May 16, 2005

Our Mother's Grief

She hurried along in the gathering darkness. Fear clutched at her heart. Her shoulders bent with the weight of her sadness. All the tears in the world would never erase the pain of leaving her four small children alone in the city that never sleeps.

Would she ever hold baby Sandra in her arms and sing soft lullabies? Or, wave 8-year-old Tommy off to school? Would 6-year old Allison come skipping into the kitchen for a cool glass of milk? Would 3-year-old Linda with her dark brown eyes and ringlets of hair remember a Mother's touch at end of day?

It was the winter of 1953 in New York City, and only a few days had passed since she had walked away from the seemingly insurmountable difficulties of trying to support her children and care for her sick mother. The death of her mother and news that her Navy husband was returning to America with a new girlfriend was simply more than Dorothyann could handle.

Slipping open the latch of the small rented room, she felt the icicles of loneliness reach from the shadows and tighten around her. She unconsciously brushed the soft brown curls from her face wet with tears as she sat at the table and began to write.

My Dearest Daughters,

I guess you think your mother has forgotten you. I have not. Mother had to go away for awhile and did not know she would be gone so long. I hope that you are being my good (girls) and that your daddy will write to you too.

Linda are you taking good care of Sandra for me? I hope that by next week I will have a permanent address and will get in touch with Miss Hall as to where I can be reached.

Please tell Miss Hall that I have not forgotten my children and will explain when I get in touch with her sometime next week.

I also hope that I can see you soon. Be my good girls and love your sister and please do not forget your mother or daddy.

I promise that you will be with daddy or me soon. Be good my dears. Kiss Sissy for me and I will write you real soon again.

Thank-you. Mrs. D. Brantley
All my love to my daughters,

There could be no turning back now. She had to say good-by not knowing what the future held for her and the small children who meant the world to her. She paused as the sounds from a radio drifted through the thin walls. Perry Como's words kept repeating.

"And yes, I know how lonely life can be. The shadows follow me, and the night won't set me free".

Dorothyann loved to sing. Already her clear soprano voice, sparkling eyes and mystic smile had charmed audiences in churches and theaters in New York City. She grew up singing as she walked to school or work. She lulled colicky babies to sleep and sent many soldiers off to war with the memory of her sweet songs.

But then the morning sickness started and she felt the life of a child whose father she would never name. Her nights were filled with helplessness and the days were a blur of nausea, stomach pain from the tight girdles and a brave front as she didn't tell anyone about the pregnancy. The truth was sudden and shocking as she went into labor on the way to church with her family.

Her mother and stepfather adopted the sickly baby they named Thomas John. Dorothyann felt more and more like a stranger in her own home as her baby boy was assumed by others to be her little brother. She felt her mother's scorn and her older sister's rage! She couldn't escape her stepfather's converted glances.

As Dorothyann sealed the farewell letter to her children, she tried to shake off painful memories of her youth. The son she could not call her own. The abuse of her stepfather. The pain of hiding yet another pregnancy from her mother and sister. She swore that her family would not know about this baby until it was born. Somehow she hoped this would make it better.

After almost 9 months of anguish and pain, Dorothyann labored alone for many hours in a strange hospital as the nurses cast knowing glances and told her to shut-up and push harder for the difficult birth. Allison was born on a cold December day in 1947. A few days later Dorothyann thought her heart would break when she had to leave her tiny daughter behind. Her family had refused to acknowledge the birth. She was accused of bringing shame and embarrassment to the family. Her stepfather seemed immune to her feelings.

But, Dorothyann refused to abandon her baby. Most every afternoon for three months, the nurses would warm the formula and hand the bottle to Dorothyann as she slipped in to the nursery to hold and feed baby Allison. Responding to her mother's lullabies and soothing voice, Allison would quickly fall asleep as Dorothyann rocked and whispered sweet promises to the child she had to hide from the world.

After three months, Dorothyann's parents brought the baby home, but once again, Dorothyann was not allowed to love it as her own. In fact, Allison's older sister claimed ownership and Allison would grow up wondering who her mother was and why she didn't want her. She would learn the strange details of her birth mother many years later when the family was finally reunited in a miraculous sort of way.

As the letter dropped with a soft thud into the mailbox, Dorothyann wanted to rush back and retrieve the sad message! Surely there was another way. Maybe Robert would come back to her. Maybe they could patch up their marriage. She kicked a small stone on the path and remembered the moment Robert had walked into her life.

Tall, slender and handsome, Robert looked splendid in his Navy Sailor dress blues. He had swept her off her feet from the first time they met.

New York City had never seemed so bright! She sang to him and her audiences with a fervor she had never known! At last there was someone who would cherish her and her two babies! She could be a loving wife and mother forever. The Korean War was almost over in America and her heart was free to love and be loved!

They married at St. Michael's Church in New York City on December 11, 1949. Linda Jean was born in 1950 and Sandra Lee joined the family in 1952. Dorothyann still enjoyed singing. Sometimes she held little Linda in her arms as she sang, "Sweetest Little Angel". But by this time, dark clouds were looming on the horizon once again and Dorothyann's life would soon be plunged into the darkest ebb she had ever known.

By late 1953, Robert had gone off to war and her mother passed away. Robert said he wasn't coming back to her and she was alone with four little children. Dorothyann didn't know how in the world she would survive. Helplessness overcame her, and in the bitter blackness of night in her soul, she fled and left them all behind.

It would be another 35 years before Linda would return searching for clues of her mother's disappearance. The sad goodbye letter would be recovered, lost in the dusty files of an old orphanage. Finally, a grand reunion would take place and siblings would celebrate a family reunited.

unavoidably, there would be some bitterness, a sad death, a few regrets and unavoidable rejection. Where there had been four siblings, there would eventually be nine! Another child would surprise the entire clan! Thomas John would slip away. Others would drift apart. The story is not entirely complete, but Linda is at peace knowing that her lifelong mission to find her mother is done.

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