The Miracle Mother

By the age of two, I had developed a syndrome called “failure to thrive”, which is a condition in which a child doesn’t meet recognized standards of growth and, in my case, was caused by neglect, poor nutrition and physical abuse. With me, it manifested itself in my refusing to eat. Subsequently, I was removed from my birth mother’s care and placed in the Foster Care System.

The agency dealing with my placement became worried when I was not responding well within several foster homes and they began a serious search for a foster parent who had experience with children with nutritional and emotional issues. When I was three and a half years old, along came Mrs. Gladys Morrell, who would eventually become my new mother.

Gladys, for some unknown reason, was unable to have children of her own, but she had been very successful in fostering. My case seemed to contain just the challenges Gladys was looking for, so I was placed in her home, where I did well.  When all requirements were met and I was eligible for adoption, I became Gail E. Morrell. By this time I was four and a half years old and my new parents were Gladys and Dr. Charles Morrell, a research chemist.

Although, I was reared in what might be termed an upscale neighborhood, my parents were of humble origins and they instilled in me good Christian values such as honesty, hard work and the concept of giving back to the community. My mother had grown up in a poor area of West Virginia and realized early on that education was to key to one’s choices in life. She graduated from college and started teaching to save money to send her mother through college also. She then went on to get her Master’s degree and had almost completed her Ph.D. when she married.

During the time I was growing up, she joined the local school board and the National Board of the YWCA. And she started a sewing group that met once a month in her house to sew clothing, blankets, and whatever for needy children all over the world. I remember going with her into New York City to get supplies for the sewing group.

She also was an avid antique collector and she decided to collect spindle-style wooden oak, maple or cherry kitchen chairs with the cane seats. Going to garage and estate sales was something my father and I also enjoyed doing on weekends and while traveling. Many times the cane seats in these chairs were damaged, so Mom set out to learn how to do the caning herself. I remember many an evening passed while my Mom caned chair seats in the kitchen of our home.

We had a large basement and Mom stored chairs down there and eventually collected and refurbished what became sets of four, six and eight in addition to individual ones, which she sold over time. Her goal was to sell enough to send money back to her home town in West Virginia to a young person, who without help, could never afford to go beyond high school.  Her efforts sent three kids all the way through college.

Then she was diagnosed with terminal breast cancer. Even during her illness, she researched her disease and helped her doctors discover new ways to help other patients. I remember how amazed her doctors were by her.

Throughout the years, whenever I heard people talking about my mother, it was always with such sincere respect. It was intimidating growing up in her shadow, and I knew I’d never be able to even put her shoes on, much less fill them. But I feel so privileged to have known her. She was not only a miracle mother, but a miracle human being.


Coco Ihle is the author of SHE HAD TO KNOW, an atmospheric traditional mystery set mainly in Scotland. Join her here each 11th of the month.


Filed under life, memory, musings

21 responses to “The Miracle Mother

  1. What a wonderful testament to love!

  2. Kathy

    Wow, what a woman of substance by real honest standards. This woman whom I never had the honor of meeting is my Aunt Gail’s (this blog author) adoptive mother…so she is now that I have read this about her my Great Aunt! It makes sense to me. Xoxo

    • Kathy, for most of my adult life, the mere mention of my adopted mother was so painful to me it would bring instant tears. I have finally matured and as a parent myself, I now understand better what she was all about. She was not demonstratively affectionate and I didn’t understand her. Shortly before her death, we had a wonderful healing talk in which she apologized to me for her lack of affection and I was able to express to her how grateful I was she saved me and took me in. She believed love was an act of doing, not a “feeling.”

      • Kathy

        I understand and have also learned in life that people show their love in different ways. For some reason your mother couldn’t do it with affection but tried in other ways. There are people who may be very affectionate but would never take an unknown child into their home and call them their daughter either so something was deep inside her. Fortunately, I can’t relate having such a supportive and affectionate mother myself. It is so good to hear you had a healing talk with her and can be at peace. Xo

  3. Joanie

    Wow, Sis, what an awesome story. You talked about your Mom to me, but I never heard about this. I wish I could have met her. What wonderful memories you must have of her. How inspiring!

    • Joanie, unfortunately, my good memories of my Mom are few, actually. She was so afraid I would be a “spoiled only child,” she criticised me constantly. If I did well at something, I could always do better. I was never good enough. So, most of the time, if we were in the same room for more than five minutes, she was being her stern self and I was in tears. I don’t think she understood the trama I had suffered by being abandoned and abused. I just needed hugs and reassurance and I didn’t get that at all. I have come to terms with all that now and can see the love that she meant in her heart. It’s so wonderful to understand now.

      • Joanie

        I understand what you are saying so clearly.I can really identify with you, Sis. My Mom was the same way about the spoiling and I hardly ever got compliments because she was afraid I would become conceded and like myself too much. I guess that is why we are a lot alike in many ways, besides having the same birth mother. Well, life goes on and all we can do is learn from things we have experienced. The good and the not so good. Love you, dear Sis!

  4. Susan Coggins

    This post really touched my heart. I knew you were adopted but had never heard the whole story. And Gladys was from WV – we need to talk about that since I grew up in WV.

    • Susan, yes, I visited relatives in West Virginia when I was young and my one and only doll was named after a cousin there. We’ll have to compare WV notes! Thanks for stopping by. See you soon.

  5. This hit home with me. I and my two brothers were raised by my mom alone because our father became an alcoholic when the oldest boy was nine. She put us all into colleges by working three different jobs simultaneously. She also was a Regent in the DAR, worked on the Sub-standard Housing Board in our city, head of the Presbyterian Women, etc.
    In addition to that she was a mother as well
    as a father to her three boys. I have always had a true respect for all women because it was so clear to me how strong they could be.
    Thanks, Coco.

    • Art, you and I talked briefly about our childhoods when I visited you not long ago. Your mother was another one of those rare special people. It was so touching for me to hear you talk so lovingly about her and the respect you expressed for her was so amazing. She did a wonderful job raising her children and I truly feel so very glad we are friends. I wish my mother could have lived longer. Then perhaps it wouldn’t have taken me so long to understand our relationship better and her motives for her actions. It’s been a painful journey, but worth the epiphany of understanding. Thanks, my friend.

  6. What a wonderful woman! You might not have been able to follow in her footsteps, but your own steps are wonderful too. And you inspired at least one person — me!,

    • Pat, thank you. What a wonderful and sweet thing for you to say. I find it interesting that the people I have bonded the most with over the years are people who have also had a difficult time in life. It seems a better understanding comes through conflict and serves to building character.
      You, my friend, have taken life by the horns and challenged it with all your being! Talk about inspiring people. I say, that’s you! Thank you.

  7. Salustra Wallace

    Coco, I never would have guessed you had such a painful childhood. I am so glad you were able to come to an understanding in time and to share such a wonderful bit about a complicated but good women. Thank you!

    • Salustra, as you know, relationships can be complicated. A child’s predisposition is to love it’s mother, I think. I did and I didn’t and I’m so glad I was given the gift of discernment to understand why and to let love be the conquerer. Thank you so much for your comment and for your friendship.

  8. Cynthia

    Beautiful story!

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