I am reminded that life is unpredictable and impermanent, and like change in a humble garden, our hearts and souls benefit from growth, restoration, tending, and nourishment. I have finally found my fertile niche, and hope this tale helps you in some way, as it has helped me in the telling.
Just as my parents retired to California from New Jersey in 1976, my marriage of six years fell apart. I was twenty-six, had a six-year old daughter, and felt devastated.
Fast forward to 1983 when I married my life partner, Phil. We moved to the Philadelphia area, and I returned to college for horticulture. Always a gardener, my new knowledge of perennial garden design prompted me to start a small business, restoring and designing estate gardens. The physical freedom and challenges suited me, and I was happier than ever.
On a rural acre with Victorian farmhouse, we embraced the challenges of home restoration. We tended flower and vegetable gardens, grew plants in the greenhouse. We embraced animal husbandry with a small herd of dwarf goats and a flock of fancy chickens.
From a young age, I wrote poetry, letters, and little stories. I was now writing creative proposals, and a garden newsletter.
My desire to know my origins peaked when I was 40, and I resolved to find my birth mother, against the odds. Yes, I am adopted.
Unless you’re adopted, you may not know much about adoption laws and regulations. Each state has different rules, and in South Carolina, adult adoptees still have no right to our Original Birth Certificates. My adoptive parents had saved my South Carolina “Certificate of Adoption and Birth,” all my adoption papers, and related correspondence, and I began my research.
Each day I made phone calls and typed letters to get the process started. Weeks would go by waiting for responses, often with no new information, and time often felt wasted following false leads. A genealogist located in South Carolina assisted me long distance in my sleuthing, using directories, cemetery registries, and obituaries.
My obsessive search ended when I made the first calls to my mother, maternal half-sister, and cousins, over a year later. No feeling could match this excitement of discovery, reunion, and bonding with the family of my origin. Mama could tell me nothing about my father, and it became clear, that had I stayed with her or her parents, I would have suffered neglect, as my sister had.
Still, I’m grateful for our one year together before her death, and I continue to stay connected with my maternal half-sisters.
As everyone’s story must, life goes on and is full of both joys and sorrows.
I suffered a massive hemorrhagic stroke at fifty-eight. Right-sided hemiplegia, speech and cognitive deficits, meant several months of difficult therapy before I could walk or care for myself. My husband took a leave of absence to be with me. I owe my remarkable recovery to his assistance alongside the excellent work and attention afforded me in two stroke and rehab hospitals.
I am, indeed, a survivor.
My cognitive function improved in about six months, and I made the choice to take a variety of on-line writing courses, and continue to do so eight years later. Although I have little use of my affected right hand, I write and read on laptop and other devices. In 2016, I self-published “Stroke Story: My Journey There and Back.” My stories appear in literary magazines and anthologies.
Writing has been key to my recovery. It keeps my brain active and creative, gives me hope, and helps me fight depression.
Determined to learn my paternity, I pursued my interest in genealogy. My maternal half-sisters and I tested our DNA for ancestral matches. This allowed me to eliminate maternal matches and begin identifying paternal DNA matches. A joyful connection with my deceased father’s family: – three half-sisters, a half-brother, and a multitude of cousins—has been my reward for a long arduous process. We reunited this spring in South Carolina.
Stacks of photos from the loving people who raised me, tell the story of my life. Photos and stories of my natural family complete me. Through long-sought family resemblance, mannerisms and expressions, I see myself more clearly.
Phil and I retired to Gulf Coast Florida last year. Our new home offers us a second chance at a peaceful life. My on-going recovery is complemented by refresher rounds of physical therapy, our home exercise pool, my writing, warm climate, and warmer friends. It’s likely I’ll never tend an in-earth garden again, but pot culture of Orchids, Succulents and Bromeliads gives me great pleasure.
With my days shaped by the natural beauty of our location, my aim is to recover the health of my mind and body. The self-sustaining richness of family has come full circle with life and kin restored to me.
About the Author: Mary Ellen Gambutti
Mary Ellen writes about her life as an Air Force daughter, her reunion with birth family, gardening career, and survival of brain hemorrhage at mid-life. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Gravel Magazine, Wildflower Muse, The Remembered Arts Journal, The Vignette Review and Halcyon Days. She resides in Sarasota, FL with Phil, her husband, and their rescued Schnoodle, Finnegan.