11 May 2017

Who's your family?

  Family Fortnight +   Leading up to the International Day of Families on the 15th of May, we bring you the thirteenth in a series about mystery writers’ take on families. Settle back and enjoy!

by Eve Fisher

May 15th is the International Day of the Family, which will undoubtedly be celebrated by many people pretending they're going to get Norman Rockwell, but knowing it'll be more twisted:


Call me cynical, but I've been around. More as an observer than as a participant, because, as many of you know by now, I was an adopted child. As I've said before, I arrived here back in 1957, a mystified 2½-year-old, with a bad cold, a TWA flight bag (which I still have), and a charm against the evil eye pinned to my dress. But I finally made it, and I became Charlie and Elaine's daughter.

Now it wasn't always sweetness and light in our house – there were a few alcohol issues, for one thing – but I don't think it's sweetness and light at any house except on the Hallmark channel. But I can assure you that I was their daughter, and they were my parents, legally, emotionally, really. Which was surprisingly hard to get across to a lot of people.

Some standard stupid comments and/or questions:
Me, in the Athens orphanage
  • "Shame your parents couldn't have children of their own." (Uh, they did. Me.)
  • "Don't you wonder who your real parents were?" (Uh, biologically, yes - I need to know who to blame for the thalassemia and the arthritis. But I know who my REAL parents were: they were the people who raised me, fed me, housed me, clothed me, loved me, and generally put up with me for all those years.)
  • "Do you ever wish you had a real family?" (See answer to above. I do at times wish we had been a LARGER family - I had no brothers or sisters, and only one uncle, who we rarely saw. It would have been nice to have a few more people to talk to or at least someone else to take the heat…)
  • "Have you ever thought of finding your biological parents?" (Yeah, especially when I was a teenager and trying to hurt my real parents, as in, somewhere I'm a PRINCESS, dammit! Or Aristotle Onassis' illegitimate daughter, and when I get the money, I'm going to do ANYTHING I WANT!!!! Sigh. Teenagers.)  
Actually, I did try, years after my parents died, to "discover my roots" and it didn't end well. Far from it. The story was one of illegitimacy and shame and abandonment and the hope that I would vanish forever. So I did. But it still hurt. As a contrast to all those TV shows and articles about adoptees hunting down their biological parents so "they can find out who they are." Listen, if you need someone else to tell you who you are, what you really need is therapy, not more relatives in the mix.

Speaking of finding out who you are, years ago, I was at the great tribal family reunion back in my grandmother's home town. BTW, it's my personal theory that family reunions are what gave Peter (or whoever translated 1 Peter 2:9 back in King James' time) the idea of calling us "a peculiar people". Anyway, various members of the tribe were acting like complete lunatics, and I realized, in a flash of insight: "I don't have to be like these people. this is not my gene pool." It was an extremely liberating experience, because at that moment I realized that I could be anyone and anything I wanted to be. I didn't have to find myself, I could become myself. There were no pre-set patterns. And that's very important.

Because sometimes not being adopted gets in the way. In small towns, you hear all the time, "Well, they can't help it, they're just like their father/mother/whoever", or "what can you expect, with that family?" Small towns never forget, and they always bring it up (whatever it is), and this is another reason why young people move to big cities. It's the equivalent of getting themselves adopted.

Another advantage is that, in the immortal words of Chance the Gardener, "I get to watch." I watch as people tell me that their family is everything to them. Sometimes this is true, and they have a wonderful family straight out of the Waltons. Other times, however, I see people giving up friends, education, opportunities, careers, even love, all for the sake of not rocking the boat, or (gasp! the horror!) being different from the rest of the tribe. I watch as people somehow manage to live in the same house with people they never speak to.
  • NOTE: I was working for a lawyer in Tennessee, when a woman came in to talk about the situation at home. She was afraid that her mother, a widow, was giving all her money to the ne'er-do-well youngest, and she didn't know what to do about it. I asked where her mother lived, and she said, "With me." I asked, "Well, why don't you talk to her about it?" "Oh, I couldn't do that." Jeez, Louise...
This is why I think another advantage of being adopted is that I've learned that whoever loves you is your family. Blood is irrelevant. Friends can indeed "stick closer than a brother".

Paget Holmes Yellow Face child.jpgFinally, I'd like to submit to you what is often described as Arthur Conan Doyle's most sentimental piece, and an old favorite of mine: "The Adventure of the Yellow Face" in The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes. Mr. Grant Munro's wife, Effie, has been begging money from him and begging him to not ask why. Mr. Munro fears that his wife's first husband, presumed dead in America from yellow fever, did not die, and is now blackmailing her for being a bigamist. He has followed her to an obscure cottage, where a creature with a livid inhuman face stared out the window. Holmes, Watson, and Mr. Munro go to the cottage and force their way in. The creature is a little girl in a mask, who, unmasked, proves to be Effie's daughter by her [truly] deceased husband, John Hebron, who was "of African descent". Effie explains everything, saying that she was, and still is, afraid that Mr. Munro would never accept a black child in his home.
It was a long ten minutes before Grant Munro broke the silence, and when his answer came it was one of which I love to think. He lifted the little child, kissed her, and then, still carrying her, he held his other hand out to his wife and turned towards the door.
“We can talk it over more comfortably at home,” said he. “I am not a very good man, Effie, but I think that I am a better one than you have given me credit for being.”
What can I say? I tear up a little every time I read that. God bless you, Mother and Daddy, and thank you for being better than you ever knew.

13 comments:

Leigh Lundin said...

Stunning, Eve.

Your article should come with a warning label: May cause unexpected tears.

Someone released a canister of pepper spray about the time I read your article. My vision is still blurry.

Art Taylor said...

Terrific post here, Eve--great points, great anecdotes, and a great recommendation on that Sherlock story, too, one that always stands out, stands tall.

Paul D. Marks said...

A wonderful post, Eve. I think people sometimes have a romantic notion of finding their "real" families often to be disappointed. But I would agree that one's real family is that family that chose them, warts and all.

janice law said...

A lovely piece. Family are those who love us and we're lucky if we get one.
Your parents must be proud of you. You were fortunate- but so were they.

Melodie Campbell said...

Man, you can write. What a fabulous way to end this post. Eve, you are a brilliant storyteller. But I already knew that.

Eve Fisher said...

Thank you, Leigh, Art, Paul Janice, Melodie - I'm glad the piece moved you. My take on families is a little different - and I'm grateful, SO grateful, for every family that has taken me in and made me part of theirs. Including SleuthSayers!

B.K. Stevens said...

Beautiful post, Eve, and a beautiful picture of your parents. You've reminded us all of some important truths it's too easy to forget.

R.T. Lawton said...

Eve, spoken from the heart.

Jerry Sweeney said...

Compromised vision here as well. Eve, my elder did the 'search' and it did not end badly, albeit she does avow she got a very good deal in the parent lottery.

Barb Goffman said...

That's lovely, Eve. Family = love, and love can come from anywhere and anyone.

Jeff Baker said...

Wonderful! We all have family we have adopted on our own! Oh, and speaking of bibles and apostles, there is a certain Person in the book who was raised by at least one stepparent!

Robert Lopresti said...

Very nice. I share thalassemia with you, by the way, via my Sicilian father.

“Some people are born where they belong, and some have to find their way there. There’s no difference after that.” - Thomas Perry

Eve Fisher said...

Rob, we Mediterranean types show up in all kinds of places, don't we? Love the quote.