I have had 3 or 4 blog topics rolling around in my head for almost two months now…But I am still not sure exactly how to go about saying what I need to say. However, I decided, that tonight I am going to try…So my apologies right up front if you find it hard to follow. It is going to come straight from the heart. And sometimes that is a messy place.
Several things have happened over the past few months that have made me pause and really think about what is truly important in life. I have known for quite sometime that family is the center of everything, but because “family” for me has been so very complicated, sometimes the lines are very blurry.
If you are new to reading my blog, then please know that I actually have more family than I ever imagined humanly possible?! Being adopted as a baby, gave me the family that are the first in my memory and those that I grew up with. They included parents, siblings, grandparents, great grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces, nephews, second cousins, and great nieces and nephews, and great aunts and uncles. Many of these family members are no longer living. Several are no longer part of my life because of the circumstances that surrounded the loss of my Momma. And a few are no longer part of my life because we have grown apart and don’t see one another very often, or we live very far apart.
But the loss of one of my favorite cousins, Julianne Williams (Cutteridge), helped me reconnect to a part of my childhood that I hadn’t revisited for a while. She was the only girl on either side that was very close to my age. She was a few years older than me and she was really my very first best friend. I had been in contact with her brother after her recent stroke and he let me know of her passing, shortly thereafter. He and her twin sons, as well as her husband, mother, grandkids, and other aunts, uncles and cousins were taking her loss really hard. She had made a decision to be cremated, but the family wanted to have a Celebration of Life for her and they asked me if I would like to share some memories. I was honored. And it gave me the opportunity to reflect on all of the times we had shared growing up, even though she lived in the big city of Indianapolis and I lived on a farm, in a very rural setting, about 7 miles from a small town in southern Indiana. We grew up about as different as two kids could, but even so, we had this very special bond as “cousins”…even without any blood being involved. I will always cherish the memories of the fun times we had as little kids and later as teenagers.
I attended her celebration of life and shared several different memories that stood out in my mind. I loved sharing that part of her with her other family and friends. And I realized how much she and these other cousins that were in my life because I was adopted were of major importance in my history…in my life. We spent a lot of time together as children. I have been trying to be more connected to them via phone, Facebook and other social media means and will spend time in person when we can.
Everyone is just too busy…Life has become too busy. I want to slow down and soak in these opportunities and connections, so I am making an effort to do that. I have also been in closer contact with some of my nieces and nephews and my great nieces…One of whom is very new and I have recently had the privilege to meet and hold at least twice. I met the other little one months ago, but want to spend more time with her too. They are beautiful little girls, who belong to my beautiful nieces, and I want to know them. And I want them to know me.
But to continue, about 5 1/2 years ago, after the tragic loss of my Momma (my REAL Momma, the one who took me in through adoption, loved me, cared for me, taught me, and raised me), I began a search for my biological family in hopes of finding a brother that I learned I might have. Imagine my surprise to learn that I had at least 8 other siblings, maybe more?! No wonder I felt like part of me was always missing?? After doing an Ancestry DNA Test, I learned that I also had a variety of aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces, nephews, and even a living birth mother on the maternal side. And because of her refusal to reveal which one of two brothers is actually my father (The genetic genealogist and I have it narrowed to two brothers through DNA…They have both unfortunately passed away and according to records neither of them have any KNOWN biological children), I may never know which one was my actual biological father and if I may have some other siblings (half or step)? This also makes me feel pretty confident that my biological father didn’t even know about me or that I even existed? How unfair is that? We both possibly missed out on what might have been a good relationship. I know and have met and talked with some of my first and second cousins on the paternal side of the family and they have been kind and welcoming, but there is still a lot of mystery on the paternal side because they did not know anything about me and feel my father did not either. And frankly, there is still considerable mystery on the maternal side, as my biological mother will not share any information about our other siblings either, so we have not been able to locate all of them that I know and/or believe to exist. There are three that are still unaccounted for. However, I do want to say that I am extremely thankful for those family I have met and formed relationships with. Some of those I am closest with just had our second reunion in Orange Beach, Alabama in September. To our surprise, one of my cousins from the paternal side of my family was also in Orange Beach and got to spend some time with us too. And it was amazing!! Patty and her husband and Brad and I are planning to go to Texas over Christmas break to visit Uncle Robert and Aunt Dena and meet their family and friends there.
And then, there is my own beautiful family that I have created along with my husband, Brad. We have a lovely daughter who has given us three wonderful grandsons who definitely stole our hearts. We also have an amazing son, who is still a young man just starting on his own journey. I feel so blessed because they are all right here in the town where we live and we can pretty much see them whenever we want. And I love that…so much! They are my greatest joy! But along with this chapter, also came the family that I married into. A mother and father-in-law who treated me like one of their own, two sister-in-laws, nieces, nephews, cousins, aunts, uncles, great nieces and nephews, and second cousins, etc. This family was very close for many years, but as everyone got older and some moved further away and some of them passed on, that closeness became less and less.
We recently lost my husband’s mother, Patty, who has been battling many health issues over the past year and had made a decision to move into a local nursing home about a year ago. She had a stroke almost 2 months ago and we just had her Celebration of Life this past weekend. Several of this part of our family spent time together Saturday, and vowed to spend more time together, and are especially trying to make plans to be together for the some of the upcoming holidays…Those immediately after losing a family member are especially tough, so I feel we NEED to be together to help each other through it. I know it really helped me when I lost my Momma.
Then, there is a whole other group that I now consider family and they are some of the family members of Patty’s husband…Patty is my biological half-sibling who I have become very close to. She and two of her sister-in-laws took a girls’ trip with me to visit Aunt Nan in Florida earlier in the summer and I got to know these two ladies…One of who is now fighting a battle with cancer and I love her dearly and I am worried and scared for, just like she is my own sister. I love that these two ladies and their families are now in my life.
I have some other wonderful people who are not connected as family in any way, but that I feel just as close to. My friend Jacqui O., who is from California is one of those…I met her during my DNA biological family search. She is also a Foundling. And she reached out to me very early in my search and we just “got” each other and understood the feelings each of us had about being abandoned, and adopted, loss of adoptive parents, and parting of ways with adoptive siblings, and then rejection from some of our biological family members. Being a foundling and going through all of those things we both did is not a common thing, so it gave us a special bond. I consider her one of my “sisters”, as well. I flew out to Cali summer before last to meet her and spent several days with her. My husband and I are planning a trip back this winter. Then there are friends and neighbors that I have known since childhood, who have stayed in my life through the good, the bad, the ugly and the unbelievable. Pammy, Troy, Kena, Vicki, Ann, Betsy, Suzanne, Kathy, John, Terry, and Sue…All like brothers and sisters to me.
We are all connected. There is kinship everywhere. Sometimes, it involves blood and sometimes, it does not. At all.
So to the whole nurture versus nature question…My answer is nurture. Those who were there as we were growing up, who knew us, loved us, taught us, and shaped us, I believe that is how we become who we are. Just because a woman gets pregnant and carries a baby and gives birth to it…does not necessarily mean she is a real “mother”. That is the easy part…The hard part is the raising, caring for, teaching, loving, and all that comes after. Many of us do all of this…We are in it for the long haul. But for those who couldn’t get pregnant, carry a baby or birth it, yet they take in a baby or child that came from someone else and do the hard parts…And do them with love and to the best of their ability, they are often the very special ones. And I was fortunate enough to have one of those in my life.
I just encourage everyone to recognize the people in their life, and how much they mean to you. Tell them. Don’t wait…We never know how long we will be here on this earth to do so. I hope you enjoy the pictures that I am sharing…They represent some very precious memories to me!
On August 24, my husband, Brad, and I headed to Noblesville, Indiana where I was finally going to meet our Uncle Dan (Butch) who lives in California!! My sister, Patty, and her husband, Larry, were also making the trip up from Franklin, Kentucky. The plan was to meet up with Uncle Dan, who was already in Noblesville, along with our cousins, David Kalman and his wife, Tina, and Sheryl Venola and her daughter, Tuli, who live in the area, for a nice dinner. I had already met the David, Tina, Sheryl and Tuli, but Patty had not! So she was excited to meet several new family members at once! Our other sister from Virginia flew into Indiana the day before and was supposed to bring our brother, Tommy, up to Noblesville so that he could meet Uncle Dan, and the other cousins too.
Brad and I made a stop in Indianapolis to see my cousin, Julie, who had a stroke a few days before. She was one of my very first friends, as she was only two years older than me. Unfortunately, she was not responsive while we were there, so I didn’t really get to talk with her, but I did get to see her, and her brother, my cousin, Dennis, as well as Julie’s husband, Rodney, and her twins, Jeremy and Justin and Justin’s family. Julie’s Mom, my Aunt Dorothy, and her sister Charlene and her brother were also there. While the occasion was not really a happy one and it was obvious that everyone was extremely stressed and worried, it was great to see my cousins and aunt that I hadn’t seen for quite a while. More tests were scheduled and Dennis promised me he would keep me updated on Julie’s condition. These cousins and aunt are family members on my Momma’s side, so they have been my family as long as I can remember and always will be. It was really tough seeing them going through this. I hated to leave, but after a couple hours of visiting with them, we left to head to Noblesville.
Brad, Patty, Larry and I had booked a hotel room and met up there to get ready for dinner. We headed out to the restaurant and found that Uncle Dan and the rest of the group had already arrived and had been seated. We saw them across the restaurant and headed over to make introductions! We talked about all of the traveling Uncle Dan had been doing…He had driven, by himself, from California to Florida to visit Aunt Nan for several days. While he was there, he also got to see his brother, our Uncle Greg and his wife, Marie, as they live close to Aunt Nan.
He made his way up to Georgia and visited with Aunt Carol and Uncle Vernon for 3 days and then headed further north to Noblesville, which is the area where he grew up. He got there the day before us and had visited some of the places they lived when he was younger and looked up other places he had frequented as a child and teen and found a few still there, but found the city had changed quite a lot since then. He talked about his earlier years and spoke of his siblings. He did two tours in Vietnam, so I am sure he has a lot of stories, but doesn’t talk about that much…which is certainly understandable. We also looked at some old photos Aunt Nan had shared with me on a recent visit. And even though Uncle Dan is in this seventies, he has a great memory and recollection of where the photos were taken and who all of the people were in them, so we got another fun history lesson.
I shared with him and my cousins about my most recent findings from my DFC file and the information about our biological mother leaving me to go with a traveling carnival. None of them seemed to be aware of that until they had read my most recent post in my blog.
