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Sunday, May 11, 2014

Life Before Oprah Wasn't Easy

As a mom I know that every woman holds her newborn and utters the same prayer, hope or wish.
"Make me better than I am, help me do a good job, bless this baby in spite of me."

The relationship a mother has with her children can be a complicated one, mine is more a science project.  I had three mothers.

The woman who gave birth to me - Opal Leigh Jones

The woman who adopted me - Madeline Brown Beckman

The woman who raised me - Jerry Osborne Beckman

Seemingly, these women have nothing in common with each other.  All three    different places with different lives.  Yet they are all connected through the eternities by one person, me, Donna Lynn Beckman Tagliaferri.  I find that fascinating, and very mysterious.  All three remain an enigma to me, I Only know what was whispered to me by a random cousin, aunt or family friend.  No one with real knowledge ever sat down with me and explained what in the world was going on.

My young life was "Before Oprah", a time we didn't talk about anything that might be uncomfortable.  Oprah opened up the flood gates to make therapists rich all across the country.  Unless, of course,  you still didn't have the courage to ask hard things, or have relatives with the courage to tell the truth.

I don't know much about my birth mother, Opal Leigh.  In fact until my father died I didn't even know her name.  But in his private papers I found my original birth certificate, and there was her name, Opal Leigh Jones.  I was thrilled to see such a great Texas name because all through my life I lacked identity, but I knew I was from Texas, so that was my identity.  In fact I told my children they were half Italian and half Texan. Looking at her name erased all doubt in my mind about where my people came from.  The only information I gleaned from the birth certificate was she had given me a name.....Patti Jones.  Think of a very young woman doing her best naming me after a popular singer of her day, Patti Page.  It is so sweet and so sad at the same time.   I had been told (by the whisperers) she was 16.  The whisperers also said a family friend had wanted to adopt me.  This friend financially supported Opal through her entire pregnancy but decided they had become too close.  She felt their close relationship could be problematic for a closed adoption, so she told my parents about me.  The one person who really knew Opal never told me anything about her.  Life before Oprah was hard on secrets.  The whisperers told me my father was a professional golfer, they met at the Houston Open and I was born in the Houston Methodist Hospital.  But none of that ever came with any proof.  I have never looked for my biological parents, and to my knowledge they have never looked for me.

Then there was Madeline Brown.  An absolutely beautiful woman who hunted and fished better than the men.  She was the life of the party and could drink anyone under the table.  I belonged to her, she was my mother and despite her problems I never wondered if she loved me.  Drugs and alcohol destroyed my parents marriage.  I still remember their horrible fights right in front of me.  My father at one end of the kitchen Madeline at the other....screaming at each other.  And then one day Madeline packed up all my things and took me to Alaska where her aunt had a business.  She was going to start over I guess, but it didn't last very long.  The whisperers told me her addictions made taking care of me impossible so she traded me to my father for cash.  After I went back to Texas she visited one time that I can remember.  We went to dinner and then she took me to Louisiana to see her family.  That wasn't part of the visit agreement so all hell broke loose when she brought me back.  I never saw her again, my father never talked about her.  Before Oprah you never talked about uncomfortable things.  I wasn't healthy to bring up "such things".  Then one day when I was 8, my dad told me in a very controlled voice that my mother had died and we would never speak of her again.  I spent the next 10 years looking for her because I was never convinced she was really gone.  I didn't know where she died, I still don't.  My frustration was acute because I didnt have anyone to ask.  I saw my grandmother one time while I was high school and I met up with my Aunt Pee Wee after I was married (she was best friends with the woman who took care of Opal Leigh - that's how I ended up with Madeline)  She told me my father had forbid any contact with their family.  I don't know why I didn't ask anything at our brief lunch, but I didn't.  I never found out anything about anything.

Bless our hearts, we had no idea how to handle real family problems before Oprah.

Which brings me to Jerry.  When my father brought me back from Alaska there was a woman in my house.  I thought she was the housekeeper, but my father kissed her when he left for work with no introductions at all.  I figured out right away she wasn't the housekeeper.  I looked at her and she
looked at me and the most complicated and strange mother daughter relationship was born.  She was married to my dad, she wasn't necessarily a step mother.  I never really felt like she was my mother, at least not what I thought a mother and daughter relationship should be like.  I didn't know until I was grown how damaged she was, her past made her incapable of being a mom.  Her father died during the depression and her mother was never able to take care of her so she was raised by aunts.  Good Christian women who loved her, but weren't her mother.  Her brother was taken by the other side of the family, splitting them up.  They didn't reconsile until they were in their fifties.  She had been married 6 times before she met my father and never had children.  Our relationship was doomed before it could even occur.   Oprah never would have allowed this. But since she wasn't around it did occurr until I was about 19.   I was tired of being afraid, so I changed my life, went to college, got married and started my own family.  I reinvented myself, but still struggled with fear, what am I saying I still struggle with fear.  It wasn't until I had children of my own that I realized how hard it is to raise them. Jerry had reasons for treating me as she did, but that doesn't make it easier. 

It is true I didn't have a normal pattern for mothering, but all three moms gave me something

Opal gave me life.

Madeline gave me the insight to not drink or use drugs...I saw how it destroyed a very beautiful woman.

And Jerry gave me the ability to take on hard things and do your best no matter how hard it might be.

Against all possible odds the relationship I have with my children is pretty normal.  And I am so grateful for that....

Who knows?  Maybe my moms have been watching over me, helping me break the patterns that could have continued on.  I am grateful for that....

Gratitude gives forgiveness a place to grow, and that is where I want to be.  Thanks Oprah....


  1. It isn't often that I am overwhelmed at someone's story, but I am at yours. Wow. So much for a little girl to process and to live with. My heart goes out to her and you. xoxo

    1. I think about that little girl a lot, I tried to forget her for awhile, but then I realized she is part of who I am, and that is a good thing

  2. Donnalynn,
    You are an amazing woman and have definitely broken the pattern. My Dad had a very tragic childhood and did the same..always saying, "no excuses!" He also healed by doing his family history. If you ever need help doing yours give me a call. I would be glad to help. Love, Becky

    1. Thank you and I do need your help, and I need it right away.

      Send me the info you have and I'll get you going.

  3. You were made by God for a purpose. Regardless of your upbringing he had a specific plan for you. It just happened to be a bit of a rocky road to get there.

    1. I agree my friend, although it took a long time to understand that. That little girl is part of who I am...she survived, that has to be honored

  4. Thanks for sharing your takes a lot of guts to put yourself out there. Hopefully, this will help heal a small part of you. It's great that you recognized and were able to break the pattern, that's not an easy thing to do. It's true what they say...what doesn't kill you makes you stronger!! That makes you one strong women who has raised strong children! :-)

  5. Your story always amazed ... Your beginning has made you the woman that was meant to be. Texas roots in the soul will always bloom & grow strong - wherever they are planted. "There's just something about us Texans that outshines all others" said my Grandma. Thanks for sharing your story.