Links to the posts on the search for my birth family in chronological order are below.
I’m looking through the (copious!) notes I took while visiting my coulda been land and it’s daunting. Where to begin continuing this recount?
Last I left you I had just arrived in Shreveport, had just met my birth sister Katherine for the first time and was feeling warm and cozy in my princess who couldn’t feel the pea bed. Waking up the next morning I crept along the corridor, as Mom had stuff to do and had absented herself for a couple of hours, and saw the house in the light of day for the first time.
I had woken to the sound of Mom's scuffle in her slippers back and forth down the hall after she’d prepared her husband’s coffee and brought it back into their room and Randolph’s appreciative deep bass - the most Southern of all my relatives- or at least any idea I’ve garnered of the South through literature and film... he’s so lovely, so slow-talkin', so sweet. Lighting fires for us in each room like that’s his job. Making a joke each time he crosses my path. Anyway, Gracious oughta be my mom’s middle name. The time alone allowed me to become acclimated and I relished the opportunity to explore her world.
We spent the rest of my trip joined at the hip. After a long meandering walk through the quiet neighborhood, which was filled with the most glorious pecan trees, resplendent and welcoming; the very picture of fall- echoing my Thanks Giving...
...later that day, with a neighborly stop to check in on my mother Shirley’s sick acquaintance, I again took stock of the Southernness of it all. There was a wall of heat on entering the house that announced,
“Old person living within.”
“We’re just passing by for a moment to see how your mom is getting on.” Mom said, poised on the doorstep, as a woman about my age, tired, surprised, and dressed down in sweatpants and t-shirt opened the door giving us a cheerful smile, but after an invitation to sit in the kitchen and an offer of something to drink she added, “I won’t say no to a cold glass of water.”
That delicate social dance continued with Shirley inquiring about her friend's health and family members, one by one, then sweetly bragging on me- My daughter! She lives in Italy, speaks four languages.
This 89-year-old woman lives with her daughter who acts as her caregiver. Both were fascinating and so very lovely. The old woman was beautiful- thin short white plaits. Regal despite her small stature and halting gait. Courteous and clearly happy to have some visitors. She and her daughter shared the same light skin and enormous, expressive eyes. As we accepted their hospitality and drank ice-filled glasses of water while listening to them speak on their lives in Shreveport, and for my benefit, what it was like growing up there- it felt like I was being taught by my mother how to be. I continued to be struck by the, well, the feeling of being amongst my people. The déjà vu of what might have been. My mother’s graciousness and care for these women. The easy and instant black sisterhood as we swapped stories.
As the days passed we fell into a routine, I would protest that I needed to drink my protein shake at breakfast, Mom would laugh and, though she eats like a bird, she'd make me eggs, grits, blueberry pancakes, and bacon instead as I made a list for the day ahead:
1. Shopping for the upcoming road trip to Tennessee which we would undertake in a van with my sister Rhonda, her husband Ivry and her sons Chris and Ryan (My nephews! Not having children myself it seems incredible that I have fully grown nephews with children of their own!) where we would meet many more of my relatives, Still amazing to contemplate- my very own blood relatives. Wonderful to watch Shirley during these errands; she's a great shopper with an eye out for a deal always.
2. Visit the house she grew up in.
3. Visit the house where she and Randolph raised my siblings.
4. Visit my recently deceased grandmother Laura Berenice White Small’s house.
5. Get someone in to see about the pesky WiFi.
6. Phone calls to my aunties and sisters (EVERY day! Several times!) to take care of business. Make no mistake, Shirley is not only sweetness and light. She's got a shrewd business head on her shoulders, a steel inner core and a wickedly funny sense of humor.
7. Take Randolph’s dog Molly to be groomed.
8. Get kitty Bella (who I had named from Italy when Mom told me that she had shown up at the house one day and staked her claim.) some kitty treats and begin training her to come to Mom’s call.
9. Teach my, very technologically savvy, mother new tricks for her smartphone use. “Ooo that’s so cute!” she exclaimed at my inordinate affection for GIFs, “Teach me!”, “So useful keeping a list on your phone, can you teach me?”, “How do I cancel Facebook FOREVER, please PLEASE teach me!”
10. Meet her best friend.
11. Make copies of family photos.
Grandmother, Mom and her sisters. Silver, Sammy, Selber, Shirley, Stella, Laura Berenice White Small
As we ran around completing these tasks and more we kept up a continuous dialogue that ran from the mundane to the profound. I learned so much about her childhood, her life as mother and wife, her joys, her worries. It seemed to me as the days flew by that the pronouncement of love for me that my mother had bestowed from our first contact was being fleshed out by the intimacy of these days. Days of cooking together, sharing a bathroom, seeing her in her curlers and in the bath, lying together side by side in that princess bed watching Christmas movies. Driving Shreveport's streets and confiding in one another. Showing some of our weaknesses. Whatever doubt I may have harbored over the length of my stay was soon dispelled as we realized that we did not have ENOUGH time to do all we wanted, to tell the stories of our lives, to simply learn each other. I admit to being previously, if not skeptical, a bit wary of effusive claims on me by these blood relatives who I did not know, but spending time with them, the intimacy of that time, the luxury of sharing it, brought home how true that love is and how deeply it runs. Love is in the details.
Still so much more to come- like meeting sisters Rhonda and Cassandra for the first time-as well as that road trip to Tennessee ;) please do stay tuned!