We had a really nice visit and Brad and I promised Uncle Dan we were going to come to California to visit soon, hopefully this winter! Uncle Dan seemed disappointed that he didn’t get to meet our recently found brother, Tommy, as he thought he would get to. When we learned the night before that Tommy didn’t think he would have a way to Indy, Brad offered to go get him that next morning and we invited him to ride up with us, but it was going to conflict with a visit from his nephew, Wesley, who lives over in southeastern Indiana. So, unfortunately, Uncle Dan and Tommy didn’t get to meet while he was in Indiana. Uncle Dan left Indiana within the next couple of days and drove to Arizona to meet his daughter and granddaughter…other family members we hope to meet soon! We all once again talked about how wonderful it would be to have a reunion, but it will be a feat because everyone is so scattered about! We took advantage of some photo ops since we weren’t sure when we would all see each other again.
My sister and our husbands returned to our hotel, and sat up quite late talking about the family dynamics and trying to put together the pieces of exactly what had happened to cause them to be disconnected and living in so many different areas. It’s still mind-blowing to think that we have more siblings out there that we still can’t locate. It was good to talk about all of it again as it gave us some renewed motivation to start searching harder again. Brad and I left early Sunday morning to head back home, but Patty and her husband drove around Indy for a while on Sunday and looked at some of the places she lived and locations where she used to frequent when she was a young girl living there.
Uncle Dan now messages me pretty regularly just to check in or say hello…And I feel we are now connected. He messaged me when he got back to California to let me know he was home safe and sound. We have had a couple of interesting conversations and he vows that Patty and I are now part of his life and we are stuck with him! LOL! It’s still amazing to meet NEW family members when you are 56 years old…What a rush?! We still have unanswered questions and people to find, but it is so interesting and intriguing….We definitely can’t stop now!!!
I know you haven’t heard from me for quite some time. Life has been very busy. But mostly I am still a little gun shy about posting to my blog. I fear certain family members or their friends will interject negativity and ugliness that could hurt the feelings of those I have come to love very much. That happened before and I hope and pray that it does not happen again.
I really wanted to share this because I am hopeful it might help another Foundling or Adoptee with their search for biological family members or with answers to lingering questions they may have about their own past.
After meeting our brother, Tommy, back in May and hearing his story, and how he found out about Karen and their relationship, my curiosity was once again getting the best of me! What exactly happened to cause our bio mother to leave three babies with a man who was not her husband and was not even my father (I know this from DNA testing). He was likely Karen’s father as her sons DNA-tested and had matches to the family of the man named as our father.
I once again started concentrating on getting my records from DCS, as suggested by Kim Haskitt, our Search Angel. I had already submitted a formal written request and copies of the required documents, and called a couple times to follow up; however, I couldn’t seem to get any further than a sweet para-legal who I don’t think knew what to do with me?! I got the impression that my request was definitely not a common one.
So a little over a month ago, I just decided to call the office and see if I could make an appointment. I explained that I had a letter with the official seal from the State Registrar giving me permission to have any records released to me regarding my adoption. And knowing I had been made a ward of the state and placed initially as a foster, I knew I had come through this system. I was told I could come in and complete a required form and was told to bring the letter I spoke of and my identification. So I drove to the office to see what happened. I was kindly greeted by the person I had spoken to on the phone.
She had apparently called a superior to get some advice about what exactly to do with me when I arrived! LOL!
I was given the form to complete, which I did, and then she made a copy of my ID and my letter I had brought. The DCS employee told me that records more than 10 years old were not kept locally and were in Indianapolis, so they would have to request them and would call me when they arrived and then I could come to view them. She couldn’t really give me a specific timeline. I honestly left there thinking it could be weeks before I even heard anything, if I did at all?? I thought I would be calling back to follow up again in 3 or 4 weeks😕
However, to my surprise, I actually received a call within a few weeks informing me that I could come in to view my file, but needed to make an appointment with this case worker to do so. I took the first date and time she had available which was the following week.
My emotions were all over the place and my imagination was working overtime?! Part of me was excited and anticipated learning some new information that might lead me to other siblings we have been searching for, or that I would learn more about exactly when I was left and where all I had been during the first year of my life?! But part of me feared there wouldn’t be anything new in the file…That it would just be the same info I had already seen in my actual adoption file, or that there would be redacted information that would always make me wonder what I didn’t get to know. Any of these scenarios would be really disappointing.
I went to the appointment as scheduled and was welcomed by the case worker who had called me. She had my file in her hand!! And it looked like there were several documents in it?? I was praying things weren’t marked out or hidden. She told me she had made it a point to educate herself on the adoption records law that had recently changed. I felt myself smile and I felt like that was a small victory in itself.
Much to my surprise, I was taken to an open conference room and the case worker told me to take my time going through the file and asked if I had brought something to take notes on, which I had. She explained they could not make me copies of any of the documents as they weren’t allowed to let documents leave the premises. She gave me her cell number, told me to take my time and call her when I was finished. And then, just like that…she left me alone in that big conference room with nothing but “my” file?!
I couldn’t wait to look, but at the same time I was so afraid to look?! Did I really want to know what had happened?! Of course I did! So I opened the file and started reading and taking notes. Most of what it appeared to be were type-written case worker notes.
Apparently my involvement with Division of Child Services began on August 23, 1963 when I was not quite 8 months old. The police had called because they had picked up a baby from a sitter (she was named) who reported that my father had left me with her the day before and had not returned to pick me up as agreed upon. That baby was me.
I learned that I was initially placed with another foster family on a temporary basis. And I also have their names. And address. I have not yet reached out to them, but plan to try.
I did learn that one of my alleged father’s brothers did show an interest in adopting me to be part of their family and was told by the judge how to go about becoming foster parents. There was no more information about it, so I am not sure if they didn’t follow through with the process or were turned down? But this was of interest because some of the “cousins” I met in this family had told me their parents tried to adopt me and the other two siblings, so that confirmed to me they really did remember me. And Tommy and Karen. And we had truly been in their lives, at least for a little while.
Then I learned the answer to a question that had been heavy on my mind. When did my bio mother leave and why?? She had told me during a phone call that our “father” had taken me (well actually “Karen”…because she initially told me I was “Karen” shortly after our DNA tests showed that we were a “parent-child” match) and Tommy and just left her. I still do not know if there is any truth to this?? But Tommy and Karen were mentioned in my file as siblings and they were reportedly in a different foster home. The documentation indicated there was “family” history in Karen’s file…So I am trying to learn how to get access to it! Anyway, according to the testimony documented in the record, my bio mother left ME with my alleged father when I was about 3 months old. And he had reportedly been taking care of me during the previous 5 months, although I suspect that some of his family helped him out, hence the request by a brother and his wife to adopt me.
But perhaps the most shocking part of what I read was the reason my bio mother left…She left me and likely my other two siblings to join the traveling carnival?!?! Yep, you read that correctly. The traveling carnival. Let that soak in a minute.
This information makes so many things that didn’t, make some sort of sense. We have wondered how our bio mother had been able to travel so extensively and have babies in so many different states or locations?? It also helped to possibly explain how many of us had different fathers. And why we were just “left” in several different places?!
I was placed with my adoptive parents at 10 months as I had been told and already knew from my adoption records. I also learned that my bio mother had never made any attempt to find me, inquire about me, or try to get me back. That was hard to see in black and white, but honestly, not really too surprising. After she wouldn’t accept a visit from my sister, Patty, and me last summer, that spoke volumes, about her indifference toward us.
But the best of this file was yet to come…
After all of the type-written case notes, and legal documents showing my adoption process, there was a treasure awaiting me….
Right there, before my very eyes, were some beautiful, original, hand-written letters in my adoptive Momma’s cursive!! (My real Momma💕)
I could hardly believe it?! I never expected something like that to be in my file, but what an extremely pleasant and wonderful surprise?!
I started reading them and I was almost immediately in tears😢 Here was my Momma communicating with this case worker about how I was doing, how much weight I had gained, how she had been so worried about me because I had a cough and an earache, and that I had said my first words, and was about to start walking, and how much she loved me. She said she couldn’t remember me NOT being part of their life. She signed the very first letter with my name added…Just like I was part of their family. There were several of these letters which I read a few times. The end of the one I shared she writes about buying presents for my first Christmas!! I just wanted to take them with me so bad, but knew they wouldn’t copy them, soooooo…I used my cell phone to take screen shots of them. I needed to always have them, so now I do. I knew she loved me…I never doubted that, but I didn’t realize how quickly she fell in love. That was an amazing feeling. I thought my heart might just explode❤️
I will continue to seek the “Family” history from Karen’s file. And we continue to search for Judith Ann who was allegedly the firstborn in Ohio in 1956. And we also continue to search for “Teresa”, the baby Aunt Nan remembers being present when Patty was a toddler. And there is likely one other sibling, that we have no real information about. However, according to our youngest known sibling’s numbers on her certificate of birth, another baby was born from a viable pregnancy. Maybe, we will get lucky with a new DNA match leading us to them!!
Since the time I viewed these records, Tommy got his DNA results and he evidently has ties to the father’s family named on my birth certicate. So he and Karen likely had the same father. Tommy had been told by his and Karen’s adoptive parents in seventh grade that they were actually twins, but this does not appear to be so because Karen’s birth is listed on the California Birth Index and Tommy’s birth is not. We have been told that this birth index is very reliable. Once Tommy receives his official adoption records he has requested, they should confirm this or not.
In addition, I finally got to meet my other nephew, Wesley, who is my sister, Karen’s oldest son!! My sister, Patty, joined us recently in Clarksville, IN and we had lunch and a nice visit.
Our biological mother wanted to meet Tommy, so they both flew to Virginia and had some time together. He also got to meet our half brother, Michael, and our half sister, Sissy. He hopes to meet more family members too.
Within the next week, I hope to get to meet my Uncle Daniel, who lives in California. He will be in Northern Indiana visiting some other family!!
I started writing this blog many months ago to share my experiences as a Foundling and also to share a story of domestic violence that touched my heart and forever changed my life. Since that time, so many things have happened that it is hard to even fathom?!
And I let some of them stop me from doing something I love…And need. And that was my writing. For those of you who also write, you will totally get it…That need to get things out of your head and onto paper, the need to be free of information and thoughts that won’t let you concentrate and focus, and the need to tell your story so that it might help or encourage even one other person out there who just needs a little push to take some action in their life that they are contemplating.
Knowing that it could be one that changes or saves their life is motivational, but is also a pressure. A pressure that is brings out the “fixer” in you…that part of you that wants to spare others pain and suffering. So…In light of that, I am back. And I won’t let intimidation or sour grapes or bullying stop me again.
This weekend, I read a couple of things that inspired my will to start writing again. There were some Social Media posts written about a person who I was friends with in the past, but our paths took us in different directions and we kind of lost touch. This friend suddenly passed away, leaving behind a shocked, mourning family and lots of friends. Lesson learned…Life is short. Seize it. Enjoy it. Live it. And love those who love you and remind them often with actions as well as words.
