GAIL WHITE Adoptive parents have a flair for family
As I park in the driveway of Joe and Susan Verostko in Howland, I hear the bark of a Labrador retriever from the garage.
Walking up the sidewalk to the front door, I spy a basket of laundry on the dining room table.
Ringing the doorbell, I notice a scattering of toys in the foyer.
Feeling quite at home already, Susan greets me with a warm smile and a boisterous hello.
As we exchange pleasantries, I could hear the familiar sound of children playing down the hall. For a moment, I thought I was home.
The names, faces and location are all different, but the sound of "family" is the same.
The kids: Shuffling past the toys, I greet Joe, coming in from the kitchen. The children stop their game and stare.
"You're Angela," I say, pointing to a tall 12-year-old. She smiles with maturity and returns the greeting.
"You must be Mark," I continue. I can already tell this 8-year-old boy does not like to sit.
A little girl in pink pajamas does a dance step in the middle of the room. "And you're Julie," I say as the 6-year-old smiles with the recognition.
"Joey," I say at last, as the 5-year-old tucks his chin into his chest and slowly turns around, too shy to speak.
The children resume their game as Joe, Susan and I sit down at the kitchen table to talk about their beautiful family.
Cancer strikes: Twelve years ago, Joe and Susan were blessed with a wonderful baby girl, Angela. They wanted a big family and were anxious to have more children.
Susan was diagnosed with uterine cancer, however. The doctor ordered a complete hysterectomy.
"They caught my cancer in the very early stages." Susan explains, "If I had become pregnant again, the hormones from being pregnant would have made the cancer spread like wildfire."
Though she has trouble calling her surgery a blessing, she concedes, "If that wouldn't have happened," she points to the living room. "This wouldn't have happened."
What "happened" was the adoption of Mark, Julie and Joey.
"There was no grieving, no feeling sorry," Susan recalls. "We knew we wanted more kids."
They tried adoption services, but since they already had a child their chances were very slim.
They looked to overseas adoption, but the cost was prohibitive. They knew they wanted more than one child.
Finally, they decided to become foster parents.
Two weeks after they were certified by Mahoning County Children Services, the Verostkos received a call.
Joe remembers the events of that day distinctly.
First adoption: "I was at work. Sue was at home," he begins. "Sue got a call from Children Services about a beautiful 5-month-old baby boy. They told her he may be adoptable." Joe pauses. "Then they said, 'Oh, yeah. He's black.'"
Joe had reservations about adopting a black child.
His concerns were not born out of prejudice, but from the uncertainty of handling the implications of an interracial family.
"I said no," Joe says. Even now, Susan's eyes fill with tears.
"The minute I hung up the phone, I knew I was wrong," Joe continues.
He immediately picked the phone back up, but Susan was already on the line with the social worker.
He finally got through and yelled, "We made a mistake! We made a mistake!"
That night, a baby with big brown eyes and a tuft of hair on top of his head came to stay at the Verostkos' home.
Two years later, Mark became a Verostko.
His sister, Julie, joined him 16 months later. Eighteen months after that, they were joined by another brother, Joey.
"We're colorful," Susan says with a smile.
The colors may vary, but the sound that blesses this home is the same.
It is the unmistakable sound of family.