I was born in Oakland, CA in 1951 to a mother I have never met. I know absolutely nothing about her and I have never seen a photo of her. That very day, I was taken to a hospital in San Francisco, and into the arms of my new mother. I still don’t know why my new parents didn’t adopt me right from the first hospital. Everything was signed, sealed, and I was twice delivered. Maybe my Gemini rising sign had something to do with it.
My adopted mother, Verda Smith was quite a role model and a woman of my own heart. When I was old enough to remember things, I watched her doing the hula to “Lovely Hula Hands”. She was fabulous and graceful. Amazed by the way she moved, I would join her to learn as well. I have one other memory of mother moving on her own when she and I were riding on an elephant at some day park in California.
My mother had lived most of her adult life in a wheelchair that didn’t go anywhere. She slept in a bed that rocked like a seesaw in order to move the muscles that allowed her to breathe without a machine at night. There was a point, that mother was allowed to come home and live with us. We had a housekeeper who helped dad keep track of me, so that mother could be at home. I learned how to help my father take care of her.
When she woke up, she would be transferred to her wheelchair for the day. There was this pad fitted with metal hooks that fastened into a crank-type machine that would lift her from the bed, then swing over to the wheelchair and ease her into it. We would unhook her, straighten out her clothes. then strap her breathing belt around her waist. When the belt was turned on, it would move in and out like the diaphragm. A tray would then be snapped into place and there she was for a time. I remember that mother couldn’t move her left hand, but she could somewhat move her right hand. She would move it over to mine and hold my little hand in hers. It was then we would talk and share ideas.
I would get up on the rocker bed and lay down beside her to rock and talk. For hours, we would rock and she would make up stories and I would play them in my mind. We would laugh and I could tell my mother anything. Mother had polio in every muscle of her body and from the time I was three, I witnessed my mother’s fight back. (The doctors at the time, gave her a few years to live from the time she was diagnosed. Mother lived 14 years.) Eventually, mother was taken back to the hospital and never returned. I always visited her at the hospital with my father.
I watched mother fight back with all kinds of steel contraptions, like one that would hold up her right arm and swing her spoon over to her mouth under my mothers power. The next contraption was a long round steel and grey tube called an Iron Lung. This machine breathed for my mother during the last few months of her life. At 17 years of age, I viewed mother through a mirror angled so that I could see her face while I was sitting down. This is the last physical image I had of her, even though mother told me she didn’t want me to remember her that way. She told my father that she wanted me to remember her up and talking.
After mom had been transferred back to the hospital, my father thought it best that I was raised by his brother and wife. I was moved to their house up the hill from where my father lived. I would be with this family until my junior year in high school when I moved back into my father’s house. My aunt taught me all the basics of life that I would need to take care of myself in this world.
I was 5 years old and already I had 3 mothers and had been moved to two different families. First mother disappeared out of my life after giving birth, 2nd mother died when I was 17 from polio. My aunt was diagnosed with cancer while I was trucking around the country. She committed suicide by drowning herself in our pool because she didn’t want to be a burden to the family.
I learned from all my mothers much more than I ever could have guessed. Verda knew that this kid was not going to stay “normal” for very long. She would allow me to be myself in all my tomboyish ways. She loved me and smiled when I sang to her. I learned courage and unconditional love from her.
I learned to love being in the company of women and this love led me down the path needing to experience more as my life unfolded. I learned how marvelously colorful and full of depth each woman was capable of being. I spent my life where I felt most alive according to my consciousness and spirit.