United States to Canada – “Where were you born?”

I was born in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. The City of Montreal is on the Island of Montreal in the Saint Lawrence River. I think there is a certain mystique about Montreal—it has an international reputation for culture and style and design in its rich history. Montreal is my birthplace–that much I always knew!

Montreal is named for Mount Royal, a large hill or small mountain, whichever you prefer, just west of downtown. Mount Royal Park was originally designed by the American 19th century landscape architect, Frederick Law Olmsted. It is one of Montreal’s largest green spaces. Olmsted famously designed Central Park in New York City. He also designed city parks across the United States, including Delaware Park in Buffalo NY, an easy walk from our Parkside neighborhood.

In 1988, five years after her death, I learned my birthmother’s name. Paul and I and Ron and Emily visited her grave in The Mount Royal Cemetery. I was relieved that this was her final resting place.

1988 – The Mount Royal Cemetery

In the southwestern part of Montreal is the borough of Verdun. Founded in 1671, Verdun is one of Canada’s oldest cities. In 2002, Verdun merged with Montreal. My birthmother’s family lived on the second floor of a ‘two-plex’ on Wellington Street. We visited their apartment during our 1988 trip. Wellington is one of the main streets  in Verdun. Verdun has had its ups and downs as most industrial communities have had over the years. Today it is a hub for young families, bustling with shops and restaurants. My birthfather lived a quarter mile from the Wellington Street apartment, on Willibrord Street. And so, I now know that I am a full-blooded Verdunite!

These days when I cross the border into Canada, I am more grateful than ever to say, “I was born in Montreal.” Years ago, as we prepped the kids for border crossing, Paul would joke, “Why were you born?” I’m not going there!

Dressing Up for an Easter Sunrise

Handmade Easter Card

Sunday school, Junior Choir, pageants, holiday services—I loved them all! My sister and I wore blue robes and sang in the Junior Choir at our little church in Ste-Anne-de-Bellevue, our home town, a suburb of Montreal. One Christmas, my sister, brother, and I put on a pageant for our parents and grandparents. Our brother played Santa. He wore baggy red tights and a sweatshirt. He was a skinny kid and everyone laughed when he appeared in the baggy red tights. He laughed too!

We moved a couple of times in my childhood. With each move, we found a new church. I remember babysitting little ones while their parents attended service. In high school, I really enjoyed the youth group. 

Dad claimed that he didn’t go to church because he couldn’t sing. Mom made sure we went to Sunday school and participated in activities we enjoyed. I don’t recall any coercion. However, I do recall vividly one Easter when I was about 14. Our church announced that there would be a sunrise service early Easter morning. My decision was easy—I had to go! I picked out a favorite flowery, spring dress. I can still see it today! As my family slept, I managed to get up, get ready, put on a light cardigan, and sneak out. It was about a mile walk to First Church Amherst. I was very excited in anticipation of a beautiful service during sunrise on Easter morning.

As I approached the church, I saw families gathering in the parking lot. There wasn’t another pretty Easter dress anywhere! I soon learned that the sunrise service would take place outside on a hilltop outside of town! How did I miss that part of the announcement? I have a vague recollection of someone offering me a warm coat and a ride to our sunrise service. As disappointed as I was in myself, the service on the hilltop as the sun rose on that Easter morning was beautiful and unforgettable to this day.

Happy Easter, Everyone!

Handmade Easter Card

Music in the Berkshires and Blueberry Pie!

Here in Western New York, there are buds on the trees and the spring flowers will bloom any day. When I was in high school in Amherst, Massachusetts, we also welcomed the warmth of spring and the chance to be outdoors. In the summer, my parents loved to drive to the Tanglewood music festival in the Berkshires. On Saturday mornings, the Boston Symphony Orchestra performed open rehearsals. As I recall, there were folding chairs on a lawn under a huge tent. The music was beautiful. I was fascinated by the conductor as he paused the orchestra and spoke to his musicians. 

Dad loved classical music. He bought the best turntable and needle he could find, and even built the record player console himself. Dad also played the clarinet and my mom played piano. We were all very familiar with classical music. However, during one summer rehearsal at Tanglewood, I didn’t recognize a contemporary piece at all. Eventually, I turned to my dad and asked when they were going to stop warming up and play something. I can still see his smile.

On the way home, we traditionally stopped at a blueberry farm. Pick your own—so much a quart! I can’t say I loved picking blueberries, but the reward was delicious. My mom made the best blueberry pie. She made her own pie crust from years of experience—without a recipe. “You have to get the feel of it so that the crust will be light and flaky. Adjust the flour if it’s a humid day.” Oh sure, I thought. Easier said than done!

Over the years, I received various non-identifying information about my birthfamilies. I learned that I had English and Scottish roots, similar to my parents. And I learned that my birthmother and birthfather also came from musical families. It is clear to me that my parents and I were a good match—one’s DNA is only part of the story.

Mom and Dad at Our Wedding, 1970

Happy Birthday!

My Handmade Greeting Card

Tomorrow is my daughter’s birthday. Happy Birthday, Sweetheart! We smile when I tell the story of her birth–again. The doctor had agreed to follow the Leboyer method of childbirth to minimize trauma for my newborn. I was looking forward to minimal trauma, too! The room would be warm and dimly lit with gentle music playing in the background. My baby would be placed in warm water immediately to ease the transition from the womb.

A couple of minutes before her birth, I clearly recall the doctor coming into the delivery room with a cassette tape recorder and hanging it crookedly on the wall. For me, the ambience quickly slipped away! Our not-so-gentle background music was coming from a cheap shoebox recorder! Furthermore, the room was freezing and I didn’t see a tub of warm water anywhere! The lights were dim—I was grateful for that! He held up my precious baby girl and said, “About eight and a half pounds.” They put her on the scale and magically, she weighed exactly eight and a half pounds! I guess our doctor had plenty of experience. Whatever part of the Leboyer method was lacking, there was no trauma and we were thrilled with our adorable baby daughter.

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about my excitement when I learned that there was an adoption file on me—proof! “I had actually been born!” I am sure fellow adoptees would agree with me that anything having to do with birth can conjure strange and irrational thoughts. It took me quite a while after my children were born to truly realize that they were my biological children. I felt that they were my husband’s kids. In fact, I also thought that his parents were their real grandparents and my parents were not. In all fairness to adoptees, I believe that it does make sense to feel a disconnect from biological relatives in a closed adoption and have those thoughts follow us into adulthood. It also makes sense to move on from irrational thoughts!

Today, I am delighted—we have two wonderful children and four amazing grandchildren.