previously married and lived in Ohio as Wilma Scranton. She had six children, Barb, Tim, Mike, Bob, and most recently, twins, Bonnie and Becky. Her husband was a truck driver by trade, and although the details are a bit sketchy, the bare facts were that he was in an accident, and killed as a result. Wilma, left without a husband and with six kids, moved back to Pennsylvania to the family farm with her folks. Grief works its way through different people in different ways, and Wilma eventually found comfort for a time in the arms of another man. When she became pregnant, it became apparent to her that the man was a cad, and he was basically dismissed from her life. However, she was in a predicament. Pregnant, without a husband, and caring for six kids, the youngest three (including a set of twins) in diapers. It turns out that my folks lived a short distance from her, just a short walk through the woods. Wilma approached John and Myrtle with her dilemma, and my adoption by them was the solution.
As I grew older, my parents occasionally advised me that if I wanted to look up my bio Mom, that I should think about doing it, as “She wasn’t getting any younger.” (Really, Mom and Dad? I wasn’t sure that’s how it works, but thanks…) I happened to see in the newspaper once that pre-adoption birth certificates were available for my age range, but not for much longer. I sent away, paid the costs involved, and received the certificate in the mail. I didn’t open it for some time, but I had it by, for when I was ready.
I’m not very skilled at remembering ages, dates, and so forth, but my wife assures me that it was a little over seventeen years ago that I decided that I needed to find my bio family. I called and talked to my parents, advising them that I was ready to meet my birth Mom. After a brief search, they got me her address, and I wrote to her, explaining the situation, and where I was. I remember the stress and fear that accompanied that letter: what if she rejected me; what if she didn’t want anything to do with me? I needn’t have worried, that was far from the case. She wrote back, and we corresponded a couple of times before we were able to meet. I was a secret that she had carried for forty years. She said that she had to “explain a few things to her family,” and after that, we met. Beth and I drove to her small home in western PA, and for the first time in forty years, I saw the woman who had carried me and bore me, and had the courage to let me go when she knew she couldn’t care for me as she wanted. After that, she wanted me to meet my brothers and sisters (I have brothers and sisters?) and extended family, and it was arranged. Beth and I drove to the fire hall, and met her family (MY family!). My parents were also invited, and it was with much fear and trepidation that we got together. It was a good meeting, and after, my Dad said (one of those things I treasure) that he watched me interact with my biological family, and he was proud of me.
Over the years, we got together with my bio when we could, and learned some of the family history. We have met some family that are more than family; they are friends, and folks I we would hang around even if not related. The fact that we are, just makes it better. There are many that I want to get to know better if time permits.
But the problem with time is that it continues to pass (Really, Clark? Nobody knew that’s how it works, but thanks…). Nobody gets younger, and last summer we got together with the Scranton/Surrrarrer clan, with the matriarch, Wilma, present for the last time. She knew then that she was slowing down, and started her preparations then. Since then the slow-down spiral picked up its pace, and five days ago, my Mother left this plain for the promise of a better eternity.
Yesterday, on a beautiful, chilly October day, we laid our mother, our sister, aunt, and grandmother to rest. I reflected a lot yesterday, amid tears and pain, comfort and emotions. I wished that I had more time with her, to really get to know her. In my experience, life and distance are do not cooperative toward that end, and I will carry this regret with me the rest of my life. Of course, that isn’t the only regret, I will just add that to the pile, I guess.
I am proud of my adoptive family, proud to be a Peters/Dillaman. My cousins are precious to me, and I am grateful for their friendship, and the memories we share. I am a product of the nurture I received from my parents and extended family.
And I am proud of my biological family, proud to be a Scranton/Surrarrer. With all the drama, with all the emotion, this is the stock from which I came. This mix of chromosomes and genes are part of what makes me who I am. I have my mother’s ears. I have my Uncle’s smile. My oldest sister and I have the exact same eyes. I have my brothers’ temper. I am the product of a nature, a lineage that is good, is bad, and simply is what it is.
I buried my mother yesterday. This woman carried and bore me, and with regret and pain, give me up to be raised by the best family I could have asked for. For my whole life, my biological Mother never demanded a thing from me, and waited until I was ready to develop a relationship, waited for me to see her, allowed me to set the pace of the times we were together, loved me, loved my wife and my family. She gave me a family, and friends that I treasure.
I have visions of both of my mothers meeting and hugging, thanking each other, one thanking the other for raising her son in such a wonderful home, and then in turn the other thanking the first for giving up her son so their family could have a son to treasure the rest of their lives.
Most people love their families, and are proud to associate with them. I am luckier than most. I have two families of which I am proud. Proud to belong, proud to share. One family I get to share a history memories. The other I get to share blood. I AM a Peters/Dillaman. I AM a Scranton/Surrarrer. And it is good.
Rest well, beautiful woman. Rest well, my Mother. You were proud, you were strong. You faced hardships and pushed through them, raising the strongest bunch of hard-headed hill folk that I have ever known, and I am PROUD to be one of them, just as hard-headed, just as hill. You done good, you fought the good fight, and you have earned your rest. But you are not gone, and will not be forgotten. A part of you lives in me, in my brothers and sisters, in our kids and in theirs. I miss you, and I mourn not for you, but for us. Vaya con Dios, mi Madre. Walk with God. I love you.
“I am the grandson of Oscar, the spitting image of Wilma my mother, and when nighttime comes my Daddy John is still my biggest fan. That’s who I am.” Jessica Andrews here: http://youtu.be/Jd9zYKLepCw