Tell us a moment or an incident that you treasure – not necessarily, because it brought you happiness, but because it taught you something about yourself.
She was wearing a cheap coat and clothes that were worn thin from wear. She talked quietly with my mother, reminiscing about family members and discussing current events. She seemed sad.
My parents had her over for dinner several times, but I never saw her at larger family events. My father would pick her up and bring her back to her apartment, and when she left to go home my mother always packed her a bag of food and books.
This was my great-aunt Clara, the sister of my mother’s father. My mother was the oldest in her family, followed by twin brothers and a much younger sister. Clara and her husband also had two boys. Where my grandparents had moved to a rural area and lived the small town life, she and her husband stayed in Chicago, near the large, close-knit families on both sides.
Many years earlier, when her children were the same young age as I was, Clara’s husband had died. This was devastating to her, and she was not able to cope. She turned her 2 young sons over to an orphanage and walked away. Years later, after both boys had grown up in that home for abandoned and orphaned children, she wanted back in their lives. They were not interested.
We lived near one of her children, and I remember back yard cookouts with his family. Coming from such a large family, I had learned that by sitting very quietly when the adults starting talking they often forgot I was present, and I was able to overhear a lot through that technique. This was how I discovered the story of my Aunt Clara.
The idea of a parent abandoning their child was terrifying to me. I thought about what she had done, and tried to reason out why. The only answer that made sense was that she just didn’t care enough, that she was weak. I knew my great-grandmother had been widowed at a young age and left with 8 children, and I knew that she had stayed, had made sure those children had a home and food and love. She did not walk away. My great-grandmother was strong and competent. My great-aunt Clara was not.
I knew I could choose which way to be, how to live my life. I knew that at 8 years old. I chose to be strong . I would never walk away from anything or anyone where I had given my word. And I never have.