It was past midnight, but no one except Baby Grace was asleep in the Jordan house. Four-yr.-old Alicia and sister, Tammy, seven, were snuggled together in their bedroom small closet wrapped in a moth-eaten sleeping bag. Twins Clay and Clarke cowered together on their top bunk upstairs, trying not to cry. Ten years old now, their father had told them big boys don’t bawl. Eleven-yr. old Sallie, along with her teenaged sister, Mavis, were creeping down the back stairs in the dark, carefully feeling their way. Halfway down, Clay and Clarke silently joined them. Having practiced this “fire” drill repeatedly, they operated in quiet precision. At their sisters’ closet door, Mavis delivered the secret code: ONE LONG, FOLLOWED BY TWO SHORT SCRATCHES. Alicia sleepily nodded as wide-awake Tammy let them in.
The six shrouded various-sized shapes crept to the window, well greased for these moonrise excursions. Mavis sandwiched her arms between body layers to fit through the small opening, and the others followed. A pathetic sight—that little troop with arms wrapped around each other, shuffling in slippered feet to the barn hayloft where their mother had prepared makeshift beds. Some of them had accepted this semi-regular routine as normal, but the older ones remembered “life before.”
Life before their father resorted to the bottle for solace from the gnawing guilt of not being able to provide enough for his family. Life before his drunken rages turned him into a bullish boar who roared and lashed out, mowing down all in his path. Life before their mother began to take in townspeople’s laundry in a desperate attempt to make ends meet. Life before this reality of “life after.”
Settling them with kisses and prayers, even Sallie not demurring for a change, Mavis saw them asleep before going to check on her fragile mother, who appeared to her eldest daughter a whisper of her former self. Approaching the house and creeping through the window, it was quiet now, almost eerily so. No sounds of her father’s slurred, accusing, booming voice as he slapped his wife around or the usual sobs that escaped, unbidden, from her mother’s protests. Peeking in the kitchen, Mavis watched her mother, seated on the floor, tenderly splaying her fingers through her father’s thick, unruly hair as he lay, his head in her lap.
“Honey, I’m sorry. I tried to change the clinic’s diagnosis by seeing a specialist, but they both agreed.” A long sigh followed. “John, you must promise me. Stay sober and care for the children after I’m gone. Please!”
But in her heart, the care-worn mother knew it would not happen . . .
“Young lady, what is it you wanted? Don’t be nervous, Mavis, I want to help you,” the black-robed female judge tried to set the girl at ease.
“Ma wanted us to be together. Not split up. I promised her. But the social worker says it’s impossible, with seven of us and all. Couldn’t we go two by two in foster homes? Grannie took Baby Grace and is adopting her, but she doesn’t have room for the rest of us. And, since Pa signed off his parental rights, we don’t have anyone else except each other.”
Twisting her clammy hands together on her lap and pausing to take a breath, she continued,
“We need each other! Please, what can we do? Isn’t there some way?”
The judge, herself an adoptive parent of twins, was not immune to the Jordan’s plight. She had six separate reports on her desk, detailing the deep unhappiness of these siblings as they each tried unsuccessfully to accept the temporary foster care provided them while their case was reviewed, and each one was experiencing different degrees of behavioral and emotional trauma from their separations. “Unusual, co-existent bonding,” the child psychiatrist called it.
The judge worked closely with her friends at Social Services until, eventually, a miracle took place. Three separate couples emerged from the same general vicinity willing to take on twosomes, and each had agreed to weekly get-togethers where all six children could interact.
“In all my years on the bench, this has been the most unusual, miraculous case I have been privileged to rule on. These six children evidenced an inordinate love connection that had to be nurtured for their survival. And, along with visits to their Grannie’s at various times, it has worked. Although leading separate lives with four different family units, it has worked.
God and their mother smiled.
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