Then, I purchased a DNA test for my mom.
It's been years in the making.
My Mom, me and Z last week.
When I was 12, I found out my mom was adopted. I still remember that day. My mom was in the bathroom, I was in the kitchen, and my dad was watching a football game in the living room.
It was autumn. Mom's adoptive mother, Nana, had passed in July. I was turning over in my head all I knew of my mom's childhood. It just didn't fit. Some thing. Some things. Her adopted sister Catherine had been up for the funeral. They talked about old times. But there was something off.
Growing up, I had repeatedly asked about my mom's father. I never got much of an answer. He was young, and white and Italian. Or Spanish. One relative said he was Puerto Rican.
But why couldn't Nana talk about him? By the time I was eleven, I got up the courage to ask... had she been raped? Nana laughed. That response was so unexpected, it scared me. She told me "no." There was just nothing to talk about concerning my mother's father.
Well, for her. I didn't agree.
I often wondered why my mom looked nothing like her. My mother, with her fair skin, small mouth, slanty eyes and prominent nose. Nana, with her cinnamon brown skin, full lips, wide eyes, red hair and wide nose. It wasn't the skin tone difference. After all, I have brown skin like my father. It was the fact they looked nothing alike. Besides both of them being short, they had no similarities with their bodies, either. I decided my mom had to be the spitting image of her dad. Her dad that no one wanted to talk about.
My mom with, up top, my brother Joe, bottom, from left to right, my nephew Justin, my nephew Greg, my sister in law Jenny, and my nephew Nate.
So on that quiet Fall day in 1994, I pulled the oldest kid trick in the book. I went to my dad and sputtered out some stuff on Mom being adopted since she clearly did not resemble Nana, may she rest in peace. And my Dad, still engrossed in the game, responded, "Oh, so she's finally telling you kids about that?" I looked at him with shock. He didn't even bother to look away from the TV.
I ran to the bathroom and burst in without knocking. "YOU'RE ADOPTED!" My mom, on the toilet, looked surprised then started laughing. "Li, why did you just come in? I'm USING THE BATHROOM." To her credit, she didn't yell this, just raised her voice in a way that told me to get out. I was undaunted. "DAD TOLD ME!" With that, her smile evaporated. Tears quickly came to her eyes. "I'll tell you everything when I'm done in here." I quietly backed out and closed the door. I went back to the kitchen and sat down at the table. I felt horrible. I had been sneaky, knowing my dad was oblivious when his Giants play. I just had to know, and now I did. And I knew I was a jerk to make her cry.
She later told me she kept it secret because she didn't want us kids to love our Nana any less. After all, her Mom had taken her in, raised her, cleaning people's homes to provide for her little family. It turned out Catherine was not Nana's biological daughter, either, but a cousin. Nana had been married, to a no-good philanderer with a penchant for drinking too much and beating her. She had been pregnant once, but lost the baby. She couldn't have any more. But God had brought baby Doris to her, and later little Catherine. She loved those girls so much, couldn't anyone tell her that they weren't hers.
My mom and Joe at his Christening.
Ever since that day, I wanted to give my mom back something. I couldn't give her back that secret, but I figured there had to be a way I could unlock some of the others. I read Alex Haley and decided I'd dig up some of her roots. I didn't know how I would, but I'd try.
Yesterday, along with the Old Navy baby purchases, I finally reached for a shovel.