I always knew I was adopted. That was never a secret. Mom used to call me her little adopted angel. I felt special because I was chosen. Dad told me that they picked me out from a large room filled with cribs of babies. After seeing me in the middle of the room, he said, “I’ll take that curly-headed one over there!” Mom told me that before I was born her arms would ache with envy every time she saw a mother holding a baby.
My mom could not bear a child. After a few years of correspondence with a lawyer, a call came saying I was born, was a male, and could be adopted. Mom and Dad drove to Indianapolis, signed the necessary papers, and returned south to the home where I would be raised — New Albany. The small, sleepy town in Indiana was mostly a white Methodist community that lay on the north bank of the Ohio River, peering across to its larger neighbor, Louisville.
I was the talk of the town and some confused neighbors said they didn’t even know Mom was pregnant. Nevertheless, on that day, Mrs. Watson became a mother. By trial and error, she learned the correct amount of blankets to cover me and the safest way to secure my diaper with a pin. I never tasted mother’s milk, but was prescribed a stinky mixture made from soybeans. My complexion was olive; my parents were fair-skinned. My hair was dark and coiled; my parents’ hair was straight. Neighbors enjoyed guessing what I looked like. Some said Italian.
Mom’s name was Martha Velia. Somehow the nickname “Micky” stuck with close friends. And for whatever reason, Dad called her “Veeler,” disfiguring her name even more. I remembered her as plump, gracious, and quite attractive. She could gain complete friendship and trust with anyone she met and could also dissolve any argument between friends with caring words and tender solutions. I always thought of her as an extreme worrier and tried to make her see the more serene side of life. She kept a spotless house, re-painted each room a different color every two years, and hung clothes on a tight wire suspended between two mulberry trees in the back yard long after most neighbors had more efficient ways of drying garments.
Dad was a tall, thin man named Stoy. He finished only the seventh grade and worked long hours as a pipe fitter until his retirement. He had a hard life and, like many people living in America during the Great Depression, was more concerned with economic survival than even the most primal luxuries. He and Mom got along fine when he wasn’t drinking. He smoked stinky smelling Tareyton’s and then changed to a pipe. He was the only man I ever knew who could take a drag from a cigarette so deep that smoke would pour out of his mouth after the third exhale. The sun-filled living room was always infiltrated with horizontal layers of blue-gray smoke that would hover motionless unless a breeze came through.