By Dana Gornall
I have a patchwork quilt kind of family.
While yes, I know most everyone does—families tend to contain varying degrees of personality types in them—but mine is quite literally a patchwork quilt.
There is a part of me that is envious of the people who have ancestry.com accounts and can trace their lineage back to the Mayflower, early Japan or the Druids of England, but for me there are only stories and photo albums of those that have become my family through this hand crafted paper chain of people.
It’s kind of tricky when my kids ask me about their nationality. Which one do I give them?
There is the adoption line that is not really anywhere near their blood line, there is the drop of information I have about my biological origins and then of course there is their father’s heritage, which is always the safest bet to start with.
You see, my family has a spotted line of adoptions, foster kids and friends that have become family.
My mother was adopted by her father after her mother’s first marriage came to a tragic end. My oldest brother—their first born—is their biological child, and then along came me.
I don’t know very much about my “first family,” as stated by the thin, pink booklet given to me from the adoption agency. For years I imagined stories based on the short paragraphs of information I drew from it. I had both of my parents’ ages set in my head (my mother was 23 and my father was 25), and their hobbies (my mother liked music and my father liked to draw), but in reality I later realized that none of that was in this booklet and had been conjured up in my own mind.
The little bit of information I have is that I have Scottish heritage, my mother was “intelligent and kind” and my father had brown eyes (mine are blue).
From an early age I knew I was adopted. People ask me when I was first told and if I was angry or upset, but the truth is that I have no memory of being told—just always knowing.
I thank my parents for this. It would have been especially jarring to believe one thing and have the rug pulled out from under my feet by being told another. In this way, I was never upset or hurt, just knew that I had a “first family,” and then a second. And the second is the one that raised me.
I’ve been asked if I wonder, if I am curious, if I want to know the people who brought me into this world. My answer has changed, depending on when the question was asked and whom was asking at the time. The truth is that yes, I am curious. It’s not an every day, maddening, need to know kind of desire that torments my mind, but rather an aching pinhole that every so often lets a point of light shine through on very dark nights.
My birthday rolls around and I wonder if she remembers.
When my children were born, I wondered if she wondered if I had become a mother too. Do I have siblings, or half siblings somewhere out in this great big world? Would I know them if I passed them on the street? If so, did she think of me when those babies wiggled and turned inside her belly and did she ever regret the choice she made to carry me, birth me and leave me in the hands of others?
I don’t feel lost or unmatched in my family—not anymore than anyone else would, I suppose. The story could be spun any number of ways, but in the end (or at least so far) I have been and am loved.
Later on, my parents made the decision to open their home up again to children. A kind lady visited our house and looked through all of our rooms and sat down at our kitchen table, where she asked lots of questions. I knew she was there to see if we had a good home—good enough for children that needed good homes. I sat fidgeting in the brass backed, kitchen chair, my legs sticking to the cold vinyl seat covering.
“Is there anything a little brother or sister would do that would make you very upset and not want them anymore,” she asked me while jotting down notes on a yellow legal pad.
I sat and I thought. “I have music boxes,” I said, “and I guess I would be kind of mad if they broke one of them.”
It was true, I had many music boxes that had been collected for me since my first birthday. They dotted all of my shelves and sat carefully in broken lines here and there in my room. They were fragile—some whimsical and bright while others were intricately designed and beautiful. Each was different and unique, one even on wheels crafted as a circus cage that had a wooden lion inside and played a tinkling, chiming circus song.
“I see,” the lady said to me nodding, “I understand how that would be upsetting to have a little brother or sister break something of yours that is very special.”
And that’s when a kind of unbelievable thing happened. Sitting there at our kitchen table, looking at the lady with yellow legal pad and the skin on the backs of my thighs sticking to the vinyl covered seat, we heard a crash. It was only the three of us in the house—my mom, the lady and me—and so we wondered what had happened. Getting up, I went to where the sound had come from, my room. The circus cage music box, the one on wheels, had rolled off of my shelf an crashed to the ground, breaking the wheels right off.
“Hmm, that’s weird,” I said shrugging. And the lady smiled.
Soon after, we had a little girl in our house that became my sister for awhile. I took pictures of her with a cheap camera I had at the time, and read books to her and hoped she would stay, but she didn’t. And then a little boy came to our house and he was fearful of things that ordinary children shouldn’t be fearful of, like the bathtub and being alone for more than a few minutes.
And our hearts grew and grew during this time, like the kind of growing that feels good and hurts at the same time.
So my parents adopted the boy that was fearful of things that ordinary children shouldn’t be fearful of, and I had an official little brother to annoy me, by coming into my room at all the wrong times and saying embarrassing things in front of all of my friends. And we were stitched together then, in patches.
As the years went by, I found another family to be a part of and we married. I soon had a baby that wiggled and turned inside of my own belly and then later another. The family tree splintered off and the branches had grown—even the ones that had been stitched together.
And that is when the thing—the awful and tragic thing—happened. Someone in my new family had died and left behind a little girl with big blue eyes and an even bigger (yet somewhat broken) heart. She was small for her age, a bit hyper, intelligent and kind. And so our family grew again (the kind that of growing that feels good and hurts at the same time), stitching together yet another piece of it.
Looking back at the people that have been sewn into my life and into my heart, I can see so many things, so many faces and hands and hearts that have been broken and put back together again.
It is not a straight line and sometimes has been ripped back open and sewn back together, each thread lovingly pulled tightly against the other. It is a handcrafted paper chain of people, all coming from other places and homes and it is perfectly and imperfectly beautiful all the same.
I have a patchwork quilt kind of family, and while yes, I know that most everyone does, this one is mine.
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