There once was a very rebellious 17 year old teenage girl, living on a dairy farm in rural Aylmer Ontario. She was a clever gal, and set to graduate early from high school. About 5’3”, shoulder length brown hair, slim build and sparkling blue eyes, she was a catch. Not unusual for her age, she was also rebellious. The more her parents tried to reign her in, the more determined she was to be independent. The world was much bigger than the hamlet in which she was born and she wanted more out of life – much more.
After getting caught sneaking out her bedroom window to meet up with friends yet again, her parents decided desperate measures were required. To teach her a lesson and perhaps save her from herself, she would be sent to live with her grandmother north of Springfield, where access to trouble was less available.
Teens however can be creative and counter measures are often planned carefully and secretly amongst close friends to circumvent the “archaic” parental guidelines of the day. There was of course no social media. Messages were delivered via party lines where prying ears could listen in easily, thwarting any well laid subterfuge. An “instant” message could take over a week to be delivered by the post office – thus the endearing term “snail mail”.
To this rebellious young lady rules were only a suggestion, not a mandate. Rules would be bent to her will. Having been forced to leave her parents home and the 2 friends she cherished most, no one would stop their friendship from continuing to blossom. The 3 of them had been thick as thieves since they were small. This would simply be another challenge.
As it turned out, the 3 young ladies did find a way to continue to see each other. These were the early days of the 2nd World War and Springfield had a military training compound for the Canadian Airforce. In this young lady’s recollection, “the war didn’t really mean much to us, only that there were lots of parties”. Young men were shepherded in and out of the base on a regular basis. Entertainment of course needed to be provided to keep the troops happy and engaged.
Every Saturday night the military base engaged a variety of local live bands to provide entertainment. Young women from the area, soon began to flock to the site. What could be more exciting than a captive group of young potential heroes, all in uniform preparing to save the world from Naziism!
This confluence of circumstances landed the 3 friends at the military base on one such early summer Saturday night in 1941. The audacious teen was soon swooning over a young military lad in full uniform. Tall and handsome with a mischievous grin, he seemingly fell in love at first sight with the young lady. Using his charismatic personality to compliment her on her eyes and lithe figure, he soon convinced her to join him in his quarters. Her friends tried to slow her down, but she was convinced this was the real thing – love at first sight!
Once they were alone, it was evident that she was out of her depth. Things started to move fast – too fast. She protested vociferously, but “NO” was no longer an option. He was shipping off in the next couple of days and had nothing to lose. She would be his trophy whether she had second thoughts or not.
The entire episode lasted but a few minutes. She stumbled back to her friends, disheveled, ashamed and terrified. She never saw the young man again, nor did she remember his name. By today’s standards it would have been date rape. Her friends quickly gathered her and left immediately for home, scared and confused.
As fate would have it, in a few short weeks the rebellious young teen was pregnant – and her parents were furious. They would not have this shame hanging over their family. She would be sent to Michigan to live with relatives while she carried the child to term and put up for adoption forthwith. It would never be spoken of again. Her mother made sure she knew she was a tramp and an embarrassment.
The young lady did in fact spend most of the next 9 months in Michigan, in the care of a doting aunt and uncle. The secret would be kept safe. When it was time to give birth, they brought her to a hospital in Windsor to have the baby, ensuring it’s Canadian citizenship. Immediately after, the baby boy was whisked away, the nurses never even allowing the new mom to hold him. Immediately put up for adoption, she would never know what happened to him.
Or would she?
And Now The Rest of The Story…..
That young lady was my mother. It took over 55 years for to discover that I had a brother. The woman could keep a secret!
Decades later, mom was failing physically and was in a nursing home in Tillsonburg. Dad had passed over 15 years earlier. Her mind was strong and sharp, but arthritis had crippled her hands into useless knots on the ends of her wrists. She could no longer walk on her own and spent most of her time in a wheelchair. She could not feed herself, let alone master the most trivial of tasks, like adjust her glasses or scratch her forehead. While she loved to read, she could barely turn a page on her own any longer. One eye had been removed due to the brain surgery many years earlier, a prosthetic orb in it’s place. Kim had been diagnosed with cancer.
Life was hard. And I was about to make it harder.
I was on my way to the nursing home in Tillsonburg with some news I needed to share with mom. She was NOT going to be happy with me. I had left my marriage of 29 years to woman that mom cared for deeply. I had to tell her – to prepare her – and I knew she would not understand. She was going to be furious and I was not going to escape this encounter without a tongue-lashing or worse.
Walking into the nursing home, I took the duty nurse aside and whispered “I have some very difficult news for mom. I am not sure how she will take it, but please keep an eye on her when I leave. I expect her to be emotional”
Knowing I was about to be excoriated, I walked into her room and closed the door behind me. It was a surprise visit and the shock on her face showed it. As usual, she was sitting in her wheelchair, staring at the tv. “What are you doing here” she proclaimed with a hint of sarcasm.
Taking a deep breath, I said “Mom, I have some difficult news to share with you. I don’t expect you to understand, but I ask you to please not judge me”. She crossed her arms and stared at me silently, anticipating the worst.
Unblinking, she listened to my story quietly….and then nothing, nada……silence….crickets….I was waiting for the hammer to fall……still nothing….
Finally after what seemed like an eternity, out of her mouth spilled “Well I guess I have something to share with you too”.
Wait, What???? No tongue-lashing? No berating? No shaming?? No advice??? No name calling?
“You have a brother”.
WHAT?? Where the hell did that come from? My mind was spinning. I am 55 years old and you are telling me I have a brother?? WTF? Who, what where, when, why?????
