Nature v. Nurture

November 27, 2006 § Leave a comment

For eight months in 2002 I shared an apartment in a house that belonged to an elderly woman— an aunt of one of Richard’s brothers-in-law— whom we’ll call Aunt Theresa. She was already in her eighties then, but still dynamic and independent. A bright, intelligent woman with a few health problems and a great number of Very Firm Opinions on a great number of topics. Apparently she’d been very grating in her younger days, but I find assertive older women charming, so we got along well, and after I moved out I often saw her at family parties and such.

Aunt Theresa had a very full life, was married to an well-regarded university professor, had a far-reaching career, loved her family, nieces and nephews, but never had children of her own. She was 86 when she died, and didn’t look a day over 70, despite having smoked for most of her life.

She died in September, and last week her nephew (and partial executor of her will) received a note addressed to his mother who’s in Chicago with her daughter following the death of her younger sister— everyone thought it would be best if she didn’t have to see the affects distributed and the home put on the market. He normally looks after her but this letter, it seemed unusual, so he contacted the man who turned out to be a baby that Aunt Theresa had given up for adoption, sometime in the late 1930s, I assume.

I find this story interesting on many levels. First of all, this man— who now lives in Europe— has testified before The UN on matters of adoption confidentiality because he had such trouble getting the authorities to release information to him. He was also a nearly a butterbox baby— on his adoption form were the words “we have grave concerns… as we firmly believe this child to be stupid”. I also find it compelling that Aunt Theresa was so deeply affected by reproductive decisions when there were no choices, and kept her secret to her grave. But most interesting of all is the fact that this son of hers is an opera singer… because one of Aunt Theresa’s younger brothers was one of Canada’s greatest operatic tenors.


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