On a hill on the outskirts of Seattle where I grew up, the local grocery store served as community gathering place. My parents had lived in the subdivision since it was built — pioneers in a way — and every trip to buy groceries was filled with laughs and conversation with friends.
In 1970, those grocery trips took on new zest as Mom rolled down the aisles with my freshly arrived baby sister, Sarah, who was quiet, blonde and nearly always smiling. My parents had adopted her, their sixth child.
On an evening grocery visit that remains forever vivid, one of our neighbors nearly shouted, “She is so lucky you adopted her!”
Mom, in what became a family theme song, kindly countered.
“No, no, no,” mom announced in her Texas twang. “We’re the lucky ones.”
Mom got it right then, and forevermore.
I’ve been thinking about Sarah, and adoption, since attending a mountain wedding in July. It was one of those gorgeous Colorado weddings, held so close to a roaring river the bride and groom were required to speak up during their vows. Snow-capped mountains towered in the near distance.
But the most memorable moment arrived at dinner when the maid of honor spoke with humor and adoration for her little sister, the bride. Both were adopted, and the maid of honor talked powerfully about the first day they met. They were not joined by blood. They were to be joined by a force even more powerful:
A commitment to pursue unconquerable, ever-growing love.
On Friday evening, my phone rang, and it was my baby sister. We have, as you would expect, embarked on thousands of conversations over the decades, but this conversation would be a first.
We would talk about adoption.
To me, the fact my sister is adopted is incidental. She was, from the instant she arrived at our home, one of us. I had seen mom and dad come home from the hospital with my younger brothers. Mom and dad were ecstatic.
They were equally jubilant when they brought home their 3-month-old Sarah.
Somewhere in my mind, I’ve always been aware that Sarah is adopted, but it made no difference. Nothing significant was altered. Adoption was there, but it wasn’t there.
“I feel the same way,” Sarah said. “I totally feel that way. It’s just never been a thing to me, that I’m adopted. You guys are my family.”
Our relationship ranks among the prime blessings of my life. My parents were magnificent, but highly opinionated and comically combative. My siblings travel along the same stream.
Except Sarah, who is different, as in superior. She knows what not to say, a rare trait in our family. She’s not comically combative. Instead, she’s never combative. As we talked Friday evening, we realized we never had tumbled into an argument. She deserves nearly all credit for those decades of peace, but of course she’s too nice to say so.
She’s grown into the role, after mom’s death, of family matriarch. She knows all birth dates and ages of our ever-growing list of Ramsey offspring. And she’s earning new admirers in the family, even as we speak.
A few months ago, I was riding through Denver in the back seat of a big SUV packed with family, and several happy conversations were going on at once.
As a joke, I said, “My sister is so difficult. What a pain.”
Park Leon, my 9-year-old nephew, bolted from his conversation to offer emotional protest.
“Aunt Sarah is the nicest person I’ve ever met!” he said.
Park Leon, you got that right.