The other thing I read was a post written by the sibling of a Foundling. The Foundling is a surprise to the sibling, as she has just recently learned about them. She became a member of the Foundling Finders Facebook Group that is near and dear to my heart. Without going into detail, because this isn’t my story to tell, I reached out to her because she was asking Foundlings for their thoughts on many questions she has before going through with making a connection with the Foundling sibling. The amount of thought and understanding and compassion she has going into this situation is amazing! She has obviously had it on her mind constantly and it is something she is holding very close to her heart.
The caring and concern she has about the Foundling that is her sibling is so commendable. Even though she was not given up by her parent, she seems to get what it would be like to be a Foundling…Wondering “why” they weren’t loved enough? Wondering if their birth mother thinks of them often and hopes they have had a great life? Wondering if their birth mother might reach out to them on their birthday every year? Wondering if they have other brothers and sisters out there? Wondering if those siblings are like them or very different? Wondering if they even know they are a Foundling or even that they are adopted? She feels her birth mother would have been completely distraught to have made this decision and that she must have left this baby in some sort of extreme, extraordinary circumstances and wonders if the birth mother’s depression and other lifelong mental health issues may stem from this baby she left many years ago? Will her search and contacting this Foundling Sibling make things worse for them or for her Mother or will it make things better? Will there be a happy reunion? Or will it just result in more hurt and rejection? Her insight and the amount of thought she has put into this blows me away. I have sent her a private message to share my thoughts with her and gave her the link to my blog. I know our stories are very different and that she is coming at the search and possible meeting from another angle, but I felt like I had something valuable to offer her in what I have learned. The lesson…Never pass up an opportunity to help someone that asks for help.
Lastly, I read an article about a young lady who is sharing her own story of being in a relationship that consisted of a lot of domestic violence that resulted in extreme physical and emotional harm and damage to her. Her courage to share that with others even though it is very still very scary and raw for her, both broke my heart, but inspired me at the same time. She was mutilated by her ex-boyfriend in a way that will always be there to remind her of the situation and time with him. But yet, she wants to share the story to possibly save someone else from being in this same sort of situation. It was difficult to read, but so very brave of her to write and share. Lesson learned…Don’t be intimidated by those who bully you. And do what you can to help others!
For those of you who were following my blog for many weeks as I wrote routinely and told my story of why I started my bio family search, the actual search process itself, the beautiful connections and relationships that I have worked hard to build and am thankful everyday to have, as well as the lies, deceit, and secrets that have come to light during the process, you probably also noticed that I stopped posting to my blog after the Christmas holidays, other that maybe one or two other short blogs since that time.
You see, after I posted the blog about the holidays that I felt thankful to get to spend with biological family that I have never gotten to spend the Christmas holidays with, there was a lot of ugliness and drama that unraveled because some members of the family, who unlike the sibling of the Foundling I mentioned above, obviously do not get what it’s like to be a Foundling, nor do I believe they even try to imagine what it might be like. I felt like the drama that occurred wouldn’t have happened and hurt my sister and some of the other family members that I love, if I hadn’t published the post to my blog…so I just stopped. Because I never want to see any of these people I love be put through any kind of unnecessary hurt, especially if I caused it in some way.
However, my sister, Patty, who is older (just a little) and wiser, has been telling me I shouldn’t let someone bully me into not doing something I love and need. And then reading these other things I mentioned this morning, I feel motivated to get back at it! After all, I have some more amazing information to share!!
The last blog I shared was about my nephew, Brandon, who reached out to me after I showed up as a match on his 23 & Me test results! And while the initial plan to meet him did not work out for reasons I won’t even bother to share, I got to meet him shortly after that! He only lives one state over…
It was a beautiful spring-like Sunday about a month ago that I took off and drove 3 1/2 hours to the retail store that my nephew manages because he was working that day, but told me he could take a long lunch break if I drove over. I messaged him from the parking lot when I got there. He said “Well, are you going to come in or…??” I said “Of course, I will come in!” He told me I could find him in lawn and garden, so after making a short pitstop in the little girls’ room, I made my way to that department…And I immediately saw him at the register helping a customer, but spotting me and giving me a big smile and a wave. At last, we met! He says “Let’s get out of here and go get some lunch!” So we walked back through the store to his office to get his coat and keys and off we go. He asked if I like Panera Bread, which was very close by, and I said I did. So we got some food and just chatted for a little while…I still couldn’t believe how much he and my son favor one another? He told me he had a lot of pictures and such at his house and would like to show them to me, so we hopped in his truck and drove there about 10 minutes away. After a tour of his home, he went down to the basement and came back with several photo albums and books.
What a treasure??? Not only were there pictures of him as a baby and little boy, there was school memorabilia, his newborn baby tee shirt, old cards, and other precious items and pictures…including pictures of his mother, Karen, who was my half sister! There were pictures of her that I had not seen and it was so wonderful to be able to visualize a part of her life and who she was. Brandon said that Karen’s adoptive Mother had made the one book for him throughout his young life. And even though he didn’t get to see her often or spend a lot of time with her, there were times during the summers that he got to visit her. When he was with her, he was less than an hour from me…And I had no idea?! He spoke very fondly of her. She raised his half brother, who I have yet to meet; however, my sister Patty got to meet him the same week I met Brandon. He was in the process of moving to another state, so I am thinking there is another road trip in my near future!
Brandon and I talked about his childhood and growing up and his life now and I shared with him my search and connection with other biological family and we talked about planning a reunion soon, so he can meet many of the others, who I am sure will love him too. He did his DNA Test because he decided he wanted to know “who” he was and “where” he came from. Again, the magic of DNA…It is real.
And before I knew it, it was time for me to head back home…The afternoon had flown by at record-speed, but it was so worth the trip! I drove home with a smile on my face and made some calls to other family members to let them know we have another new family member who wants to join our crazy bunch!! We definitely need to plan that reunion!!
It was about 10:42 this morning when I dialed a new number into my phone that I was given through a Facebook Message….And on the other end of the line, I heard a friendly voice saying “Well, hello Aunt Sherri”!
It never gets old. That excitement of actually making person to person contact with another new family member!! This time a nephew. And while all of my nephews are special to me, this one is the youngest son of my half-sister, Karen, who we recently found with the help of Kim Haskitt, a Search Angel that CeCe Moore asked to help us out. She has been working with us since January 8, 2019…And she has been amazing and uncovered a lot of information, some that was quite shocking and a big surprised to all of us…I will share that later. Unfortunately, what we also learned about Karen was that she had been killed in a tragic car accident when she was only 22 years old. Those of us closely involved in the search have been kind of devastated by this news, as we were so looking forward to getting to meet and know Karen. And we were also anxious to confirm that she truly was our sibling…I had already purchased an Ancestry kit for her.
We had learned from our Search Angel, Kim, that Karen had grown up about 30 or so miles from where I had grown up. She was 2 years ahead of me in school. We did not attend the same school as she was one county over; however, I spent a lot of time in the larger town in her county…at the bowling alley, the skating rink, the movie theater, Pizza Hut and my friends and I often attended football and basketball games. It’s mind-boggling to think we could have bumped into one another in any one of those places and we would have never know we were connected?! I have gone to the little library in the town where Karen grew up with her adoptive family and was able to find her in school yearbooks from Elementary School through her Senior Year of High School! She was so pretty and seemed to be very involved in school activities. Karen was a cheerleader, she was in the band, and she was on the track team…This made me question our genetic ties…As everyone knows, I do NOT run! Unless something is chasing me?! However, it was good to see that it appeared she had a pretty typical small town Indiana life! These are pictures from her Senior Year and in Second Grade!
This started on Saturday night. I had a message in my email from 23 & Me alerting me that I had a new match and a message from a new relative. And to my surprise when I opened it up, it was a message from Brandon Dicus and it said “Hi Sherri! My name is Brandon. I believe you had a sister named Karen? I’m her son.” I, of course, replied that I did indeed have a sister named Karen… And just like that…Another family member was found! As per my customary habit after this happens, I looked for Brandon on Facebook and was able to find him and sent a Friend Request. He accepted it, so I sent him a private message that said “Hello! I think you are my nephew.” He replied “I believe I am”. By this time I was crying…We had a connection to our sister after all! And even more exciting, by his DNA being a match to mine, this confirmed that Karen truly was my half sister! So….I would like to introduce Brandon and welcome him to the family!
Brandon and I talked on the phone for over an hour and a half, I think, but I honestly lost track of time. He was sharing information we have been searching for and filling in some blanks and I was sharing information with him and helping to fill in some of the blanks he had. He doesn’t live that far away from me…Only about 3 1/2 hours! And do you want to know the really weird thing, we got our French Bulldog, Chloe, from the city he lives in! Seriously, what are the chances?! It really is a small world?! And this is Chloe Mae…I was glad to have a reason to share her photo!
Anyway, I think Brandon and I were both a bit overwhelmed with all of the information we shared with one another, but I messaged him later because I had forgotten to tell him about my blog. I told him I had slacked off and had not been keeping up, but felt inspired to write about connecting with him today and asked if I could share his name and a photo and he said he would like for me to, so it is my honor to do it. We are trying to make a plan to meet in person very soon!!! Oh…And he likes the beach and the ocean! He is definitely related 🙂
Later today, Brandon also posted on our Missing Sibling Search Facebook Page that we started with Kim’s advice and encouragement to help us try to find Karen and another brother we had learned of. The initial post/request to get our search story out there has been shared 7.4 thousand times…Still incredibly unbelievable, but so very appreciated. And now Brandon is another part of this story…Another missing piece that has been found!!
I hinted at some other information that our Search Angel uncovered, but I believe I will save that for another post to my blog. And while this story is bittersweet, I feel extremely fortunate that we have been able to make this connection to our sister through her son, Brandon…So, thank you, nephew, for reaching out!!
Many people take the everyday happenings in life for granted and don’t give them a second thought; however, when you are in the midst of a family search and find, you don’t likely take much of anything for granted…Things that others may think are mundane or ordinary are anything but for me. It may seem odd to others that at 55 or 56 years old, I am experiencing several “firsts”. Usually, when you hear someone my age talk about the “firsts”, it unfortunately has to do with getting through something without someone significant that they lost. Trust me when I say that I know that part all too well…I have lived that.
But the kind of “firsts” I am referring to are happy and full of joy and wonder! I have had many over the past year and 9 months, but wanted to share some recent ones with you that have just really touched my heart.
