• Gina Gallagher

Furnace Days

Image by skeeze from Pixabay

I walked out of school. It was raining. I was walking with one of the girls from my class. I knew my mother was parked along the curb waiting for me.

I could see her in the line of cars along with the other mothers. The girl was walking alongside me and asked me a question. “Do you know you’re adopted?” I knew the word, adopted; we had learned that word in our catechism class.

“Yes,” I said, “I know.” Her whole demeanor changed. It was as if she wanted to be the first to tell me. She walked on and I got into my mother’s car.

“Do you know what she just asked me?” I said, telling my mother about the girl. “She asked if I knew I was adopted.” My mother’s face went white. “What did you say? My mother asked.

“I said, ‘Yes, I know.’” My mother didn’t say anything on the car ride home. I never thought any more about it. I was eight years old.

The next day, my mother kept me home from school. “Why did you say you knew you were adopted?” my mother asked me as we sat on the porch. “Because we learned that we are the adopted children of God.” I saw a sweet look come across my mother’s face.

There, on the porch, my mother explained what being adopted meant. There, on the porch, she told me her story–which became my story. There, on the porch, I learned that she’d had a stillborn baby boy. There, on the porch, I saw her tear-filled eyes as she told me she could not have more children.

I was beginning to understand as much as an eight-year-old can understand. “So, we made the decision to adopt you and I am so very glad we did! You are our daughter through and through. Your birth mother did a very brave thing because she could not care for you.”

“How old was I when you adopted me?” I asked her. “You were six weeks old,” my mother said tenderly. The other woman who gave birth to me was not the one who held me when I was sick. The other woman was not the one who put drops in my ears when I had an ear infection.

“She did a brave thing,” my mother said again. “I will always be grateful to her.”I learned later that the two mothers never met. I learned later that my birth mother was only sixteen years old when she delivered me.

That day on the porch was the only day we ever talked about my adoption. Mothers talked among themselves, though the conversations were not as open back then. I was their daughter. That is all anyone needed to know.

I remember that April morning. My mother came into my room. “Time to wake up. I love you,” she said sweetly. I stirred and rolled over in bed.

I heard her go downstairs. She turned on her little transistor radio that was always on the kitchen windowsill. She filled the coffee pot with water. She yelled my father’s name.

I jumped out of bed. I ran downstairs before him. There was my mother, face down on the kitchen floor. Our little dog would not leave her side.

I don’t remember who called for an ambulance. I only remember my father telling me to go upstairs and get dressed. When I got downstairs, the paramedics were there. They were trying to resuscitate my mother.

I tried to look over all the bent backs helping her there on the kitchen floor. Someone had put our little dog in the basement since she was not willing to leave her side. I saw my mother. I knew that her face should not be so blue.

She was taken by ambulance to the hospital. We followed in the car. She never regained consciousness. She died later that day.

I was fifteen years old. I was suddenly the cook, the laundress, and the house cleaner, while only a young woman. I was supposed to be all of these things, while still being a student. I was all of those things.

I remember wanting to find out about my birth mother after my mother died. It was 1975. At that time, the adoption records were sealed. By the time the records were unsealed, I was married and it just didn’t matter to me then.

My father began to date. It was uncharted territory for me. How do I manage to be a teenager all by myself? How do I watch my father date, while still missing my mother?

When he decided he would marry again, I was eighteen years old. I was in college as a commuter student. I worked at a bank to help offset some of the costs. I was still living at home.

I remember the day I pulled in the driveway. There was a FOR SALE sign on the only house I had ever known. We were moving and I had not been told. One by one, pieces of my old life were slipping away from me.

I did most of the packing. I was the one who went through my mother’s things. My aunt, her younger sister, was a tremendous help to me. She suggested we take some things to a consignment shop.

I remember the day I saw them. There were two dirty trays that were in a bag and tucked away under a kitchen cabinet. Why would Mom ever have these? I asked myself, knowing she was so neat and clean. I added them to the throwaway pile.

Weeks later, my aunt happened to mention the silver trays. “What silver trays?” I asked her. I had gone through the china closet in the dining room. I knew it only held her good china.

“There were two silver trays,” my aunt told me. My heart sank. “Would they have looked all dirty?” I asked naively. “Probably,” she said. “They would just need a little polish.”

“I think I threw them out, “I admitted. “I threw them out!” And then the tears came. And they kept coming.

So much had happened in such a short amount of time. The world I knew was shaken to the core. I threw away something valuable because I just did not know. I did not know.

My aunt hugged me and let me cry. She could care less about the silver trays. She cared about my heart. She cared about me.

Many years later, I was at a jewelry counter in a department store. I needed to get a watch battery. The woman behind the counter was talking to me as she replaced the old battery. She looked up at me.

“You look so much like someone I knew once,” she said. “She was actually in the bed next to me when I delivered my son. You really look like her, but that was many years ago.” I smiled.

I didn’t ask her any questions. Now, I didn’t need to know. Everything in my life had happened for a reason. I was finally at peace.

Like the trays I threw away, I am silver refined. I spent years in the furnace. God used that time to draw me to Himself. He polished me so that His image would be reflected clearly.

The words of the LORD are pure words, like silver refined in a furnace on the ground, purified seven times. (Psalm 12:6)

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