78: The Chosen Daughter

78: The Chosen Daughter

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Best Mom Ever!

The Chosen Daughter

Memory is a way of holding onto the things you love, the things you are, the things you never want to lose.

~From the television show The Wonder Years

I never got the chance to tell you how much I loved you and appreciated you for doing what you did for me. It took me a while to get to this point. I had to grow up and mature to understand the sacrifices you made.

I now fully understand that being a mother has nothing to do with birthing a child. I spent a good part of my childhood hating you for “abandoning” me, and hating my biological mother for giving me up. I didn’t really appreciate you for being the mother who chose me.

It wasn’t easy. In 1970, you and your husband were estranged, so essentially, you were a single black female who wanted to give me a good home. You knew my biological family through work… knew my situation. You were my savior. You petitioned the court three times. The first time they told you no, and you could have given up. No one would have blamed you for giving up after they told you no a second time. But you kept going back, and every time they closed the door in your face, you found a way to re-open it. You would not be denied.

The courts granted your wish the third time and made us family. You became my mother… the only mother I have ever known. Life was wonderful with you. You brought me home to a lovely two-story house in an upper middle class mixed neighborhood with a white and pink nursery and a beautiful handmade white crib. I had the best of everything — clothes, toys, bikes, a dog, and even a pool. You were very active in the community and you exposed me to that at an early age. I attended meetings and fundraisers with you, and learned about giving back at an early age.

You’d left Mississippi about fifteen years earlier. You realized that you wanted a better life than the one in the poor Mississippi Delta town of Lula. You didn’t have much formal education, but you were a smart, hardworking, beautiful and charming woman who knew how to succeed. You had determination and a dream, and the wherewithal to make it all happen. And that you did, starting your own cleaning business and winning corporate contracts.

You also had an appreciation for fine furniture, knick-knacks, and antiques, and turned that into a business. You were multitasking before it became a thing. You taught yourself to read better, and knew the key to my success was going to be a good education. I heard about college before I even got to preschool, and knew I’d be headed to Indiana University. You loved to put me in front of the TV to watch Sesame Street and Electric Company. At the store, you bought me books instead of candy, and I learned the alphabet, shapes, colors, numbers and the name of the President before I knew my full name.

I was spoiled and you could never tell me no. I don’t remember ever being disciplined but I’m sure it happened and was likely done with love. Because that’s what I remember the most: being loved. That, and your big personality, and your arms giving me lots of hugs. I expected life with you to just get better with time. But of all the things we had together, that’s the one thing we didn’t have. Time.

November 13, 1976. I will never forget that day. I didn’t know where you were and relatives were showing up. Nobody was answering my questions. And then I saw the newspaper. You were on page one of the Metro section, lying on a gurney. You had been in a car accident. The car had hit an embankment in the snow and gone airborne. When it landed, your legs and your chest were crushed. My brother was in the car with you and your arm was across his chest in a protective manner. Your other arm was broken. He didn’t have a scratch on him but you had internal injuries. I read that it took them an hour to get you out of that mangled piece of metal with the Jaws of Life. I will never forget reading “a tired, but relieved, Mary Taylor was rushed to the hospital….” And that’s when I figured out where you were. At the same hospital where you found me.

I rode to the hospital with family, but they wouldn’t let me go in. I was only six, but I felt like I was sixteen. I remember looking up at that tall building and wondering which one of the windows belonged to your room. You were in intensive care and it was clear that you wouldn’t make it. Even then, according to all accounts, you were worried about me. Wondered who would raise your little girl. You died later that day.

I had a rough life after you died. I had to move to the same state you left, and not much had changed. I went from a two-story house in a nice neighborhood to living in abject poverty in a two-room shack on a former plantation. Your younger sister never adopted me but became my legal guardian, as I was a ward of the state. She abused me for the next eleven years. I cried almost every day for the first year I lived there. I didn’t go to the bathroom for almost a week because I was scared of going in that outhouse. We didn’t even have running water.

I know that wasn’t the life you wanted for me, and I want you to know that your deathbed prayers got me through and helped me succeed. I graduated as valedictorian from high school and summa cum laude from college (third in my class). Today, I am a licensed CPA in Texas. I work for a global company and I own a business, following in your entrepreneurial spirit. I am married, and I do so much community service, I know you would be proud. But my biggest accomplishment to date is being called Mom by a six-year-old. I am raising her with the same foundation you gave me. Most importantly, I’m raising her with the same love you showed me. And I can’t seem to tell her no, either.

~Sheila Taylor-Clark

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