It started with Thanksgiving. My daughter, Ashleigh, and her family hosted Thanksgiving in their new home, which was a first! And I am not going to lie…I truly enjoyed being the guest, rather than the hostess. It was lovely to relax and enjoy it. The other first that occurred was that it was the first Thanksgiving that I was able to spend with one of my newly found siblings! My big sister, Patty, and my brother-in-law, Larry came up the night before and we went out for dinner and margaritas…A love of them is something we have learned we have in common! LOL! Patty and I sat up and talked too late and laughed and giggled and just had some fun.
On Thanksgiving Day, we got up and had breakfast together and then cooked a couple of dishes to take to the gathering. We then picked up my friend, Helen, and headed to my daughter’s! Gary smoked turkeys and my grandsons Jax, Cutter and Shooter provided the entertainment! I got to introduce Patty to some of our other family members that she had not yet met, so that was awesome. She made some little friends for sure! And then the day was over and we went our separate ways, but our first Thanksgiving together was in the books!
The following weekend, I got a surprise invitation to attend the Roy family holiday gathering in Dale. I was excited to be included! This is the family that remembers me, as a baby, and my half-sister, Karen Elaine (her name then), and my half-brother, Tommy (his name then.) My name was Sherri Ann then and it did not change, but they didn’t know that and don’t know if the others’ names were changed or not. They also remember their parents and older family members talking about our biological mother being there. The cousins I have had contact with are about the same age as me or younger, so they don’t have a lot of information other than what they heard growing up. One of the cousins, who is 13 years older, actually recalls playing with me and Karen. She also remembers a picture of me and Karen Elaine out on the lawn on a white blanket. The family is trying to locate this photograph, but thus far have not been able to…Oh how I would love to see it! The first picture I have seen of me is at about 1 year old, so I have no idea what I looked like as an infant?! All they can really tell me is that our biological mother left us with their Uncle and then Social Services got involved and we were all adopted out to different families and they lost track of us. Tommy and Karen are the two siblings confirmed not only by this family, but also by my biological mother. We desperately want to find them. This gathering was another first that I appreciated being a part of! Here is a picture of the cousins and their sweet Mom.
Two weeks later, I went to visit my big sister, Patty, in Kentucky. When I got there, we went to her little downtown square and did some Christmas shopping! She invited me to her Staff Christmas Party so I got to meet some of here co-workers and friends for dinner. After that, she mentioned going to Bowling Green to the mall, soooooooo we did our first real “Christmas Shopping” excursion together…She helped me find some great gifts I had been looking for and she found a few too. But the coolest thing, by far, that happened was our decision to stop and visit with Santa! We sat with him and told him a very brief version of our story and got our photo taken with him (because we never got to do that as children, as we were separated), and he was so taken with our story, he told his helpers to give us the pictures as his gift to us…I think he may have been the real deal! Yep, we got some strange glances from on-lookers, but we couldn’t have cared less…We were in the moment! Enjoying another “first”!! And on the way back to her place, we passed a Krispy Kreme Donut Shop…with the light on! So she did a quick U-ie and went back so we could get our free hot-off-the-belt glazed donut. OMG! So good…Not my first one, but my first one with my big sister!
The next day, I got to meet my nephew, Joey Steadman, for the first time when he took some pictures for me. He is a professional photographer and was doing a vintage photo shoot in Nashville, which I thought would be great fun and the pics would be a great gift for Brad. I tried to talk my sister into doing the whole photo shoot with me, but she is a little camera shy! However, her son-in-law insisted that we get a few photos together and those are a few of my most favorites!! She then took me to Hattie B’s Nashville Hot Chicken, which was AMAZING! And another first. We then headed over to her daughter Shelly’s home (a first) and I got to meet my great-nephew, Quentin, yet another first! Here are a few more of the photos Joey took…
I headed out a little later that evening and drove back to Indiana….The trip gets shorter each time! And always so totally worth it!
And then, the real excitement came when Patty and I invited ourselves to Aunt Nan’s house in Florida so that we could spend our very first Christmas Holiday together!! Brad and I hosted our own family gathering at our house on December 23 as usual, so that we could spend time with our kids, grandkids, and my husband’s family, including his sister and brother-in-law, Sherri and Barry, from Louisville and her son, Caleb, and his lovely family, including his partner, Rachel, and his three littles, Clinton, Raegan, and James. Her daughter, Kelsey, as well as Brad’s Mom, another Patti, and his other sister, Julie, and two of her kids, Katie and Jace, also joined us, as did our friend, Helen. We were missing my two sweet nieces, Skylar and Grace, and a couple of nephews, Jeremy and Spencer, who usually join us. I also missed my brother, Michael, being with us this year…We spent our first Christmas together last year! I wish they could have been with us too, but everyone has responsibilities and commitments, and not everyone lives close by, so hopefully, we will get to see all of them soon. And for the first time ever, “Santa” knocked on our front door and paid us a visit that evening! The kids loved talking to him and getting a gift from him! Seeing the little ones so excited was amazing to witness!
And also, for the first time ever, Brad and I got up early on Christmas Eve and caught a plane to Florida!! Aunt Nan and Patty picked us up at the airport. Patty and Larry had driven down the day before. We arrived to temperatures in the 70’s and sunshine…What a welcome sight and feeling?!
We got back to Aunt Nan’s and got settled in, and Aunt Nan asked us if we would mind to go to the grocery for her, so we did that. She wanted to make us our “grandmother’s pot roast”, which would be the first time we had that! After we got back, Patty and I just took advantage of some free time to “play”! We drove around the neighborhood on Aunt Nan’s golf cart, swung on her backyard swing, picked some oranges off one of her trees, picked up some sticks out of the yard, and hung out on the dock, and on the deck playing with her cats and just enjoying the warmth and sunshine. And catching up on each other’s lives.
Patty insisted on making mashed potatoes…And I am talking about the real deal, not the Bob Evans variety Aunt Nan and I usually have. My contribution was making some homemade Margaritas from my secret recipe…Also a hit! Anyway, we enjoyed a great dinner and we decided to watch a Christmas movie “The Holiday”…our first Christmas movie together. However, before we started the movie, I told Patty I had a gift for her that I wanted to give her on Christmas Eve. The gift was a pair of matching Christmas Pajamas…Another first. We were never together when we were little girls to do this…It was very “special” and there were several tears and hugging, lots of hugging. You know, the bittersweet kind….where you are happy, but you can’t quite shake the fact that we missed a lot of time together…a little over 55 years to be exact. It made Aunt Nan have a good cry too, and get in on the hugging, but she loved it. So we put on our matching PJ’s and watched the movie with our sweet Aunt Nan.
We also got the link that night from the local TV news feature I got to do in Evansville, Indiana where I was born. We taped it earlier in December, but they wanted to release it closer to Christmas. We watched it before the movie! A good friend and colleague, Paula, whom I met years ago when I was doing some public awareness work, offered to help me connect with a local news media reporter after reading my blog and becoming aware of my search for other missing family members. Jackie Monroe, from 14News contacted me and asked if I would be interested in doing a piece to try to help locate at least two other half-siblings that we know existed. Of course, I jumped at the opportunity to put the information out there that we were looking for them! I have a gut feeling that they may also still be right here in the general area, just as I was. Jackie and the camera man were great to work with and they did a nice job of putting together a great holiday story encouraging others who might be curious about their identity or think we could possibly be related to do a DNA test!! Jackie has shared the story on her 14News Facebook Page and on Twitter and I have shared it on both and have had several other friends and relatives share it on their social media accounts, as well. We are hoping that the right person or persons see it and decide to do a DNA test. Wouldn’t that be a wonderful gift?!
Patty and I sat up pretty late on Christmas Eve waiting for Santa to come (another first), but he never showed his jolly self, so we finally got some sleep! I woke up the next morning to my big sister in the kitchen getting ready to start breakfast. My contribution was my Momma’s Special Toast…It was a hit. We also had eggs and bacon and coffee. Lots of good coffee! Our very first Christmas breakfast together as sisters.
Then it was time to open gifts, even though we all agreed it wasn’t about the gifts, we still had some special things for one another. Aunt Nan was feeling a little overwhelmed that we were there with her and I think feeling badly that we were just now getting to spend our first Christmas together as sisters. I told her I thought that my gift to her might just make her smile, or at least give her some happy tears. I had gotten identical gifts for both she and Patty…And she opened hers first, and yep, you guessed it…more tears. But this time they were joyful! It was a canvas I had made from a family vacation photo of her, Patty, and me standing on the beach with our arms around one another, looking out at the ocean. Needless, to say, she LOVED it! And so did Patty. And so do I! I had one made for myself too!
So then Patty and I sat in the floor beside the Christmas tree and opened some other gifts…just like little sisters would do. She got me this beautiful silver anklet with a heart on it, you know, the kind I like to wear at the beach?! It was perfect! And Aunt Nan got me a trendy bracelet engraved with the words “You are Beautiful For you are Fearfully and Wonderfully made”. I love it too! I also gave both of them special Christmas Ornaments with our photo with Santa in them…Aunt Nan teared up again, but loved it!! Patty gave Aunt Nan a beautiful sparkly scarf in hopes of encouraging her to dress up and go out more! She and Larry got Brad a cool athletic shirt…the kind he loves. And our gift to Larry was a University of Kentucky ball cap and sweatshirt…which I explained to Larry that it pained me to buy UK stuff so much, I had to send Brad back to pick it up! LOL! We have a little fun rival going about IU and UK! But even though they are UK fans, I love them dearly anyway!
So, there you have an accounting of our VERY first Christmas morning together. We talked about what it might have been like to be little girls together at Christmas, but in reality, we have no idea what it would have been like because we missed out on all of that…So again, it was a little bittersweet. However, it goes without saying that we are beyond thankful that we have each other now and vow to spend future Christmas’s together as often as we possibly can! Hopefully, some day, more of us can be together on Christmas and the rest of our family members can be there too…I will admit I missed being with my kids and grandbabies on Christmas. That is the first time I haven’t seen them on Christmas Day. And my daughter is 32….So that was a huge first.
The rest of Christmas Day was just relaxed and lazy. We did some Face Time and Calls to Uncle Robert and Aunt Dena in Texas and to Aunt Carol and Uncle Vernon in Georgia. We made a group effort resulting in a wonderful meal of baked ham, cheese grits (to die for), potato salad, cucumber and onion salad, baked beans, and baked cinnamon apples. We were stuffed, but decided to go spend some time outside as it was in the upper 70’s…Boy, I could get used to that! We took another spin on the golf cart, walked around with the dog, and just “hung out”. Later that evening we watched “The Santa Claus”. We learned that Aunt Nan has watched very few Christmas movies?! After that, we watched “The Grinch”, my personal favorite. We all turned in a little earlier…It had been a big day!!
