"Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father." Paul to the persecuted at Philippi (2:5-11)

26 September 2008

And Now for Something Completely Different (moved)

Because I'm tired of obscessing over the Church... here's a little something I've had in the works for a while and thought I'd share here. It's just a little thing about adoption.

Annie Maw: A Foster Mother’s Legacy

Her name was Annie and she was my great-grandmother. I never questioned that relationship. I never even gave it a second thought when, as a child, she told me about being born on 25 December, 1897 and how she never liked having her birthday on Christmas Day because you never got as many gifts as you would if your birthday was any other day. 1897 seemed so far in the past, a whole different century! As a child I had a sense of awe about that. I remember vividly how she told me of the very first time she ever rode in a car, she remembered it in such detail, even so many years later as Alzheimer’s Disease began to take many other more recent details from her memories. I remember how my mother told me of growing up with her Annie Maw and "Daddy" (Annie’s husband, Fritz, who died before I was born) living just up the street. My mother told me that Annie Maw could cook the best biscuits in the world. I learned that my favorite little apron that I liked to wear to play pretend or help in the kitchen was made by my Annie Maw.

I never questioned my relationship with Annie Maw as she grew older and frail and sometimes was unable to recognize us when we went to pick her up from Uncle Jim's house. She had come to live with my Uncle Jim and Aunt Margie as when she could no longer live alone in her apartment (the apartment where all her neighbors came out and greeted us children with stories of a bygone era and everyone there seemed so very old, though I doubt now that they were). At Uncle Jim’s house, she had the bedroom down the hall and she was always happy to see us come to visit her. Sometimes, we took her with us to our house for a longer visit and sometimes she stayed overnight. Nor did I ever question my relationship with Annie Maw when she could no longer live with Uncle Jim and Aunt Margie and instead was moved into a small, stark room in a nursing home. I hated visiting that nursing home, especially as I was a preteen and found it so awkward that Annie Maw sometimes could not remember who we were. I hated visiting, but I always loved her. She was my Annie Maw.

And when she died at the age of eighty-eight, she was still my Annie Maw.

It was never a secret that Annie Maw was of no genetic or legal relation to me at all. And yet I never questioned that she was my real great-grandmother. A young woman in her early thirties, Annie McCampbell did something very few people of her time would ever dream of doing; she adopted a little girl, Hazel. Hazel had had a hard story… her birthmother had died young and her father was an alcoholic. With six children and a drinking problem, my biological great-grandfather could not take care of his family; child protective services came in and took the children. They were scattered; one got married, one joined the military, two were adopted by separate families. And Hazel was adopted by the McCampbells. Only one remained: Jessie.

Adoption was a shameful thing in 1930 and the poverty of the Depression made taking in other people’s kids even less appealing. It was then that Annie and Fritz McCampbell adopted Hazel. But they also did something even more extraordinary. They became permanent foster parents for Hazel’s older sister, Jessie, who legally was too old to be adopted. Jessie was no baby, in fact she was a young woman who had already had a few unfortunate foster placements behind her, but she still needed parents. Annie and Fritz became those parents in all but legal standing. It was Jessie who was my grandmother.

Annie McCampbell was nothing more than a stranger to Jessie for the formative years of my grandmother’s life, but she was more a mother to her, a grandmother to Jessie’s daughter and a great-grandmother to me, than many biological mothers ever even dream of being. She and Fritz parented and mentored Jessie; and when Jessie’s husband left her with a tiny daughter, Annie and Fritz helped her to raise my mother. My mother’s devotion to Annie Maw and "Daddy" was unwavering. My mother never called her own biological father "daddy" but would call Fritz McCampbell by that name, and not just "daddy" but usally she would say "daddy… my daddy." These were her grandparents, no matter what genetic testing or legal documentation might say to the contrary.

And never, as a child nor as an adult have I questioned that.

When other adoptive mothers worry that their children will feel left out of genealogy projects at school and the various names and dates of family history, I think of Annie Maw. If, by mothering Jessie, she became so fully my great-grandmother, then there must be a link that goes back into time as well. Annie’s care for my mother and grandmother changed the course of my family forever. And without that course correction, I probably would never have been born. She is as much a contributor to my being and my being who I am as any biological relative. And so I have to conclude that it is not only genetic code that makes a great-grandmother. Something more is vital here, it is the life lived and the stories we pass to our children.

And so I have another treasure in my family tree, Annie Maw, who I hand down to my own children, the ones born to me and the one adopted into our family. I hope my sons will see most clearly that Annie Maw is their "real" great-great-grandmother. She was the one that sparked a passion for adoption in three generations of women in my family. And so she has had her touch on my children’s life, though she died so long before they were born. She has changed their destiny forever, as well. She has contributed to their being and being who they are. And nobody can ever question that.

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