The Summer of 1962

My  mother, who was passing me in the hallway in the morning and at night, might have a reason for being out of touch with my feelings and moods.  She was always busy, always distracted, but lately had seemed even more so.  She had a lot on her plate at work always, heart breaking stories of single women who were struggling to make it by suing for child support, or even worse, the stories where the mothers simply didn't care about anyone but themselves and screwing as many people (literally and figuratively) along the way to get what they wanted. 

But my mother was home one Saturday afternoon in late winter that year, and we set about preparing a Saturday evening meal for my sister, her friend B and my brother if he stumbled home in time.  And as we prepared the roast beef and peeled the potatoes for mashing, she dropped the bombshell that explained a great deal about her recent distractedness.

My mother was helping B with her pregnancy, because when she faced a similar situation in her lifetime, her parents did not. 

I sat silently and encouraged my mother to tell me the story with small nods and whispers. 

My mother had been twenty one and working as a lifeguard at a local pool in New Jersey while she was home from college that year.  She was tan and fitter than she'd ever been in her life.  She and my father had started dating, but were on a break that summer while he did summer stock theater.  She met an older man and they'd started an affair.  She found out later that he was married, and she found out later than that about her pregnancy.  The year was 1961. 

In 1961, a twenty one year old single girl in college did not spend a great deal of time wondering what to do next.  You either were sent away to a home for unwed mothers to have your baby in secret, or you married the guy quickly.  The third, darker option was one that no one talked about and one my mother never considered.  And since the gentleman in question was married and had no intention of leaving his wife, that left only one option.

My mother didn't judge her parents for sending her away to the Crittenden Home in Atlantic City in summer of 1962.  That is what middle class parents did for their girls back then if they cared.  And so my mother spent several months there, waiting.  She told me they prepared the girls for the births, and for the adoptions that were inevitably to follow.  She told me that she had to take care of her son for three days before relinquishing him to his adoptive parents.  She was sure it was their idea of punishment for a sin, but she told me that she was grateful for the three days she was able to spend with her boy that she called "Patrick". 

And then she gave him away.  She told me she'd thought about him every day ever since.  I asked her if she regretted it, if she thought she'd made the right choice or not. 

"It was absolutely the right choice.  The adoptive parents were able to do things for him I'd never have been able to.  My only criteria was that they had to have above average intelligence, and that they had to value education as a top priority.   I wanted him to have more than I could ever give to him," she told me confidently, but sadly.  "That doesn't mean I don't miss him, or that if times had been different or circumstances had been different that I might have made a different choice.  But that was the best choice available to both of us then, and so that's what I did for him.  And myself."

I looked at my mother with awe, and thought quietly about the brother I had never met.

 

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This blog posting is featured on my personal blog, "My Former Life", in which I recount memories from my first forty years going into my next forty.   I will be telling more of the story, which is intertwined with several others from this time period and later in my life, as the weeks progress.  If any of the information above clicks with your own adoptive story, please contact me. 

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