Uncle Charlie

Charlie and my birth mother, Ruth
On July 3rd, my uncle Charlie died. Twenty years ago in September 1995, Lee Nichols, editor of The Outlook, a small Mendocino paper, invited me to write about finding my birth mother. Charlie, Ruth, and my half-sister, Lynn, subsequently became character-names in my novel, Hurt Go Happy.

If it hadn't been for Charlie's kind and generous heart, I probably would never have met any of them: My mother, my sister, her five sons, my cousins--all of whom I resemble. In his honor, here is that story: 

AWAY GROWING OLD                                                       
 September 1995

I have been away growing old is a line from a poem by Dave Smith, an acquaintance of mine. It is what I would like to tell my mother, if I meet her.
            I've created an image of her fifty years ago, a young girl, pressing my tiny hand to her lips, then passing me to a stranger who took me away to be raised by other strangers. I'd like to reassure her that there was no right or wrong in the act. I know only what was revealed to me on the course my life took from that moment on. I do not believe in greener grass, just as I don’t believe that each choice made has a black and white side, is right or wrong. To have kept me would have been right if she could have; to give me up was just as correct a choice. Only when the choices are nearly equally impossible to make, do we feel the one we made must have been wrong. She should not grieve.
            Three years ago, after twenty-five years of searching to my own dead ends, I enlisted the aid of an organization that specializes in putting adoptees and their biological parents in touch with each other. A few months later they called to tell me that my father was dead but they had found my mother, did I want to call her or should they? I chose for them to call. She was sorry, they said, but she couldn’t see me. Since then, I have wished I had chosen to call myself. Would she have said no to me?
            Last week, Jack, an attorney friend of my husband’s was going to the town where she lives. My husband, whose choices rarely confuse him, had him call her. A man answered. Jack told him who he was and that he was just calling to ask a few questions. The man said he was my mother’s brother, could he help in some way? Jack said no, it was a private matter.
            I do believe we are sometimes given second chances.
            “Is this about her other daughter?” my mother’s brother asked.
           "You know about her?" Jack asked.
           "I'm the only one who does."
           My uncle went on to say how happy he was Jack called. He was visiting because my mother had open-heart surgery and was recovering at my (half) sister’s house.
            I have a good friend who believes what ails us is an outward manifestation of where our grief and pain is. A sore throat comes from a voice we stifle; a stomach ache from grief we swallow. I think, if my friend is right, there may now be room for me in my mother’s heart.
            My uncle will be home from the visit with my mother the first of August. He wants to know me. He said, “Tell her she has an Uncle Charlie who wants to meet her.”
             So now, a half century later, it works out that on my 51st birthday, I will see the first blood relative I have ever known. Someone who may say to me, “Why you look just like . . .” And I’m hoping that between Uncle Charlie and open-heart surgery, my mother will accept this message: I’ve been away growing old and in all that time, I have learned all about pain and joy and losses and rewards. I believe that the same door that opened for her two year ago is open again, and beyond it—through it—is simply her other daughter.

Charles Grether
October 19, 1926 - July 3, 2015