I have a tradition I share with my three sisters. Every Mother’s Day we get together for a long weekend to catch up, share stories, laugh, cry, explore, and take a moment to stop in a bar. We order a Stinger Blended Up in honor of our mom who passed away in 2006. It was her favorite cocktail and not one that every bartender knows about so it’s always fun to see how they turn out.
Our last Sisters/Mother’s Day weekend in Charleston, South Carolina, we sat down to watch the movie “Philomena.” We were stunned.
If you’ve never seen this movie, here’s a synopsis: A true story about a young Irish woman who gives birth in a Catholic home for unwed mothers. When her little boy was two years old, the nuns adopted him out – without permission or knowledge by the mother. Philomena didn’t speak about her son with anyone until years later when her daughter asked her about it. Apparently Philomena secretly celebrated her son’s birthday every year and her daughter happen to catch her at a tender moment. And so the search for the son begins.
I am from a big Irish Catholic family – five brothers and three sisters. We like to say there are 9 of us – just like the Kennedy’s without all the money. But that’s not entirely true. We do have another brother we believe is somewhere out there. Although we’ve never met him, we are deeply suspicious he was stolen from the hospital right after his birth.
Here’s our story:
My parents met and married while living outside of Chicago in the early 40s. In 1946 they had their first child – a girl – my sister Barbara Ann. Shortly after that, my parents moved west, eventually settling in the Los Angeles area. In 1950, when my mom was pregnant with her second child, her father dies suddenly at the age of 50. It devastated my mom. Two months later, she goes into labor. Full term and with no insurance, my mom is given a drug to “put her out” (common practice for birth back then) and when she finally wakes, the hospital staff tells her the baby was dead. Stillborn.
According to the stories from my mom, it was at this point my grandmother, Cecelia Agnes McCann, walks in and demands to see the body. The hospital staff tells her it’s too late – he’s already been cremated. No body. No baptism. No burial.
Here’s the kicker: Cremation was a mortal sin in 1950. That’s the big one. No Heaven. No Purgatory. No second chance. Just straight to Hell.
Fast forward many years. My mom and dad go on to have eight more children. Some time in the early 90s my five brothers go on a popular game show called “Family Feud.” They were on every night for five days straight – the Rogers Brothers: Bill, Russ, John, Pat and Mike. They had fun and made some money. That’s them below:
Several months (maybe a year, I’m not sure) my mom receives a letter from the studio that produced Family Feud. They forwarded a note from a lady, I believe from the Chicago area, who said her husband looks just like the Rogers brothers and since he was adopted, he always wondered where he came from.
I’m not sure what happened to that letter. There must have not been a phone number and there was no internet back then. My mom might have called information but even that I can’t be sure of.
Here’s the thing about my mom – She never lived in the past or worried about the future. She lived in the present. She didn’t question authority – the church, doctors, or priests. Some things, though, she must have kept deep down inside of her because every once in a while something would pop to the surface – like her comment about believing one day she would be walking down a street and pass a young man and know, just know, that was her son she lost on that September day in 1950.
So why am I writing about all this now? Philomena for one. Another is my brother’s birth certificate that I recently came across while looking through a file. My older sister had sent away for it back in 1999 and gave it to my mom to follow-up. I guess she never did. But she did put it in a file.
My brothers and sisters believe there are actually 10 of us. Did the Catholic Church steal my brother? Who would have ever guessed they would take a child from a young mother and just give him away? Apparently they did. Just ask Philomena.
So our search continues. I’m not sure what we will find but I’m putting it out there.
And here’s the last kicker: My mother was one of 10 children herself. When she was in her 70s, a cousin of mine had been researching the family tree and came across someone whose father never knew his real dad but he had the same last name as my mom (they were the Partridge family believe it or not). Anyway, through many phone calls and internet searches we come to discover my grandfather was married before he married my grandmother. He had a son named Earl. He left that family and hooked up with my grandmother never to mention the first family EVER.
Turns out old Earl, raised as an only child, at 80 years of age found out he had 10 half brothers and sisters.