Friday, 10 October 2014

Family and the power of Facebook

One of the toughest parts of being Little Orphan Rosie is that there are so many questions left unanswered.  What's worse is that the only reference points I have, come from long ago, as a child.

I once had to bath my ailing granny and noticed she only had one breast. Clearly, she'd had a mastectomy, so she'd had breast cancer. I was too young, too timid, too shy to ask my mom at the time and now that she's been out of my life nearly as long as she was in it, that ship has sailed.

I knew the medical history of my mother's side of the family, having lived with them. Most died of old age, of heart, of stroke, due to bad social habits. My granddad had everything but the kitchen sink: heart issues, diabetes that gave him "spells" and my mom died of a bowel blockage, though she also had undiagnosed emphysema.

Until recently, I had no clue about the health history of my dad's clan. He died when I was small and we had very little contact with his very large family. It was on Facebook that I learned about the high incidence of Alzheimer's disease in the Simpson clan. Thanks to cousin Dawn, for that piece of news.

It's not just the medical connections I missed.

Other than my own children and husband, I have lived for years as a familial orphan, a person who comes from a large family who has had literally no connection with my past. Sometimes I feel like an adopted child wandering around looking for connections that could help me make sense of my life, of my psyche.

Who am I like? How did I get here?

It's been a blur for sometime.

But thanks to technology, I've been able to reconnect with my Dad's side of things and I'm just beginning to uncover information about that large family and the people who were always a bit of a mystery to me.

When my Dad died, I was cut off from the Simpsons, aside from an annual visit to see my paternal grandmother, Jessie Simpson. My mother would dress me up in my best hand-me-down dress and take the long journey to her farm house, which was a large clapboard affair, surrounded by grapes, buffeted by a rather large car grave created by my Uncle Doug, who ran a towing business, the man who arrived at the scene of my father's car accident to find him lifeless.

There was never any discussion of the incident, not between me and Uncle Doug, who was a man of few words, not with my Grandmother, who was a dour Scot, able to deliver a plate of home made shortbreads and light chit chat, but not much else.

Her house was always ice cold, and we sat in a tiny living room for about a half hour, then we left. I don't remember my Grandmother very well. The annual visits stopped at the age of about 11. I suppose the mourning period was over and we didn't have to pretend that we had anything in common anymore.

One memory that has stuck is about a gaggle of cousins who used to visit our farm with my Uncle Murray and his wife Etta. They were not exactly Simpsons, they were the grandchildren of Etta and step grandchildren to Uncle Murray. The kids were the children of Elsa, Etta's daughter and some mysterious man.

I don't remember the boys in this clan, just a few girls: Patti and Penny, the twins and Julie.

I was older than them and not particularly interested in playing anymore, but I spent time with them, and they were sweet, that's all I remember, except for the fact that Penny was severely disabled by cerebral palsy. She was the first child I had ever seen who was so profoundly disabled.

She had beautiful eyes and a sweet face. She touched my heart. I never forgot her.

A couple years later, I heard from my mom that all the kids had been adopted out -- all nine of them -- because their mother couldn't care for them anymore. How could that be, I wondered at the time. How can nine children be taken away from their mother? How could she not want them?

A few of my uncles stepped up and took some of them. That's the last I heard of them until my cousin Julie contacted me on Facebook some years back.

We've kept it light over the years, and I never broached the subject. We didn't know each other at all. What business was it of mine what had happened to all these lovely little cousins?

I got the answer this week after another little cousin contacted me on Facebook. Patti, one of the twins, apparently lives just down the road in Kanata! And so I got up my courage and contacted Julie, whom I knew best, to find out the full story.

And what a story!

Elsa had been in a difficult domestic situation with the father of all nine kids. She was an abused woman and she had to get out. So the Children's Aid intervened and the kids -- most of them -- became wards of the state.

Uncle Murray took two: John and the disabled Penny. Uncle Dick took Julie. Uncle Don took Susan Marie. The rest were adopted by other families, and for all these years they lost track of one another.

The kids who stayed in the Simpson clan were never aware that they were sisters until one day when Uncle Don blabbed to them that they weren't cousins, but really siblings. Uncle Dick was furious. He didn't want Julie to know, and didn't speak to Don for years. He also made up a fictitious story about her birth parents.

When Julie was a young woman, the adoption story was confirmed by her older sister who took her to meet her mom, who was too distraught to deal with the situation. So for years, Julie lived without her mother, not knowing the fate of the others.

It was only because of Facebook that she eventually learned the truth about her family. Some siblings had answered an ad on Facebook for kids looking for their lost parents. This year, she was contacted by her sister Patti -- the sib who lives down the road from me -- and they began to talk on the phone.

Because of Facebook, Julie reconnected with her mom. She discovered that her sister Penny had been placed in a facility years ago, and that she was happily married to another gent and lived in assisted living.

Next week, Patti will take the long journey across this vast province and meet her sister Julie, who lives in Marathon, for the first time in more than 50 years, children brought back together because of Facebook after having been torn away from each other because of domestic violence and a system that was unable to keep them together.

What a great, heart-warming story for a cold Thanksgiving weekend.

All made possible through the wonder of Facebook.


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