My hardworking mother wasn’t always the most logical person around, but she had a soft heart for strays—cats, dogs, children, adults, no matter. We never knew from day to day how many would be seated around our supper table, but it didn’t really matter. If Aunt Susan and Uncle John showed up right at supper time, it was fine. Mama could always manage to feed one more, and none of us every left the table hungry.
I’ve no idea how many animals we adopted over the years. A stray tabby kitten would mysteriously show up on our porch, and Mama would order us, “Don’t feed that cat. Maybe it’ll go home.” Later we’d catch her out there crumbling up a biscuit in a bowl of milk. She’d be petting the kitten as it lapped up the soggy mess.
“I couldn’t go to bed for thinking about that hungry kitten,” she’d laugh sheepishly. “One more cat won’t matter much.”
Dogs came our way in the same manner. We children didn’t object. The more animals we had, the better, but none were allowed in the house. Not while I was growing up. In her later years, Mama allowed Snoopy, a black tomcat, in the house, even fed him on the bench beside her. If Daddy objected, he didn’t say anything.
He didn’t object to the string of children who sat at our table either. Many of them were children Mama babysat for a pittance, but others were strays. That is, their parents had a tendency to stray and leave their children for weeks at a time. Had there been an emergency, Mama would have had no idea how to get in touch with parents. But those were different times. Doctors treated injured children back then, with or without parental present.
My youngest sister came to us, not because of straying parents. Her mother had a stroke at her birth and died when Bonnie was three. Mama and Daddy officially adopted her; my sister Sarah Nell and I unofficially did. I was fourteen when Bonnie became my little sister, but I loved her dearly even when she was still my cousin. It broke my heart when her mother, my Aunt Judy died. The brown-eyed little beauty came as a special blessing to us, and we all doted on her. I spent hours playing with her, making lavish doll wardrobes, and even on occasion making matching outfits for Bonnie and her favorite dolls. Later I sewed beauty pageant and prom dresses, careful of every stitch because Bonnie would wear them. I truly stitched with love.
One fall when my students wrote autobiographies in American Literature, one student wrote of his real mother and his biological mother. His real mother was the one he lived with, the one who adopted him at birth, the one who cooked for him and washed his clothes, who worried when he was sick, and who made certain all his needs were met. She was the one who loved him, the one he loved in return. The biological mother was one he’d met a couple of times, just some lady who gave birth to him.
The adoption process has become more complicated and expensive than it was when my family adopted Bonnie, but it’s worth every penny to parents who want children and certainly to the children involved. A friend and her husband adopted a baby girl from China. The process required 18 months, about $15,000 plus travel expenses to go get her, and untold hours of worrying before she was safely here in her new family. Now the child is in school and when the parents look at their two daughters, they see no difference between the dark-haired, brown-eyed one and the blonde, blue-eyed one. They are looking through love’s eyes.
Most of the children Mama took in were temporary members of the family, but Bonnie came as a permanent addition. We were all blessed. When people who want to be parents find children who need homes, the story should be a happy-ever-after one.