birds in a barrel's mission is to release creative nonfiction into the wild.

40 Days & 40 Writes is its first project.

The Third Grandmother

It took more than two decades for my third grandmother to find me.

For as long as I can remember, I’d known that I was adopted, more or less, from birth. My adopted parents were the only parents I had ever known, and I had never thought of them as my “adopted” parents. They were just my parents. I had never really considered finding my birth parents ... the ones I had were quite good enough for me, and I wasn’t that curious.

But, well into my adulthood, my younger brother, who was graduating from seminary and looking for a job in the classifieds, came across an advertisement by the adoption agency looking to contact my adopted father, who is a minister. Apparently, my birth family was looking for me.

Now, I was perfectly happy with my adopted parents, and I wasn’t looking for anyone else. And even when I heard that my birth family was looking for me, the prospect of a reunion didn’t particularly interest me. But then I heard the story.

It was my birth grandmother in Taiwan who was looking for me. I was the only child of her only child. In the 1960s, my birth mother had come to the United States from Taiwan on a scholarship to study for her master’s degree. On the flight over from Taiwan, she met a man from Hong Kong who was going to attend the same university. They hit it off and began a romance, which, of course, ended badly. While she was pregnant, the two got married, just so she could say I was born with two parents. As my birth grandmother would later say to me, in her first complete sentence she spoke to me in English, “He was a very, very bad man.”

My birth mother, feeling that she could not care for me properly, gave me up for adoption at birth. It was a secret that she would keep from her mother.

A decade later, my birth mother contracted breast cancer. When her mother came to the U.S. to care for her, my birth mother swore her friends to not tell her mother of my existence until she had passed.

I was the only child of my birth grandmother’s only child, and for the next 20 years she searched for me.

Now, if there had been other children and grandchildren hanging around, I would have been cool to the idea of meeting my birth grandmother. I don't really go looking for that kind of drama. But being that this was an old woman looking for her only living descendant ... well, it seemed like I could do an old woman a favor.

And this notion more or less drove my entire relationship with her. It seems that there are very few opportunities in life where you, and *only* you, can make someone very, very happy. And when those opportunities arise, it seems that you should embrace them, both for the person you are helping and for yourself.

So for about 15 years I, more or less, played that role. She would twice travel to the United States to visit with me, and then again to attend our wedding. We vacationed in Taiwan a year after our daughter was born and then again when she was 7. But the emotional intensity between us was always extremely asymmetrical. She was looking at her long lost grandson and her only direct descendant. I was looking at a grandmother that I never looked for.

A couple of years ago, at age 91, her health took a turn for the worse, and last year I flew out to be with her for what turned out to be the last time. I am told that when I visit her, her mood brightens exponentially. Even though what I really know of her, and what she knew of me, is fairly superficial, we share blood, and that made all the difference to her.

And, as I said, you should embrace these opportunities when they arise. And I am happy that I have.