Marie Walter McManus
Thanksgiving, 1998. TV Room. Mom and Dad.
It was over a year before I took more than a cursory glance at the legal document Dad had handed me that night about an hour before we left for my Cousin’s house for what would be our last Thanksgiving Dinner together as a family. When I finally got to it, really got to it, I was stunned. Three pages of legal paper, typed, folded in fourths. And on the front fold a bunch of legalese including this:
“IN THE MATTER OF THE PETITION OF…TO ADOPT MARIE WALTER MCMANUS, A MINOR”
Huh. Is this a real name? Is this me? Huh. I had given my younger Daughter “Marie” as a middle name. How odd! I’d had no idea. Interesting coincidence!
As I read through the pages, I noticed two things:
“Paragraph 4. That Charlotte McManus, the mother, surrendered…” Who? Mother? My Mother? Is this her name?
“IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that the name of said child shall be changed to Laura Ann Luner.” Come again? Name change? Legal name change? Then…these must be real names. Legal names; else, why would there be a legal change of names?
But. But. My mind whirled with questions…
In the whole of my life I had never asked. Never wondered. I remember how, over the years, my Parents poked at me a bit, prodded me, asked me if I wondered, if I had questions, if there was anything I wanted to know. I remember stories my Mom used to tell me about going to St Vincent’s and seeing me, picking me out, talking with Sr Mary Alice and about the book Sister had kept with the picture and the story of every child she had placed. I remember one poignant story about Mom and Dad in the elevator, holding me, taking me home, and the elevator opening to a very young, very pregnant woman who saw my Parents, saw me, and burst into tears, saying, “I hope my baby gets two parents like you!”
My Mom never forgot that; never forgot there was a young woman out there, somewhere, who had given me life. And she was grateful. I never heard that story without tears welling in Mom’s eyes, emotion choking her voice.
I also remembered that one of the few things Mom had said to me on that last Thanksgiving was not to put too much stock into the names I would find in this document. “We have no way of knowing if they were real names or not”, she said. “A lot of young women tried to hide themselves with false names, false information.”
Okaaayyy. I was more than aware that giving birth as a single Mom in the 1950s was a shame-inducing proposition. I knew the usual ruse was for girls to “go see Aunt Edith” in a far away state for the duration. Heck! The English television show “Downton Abbey” even had a storyline that went into this! Times have certainly changed, but only as recently as in my lifetime.
Yet, still, I was feeling a bit curious. For the first time ever in my memory, I had questions. While I always felt incredibly positive, grateful, really, towards the woman who had birthed me, then made the stunning sacrifice of releasing me for adoption, I never had a burning desire to know much about her. Why dredge up the past? She had made her choice and I was content with it. So I was surprised that these latent feelings of curiosity were there. I did a bit of poking around…and came up empty. There wasn’t a single record of a Charlotte McManus in all of the state of Illinois from 1925-1940. None. I left it alone. Besides, Life was, still and again, ramping up.
I put this, along with those other papers I already had seen lo! those many years ago, on the back burner.