Borrowed Ladder

When I was young I had a grandmother who I felt especially fond of. She was my mother’s mother. My mother is sweet and kind and generous to people. Most of her life has been spent volunteering and helping those throughout her life.

Her mother was a very assertive and sensitive woman. Against her father’s will, she attended college and went into real-estate sales. I never really knew her husband, my grandfather. He died when I was only four years old. He was an engineer and had an old desk in their home in Sacramento. Our family lived in Southern California and would travel eight hours to visit her and other family my parents had all over the Sacramento region.

When we came to my grandmother’s home I would spend hours at my grandfather’s desk. Many years later I would use his drafting set as I studied to be a draftsman in high school. I looked up to my grandmother as she would tell stories, and treat me like a prince. My grandfather had left many gadgets and oddly designed walk in closets, nooks and tools I loved to discover each time we visited their home. It was full of secrets and a history I just never fully understood.

It was a time in my life I felt completely free of despair, shadows and things that go bump in the night. When my grandmother died in nineteen eighty-two I was fifteen years old. Her death came as a blow to me, as she had been my age of innocence. I knew in my head that she was part of my adopted family, but still she filled in all the nooks and crannies that completed me in a way that I would not appreciate fully until I was much older.

The house and its contents were emptied, collected, divided amongst family, and otherwise sold. About a hundred years of history felt as if it was just dismantled and blown away like dust from a forgotten table. A life once surrounded by the familiar now utterly spent and nothing but a memory scattered amongst remnants, pictures, and albums that linger to this day.  In her last will and testament she left me her husband’s wedding band that had long ago been worn free of his initials, and in its place had been etched anew with my own.

Over the years that ring went from one finger onto the next smaller finger, until finally it was on my pinkie. Then it hung on a necklace for a few years and finally was lost amongst my own memorable items. Twenty-five years were come and gone. I moved to the east coast and grew older, started a family and became a very busy person. California and the shore I had grown so fond of faded in memory.

Thirty-two years after the passing of my grandmother, I started my search for birth family. A year later I had found my birth father and mother. I met a brother, learned a lot about a sister and a whole herd of family I never knew about living in the south.

Despite witnessing the passing of my aunts, uncles, and grandparent’s year ago, in about a month I will be meeting my birth-grandmother, great aunt, uncle, and many other people I have never seen nor heard from before.

In some ways I had a borrowed ladder that allowed me to live one life with my adopted family, and now I am headed to meet my extended birth family. My birth mother was only nineteen years old when I was born, so she is about a decade younger than my adopted parents as is the rest of her family. Although some are gone, my world is now a blend of the past I lived, and the passed I did not.

There is a small window that has allowed me the opportunity to appear amongst these people and their busy lives to meet them. In my search I tread past two thousand souls departed and paid homage to on my genealogical family tree. Now at long last I will finally reach those who represent the part of my tree of living relatives that now stand where once adopted relatives have long since been gone from my life.

It is odd, refreshing, weirdly nostalgic, and welcome, all at the same time. I do not regret a day I have lived in this life and would not change a single day in exchange for a different path. Yet here I stand on the precipice looking down upon a past rewound and played back for me in the present day. I have followed my heart when my head has warned me of the consequences I did not expect to face; although, have never regretted making.

For a time, I will be stepping back on what might have become a path taken. I will appreciate the visit, the people, and their hospitality. It will be like coming home, and yet not a home I am familiar with, but one that could have been my world entirely. In the midst of many other adoptees and birth families searches, I can only be humbled to have my own answers and share the warmth it might bring to others; as it does to me.