The next day, Patty and I decided to go see if we could find some after-Christmas bargains! We went to Target and TJ Maxx and stopped in at Chick-fil -A for a some nuggs! We had some success in finding some gifts for next year, wrapping paper, cards, and I found an adorable baby gift for my brand new great niece who was born a few days before Christmas! Her name is Raegan and I will see her, my niece, Chance, and hopefully I will see her Mom, Amy, when I get back to Indiana!!
Aunt Nan’s grandson, Caleb, came down on Wednesday morning, as well, and he and Brad helped her with some much needed yard clean up from some recent storms. And they got to know one another at the same time!!
When we got back home from shopping, we split up and went to spend some alone time with our husbands. Hers wanted to go to a drag racing museum and Brad and I headed over to Daytona for a walk on the beach. It was in the 80’s…in December?! That is really, really warm when you live in Indiana!!
We had a nice dinner together from the leftovers from the day before. After we cleaned up, we played some games on the Wii…That was a hoot?! Then we decided to watch the new movie “Bird Box”…Wow! That was intense!!! But really good. We all went to bed at a decent hour, as we were all worn out! Time was going by so fast!!!
So, the next morning, I was greeted with Happy Birthday’s from everyone!! Another first. My first birthday with Patty. And with Aunt Nan. Patty gave me a really special necklace that is a Family Tree with an engraved pendant behind it that says “Family Where life begins and Love never ends”! It is beautiful. And Aunt Nan got me another gorgeous bracelet that is my favorite color, turquoise! My first birthday gifts from both of them. But it was being with them that made it so special. I have now had a birthday with both of my sisters, as Sissy came to Indiana for my birthday last year!! I missed her being there for it too!
However, that was just the beginning! My birthday turned into such an eventful and fun day, I could hardly believe it?! First our cousin, Carla, came in from Jacksonville. And then her sister, Missy, and her other two sons, Jacob and Ben, came in from Jacksonville! We exchanged some cousin Christmas gifts and Missy and the boys brought me a birthday cake!! How sweet was that?? My first birthday with these cousins, as well.
The next thing I know, my Uncle Greg, who lives about a half an hour away, came to visit with his fiancée, Marie! And they brought me a lovely birthday gift as well! My first birthday with them! And just when I thought the excitement was over, in walks Christopher, who is my Aunt Nan’s grandson from California!!! She was overwhelmed with joy to see him!! You see, her son, Christopher’s father, passed away a few years back after battling with ALS, so him visiting her all the way in Florida is pretty special! And Patty and I got to meet him too!! Another first!
Pizza’s were ordered, birthday cake was cut, family photos were taken, and there was lots of hugs, and kisses, and handshakes, and backslaps! It was a wonderful day, full of memories.
However, our visit would be over soon. We had a 6:20 am flight the next morning. So we packed and got things ready and really intended to go to bed early, but then Carla stayed and she and Patty and I sat up and talked longer than we probably should have, but it was well worth it…Perfect bonding time.
Aunt Nan insisted on getting up and leaving to take us to the airport at 330 am…Carla came along too. It was early and it was a teary goodbye. It is still amazing to me, the feelings I have for her, even though she has only been in my life a year and 9 months. I know she loves me…unconditionally…even though I feel like I am oftentimes a big ol’ mess! She has been right there for me through all kinds of situations and feelings. And I know she has done the same for Patty. As I have said before, there has been something about going to visit her from the very first time…It just always felt like “home” to me. I can’t really explain it…but I sure feel it.
We arrived home before noon and took a nap. My son, Alex, and my daughter, Ashleigh, wanted to take me out for my birthday that evening so we made plans to do that. I miss them when I am gone, but they have been amazing about accepting and welcoming new family members. I am still working on getting them to Aunt Nan’s house…but scheduling is hard with jobs and kids and school!
We were just leaving the restaurant and got a call that Brad’s Mom had fallen and was being taken to the local ER. We went to meet her there. She had a compound fracture in her leg. It looked bad. The bone was exposed. She was admitted and had surgery the next day. I went to the hospital during her surgery and got to see several of Brad’s family. The surgery was successful. His mom is already back at the nursing home where she resides, but she has a long road of recovery ahead of her. Another bump in the road, but she has lots of family who love her, including me.
On Friday, I also got a gift in the mail from my dear Foundling Friend, Jacqui O. She sent me this beautiful Willow Sculpture…My sister, my friend. It was perfect…From one sister to another. Proof that blood isn’t everything.
Sunday, I had another first. I got to meet my new great niece, Miss Raegan! She is beautiful and oh so tiny!! It was great to get some baby cuddles and to talk to my niece, Chance. I am so proud of her…She seems to have taken to the “Mommy” role like a fish takes to water! Her mom, Amy, was there too…She was once married to my brother and I feel fortunate that we have always been able to remain friends and that I have been able to have a relationship with her and her kids. She and my niece wanted to hear all about my DNA testing and all of the relatives I have found and what it has been like, so we had a great chat. My niece is thinking about DNA testing herself. You see, her dad–my brother, was also adopted by my parents, so she has a lot of questions about who her other family members might be. I had never heard her mention it before, but if she is anything like me, pregnancy and giving birth to a new baby, brings all of that to the forefront. I remember that being one of the first times it really hit me hard. I told her if she decided to test to let me know, because I have a lot of wonderful resources. She said she is going to think about it, so we will see. It’s a big step…with a lot of unknowns. I told her that even though all of mine hasn’t been positive, the good has by far outweighed the bad, and that I have absolutely NO regrets!! And I have some wonderful new people in my life who love me very much and they are a huge part of my life now. I told her that we were still searching for some other siblings and feel that DNA is going to be the only way we will find them because of secrets being so well-kept and guarded. Then she asked me a question. She asked me when I will finally just give up and decide that I have gone as far as I can with my search. And I told her that I don’t think I could ever just give up…I believe there is always hope. She said she knows that if she starts, she will have to keep going too, until she unravels the mystery. (And we are not even blood-related?!)
The New Year’s Holiday this year has really been a time of deep reflection for me. No big parties or celebrations…Just special time with my husband, kids and grandkids with a few calls from other relatives mixed in. I am so thankful and I feel so blessed…And I know that Family is the reason I feel this way. I love having them all around me…near and far. Of course, I wish they were all closer, but those I love are always in my heart, no matter where they live. I am hopeful that 2019 is going to be another memorable one and that we are able to find some of our other siblings that are out there somewhere. And I also hope I have the opportunity to meet and get to know more of my Father’s side of the family!
Forty-six years ago, my life was changed forever. My Mamaw Bess died on this date when I was only nine years old. I just remember it being unbelievable and so surreal…Even at the funeral home, after seeing her lying in the casket, I couldn’t accept the reality of it. It was like I was in a dream?
She was always one of my very best friends and I loved her dearly. She lived next door, so her house was my second home and one of my very favorite places to be! She knew how precious time was because she always took time to play cards, or Sorry, or dominos with me. She let me help her cook even though it made the process take longer. She took her time when she brushed my hair. She told me I was pretty. And she always read me stories…And I especially remember her reading to me when I spent the night with her. She had this beautiful pink ruffled night light that hung over the headboard of her bed. She would let me play house in their camper. She made beautiful clothes for me, for my baby dolls and later, my Barbies. She ate bread, butter and sugar sandwiches with me. And made me chocolate malted milk. And most of all….She always had hugs and kisses and made me feel so loved❤️
I feel like I learned so much from her…But one thing she always said was “The housework will wait…It will be here, but these kids will only be kids for a little while.” This always stuck with me…Which is why my house is sometimes dusty. And why my baseboards aren’t always clean. And my refrigerator needs to be cleaned out. Or my windows are dirty. Or laundry is piled up. Because if I have an opportunity to play or do something to spend time with my kids, my grandkids, or my nieces or nephews…I’m doing THAT! I think it is one of the best gifts I received from my Mamaw Bess and probably one of the most valuable lessons I could have ever learned. I have very few things of hers, but they are some of my most precious treasures. As I mentioned earlier, she sewed, as did most women in that era. I have an apron that she made for herself and one she made just for me. We wore them in her kitchen when she let me cook. And my kids and grandsons have worn the little apron in my kitchen when I let them help me cook! The bonnet was one she made and wore when she was working out in the garden or in the yard. They are proudly displayed in my kitchen. She also made quilts….these were hand-pieced and hand-stitched and quilted, and often made of tinny scraps from the dresses, aprons, bonnets, shirts, pillows, etc. that she created. They weren’t perfectly symmetrical, or intricately patterned like those you buy in the store or order on-line, but they were perfect because she tediously made them with love to keep us warm and give us comfort. I have one that is still in pretty good condition and I want to keep it that way, so I have it hanging in my kitchen behind what used to be a hutch that was in her kitchen many, many years ago. This piece of furniture had been hanging on the garage at my parents old house and Brad and I took it to a shop and had it stripped and refinished, but notice the corner (or lack thereof) of the long door in the picture…word has it that a mouse chewed that off! We left it just like that. I think it gives it character! And the big, thick glass stemmed mugs in the top of the cabinet were also hers…but for special occasions. I remember her making us big ice cream sundaes and root beer floats in them…Boy did we feel like big shots?! We use them occasionally too…they are perfect for special desserts and for Margaritas! Being able to see these things every day helps some keep my Mamaw Bess close in my memory.
I think the other thing I learned from my Mamaw Bess was faith. She was a believer, an avid church-goer, and she prayed a lot. She always said that things will work out the way God wants them to….so somehow I always held onto that. And I have clung to it for dear life over the past 4 1/2 years! And time and time again, I have seen it!
For example, a few days before this day, that I always dread and feel sadness, was Thanksgiving Day this year. And I was beyond blessed to be able to share it this year with my oldest sister! Yep, you heard that right, earlier this year my younger sister was able to get the birth certificate of my older sister! Because she was not adopted, and my sister had a clue about her age, and knew her given birth name, AND they had the same birth mother, it enabled her to get that document! Once she got it, she and a friend of hers found our sister’s marriage license and that led her to the place she got married, and she luckily still lived there! And much to my delight, the place she lived was only about 3 hours away…And she had lived there with her husband for over 40 years! Wow! So close all this time?!
Needless to say, we have been trying to make up for lost time, every chance we get and are enjoying many “firsts” this year! Faith. Have faith…Things happen when God is ready for them to. My sister, Patty, and my brother-in-law, Larry, enjoyed (and survived) their first Thanksgiving at my daughter and her families’ home, with the all the craziness and chaos of our family! And I’m not sure who enjoyed it more…me or her?! Maybe, it was a toss-up. It was certainly something to be thankful for!
So today, our sermon at church was about God having a plan for the way things happen. He talked about going through pain and suffering and tough times, and how those are “tests”. And that the good things come, but in his time. It just seemed so fitting for my memories of my Mamaw, who I miss so dearly, and the blessing of having another special “first” with my sister! I would give anything if all of my siblings could have been in my Mamaw’s life too…And felt her love. And known her goodness. But that wasn’t in the plan. At least not yet. But I have faith. Faith that one day, they will meet her. And my Momma. Faith.
