From Chicken Soup for the Sister's Soul

My Family Was Separated

My family was separated and placed into foster care when I was five years old. We grew up living in separate homes, never knowing each other. As I grew older, the only memory that remained of my family was of a tall, slender woman always being there to comfort me. In my mind, this woman was my mother. I believed that someday she would return and life would be normal again. She was in my prayers throughout my childhood.

On Thanksgiving Day, which was also my forty-fifth birthday, there wasn’t much to celebrate. My son was moving to another state, and I was feeling not only older but also sad to be losing the closeness of the only family I knew. A card arrived in the mail with a return name and address of someone I didn’t recognize. Opening it, I found a Thanksgiving wish with a short note reading, “I was thinking of you on your birthday, Mom.” The memories of the tall, slender woman flashed through my mind. My feelings felt like a roller coaster going from anger to extreme happiness in moments. If this was my mother, why had she abandoned us? Why didn’t she ever come to get me? Why would she be writing now, after all these years? At the same time, I wanted to hear her voice and feel her warmth.

For two weeks, the card lay on the table tearing at my heart. Finally, summing up the courage to call information, I got her number. Holding my breath and trying to calm my heart, I dialed. On the fifth ring, I felt relief that no one was answering. Then, just as I was about to hang up, a voice from the past said, “Hello.” Unsure of what to say, I asked to whom I was speaking. It turned out to be my older sister who was cleaning out our mother’s apartment. Two weeks after sending the card, Mom had died.

As we talked, reacquainting ourselves, I asked what my mom looked like. My sister was surprised that I didn’t remember. She told me Mom was a very short, stocky lady. Then who was the tall, slender woman that I remember?

As we continued our conversation, our family and our life began returning to me.

My older sister was seven when our mother left us. For two years, she was the one caring for us, keeping us safe, cooking our meals and drying our tears. She was the one holding me at night when nightmares woke me, singing me songs, wiping my tears when I was scared. It was my sister who told me to run and lock myself in the bathroom as she tried to keep foster care from taking us away.

We talked for hours that night, reminiscing about the past. She had found our brother and baby sister, and we made plans to reunite after forty years of separation. Neither one of us wanted the night to end, but as dawn approached we finally gave in. “By the way,” I asked before hanging up, “how tall are you?”

She answered, “Five-foot-nine, why?”

“Because you were the tall, slender woman who made the difference in my life.” She was crying as I said, “Good night, I love you.”

Nora Steuber-Tamblin

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