This bonus chapter was originally intended to be the closing chapter of The Same Smile. However, my wise and wonderful editor, Carol Schaefer, felt ending the story with our first Christmas celebration with Joanne would be more powerful and, indeed, it was!
I hope you enjoy it!
August 11, 2000*. The clock in the hall chimes 7:30 A.M. as I walk past the girls' bathroom towards Kristine's bedroom. The warm sunlight streams through the open skylights of the balcony. My mind is suddenly flooded with all the wonderful memories of days gone by, when thunder and lightning storms would send Jackie, Kris, and Beth running across this very balcony, seeking comfort in my bed. My girls decorating this railing with garland and lights at Christmastime. Bethany, tattling, with her little face shoved between the railing's spindles, "There's a boy upstairs!" when she finds a close family "boy-friend" of Kristine's in her room. Memories never to be forgotten.
This glorious morning is Kristine's wedding day and I am about to wake her for the final time as my unmarried daughter. Joanne is lying peacefully asleep next to her. They, for the first time, have shared a bed and night's rest as sisters and it is a particularly heartwarming sight for me to behold. I take a minute to stand in the doorway to relive the moment last night when I leaned over to kiss them both good night, as if they were little girls, my little girls - another dream come true. Moving closer, I can see that Kristine is already awake. She smiles.
“How did you sleep?” I ask in a whisper.
“Not bad. I’ve only been awake for a little bit.”
Joanne stirs when she hears us speak. I wish them a good morning. They quickly return my wish. They both smile that famous smile, then each take their first morning stretch.
“Joanne is a bed hog!” Kristine is quick to complain. We all laugh.
God, it doesn’t get much better than this.
In the next room Bethany is still sleeping, but it doesn’t take long before she jumps onto the bed with her sisters. I remind them we need to get going, we have a long day ahead of us.
When we return from the beauty salon, Loretta, who Bethany has loving referred to as “the maid” since she was four-years-old, has lunch waiting for us. We devour our sandwiches and then go upstairs to complete our beauty regimen.
“Has anyone seen Dad?” I ask while walking across the balcony.
“Jay’s lying out by the pool,” Loretta shouts from the kitchen below.
Jay, having heard my call, joins us in the bedroom. We give Kris the pearl bracelet my brother Russell made to match Jackie's pearl necklace, the same pearl necklace she is wearing today. As I hand it to her, before she even unties the white satin ribbon, she begins to cry. Jay attempts a joke so she'll stop, but it doesn't work. We let her cry.
All these women and tears make Jay nervous, so off he goes. The girls apply their makeup but feel it necessary to do mine. I love that they are fussing over me. Once that's done, we help Kris get into her bustiere and layers of petticoats. The sheer simplicity of her wedding gown is magnificent; the mere sight of her is breathtaking.
The moment we're done smoothing out the hem of her skirt, Jay reappears in the doorway. "I can't wait another minute. I have to see my girl," he barely croaks.
As his eyes fill with tears, we happily move out of his way.
"Exquisite!" is all he can manage to say.
Kris begins to cry as he walks up to her, puts his hands on her face, and kisses her.
He looks at her again, still crying and says, "I love you so much," and kisses her one more time.
Beth, Joanne, and I get dressed, then I shoo them out of my room. It’s now time for Jay to get ready to give his daughter away. He’s a nervous wreck and just the thought of wearing his tuxedo in this 85-degree heat isn’t helping.
“This isn’t going to be easy,” he mutters under his breath as he heads for the closet.
I give him a quick kiss, tell him, “I love you,” and assure him he’s going to be fine. I then go downstairs to leave him alone with his thoughts.
The photographers assemble us and begin taking their pictures. Their shots are most impressive. My favorite, so far, is of Kris with Beth and Joanne. They are a vision of loveliness. Kristine in her beautiful white strapless wedding dress and stole, Bethany and Joanne in pale pink. What a striking contrast between the color of the dresses and their complexion and hair.
While watching my daughters, I say aloud, “Ask me if I have ever been happier?” Of course no one needs to; they can see by my smile this is one of the happiest days of my life.
My cousin, Father Mark, celebrates the Wedding Mass and his homily is so amazing he captures the attention of everyone in attendance. He even manages to slip in a mention of our new family member without too much ado. I hope Joanne is pleased, I know I am. During the Intentions of the Mass we pray for Jackie and it’s easier than I imagined. The mention of her name today somehow soothes me and makes my heart smile. It’s plain to see there will be no sadness today.
Before Mass, as my son-in-law and I waited in the back of the church for our cue to proceed, I noticed three women in the last row. I didn’t recognize them and dismissed the thought of them once we started down the aisle. On my way back, however, I recognize one of these ladies to be Joanne’s adoptive mom, Ann.
Once outside, I look for Ann and notice she is trying to slip away. I go to her, take her hand and thank her for coming. “What an honor it is to have you here. Let me introduce you to my parents and brothers. They would love to meet you.”
Ann seems hesitant but, nonetheless, obliges. I see Joanne’s expression; it is one of joy and happiness. It’s easy to see she is delighted that this second meeting between her two mothers is turning out so well. I’m willing to bet she now knows just how much we both love her.
Now I am convinced, nothing can possibly go wrong with this day - Kristine’s wedding day. Today is going to be one of those days that God grants to us just so we know he hasn’t forgotten us.
* Exactly three years ago in 1997, on this very day, August 11th, I was officially registered with the ISRR as a searching birthmother. It will not be a date I’ll soon forget.