He was just a boy but for two or three weeks out of the year in the early spring he would pull the weight of a man as he worked along side all those who lived on the ranch to make sure that the lambs that were born survived birth, the snowy and windy days, and the icy nights of the Oregon high desert spring.
In my clan it wasn’t a flock of sheep, it was a band of sheep.
He would tell tales of bands of sheep 1000 strong. Of the herding dogs that would work to bring the sheep together into a tight bunch at night. There were no fences on the high desert. Sheep men had to invent portable corrals that would hold a band overnight. A stake with a white string fluttering in the night wind every fifteen or twenty feet around a band of sheep was as good a holding force as you could get. But now and then an occasional lamb would stray and it was my dad’s job to reunite the lost lambs with their mothers.
I’ve come to realize there is a common thread in my life that meanders back in time to my Irish clan tending sheep on the high desert of Oregon not long after their arrival in America. There is this need. This need to protect. To guide. To reunite.
About six months ago I received an email from a cousin lost to my family through adoption. Through genetic testing we were predicted 2nd or 3rd cousins. Because she was adopted I immediately felt the need to protect her. To guide her in her search for her family. And eventually reunite her, like a lost lamb, back to her band just like my dad had done on the high desert of Oregon in the early part of the 20th century.
Over the past six months I have grown to cherish my cousin and the thousands of words we have shared between us. I have loved the many reassuring words spoken across the telephone line. And I smile often of the FaceTime Guinness Stout St. Patrick’s Day Happy Hour toast we shared on a day where she could truly say she was Irish for the very first time. We are family, of that there is no doubt.
The Barclay’s have a joke that runs in our family, we joke that Concourse C of Portland International Airport is our delivery room. The place where our family expands, one by one in front of travelers, airport security, and pilots instead of patients, nurses, and doctors. The place where while we embrace our first tender moments together as a family, travelers are warned to not leave their luggage unattended while someone else is being paged to the White Courtesy Telephone. Sometimes first moments of families created through adoption are very private and sometimes, like in my family, not so much.
A week ago, we welcomed my new found cousin back into my family atop the signature PDX green carpet. We hugged and smiled and embraced while travelers passed, airport security scanned, and pilots shuffled past. And just like that, without hesitation, we opened our arms to hug her into our own Barclay world.
Our common thread is our children. We both have five. We both have children adopted from China and Korea. We both have adopted children with special needs. On the topic of children, it is safe to say we could talk until tomorrow’s dawn. I suppose that could also be said for so many other topics we united on over the past six months.
During her weekend with us I drove her to meet her birthfather. On Monday I delivered her to her birthmother’s doorstep for a private reunion. After, we came back together, the women of my clan, separated by years and miles and we prayed. We toasted. We laughed and danced and sang and ate a traditional Irish dinner. As I sat among her birthfamily at this Irish celebration I was in awe that I was allowed to be a part of such a beautiful moment in their, our family history.
I wrote last year that if I were granted three wishes by a genie it would be to meet my three sons birthmothers face to face and tell them their sons are okay. To tell these women their sons are loved. I sat back on our Irish evening and smiled, because in a way I was that genie to my cousin and her birthmother. On that joyous spring evening I was able to bring these two beautiful women together so they could look into each others eyes and truly know, after 46 years, that the other was okay. That the other was loved.
I had reunited the lamb with her band.
And my dad, the son of an Irish immigrant sheep rancher, and the man who taught my brothers and me the importance of devotion, compassion, forgiveness, grace and family, I know in my heart he is looking down from heaven today, and he is smiling. And in his soft voice I remember so well, as if he spoke to me yesterday, he is saying, “Well done, Julianne. You guided her home.”