An Ode to Della

I’ve had more than my fair share of encounters with celebrities. Most of them have been related to my more than two decades in journalism. I’m usually calm and professional in such circumstances, but I faltered once. A history buff, I just couldn’t resist asking Rosa Parks to pose for a picture with me.

Usually, I’m cooler than that. It took tremendous will power, but I managed to respect Julia Roberts’ privacy even though I desperately wanted to know what movie she was renting as we stood in line at a Blockbuster.

Tonight, however, my strength failed me when I found myself in the vicinity of Della Reese.

People my age and younger know her best as Tess from the long-running television show “Touched by an Angel,” but older fans recall that she was first a darn fine singer.

Reese is a legend, to be sure, but I’ve kept my composure around people of equal and even greater stature. To understand the source of my weakness, you have to know the context.

I’m a single mom by choice. Never married. I have two children adopted from foster care.

It wasn’t supposed to be that way. My life plan was to get married and raise adopted children alongside some biological ones. But matrimony wasn’t in the cards for me. The closest I ever came was an ill-fated engagement in my late 30s.

When I met the man who would become my fiancé, I had only one child, my daughter. He was prepared to raise her as his own, but when her birth mother had another girl, he balked at taking that one. My fiance was wary of the foster care system, and anyway, he wanted a boy. I fervently wished my daughter could grow up with her biological sister, but deferred to my fiance’s wishes and let another family have the baby.

Then my daughter’s babysitter mentioned that one of her foster sons needed a permanent home. The child bore a vague resemblance to my fiancé. They even had identical birthmarks on their stomachs. I decided it was a sign and asked my fiancé to come see him. I didn’t really think he’d go for it, but he surprised me and gave me his blessing to seek a pre-adoptive foster placement. Because my fiancé didn’t have a foster care license and we weren’t living together yet, we agreed that initially I would adopt the boy alone. He’d adopt both of my children after we were married.

About three weeks before the baby was to move in, my fiancé dumped me. It was the right thing to do. The marriage would have failed if we’d gone through with it. But that wasn’t much consolation at the time. All I knew was that I’d given up my daughter’s birth sister for this guy only to be rejected.

And what about the boy? Backing out of that placement wasn’t as straight forward as you might think. You see, there’s a pecking order in foster care adoptions. White girls are the most desired adoptees, followed by white boys. Children of color are harder to place, especially if they’re dark-skinned, but girls have the best shot. Black boys linger longest in foster care. Could I live with abandoning a black male infant to that fate? Then again, if I adopted him he’d likely never have a father, and boys need male role models.

I agonized over the choice before me even as I nursed a broken heart. No good breakup is complete without torch songs, so I put on as many as I could and settled into feeling sorry for myself.

Most often, I played Della Reese’s “Some Day” in which she vows to get over a guy who’s cast her aside. Reese is, in addition to being a talented singer and actress, an ordained minister, and you can hear her faith in that song. She effortlessly belts it out with the vocal power of a thousand gospel choirs, and there is no doubt in your mind that that woman can get through anything.

“Some Day” became my anthem, washing over me like a soothing balm. I sang it—no, shouted it—in the shower, in the car, in bed when I couldn’t sleep. I was off key and horrible, but I sang at the top of my lungs, convinced that the sheer volume of my voice could frighten heartache away.

It worked.

One day I woke up and realized that falling apart simply was not an option. I had to be strong for my children. Yes, children. Plural.

My son is 5 years old now. My daughter is 8. I left them with my mother tonight so I could attend a presentation related to a music exhibit at L.A.’s Skirball Cultural Center.

And there was Della, sitting at the table next to mine.

After the presentation, I headed over to have a word with her. Unfortunately, a lot of other fans had the same idea. Reese, now in her late 70s, was tired after a long evening and quickly ducked out to avoid the throng of admirers.

For a fraction of a second, I considered chasing her down the hallway, but got ahold of myself and let her go in peace. I’m not sure what I could have said, anyway, besides, “Thank you, Della. Thank you.”
(Tags: Interracial Adoption, Identity)


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