A branch gone from our fam­ily tree

The Aurora (Labrador City) - - Editorial - Bob Wake­ham

When­ever I read a story like that heart-warm­ing piece in The Telegram the other day about a New­found­land man search­ing for a daugh­ter he gave up for adop­tion 50 years ago, I can’t help but think of an adorable child named Laura and the brief but pro­found and last­ing im­pact she had on our fam­ily.

To this very day, dur­ing Wake­ham re­unions, when we knock down ge­o­graph­i­cal bar­ri­ers to see each other, Laura’s name will in­vari­ably be men­tioned at some point, and we’ll end up recit­ing the words we’ve never for­got­ten to a sim­ple love song writ­ten by my mother over a half cen­tury ago:

Laura’s a pretty thing, She’s a Vir­ginian. We buy her every­thing, To keep her in style. She’s got 10 stinky toes, And a funny lit­tle nose, We’ll surely miss her when she goes.

Those last three words, “when she goes,” ac­cord this Wake­ham fam­ily story its poignancy and sad­ness, given that we all knew when our par­ents de­cided to fos­ter a child through an or­ga­ni­za­tion called Catholic Char­i­ties way back in 1963, just af­ter we had moved to Vir­ginia from Gan­der, that Laura was never to be a per­ma­nent mem­ber of our clan of New­found­lan­ders.

Mom had agreed to take the three-month old Laura into our home for what she was told would be 10 days or so while her adop­tion was be­ing fi­nal­ized; in­stead, we had this grand lit­tle crea­ture in our lives for nearly a year, more than enough time, ob­vi­ously, to think of her as one of us, a daugh­ter, a sis­ter. We loved her, our lit­tle Yank. The tale of Laura’s early life be­came com­pli­cated when her bi­o­log­i­cal fa­ther balked at the agree­ment he and Laura’s mother had made to give her up for adop­tion; the ar­range­ments a fam­ily had made to adopt her were put on hold; thus, the Wake­ham fam­ily had a new mem­ber.

Right from the get-go, Laura was spe­cial, even su­per­sed­ing in im­por­tance (in our home, at least) the as­sas­si­na­tion of Pres­i­dent John F. Kennedy (she was de­liv­ered into Mom’s arms on Nov. 22, 1963).

Yes, the Amer­i­can pub­lic was in shock, but we, the Wake­hams of New­found­land, were float­ing with joy at this chubby, smil­ing bun­dle of love in our midst.

My sis­ter Carol, 12 years old at the time, was even more en­am­oured of Laura than the rest of us, her ma­ter­nal in­stincts em­brac­ing a pre­ma­ture in­doc­tri­na­tion, as she smoth­ered her new “sis­ter” with affection, al­ways keep­ing open a pro­tec­tive eye, putting her to bed, tak­ing her for walks through the neigh­bour­hood in a stroller, giv­ing Mom the time and en­ergy she needed to raise the rest of us.

The pho­to­graphs and home movies from that time in our lives are last­ing ev­i­dence of a to­tally con­tented baby, a glow­ing and con­stant smile from ear to ear, a pal­pa­bly ef­fer­ves­cent child, obliv­i­ous to the fact that she was prob­a­bly

help­ing this lit­tle clan of home­sick Newfs ad­just to a dra­mat­i­cally new life in the U.S.

The days turned into weeks, into months, we cel­e­brated her first birth­day, and be­gan to as­sume (her naive, new-found si­b­lings, that is) that we would have Laura for­ever.

But that was not to be, and we were shocked into re­al­ity one day when Mom told us that of­fi­cials with Catholic Char­i­ties were com­ing within 24 hours to take Laura to her new fam­ily, that the bi­o­log­i­cal fa­ther had dropped his ob­jec­tions to the adop­tion.

Our par­ents’ hands were tied; they had agreed, legally and of­fi­cially, that un­der no cir­cum­stances were they ever to at­tempt to adopt Laura, that she was a fos­ter child, and her stay in their home was al­ways to be of a tem­po­rary na­ture.

My sis­ter Carol still re­calls that she had sug­gested to Mom and Dad that we qui­etly leave Vir­ginia with Laura — kid­nap her, in other words — the in­no­cent and wide-eyed plea made out of ab­so­lute des­per­a­tion.

The af­ter­noon the bu­reau­crats came to take Laura was one of in­cred­i­ble sor­row.

We cried our eyes out as Carol, ap­pro­pri­ately, handed Laura to a wo­man who was anx­ious, I’m sure, to get the or­deal over as quickly as pos­si­ble.

Sec­onds later, Laura was in a car that was back­ing out of the drive­way, and then she was gone, out of our lives for­ever.

We even­tu­ally found out that her adop­tive par­ents had re­named her Martha, and that she had a two-year-old sis­ter.

But, for all of us, she will al­ways be Laura, a “pretty thing, a Vir­ginian.”

And we still miss her.

The days turned into weeks, into months, we cel­e­brated her first birth­day, and be­gan to as­sume (her naive, new-found si­b­lings, that is) that we would have Laura for­ever.

Bob Wake­ham has spent more than 40 years as a jour­nal­ist in New­found­land and Labrador. He can be reached by email at bwake­ham@nl.rogers.com

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