We all were lucky to have grown up with a saint. Maude Beckner Donovan (Mama as we called her) and her husband, Charles E. Donovan (Grandpa Charley, who died before I was born), were my Mother's adoptive parents. They adopted little Virginia when she was barely two weeks old. She was the seventh child born to John and Rachel Peters, of Red Alley, Knoxville, Tennessee. Mother used to joke and say she had nowhere else to go but up from that address. (I later learned Rachel sang from the time she got up, until it was time for bed. And that John played the fiddle and banjo ... I’m part of their musical gene pool).
Grandmother Rachel died about a week after bearing her last child, Virginia Pauline Peters. Grandfather John was forced to put their tiny baby up for adoption. It was also necessary, due to his declining health, to place his remaining children, and his nephew, into the Tennessee State Orphanage. What a dreadful place for any child to be. A mere year later, John Peters was dead, too. What a sad and woeful, but at the same time fortunate beginning for this little babe, and what a dismal future for her surviving siblings and cousin. There is a very long version to this part of the story, and I will share it in depth at another time.
Thankfully Virginia was adopted by two of the most wonderful people ever to be married. Theirs was a match made in heaven. After many years of trying for children of their own, they finally decided to adopt. When they brought their tiny baby home, they were over-the-moon, even though Mom was a sickly baby and not really expected to live. But Mama was having none of that! Completely besotted with their baby girl, they treated her like the precious gift she was. Virginia had to have been born under a lucky star to get chosen by these two. They thoughtfully taught her life's valuable lessons and treated her as their very own flesh and blood. Mama would shoo her daughter from the kitchen after meals, because she didn't want her little girl to have to do any household chores. Little Virginia lived a blessed life and was showered by the love of her two parents. What good people indeed.
Grandpa Charley was the Chief Engineer on the Chattanooga Choo-Choo, where he worked on the railroad for decades. Mother told us stories of how, during the depression, he supported five local families, and that Mama never turned away anyone who came knocking on her kitchen door. Together they shared what they had and nourished many tired, hungry and oppressed families. Mother said Grandpa Charley would purchase shoes of all sizes and loaves of bread, which he wrapped up and secured with tape. When his train slowed down at the stations of poor neighboring towns, local children would run after the locomotive begging for whatever passengers might generously throw out the windows. Back then most people held onto what they had in order to survive themselves. Grandpa Charley would carefully toss shoes and loaves to these kids and then wave a sweet good-bye, as the whistle blew and the train left the station. The children adored him, as did his wife and daughter. Mother had him in her life until she was seventeen, when he died suddenly from a massive stroke. Neither Mama nor Mother ever got over losing him, even after mourning him for decades. Mother told me many, many times before she died, that I had the heart of her Daddy. To date, this has been the greatest compliment ever given me. What a wonderful thing for her to say. I wish I could have known him, too.
Mama was always as gentle and sweet a lady as any you could imagine. "Soft spoken and with a heart of gold, Mama was the heartbeat of our family". She read from her bible (King James Version), and used the ribbon to mark Psalm 23 plus a few others she loved to read. We children had been raised Roman Catholic, so I was always a little bit curious as to why her bible had a different name. (Mother shared that she had been raised Presbyterian but that she and Daddy, who had been a Methodist, converted to Catholicism, shortly after their marriage.) Anyway ... Mama was shy 95% of the time, and the other 5% she would hide me behind her skirts to protect me from getting my legs switched or my bottom whacked by my parents. I confess that I was always getting into something and likely deserved most of those punishments. As she grew older (for she was 74 by the time I was born; she had been 40 when she adopted Mother), she walked very slowly with the aid of a pair of crutches. They were made from aluminum and had black rubber handles with black plastic arm supports. They allowed her the freedom to travel from the living room and round the rest of the house, needless to say, she moved very slowly but with independence.
Mama and I shared a bedroom from the time I was ten until shortly after my thirteenth birthday. I recall one phase I went through where I would rearrange the furniture in our bedroom, and also the living room, much to both Mama's and my Father's chagrin. I seemed to experience lots of different phases as a kid but eventually, I outgrew most of them.
About this time, our parents surprised Mama with a wide and comfortable new rocking chair. It had matching swan handles, carved from dark-stained wood. I had never seen her cry before. We lived well but frugally. There was never much money for presents back then. When it finally registered that this magnificent rocker was hers she showed surprise, a little bit of shock, then tears of wondrous appreciation filled her soft greenish brown/gray eyes. Those eyes were liquid jewels one could fall into. You could see the soft innocent light from within her shine out to you. To say she was thrilled is to put it mildly.
Even though I grew too big to fit, I still managed to lie atop and across her lap, while placing most of my weight on the arm rests. This way, I could place my head against her chest near her shoulder. I listened for her familiar heartbeat, which was a favorite rhythm and music to my heart. I weighed about 50 pounds and was very careful not to put pressure on her arthritic knees. But she would hold me close to her heart, as she had always done. We would rock slightly and would remain like this for a few minutes and drink in the undeniable love we shared. I would offer my kiss on her softly wrinkled cheek and she would pat me and kiss my cheek. The love of a saint is a true treasure. She graced this earth for eighty-seven years.
* Mama's favorite hymn, "The Old Rugged Cross" written by: George Bernard, in 1913
"The Old Rugged Cross"
On a hill far away stood an old rugged cross
The emblem of suffering and shame
And I love that old cross where the dearest and best
For a world of lost sinners was slain
So I’ll cherish the old rugged cross
Till my trophies at last I lay down
I will cling to the old rugged cross
And exchange it someday for a crown
O that old rugged cross, so despised by the world
Has a wondrous attraction for me
For the dear Lamb of God left His glory above
To bear it to dark Calvary
In that old rugged cross, stained with blood so divine
A wondrous beauty I see
For ’twas on that old cross Jesus suffered and died
To pardon and sanctify me
To the old rugged cross I will ever be true
Its shame and reproach gladly bear
Then He’ll call me some day to my home far away
Where His glory forever I’ll share
I recall now and then the little things Mama would say, her genteel mannerisms and her lovely smiles. Most of all ... I remember the great love she gave to us. I am forever grateful Maude and Charles Donovan wanted to have a family, and that they chose that baby girl as their very own. I cannot even think about what different lives we would have had, if they hadn't chosen to adopt.
This November 1, 2010, Bloggers around the globe are joining BloggersUnite.org in order to raise awareness and to promote Adoption. Being a product of my own Mother's adoption, I can testify that adoption does change lives and promotes a stable environment for children who so desperately need loving homes. Won't you please sign up today and add the badge to your site? Thank you!