Even after my adoption, my paternal grandmother would regularly send me care packages from upstate New York to my new home in Virginia. As an adult, I’m much more aware now of the anguish she and my grandfather must have gone through knowing their own child (my father) had failed miserably at being a parent. But as a child, it never really occurred to me. I know now that those care packages were an outward sign of love from my grandparents to me. Fortunately, after my adoption, my new parents made sure that I kept in very close contact with them. I would talk to them on the phone regularly. In the summers, I would board a plane in my Cub Scout uniform and fly alone to spend a month with the two people who sacrificed in their old age to raise me until the age of six.
Back to those care packages. I was always excited to see the pink slip in our post office box, knowing it was probably something from my grandmother. Excitedly opening the package at home, I would usually find packs of gum, cookies, Campbell soup labels (we collected them at school), rolls of Lifesavers, and various other goodies. Around Christmas, the mother of all care packages would arrive. Within that box was something I would get only one time a year. I can still picture in my mind the huge pack of Lifesavers that came in a box that opened up like a book. There were easily 10 to 12 rolls of Lifesavers within that book. (I’m wondering now if my grandmother secretly had stock in dental supplies or a toothpaste company.) The rolls of various colors and flavors would generally last me a couple months. But as much as I enjoyed those Lifesavers, I am much more appreciative now of the actual life savers who have played a major role in my existence.
I’ve never been told why I was sent as an infant to live with my grandparents. But their selfless decision to raise me was the first life-saving act that affected me. I was in a safe, loving environment with two people who really had no obligation to raise a young child in the twilight of their own lives. But they did it anyway, and I’m forever grateful for that. Upon moving to Virginia to live with my parents, my life became a nightmare. Physical and mental abuse were the norms. I attended school and pretended everything was fine. That’s when two more life-savers entered the picture. Mr. Conners, my first- grade teacher, discovered the abuse I was going through. Mr. Rexrode, my principal, set the wheels in motion to remove me from a horrible situation. I’m forever grateful to them as well.
Very quickly, I met the next life-saver. My social worker, who I only remember as Jim, intervened and made sure I was safe. I was removed from the home and adopted by the next two life-savers, John and Vicki Desmond. These were two people who didn’t know me at all, and I had no idea who they were. They took me in as their own and changed my life forever. It’s the greatest gift I’ve ever been given—a new lease on life in a loving home. As I grew, I had more life-savers surround me with love—various social workers, new aunts and uncles, more grandparents, and new siblings. I was literally in the middle of that book of life-savers and I learned what unconditional love is through it all.
Forty-two years have passed since my adoption. Some of the people who embraced me are gone. Many of them are still here. But all of them will forever be my true life– savers.