Most of the children have long since forgotten her and many have not outlived her, yet for thirteen years my mom was ‘mamma’ to nearly twenty foster children. Each one unique and amazingly happy. Each one with a desperate need for compassion.
The phone would ring and mom would hear something like, “We have a young girl named Joanie, could you take her?”
“Of course. Tell me about her.”
My parents specialized in a specific type of foster care. The children invited into our home were referred to as ‘retarded’ and ‘Mongoloid’ during that era. Some were autistic (a term we didn’t know then) and others couldn’t speak.
Their parents would bring them to our home on Sunday night and we would care for them through the week, making sure they got to special classes and were fed, bathed and all other needs taken care of. On Friday most of the families would come and pick up their children for the weekend. Many lived in outlying areas where it was difficult to find educational classes for their special needs children.
Lester didn’t talk but he had a tremendous capacity for joy. If a sound struck him as funny he would laugh until he cried. Joanie was perpetually curious with a tender heart, Jackie wasn’t her sister but was in many ways a twin. Rosie was wonderful unless she got mad. Cyndi never spoke and had fears we could never understand. There were so many others I could name.
The only boy that spent a great deal of time with us was John. He loved music, and he loved to sing. There was a time when he was taking a bath when he thought he was Tarzan and somehow climbed up on the towel racks and a couple of jumps later he crashed into the bathtub with two towel racks and a bit of the wall - didn’t seem to faze him a bit. Mom cleaned him up and sent him on to bed where he’d start sharing his musical talent with me until the wee hours of the morning.
Mom never seemed to lose her cool with these wonderful kids. Take for instance the time John decided to dance on top of the Chester Drawers with a record player. One of the legs broke and down came John, the Chester Drawers pinning him to the ground and the record player landed on his chest. When mom came to find out what happened, John was not concerned about the piece of furniture pinning him down, he was concerned about the record player spinning on his chest. The problem was quickly solved and John went back to singing.
Most moms had their hands full with their own children without adding more children to the mix, especially ones with such specific needs, yet this was an arena where Mom shined.
Like many moms of her era she needed to be needed and this calling was a perfect combination of need meeting need. These children were every bit a part of our family as my sisters and I were. For years Mom would receive Mother’s Day and Christmas cards from more than a dozen children who thought of her as their second mom.
It’s been more than twenty-five years since I last saw any of these ‘brothers and sisters’ yet I remember them fondly and I also remember a mom whose heart was big enough to embrace those that society had little use for. This was a pattern that she demonstrated over and over again throughout her life.
Now in a nursing home, this legally blind woman shares kind words with a one who has had cerebral palsy since she was very young. Mom takes the time to listen and understand what her new friend is saying. She shares a room with a woman who speaks another language - yet she has found ways to communicate with someone who is lucid only on rare occasion.
I think God must be pleased.
‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you something to drink? Or a stranger and show you hospitality? Or naked and give you clothing? When did we ever see you sick or in prison, and visit you?’ And the King will tell them, ‘I assure you, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!’ (Matthew 27:37-40 - NLT)
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