Two weeks ago, I wrote about learning of a lawsuit filed by my adoptive father in an attempt to have my Momma’s body exhumed and moved to a location of his choosing, because he “should have gotten to make that final decision as her husband“…No matter that they had been seperated for over 3 months and my Momma had officially filed for divorce and the only reason it wasn’t final was because of her death.
I am not certain that anything could have hit me any harder than learning that this lawsuit had been filed…And that this level of cruelty actually existed…In someone that I thought I knew?! Seriously, what possible reason could there be for exhuming a body and moving a person who passed away over a year ago, to a different place?? Was my father unable to travel to my Momma’s current resting place? No…It was only about 35 minutes away. A very short drive for someone who had been known to drive 8 or 9 hours in a day to look at a tractor or a farm implement. Was it because he was distraught over her death? It hardly seemed so, since he helped that along by showing up with that “living will”?!
Also, learning that my father had asked that my Momma’s body to be exhumed and moved on the exact date of Brad’s and my anniversary and my younger brother’s birthday (we were those who originally helped and stood by Momma), made it seem like cruel and unusual punishment to her, when he obviously really wanted to hurt those of us who helped her…But then, what better way to hurt us than by doing something else to her??
Originally, we thought that his plan would be to move her body to one of the four plots he had purchased many years ago in the public cemetary of our hometown, even though no arrangements or pre-planing had been done. Momma had made it very clear to me that she did not want to be buried in that cemetary with my father, so that was reason enough to try to stop it. But something we later learned made us even more determined to stop this action from happening.
My husband and son own and operate a lawn care business. Brad was doing a job in the summer of 2016 in our hometown and was talking to one of his new customers, who had been a friend of my family. He asked Brad how my father was doing since Momma had passed away. Brad told him he really didn’t know…that after my father had kicked us out of his house, then tried to shoot Momma, and was now trying to exhume and move her resting body…we didn’t really talk to him anymore. To say the friend was shocked would be a vast understatement, but what he then told Brad was by far even more worriesome! He said that it was so weird to learn this because my father and his “preacher” friend had been by their place (on the outskirts of town on their family farm) a week or so ago and my father was asking about a little old cemetary that was on their property and had been coal-mined all around. The friend told Brad is was a tiny little cemetary, back in the middle of nowhere, and very hard to get to and that most people didn’t even know it was there.
Immediately, Brad said “I knew. I now knew that your father’s plan was NOT to move Momma’s body to the public cemetary in our old hometown, but to move her body to this place where no one would know where it was, and that she would be hidden away and difficult, if not nearly impossible, to visit.” He said it made him physically sick. And as much as he didn’t want to, he came home and told me what he had just learned. I was in total disbelief…Although I dont really know why because this man, my “father”, had already proven that he was capable of about anything to hurt anyone who didn’t go along with what he wanted or who disagreed with him in any way. He obviously had an insatiable need to be in total “control”. It was amazing how I didn’t recognize it sooner…I mean, I am a psychology major, for Pete’s sake?!
Thinking back over the past 53 years, time and time again…there it was! As plain as day! ALWAYS, ALWAYS having to be in control! But, he was so smooth at it?! Momma being “able” to stay home and be a housewife and taking care of her husband and the kids was never equated to her NOT being allowed to work outside the home and have a career or make her own money?! It was always about him “taking care” of her and him “being the provideer”. But what it really translated to was that Momma really had nothing if it weren’t for him?! I remember when I was probably 12 or 13, Momma begged my father to let her sell Avon. He reluctantly agreed, but allowed it; however, any success she had, he belittled and laughed at, and always made jokes and made fun of her “Avon money”, like it was so insignificant and not worth anything. Just like her…In his mind.
Or how he provided both of my brothers with houses he owned to live in…rent free. However, it wasn’t “free”…There was always a price. They could live there so long as they did what he said, the way he wanted it done, and to be at his beckon call. And the minute they were not, or didn’t, they were out, just like last week’s garbage. This happened to my oldest of brothers when he got into trouble with the law…He went to jail and my father quickly rented the place to some other people. Then when my youngest brother decided to help our Momma when she finally left him, the electricity and heat was turned off in that house where he and his two kids lived, which prompted them to move in with us and then he finally officially “evicted” him and his kids right before Christmas that same year.
And we, ourselves, were offered a 3-acre piece of property right next to my Momma and father’s home in the year 2000 because we wanted to build a home and move into the country. And at that, when our kids were young and we were younger (and much greener and still naive), we were excited with the prospect! And we accepted. And build a new home. It was wonderful being able to walk up the hill and check on my parents and our son, Alex, loved living next door to MeMe and Papaw. He visited them at least every day…It was like his second home. Until it wasn’t.
Because about 5 years later, my oldest brother would be released from a correctional facility after getting into trouble with the law due to illegal drug activity, and would move back in with my parents next door. We tried to help the situation. We tried to welcome my brother back, but we were cautious. Unfortunately, it wasn’t long before he was back in trouble and once again, incarcerated. The next time he got out and came back to stay at my father’s, illegal drugs were still the problem and there were some questionable folks coming in and out of my parents’ home. Alex would come home from school and get off the bus alone and would be there for about an hour by himself. And he was afraid…of my brother. And of these other strange people next door. I decided that I would try to explain to my father about him being afraid…We had already voiced concern about their safety and ours. So, I went up and talked to my father, in person, and told him Alex was afraid and that he couldn’t even go out and ride his bike or play with the dog until we got home. My father acted like he understood and I felt like he would take some sort of action to make his grandson feel safe again. But in reality, what happened the next day was the first real clue that something was just not right.
I came home from work the very next afternoon to find my oldest brother on my father’s big riding lawn mower, mowing my father’s side yard, which connected to our front lawn. I went into my house and found Alex cowered down, hiding behind the sofa in the living room. I asked him what he was doing and he said “Hiding from my uncle…He’s out there in our front yard!” So, here’s my 10-11 year old scared to be in his own home. Later that evening, I called my father and asked him if he knew that my brother had been mowing next to our front yard earlier, because honestly I figured he was gone or something and didn’t know. However, what he said to me was that he indeed, did know, and, as a matter of fact, he had asked my brother to do that mowing this afternoon! I told him about coming home and finding Alex hiding and afraid. And he laughed. And told me that was “ridiculous”. I told him I couldn’t believe he didn’t care about Alex being afraid, especially after I had made it a point to talk to him about it the day before? He said that I needed to “get over it” and that I shouldn’t “coddle” my son. I told him that I didn’t consider being concerned about his safety from known drug offenders living and hanging out next door as coddling. He basically told me that I might as well get used to it. I told him we would not be visiting their home again until my brother was gone from there taking away that risk/concern. He said “Fine, keep your asses down there at your place!”
Now…You have to understand that growing up, my father was so adamantly opposed to anything that had to do with drugs, that this attitude about it just made zero sense?! I remember when I was a little girl, a young couple moved into a rental house right up the road from us, and my father just raising Cain about it, talking about those “hippies” and how they were “damned dope-fiends”!? So all of this was so confusing to me?
Anyway, we stopped visiting them and it hurt me so bad. I had never given my father a minute of trouble. I was the straight A, honor-roll student, the straight-laced kid who never got into any trouble. The kid that didn’t smoke or do any kind of drugs. The kid that followed the rules and didn’t sneak out at night and came home by curfew. And at that time, I was the working mother, with two kids, who tried to have a career and take care of my family, etc. But, just like that, I was nothing…totally unimportant. And my son, who my father professed to be crazy about, just didn’t matter any more. I talked to my Momma on the phone and she apologized profusely, but said there was nothing she could do about it. She said she was also afraid of my brother that was living there and that he talked to her “like a dog.” And that she was definitely afraid of the people who were coming into their home to see my brother.
My father and Momma showed up at the Little League Park on opening day shortly thereafter, even though we had not mentioned it to them. They sat and watched Alex’s game in their lawn chairs, away from us. We were sitting on the bleachers. After the game, when we came down from the bleachers, my father was waiting. I had no idea what was about to happen was him getting in my face and shaking his finger at me, basically scolding and threatening me for keeping him away from Alex! This was witnessed by some of our friends, who couldn’t believe what had just happened?? They asked if we were okay and said they couldn’t believe that just happened! In public! My Momma had walked ahead and was reportedly also watching, in horror, as this scene went down. She was clearly not any part of it.
In August of that year, I got an unexpected call from my oldest brother telling me we needed to make up because Momma had cancer and she needed all of us. So, long story short, we put our differences aside and went back to my parents because we loved my Momma and we knew none of this was her fault. So we were there for her long, hard battle with lung cancer. And then fast forward another year, and we were also there to support Momma and my father, when he was diagnosed with colon cancer. But it was my younger brother, who really supported my parents through all of the chemo and radiation. He stopped working and became full-time caregiver, driving my dad to treatments and appointments…So you see how this works? Everyone else “gives” and “does” and my father “takes” and it doesn’t take a lot to fall out of the good graces.
So back to the lawsuit. We felt we needed to let our Attorney know about this latest piece of information Brad had learned. She, like us, was blown away! And determined…MORE determined to make sure that this action was NOT taken against my Momma. It’s hard for me to describe the level of caring and empathy I felt from this Attorney. She took the time to listen to us and to feel like she knew my Momma…And what she had been through at the hands of my father. After seeing her come to tears after the first meeting when we told her my Momma’s story, I knew she had the heart and fearlessness to take on the bully and not back down. And after learning of this latest information, she vowed to do EVERYTHING in her power to make sure he didn’t hurt her any further. And I am happy to say, she did not disappoint!
This case finally went to a hearing before a Judge on October 4, 2016, almost a whole year after we learned the lawsuit had been filed by my father, and we intervened to try to protect Momma. It was originally scheduled for September 29th, but postponed by my father’s attorney because he wasn’t “ready”. And even though, Brad or I did not have to testify, and we had the utmost confidence in our attorney who would be presenting our case on Momma’s behalf, the thought of having to see my father, who was trying to do one more awful thing to my Momma, made me completely sick to my stomach! I was a bundle of nerves and actually thought I might have to vomit on the way to the court room. I just knew that my father was capable of about anything to get his way.
The court room was empty except for the Judge, our Attorney, the Attorney for the Corporation that owned the cemetary, Brad and me, and my father and his attorney, and the court recorder. My father’s attorney had evidently came flying in at the last minute. Luckily, our side got to present first. The Corporate Attorney spoke first and basically stated that they stood by their decision to have allowed Brad and me to make Momma’s final arrangements because of the temporary emergency guardianship that had been granted.