After letting the dust settle, I gathered myself. I had escaped my mother’s wrath for the time being, but what am I to do with this information – this bombshell?? Why would she tell me this now – at this moment?
Questions started to tumble out of my mouth: “When did this happen”? “How old were you”? “Why didn’t you tell me/us”? “Do you know where he is”? “What is his name”? “How old is he”? “What does he look like”?
It was like a dam had broken – a secret that she carried silently for 68 years was suddenly released and the world had not collapsed around her. She started to cry.
She had trouble remembering the details of that night – perhaps trauma, perhaps shame – but it took several visits and gently probing conversation for her to tell me details that started to come back with time. It was indeed a military man. He shipped out immediately overseas. She did not know his name for certain. She wasn’t sure if he lived or died in the war. She never heard from him again.
Her own mother had shamed her and made her feel unworthy of being her daughter – perhaps not uncommon in those days. She thought the baby had been named William, but could not be sure. No one knew – even her only sibling Don, was either unaware or was sworn to secrecy.
Her estranged son had reached out to her via the postal service about 10 years prior, sending some photos. After doing some research of his own, he was able to locate her address and wanted to know if he could connect with her. She had said no and turned him away abruptly. She had her family and did not want to risk anger and resentment from Kim and I. She threw his photos in the garbage, eliminating any evidence.
Clearly this had been weighing on her. She thought when I told her I had some news, that I had discovered her secret. Unable to contain the pressure any longer, she just blurted it out.
Mom was now 85. Had I not delivered my own life altering news to her, she would have taken this secret to her grave.
After considering the available options for a few days, I asked her if she would like me to try and find him and close the loop. Clearly he had interest in finding his birth mother. After seeing there would be no shaming or resentment, she thought perhaps she should try to meet him after all. So I started the process to locate him through many hours of researching databases and agencies.
Kim was as surprised as I was and though more reluctant, was nonetheless intrigued and curious to get to the bottom of the mystery. After all, it was a rather large part of Mom’s life story.
After a few short months, I was able to connect the dots and found Terry Rock, my older half brother. He lived in Saskatchewan, had a Masters degree in biology and a successful career as a biologist in the Natural Resources sector. An avid hunter and fisher, he had retired and owned a bison farm on a 700 acre plot in rural Saskatchewan.
We arranged to meet and soon he flew to London, where I met him. He was to meet his birth mother for the first time. While mom was nervously excited to close the loop, she was mostly interested in knowing he had had a good life and was raised by a good family. The guilt had been apparently overwhelming for many years. The weight of the world had been mercifully lifted.
Terry spent many hours talking with his newly found birth mother, sharing stories of his life and pictures of his family. He met Kim, husband Rick and her kids Tim, Mark and Nicole, as well as Kim’s only granddaughter at the time, MacKenzie. I introduced him to my kids Trevor, Geoff and Lauren as well.
Still More to the Story
Only after mom passed did I find out the rest of the story from her friend of over 80 years, Verna Woods.
That fateful night so many years ago, Verna Woods, Jean and the 3rd amigo Teresa Johnson, had plotted to meet at the Airforce base to dance the night away and more importantly to meet boys. Mom and the young airman had been flirting and he convinced her to go to his quarters. Against her friends advice mom tagged along, flipping her hair and saying not to worry. A short time later she came out very much frazzled and sobbing, hair askew and makeup smudged. She had tried to say NO, but at that point it was too late. He had nothing to lose and was shipping out in a couple of days. No wasn’t an option.
Mom soon discovered she was pregnant and was inconsolable. My grandmother was indeed furious and told her daughter that she was promiscuous and an embarrassment. There would be no support, no comfort here. Plans were soon made to send her to Michigan, from where Jean would share letters to Verna and Teresa on a regular basis, sharing news of her condition, both physically and emotionally.
Immediately after the baby was born in Windsor, he was adopted.
A Final Twist
Verna was a nurse in the maternity ward at the St Thomas hospital. Several years later, a local woman came in and gave birth to a little girl. In conversation with the new mom, Verna asked if it was her first. “Oh no, we have an adopted son. Would you like to see a picture”?, Of course Verna obliged – and was soon flabbergasted. The baby boy was a spitting image of mom’s brother Don.
Her head spinning, she asked the young lady where the baby had been adopted. “Well Windsor, why do you ask?”. The dates aligned, the features aligned. Could it be possible?
Sure enough, baby Terry was adopted through an agency in Windsor and was living in St Thomas, not 10 minutes from where mom grew up. What were the chances? Terry went to University in Guelph, and eventually left for Western Canada to start a career, having no idea his birth mother was living just a short drive away. They never knowingly crossed paths, but certainly could have.
After all this, a lot of unanswered questions became clear. My parents had had difficulty conceiving early in their marriage, and then adopted Kim. Roughly 3 years later I was born. Dad was aware of the pregnancy, but there was some early friction over it apparently.
While mom was in the nursing home, there had been an incident that required all residents to be evacuated in the middle of the night. Mom was carried out by a fireman in uniform. She was terrified and traumatized to the point that she continued to cry and sob for weeks after, for no apparent reason. She was on the verge of a mental breakdown. She finally admitted to me that she thought she was going to be raped.
I was flabbergasted. “Why would you say that? Has someone here touched you?” I was ready to turn the entire home upside down, looking for the creep that violated my elderly mother. Little did I know what was to be revealed. The dominoes slowly started to fall.
It took several years to unwind the mystery. A secret no longer – the relief palpable after 68 years.
Mom was able to clear her conscience. Despite her worst fears the world did not collapse around her.
Rest in peace mom.