Many will wonder how a woman could end up in the Philippines, taking care of children who were not her own. When you lose a child, your life changes, your priorities change, there has to be a reason for the loss. There has to be a reason to go on living. I found a reason for living in the Philippines but I would like to share who I was before.
Cullen recently wrote an article in which he said “Women are the greatest survivors, the most resilient and the most abused. Much of it starts in childhood and they carry it all their lives.” He is correct, I am resilient and I and my children were abused by Cullen.
This picture is of me after my 1st Holy Communion at St. Margaret’s Catholic church in Dunfermline, Fife, Scotland. My father was ‘Big John’ Thomson who died just before this picture was taken. The second picture was taken at Dunfermline High School. As a child in the 50’s I was bullied by Protestants when I attended Catholic school and by Catholics when I attended Townhill Primary. That was the way it was then. Character building at its best.
My nickname, since I was 16 years old, has been “Sherry”. I didn’t like having an old-fashioned name in the 60’s. At the age of 17, I joined the Army and left home. The youngest woman, at that time, to be a member of the Intelligence Corps.
In 1969, I married a handsome American soldier, we were married in the Roman Catholic Church in Schloss Kaserne in Butzbach, Germany.
I arrived in the U.S. in 1970 and worked while my husband went to school on the G.I. Bill. On July 25th. 1973, I became a United States Citizen. My husband had just graduated from Georgetown University with a B.A. in Business. He applied to Harvard Business School and was accepted. So, we packed up our home in McLean, Virginia and headed to Boston, I was pregnant and it seemed a long journey. My son Philip was born just six weeks after we arrived in Boston.
Life in Boston was very busy, I was elected to the position of Social Coordinator of the Harvard Wive’s Association and in March, 1975, my second son, Robert, was born. Two sons, 17 months apart was challenging. I was fortunate that my Mother and younger sisters had emigrated to America in 1974 and joined my little family in Boston. Both of my sons were Christened in the Catholic faith in Boston.
My husband was hired by Monsanto, they had an opening in North Carolina. So, with an infant and a toddler, my Mother and sisters, I drove my family to Elizabethtown. My husband had gone ahead of us and found a house we could afford.
We joined Our Lady of Snows Catholic Church. It was a tiny church as there were so few Catholics in the area, and we were the only integrated church. I became involved in different projects and appointed myself President of the Church Beautification Committee much to the amusement of our priest. Funds were raised and the inside and outside of our little church were repaired. The work outside was done by the men and boys and the ladies cooked lunch. The statues and Stations of the Cross were in serious disrepair and I, personally, had the joy of repairing them all.
The first coat of paint had been applied by a team but I was not too happy and so I gave it its second coat by myself in the evenings. It actually felt great to be in the church, alone at night, painting and being grateful to have been given the talent to do what my Father did, helping St. Margaret’s and the Carmelite nuns in Dunfermline.
I became the Chairman of the Bladen County American Cancer Crusade and was one of the Founding Board Members of Bladen County Hospital Auxiliary. I was asked to be the first woman of the Elizabethtown Planning Board.
When my children were old enough to be in Cub Scouts I started a den which had 18 little boys, 3 white and 15 African American. This may not seem like a big deal now but in the late 70’s early 80’s it was a big deal in North Carolina. It was a fascinating time.
After 8 years in Elizabethtown, I left my husband and many years later, he filed for divorce. It was a painful time in my life – little child support and no alimony. I had moved to Raleigh, NC to find work and eventually got into furniture and gift sales. This was the time that ‘Country’ was in style and I lived in a great area to find talented craftspeople who wanted to have their products sold. I opened a showroom in Reston, Virginia and drove every week to take orders for the manufacturers. My husband moved to Raleigh and my boys were able to spend time with their father. Eventually, I moved from Raleigh to McLean the town where my life in America had started.
The depression of 1990 hit the gift industry very hard and I found I could not afford to live in one of the most expensive areas in the country. I made the decision to move to Mt. Jackson in the Shenandoah Valley to start all over again.
It was a challenge, my youngest son, Robert wanted to live with his Father in Raleigh as the education opportunities were greater and he was an excellent student.
I eventually started another business on very limited funds and five years later I was back on top. Working hard was easy for me but when I discovered in the summer of 1995 I had cancer and would have to have a radical hysterectomy it felt like the bottom had fallen out of my world. Anyone who has had a diagnosis of cancer will understand how I felt. The fear of dying and leaving my children before they were raised was overwhelming.
I got through the cancer surgery only to discover I had another tumor on my kidney. This was before it was easy to get on the internet for information. My secretary contacted Georgetown Medical Library and they faxed her all the information they had on tumors of the kidney. Reading all the medical stuff was a challenge but armed with that information I was able to converse well with my surgeon. To make a long story short, I had one of the best surgeons available, Dr. Dan Theodorescu, a Romanian with a double doctorate who had just arrived at the University of Virginia Hospital from Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York..
Dr. Dan removed the large tumor, saved the kidney and it only cost me one rib. I was fortunate to have the insurance that covered all the procedures. I have often said that it was a Blessing that I got cancer because without the cancer, the kidney tumor would not have been found.
One important thing that I learned, during these surgeries, was what it feels like to have no strength, to be petrified and to be so weak that you need others to help you. This experience was to be so useful to me when I started taking care of sick people in the Philippines. I could understand and empathize with them. Unlike me, they had no money, no transportation, no knowledge of hospital procedures and I was their last resort.
While I was recovering, a house that I had long admired became available and so I bought The Shannon House in Mt. Jackson, Virginia. It was a great big house and I loved it, a house where all my future grandchildren would come and visit their ‘Grandma in the Mountains’.
The house needed a lot of work so I had to learn how to do sheet rock, electrical, glazing, plumbing and cement work, I already knew how to paint. It was a lot of work but it was fun. All the trades came easy to me as my Father had been a builder/slater and plasterer. It was in the genes and I didn’t mind getting dirty, in fact, it was great not being in a business suit and heels.
The events of my life had made me a strong woman – moving to American, becoming a Mother, becoming a single Mother, raising my boys, starting my own businesses, beating cancer and buying and remodeling my own home. I had overcome many obstacles and felt there wasn’t an obstacle I couldn’t overcome, until the day my youngest son, Robert, took his own life.
It was October 12th. 2001 when I got the news, I was preparing to fly out to the Philippines the very next day at the invitation of a friend. It was the news that no parent ever wants to get and I was completely overcome with grief.
I remember screaming to God that I hated Him. I didn’t know that I would spend the next 13 years of my life doing God’s work. and I would find so many children who would call me ‘Lola Sherry’, (Grandmother in Tagalog.)
On my 12th day in the Philippines, I was introduced to a nun and went with her from Manila to her Resettlement Area for Aeta in Subic, Zambales. I had never heard of Aeta and was amazed to meet diminutive people, very dark with tight curly hair and extremely shy. I was fascinated by them and they were surprised to see me. I must have looked strange to them, a very pale, perspiring woman with a lot of red hair.
The Aeta are considered the 1st people of the Philippines, they are nomadic hunter/gatherers. After the eruption of Mt. Pinatubo in 1991 many had had to come down from their homes and live in resettlement areas. Little did I know my life was going to change forever. I loved the Aeta and many of them loved me.
Cullen recently wrote an article in which he said “Women are the greatest survivors, the most resilient and the most abused. Much of it starts in childhood and they carry it all their lives.” He is correct, I am resilient and I was abused by Cullen.