Then our Attorney got her turn to present. She was the picture of a confident, polished, extremely professional Attorney…She was dressed in a suit, impeccably groomed, and had very organized and prepared copies of everything for the Judge, the Recorder, and the Corporate Attorney in separate file folders. And then she gave her heartfelt, very eloquent presentation of Momma’s story and why it would be so unreasonable and wrong to allow her body to be exhumed and moved, in light of everything that had happened, as well as there being no legitimate reason for it. She was nothing short of amazing!
Then it was my father’s Attorney’s turn. To put it kindly, he was less than impressive. His suit, wasn’t really a suit. It was a pair of wrinkled dress pants that were too short and a suit jacket of another color. His shoes were scuffed and dirty. And he had a folder with all kinds of papers sticking out of it in different directions…”disheveled” would be a good adjective to describe him. And then…he spoke. And the word “schmuck” immediately came to mind. He sounded unprepared and to our surprise gave the impression that he wasn’t even convinced that my Momma’s body should be disturbed?!
We fully expected my father to play the “victim” card that he had been playing since Momma left him. We we prepared to hear how they had been married for 53 years, and that we had forced Momma to leave even though she didn’t want to, and how much he “loved” her and wanted to be buried next to her so they could be together for eternity, and possibly how sickly he was and that visiting her grave was a hardship…But this was NOT what we heard. At all.
What we heard was that “legally”, they were still married when Momma died. And since they were still married, “legally”, she was still his wife. And because she was still his wife, “legally”, he should have had the POWER to make this decision about where she was buried. And he was not allowed to make that decision. And he did not think that was right.
And that was it. Plain and simple. He considered my Momma nothing more than a piece of property…Something else he “owned”. And while, in my heart, I knew this…Hearing it so coldly and so matter-of-factly spoken, in that court room, it was unbelievably hurtful. And it made me so extremely angry! How dare he consider my Momma nothing more than another piece of his “property”?! I am not a violent person and have never physically “fought”, but at that very moment, nothing would have made me feel better than to have been able to punch that man in the face?!
A few minutes passed after my father’s Attorney finished and took a seat. And then the Judge spoke. And if I could have a recording of this on a non-stop loop, I would listen to it over and over and over. This is what the Judge said: “According to the law, it states that there must be a compelling reason to exhume and move a body that has been laid to rest, and Mr. ______________, just because ‘you want to’ is NOT a compelling reason. Therefore, your petition is denied.” And then the sound of the gavel. And, I was able to take a breath. And to cry some tears of relief.
To say my father scrambled out of that court room would not really describe how quickly he made his exit. I fully expected him to be waiting outside the court room to have something nasty to say, but I was pleasantly surprised that he was nowhere in sight. And I thanked God for that. As I did for the outcome.
We walked back over to our Attorney’s Office a few blocks away. We rode up the elevator and went back into the conference room and our Attorney turned to me and gave me the biggest hug! I am not sure, but I believe she might have been as relieved and happy as I was with the outcome. She hugged Brad too and thanked us for sticking with this and for trusting her with this delicate and important matter. Her Assistant (who I had spoken with many times) came into the conference room and joined us in our “victory” for my Momma. We profusely thanked them both again for working so hard for Momma and then we said our good-byes.
It was finally OVER. And I admit, that while I was happy and relieved, I kind of fell apart. I don’t think I had fully realized how very much I had been affected by this? So I had a good cry on our way to the cemetary. I needed to let Momma know that she wasn’t going to be bothered and that she could finally, actually rest “in peace”. I was overcome by emotion, but so very relieved. It was truly bittersweet.
The next day, I had Momma some beautiful new fall flowers made and I sent our Attorney a beautiful thank you card and an owl keychain that I found at a local gift shop. She was touched and I want to share her reply…
With this matter finally settled, I believe I was finally actually free to grieve the loss of my Momma. And with that, I think I finally started to heal…
I missed my usual Sunday blog day and time because I flew to Florida on that day to visit my Aunt Nan…She was my first and closest DNA match after I did my initial Ancestry Test! It took me about a week to actually make contact with her, but once I did…it wasn’t just a once-in-a-while phone call or a text now and again, it was talking or texting or face-timing every day! And then the visits started…And I am happy to say that has continued and is now just a normal part of our lives!
To say that we have become close would be a total understatement! This lady has been so many things to me, but mostly she has been welcoming, caring, loving, engaging, and PRESENT. She has been so present in my life since the very first contract we made…Sometimes that day in March a year and a half ago seems like just yesterday but then in other ways, it seems like she has always been part of my life. One thing is for sure, I can’t imagine my life without her in it now?!
I love coming here, because from the very first moment I walked in the front door on the first visit, I felt…at home. I never felt uncomfortable. Or awkward. Or weird. People have often asked me that question “Wasn’t it odd to go visit someone you never actually met?” And I never even have to think about it. My answer is always the same!
I have returned time after time and I can’t really explain it, but when I walk up to the front door and Biscuit is waiting for me, I can’t wait to get in there! And then there is Aunt Nan…who is always waiting for me with open arms to give me the biggest hug and a big ol’ smooch! And while we communicate frequently, there’s nothing thing like seeing each other in person! And getting and giving hugs! And her place… It’s so beautiful, so peaceful, and so relaxing. I always feel “re-energized”.
So for that reason this blog will be short and sweet because I don’t want to waste my time here with her…the past three days have already gone WAY TOO FAST!
Brad came with me this trip and he’s helped out with some things Aunt Nan needed a hand with…Because that’s what families do! But mostly, we have just enjoyed visiting…We have talked, laughed, joked, watched TV, cooked, sat on the patio, had coffee, Facetimed with some of our other relatives, did makeovers (only Nan and me on that one), took photos, went out to dinner, sat up way past our bedtime to have a heart-to-heart, oh, and napped. Yep, we have napped…Well it is vacation after all?! Oh yeah…Brad and I took a drive over to Daytona Beach yesterday. It just wouldn’t be right to come to Florida and not see the ocean and feel our toes in the sand?! (Especially when it’s 26 degrees and snowing back home?!)
Brad and I fly out tomorrow. And I am already wishing we had a few more days here. Mostly, I just wish we didn’t live so far apart. Because as always, we need one another. You see, we had both suffered some very significant losses in our lives before I got my DNA results and reached out to her…I had lost my Momma and she had lost her husband. We both believe we were destined to find one another, at precisely the right time in our lives. Call it fate, or a blessing, or whatever you will, but we don’t feel it was a coincidence. We like to think it was written in the stars!
And for me, it was just the beginning of something so wonderful, and so unimaginable, that I still have to sometimes pinch myself to be sure it isn’t all a dream or a fairytale?! I now have so many new family members, many that I have connected with because of Aunt Nan, that I haven’t been able to meet them all yet! But I hope to get to, sooner rather than later! One thing is for sure, it has been quite an adventure! And I am so glad I took that leap of fate to do a search for my biological family…It was the perfect decision for me!
So, I know I have been all over the place with my blog. Some of that is because a few of them were written “in the moment” because some really good things were happening and I really wanted to share those! Many of the others about the “back story” have been hard, some nearly impossible, to relive and put into words, but I am going back there again, as this has been weighing heavily on my mind.
I wrote about a trip to the beach with my Family immediately after Momma died. Later that same Fall, Brad and I went back to Orange Beach, Alabama to visit our friends, Troy and Natalie. It was good to be back in the place where I felt so comfortable and it was weird because it became really evident that Momma was there with me. When we arrived and checked into our condo, there was a cutting board out on the counter…in the shape of an owl! And the next morning, when I made coffee, I reached into the cupboard to get a cup and there were a bunch of small, fragile, white china cups and there was one gray mug. I, of course, chose the mug. I was surprised to see that it had the initial “G” on it, which was the first letter of my Momma’s first name. I don’t feel like those things were a coincidence. We enjoyed our trip, but when it was time to leave, I felt a real sadness and emptiness.
On our way home, I told Brad I wanted to stop by the cemetary. Before we left, I had visited and found that Momma’s monument still hadn’t been delivered and had called to check on it and was told that it should be coming any day. We stopped near the spot where she was laid to rest and realized it had been delivered! It was very bittersweet…I didn’t expect it to be quite so emotional. It made everything very…final. And there was a vase on the side and it was empty. I told Brad we had to run somewhere to get some flowers until I could have some made. So we ran to Walmart (since it was only about 6 am) and picked up some flowers so it wouldn’t look like Momma had been forgotten. I went to the flower shop later that day and ordered some flowers from the flower shop where my friend worked.
About a month later, we flew to San Antonio, Texas to see one of my best friend from childhood and her husband, Pam and John. Although, she and I had talked on the phone and such, I hadn’t really been able to tell about everything that had happened. And it is very different talking in person. You see, Pam had been my friend since first grade and throughout school, and had spent a lot of time at our house while we were growing up, so all of this was very personal for her. We had a great visit…we laughed, and we cried, and we shared a lot of old memories. And being in San Antonio and seeing the sights was a great distraction. Again, as the trip came to an end, I felt sad and somehow empty.
I decided I needed to talk to someone. I still had so many unresolved feelings about everything that happened. I asked for a referral from our Employee Assistance Program at work and there was a female therapist on our provider list in Evansville, so I set up an appointment with “Gloria”. The day that I went to see her for the first time, I put the address in my phone and was shocked to find that the office was directly accross the street from the cemetary my Momma was in. Another sign. I immediately liked Gloria and told her what had happened and she seemed to genuinely be in disbelief. Obviously, I had an extra-long first session. I told her about all of the traveling we had been doing and she asked if I felt I might be “avoiding” the situation? Well, I hadn’t thought about it, but yes, I guess I probably was. She said it was very understandable in light of the situation, but suggested that eventually, I would need to deal with my feelings about it. She also asked me if we continued to live next door to my father after everything that had happened? I told we did. I told her that I loved our home and that my younger brother and his kids were still staying with us and I didn’t really want to leave it…It was so close to where I grew up. And I told her that I wasn’t going to let my father bully me out of the home we had worked so hard on to make it just the way we wanted it. She told me she was concerned for our safety and made me promise to be really cautious and careful.
After Thanksgiving I had new winter flowers made for Momma’s monument and put them on that weekend. In December, Momma’s friend, Sue, and I went shopping in Evansville and to Red Lobster to eat…it was Momma’s favorite place. After dinner, we went to the cemetary and when we walked up to Momma’s grave, we noticed that there was a whole cob of field corn stuck down into the flower saddle on the top of her grave. My friend and I looked at each other…And we both knew. We knew where this came from. We were in Evansville. There were no cornfields nearby. It was way past Halloween for it to be a teenage prank. But just to be certain that we weren’t wrong, we went up to the office to ask if there would be any reason that there would be an ear of corn in the cemetary. The personnel assured me that there were no squirrel or wildlife feeders within the cemetary, so he had no idea where the ear of corn could have come from. But as I said…we knew. You see my father had been a farmer and was always somewhat obsessed with his corn crop…I recall a picture of me in my baby crib, sleeping, and he had laid a cob of field corn on me and taken a photo. He thought it was funny. I was pretty sure he would know that I would realize where the cob of corn came from. It was a form of torment and intimidation in my mind. And just mean.
