A Moment of Transformation
by Ann Woldt
It’s been 32 years since the telephone call that transformed my life. I had lived 33 years before receiving it. I still can’t begin to express just how I felt then, nor can I fully share just how it feels now. But that one call, lasting not more than 20 minutes, on my 33rd birthday from someone who was a stranger to me, had profound impact on me then and now, all these years later.
The call came in right at midnight, a dark February night in Georgia. I had come home from work early, coming down with a cold. My birthday was the next day and I was hoping that I’d feel well enough to participate in the plans my husband had made to celebrate it. I was long asleep when the call came; I woke to my husband shaking me, a strange look on his face.
“Someone is on the phone for you; he claims to be your brother, wanting to wish you a happy birthday. But I don’t recognize the voice!” I have two brothers, both known to my husband, so I didn’t understand what he meant. I made my way to the telephone. There was a man on the other end of the call, indeed wishing me a happy birthday. He went on to tell me an incredible story: he was indeed my brother; that I was adopted; that the people who I had known all my life were really my aunt and uncle, my “brothers” were my cousins, and he and 6 other siblings had been searching for me for years. He went on to say that “my mother” – really, their mother, was dying, and her “dying wish” was to see me, her youngest child, before she died.
There is much more to this story. A brief summary would be this: their call was actually an attempt to get me to pay for medical bills for their mother. I refused, and have not engaged in any further contact with them. I was indeed adopted, a secret kept from me those 33 years, and one which would have been secret today, had they not called me. But let me be clear.
My not being told I was adopted is a fact. That it was a secret, perhaps not so. I somehow always knew I was different, that I was not part of the family that sheltered me. I always felt that I was somehow “second class”, tolerated but not loved, accepted but considered a burden. All of my childhood I was told that I was not smart enough, not clever enough, to succeed in the world as anything but “barely getting by”. My adoptive mother assumed that I would grow up to be like my biological siblings – all alcoholics, some chronic drug abusers, others petty thieves, one dying in prison. She ruled over me with an iron hand, presumably to keep me out of trouble, but which only served to demonstrate to me that “boys were better than girls” as she didn’t treat her own biological sons that way. The privileges extended to them never came my way. Opportunities provided them were never offered me. I grew into my teen years as a rebellious bully, chafing at the inconsistencies and restrictions placed on me without ever understanding their foundation – until that call. I was filled with guilt and shame over things I had not done, but were expected that I’d do, “sooner or later”. I carried that guilt and shame into my adulthood and early marriage, a marriage that was really an escape from my troubled home.
And then came that call. A few short minutes that explained so much.
Ann Woldt lives in rural Wisconsin on 15 acres of land, some of which she and her husband of 43 years, Ralph, have restored to native prairie. Ann has been a UU for 40 years, and a member of CLF for the last 13.