The holidays were very difficult that first year…Without Momma being there, it was not the same. She loved them and had hosted them for many years. Our family that had remained close spent Thanksgiving together and we remembered Momma in a special way, with some old photos we put together, certain food we prepared and ate, and a group photo we had taken together. We tried to celebrate, as we knew that Momma would want us to be happy. And somehow, by the grace of God, we made it through.
About mid-December, my younger brother and his daughter and her friend who was visiting, were out in our side yard shooting clay pigeons over the field. My father came riding down close to them on his Gator and yelled out to my brother that he needed to get all of their “shit” out of my grandparents house that they had lived in before all of this had happened with Momma. He said “We can do this the easy way or we can do this the hard way!” My brother, his daughter and her friend came into the house and I could tell something was wrong…My neice said “I think my grandpa just kicked us out of our house the week before Christmas?!” My brother reiterated what was said. Unbelieveable. But not really…Anything was believeable at this point.
So, the day of Christmas Eve, my younger brother and his two kids went down to their old house, that had no electricity and no heat, and gathered the rest of their personal belongings and took them to a storage unit. It was beyond sad. And pathetic. But it was over. And I told my brother to look on the bright side…that now my father had nothing more to hold over his head and to control him with, as he had done for quite some time before all of this happened.
We tried to make Christmas as “normal” as possible. But it was a “new” kind of normal. One without Momma there. It was different. However, we made the best of it we could and we all leaned upon each other and were thankful that we had time together.
After the first of the year, as I continued with my therapy, and had started to really come to accept what had happened and also came to accept that maybe staying in our current home wasn’t really worth it. Always feeling like we were on the lookout for an intrusion, and realizing that we would never again be able to enjoy our outdoor living space like we had in the past, as well as the fact that when we looked out our front window or door, there were just bad memories. And when we left home to go anywhere, we either had to drive by the house where my father lived or my grandparents house where my brother and his kids had lived and been kicked out of. And my father had hired contractors to start work on my grandparent’s house. We just assumed he was going to rent it out as they appeared to be putting in new heating and cooling, new flooring, and having a new roof put on. This house had been in very poor repair for several years while my brother and his kids lived there. What was really a surprise was that my father did all of this work to this house, so that my other brother and his wife (or ex-wife or girlfriend) could move into it. That was a slap in the face to my younger brother, for sure. And another reason to feel uneasy living there.
So, Brad and I made a decision that we were going to put our home on the market at the first sign of spring. However, before we got to that point, my younger brother was severely injured in a very bad accident at work and almost lost his foot. He had already found an apartment and was waiting for it to open up, but this would definitely put a damper on that plan, as he was unable to work for a period of time. And he needed some help since he needed to take it easy, so we decided we would have to put off our plan to sell a little bit longer, as we wanted to make sure that my brother and his kids would be able to move and be safe.
We got busy working on our home anyway, preparing it to sell. We cleaned and purged and painted and updated. My brother had complications with healing and wound up having to have an additional surgery, but then was finally on the mend. And then, finally able to return to work. He found another apartment and made arrangements to move. We put our house on the market in May. And we started looking for a home to buy. This turned out to be much more difficult than we had expected. We looked in the county we lived in without any luck and finally talked to a builder who drew up some plans, and we started searching for some property, even though we really did NOT want to build. We decided to look in the neighboring city where I had worked for the past 20 years. After looking at several homes that were not exactly what we were looking for, we talked to a couple of builders there and were looking a two different properties to build on.
In the meantime, the realtors had shown our house multiple times and we had a few offers that weren’t quite what we wanted, but then we got a great offer and we accepted it! And before we knew it, we were in the process of selling our home! Now the pressure was really on to find a place for us!!! We were beginning to think we were going to be in a rental for a while…This was not a desired outcome, but it might be our only choice. My brother and his kids had moved into their new apartment and we were able to let them take some of our furniture we wouldn’t have room for with them. We were excited for them to have their own place. My brother told me I wouldn’t believe how much of a relief it was to be away from my father and other brother, living where we were, and how great it was to not have to see the visual reminders every day. He told me he couldn’t wait until we could get away too! I was so ready!!
Then one day, shortly thereafter, this house popped up on Zillow and it was a brand new construction, never lived in, and it had just come on the market. We got in contact with our realtors and told them we wanted to see it. We had an appointment the next day.
And when we walked in…We knew. And our realtors knew…And they smiled. (They had decided I was a little bit picky!) It was…almost exactly the house plan we had drawn up. It was an open floor plan, one level, 3-bedroom, 2-bath brand new home. It had basically everything we had wanted except a fire place and a walk-in shower. But we LOVED it. And it was in a nice neighborhood on the edge of town. We told the realtors we wanted to make an offer. (We figured this one would NOT be around long!) So, we talked that evening and decided upon an offer and let our realtors know so they could submit the offer.
At the end of that week, I had a trip planned with a good friend of mine to go antique shopping in Shipshewanna in Northern Indiana. It was August, so it was hot. I got a call from Brad the first day we were there and the owners had come back to our realtors and said they had multiple offers and would be accepting the best offer…Sort of like a bidding “war”. We felt we had made a good offer, but had left a little room for negotiating. We were really unsure of what to do…But we really wanted the house and did NOT want to lose it to another bidder. Boy, it was really stressful and we were trying to decide what to do? While my friend and I were shopping at this big open air market, I began to notice that almost everywhere I looked, there was some sort of owl….Owl figures, owl pictures, owl jewelry, owl books, owl pillows, owl dish towels, owl purses, stuffed animal owls, etc. Finally, I felt so overwhelmed that I just started to cry. My friend asked me what was wrong and if I was okay? I told her about seeing all of the owls and that I felt like Momma was trying to tell me something, but I didn’t know what?? I felt like it had something to do with the house and the decision we were trying to make about our offer. I called Brad a bit later and we decided to submit an offer very close to the asking price and hope and pray it would be accepted.
I barely slept that night and was on pins and needles the next day, which was when the offers were due. We had no idea when would hear whether we had the top offer. Luckily, we heard later that evening…And it was good news!! Our offer had been accepted!!! It was such a relief…And I couldn’t help but think that somehow Momma had a hand in it. All those owl sightings had to mean something!
So, we were beyond happy, but a little freaked out at the same time. The people buying our house were doing a VA loan and there were some additional things that we needed to do to get our home to pass their stringent requirements. That was scary because we needed our home to sell and we wanted to close soon so that we could set a move date and set the closing for our house. The timing was nerve-racking! The other stress I was dealing with was the fact that we were moving into town and we were going to have a fairly small yard…just a single lot. We were moving from 3 acres out in the country. And we had my two boys, Rowdy the English Bulldog and Milo, our Rescue Boxer. They were used to having the run of the three acres we lived on, as it was invisible-fenced. They had a dog door out of the garage and could pretty much come and go as they pleased without any worry of them bothering anyone else or getting away. They spent a lot of their time outdoors and came in to eat and sleep and sometimes to play or snuggle. It was evident that our new home was going to be a whole different kind of situation and setting. After much thinking and praying and discussing, we decided, it would not be fair to move them into the city and take away their ability to have the freedom they were used to. This was definitely a downside…I LOVED them both. And I couldn’t imagine not having them around. They were good boys, but they deserved to be happy too.
So, I began looking for them a home, by posting our dilemma on Facebook. Almost immediately, I had a message from my cousins who live in Florida that they would love to give both of our boys a home with them and their four kids! This was great news as they had visited when Momma passed away and the kids loved our boys. And this would mean they could stay together. So, we made a plan to meet up in Georgia in a couple of weeks.
In the meantime, we were able to close on both houses and we started packing and getting everything ready to move. Boy, what a job?! It was bittersweet, but it was exciting and it felt like freedom!
The weekend before we were moving, we drove to Macon, Georgia to meet up with my cousins. I could tell Rowdy and Milo sensed something was going on…they were so good on the trip and so loveable when we got to the hotel. Saying good-bye to them was one of the hardest things I have done, but seeing them with my cousins and their kids, made me know it was the right decision. They were going to get lots of love and attention…And they were getting to live in FLORIDA?! Seriously, they are retiring before me…and would be close to the beach! I was still sad and cried several times on our drive home and that night when I went to bed. We were super busy, but I realized how very much I missed them and told Brad that we were going to have to get a puppy when we got moved.
So the day we were taking the last load of stuff out, I looked around at our big empty house. And as much as I loved it, it hit me that it was really just a big empty house…a shell. It was no longer our home. WE were what made our home, not the house.
We moved into our new home and having a totally clean and fresh canvas to work with was incredible! I love decorating so I had a blast setting up a new house, although since we down-sized, I did not have as much room and didn’t have space for all of my belongings that I loved and had collected through the years. So I had to part with some things and put some things in the attic and pick out my very favorites to display. But it was okay…I loved our new house and how it looked. And felt. It was no time at all before it was looking and feeling just as “homey” as our old house.
We also found a little tiny French Bulldog puppy in Bloomington, Illinois. And we went and picked her up shortly after we got settled in. She was the runt of the litter, but I thought she was perfect. And I named her Chloe Mae…Mae was my Momma’s middle name and it just seemed to fit this tiny girl. She was just the right addition to our new home.
So, we had been living there a little over a month and I had just been talking to some friends about how good the move had been and how wonderful it was to not have to have the daily visual reminders of what had happened; however, I must have jinxed the happiness…
One day at work, early in November, I got a strange phone call. It was from a gentleman who claimed to be an attorney for the parent company of the cemetary where my Momma was laid to rest. He was calling to let me know that my father had filed a lawsuit against the cemetary and their parent company. I didn’t understand. I asked why he would file a lawsuit against them? And the answer that I got was so crazy and so unexpected that I was literally left speechless.
Evidently, the lawsuit was filed because my father felt he should have been the one making the decsion about where my Momma was laid to rest since she was “his” wife. Therefore, he was seeking a Judgement for my Momma’s body to be exhumed from her current resting place and moved to a location of his choosing. What the Hell??? Was this for real??? Or was this just a sick prank??? I told the attorney I apologized, but I was skeptical and requested that he send me something, in writing, because this just sounded too bizarre?! He said he would be glad to do so. He said that I wasn’t named in the lawsuit…but because I was co-owner of my Momma’s plot, they felt it was essential to notify me, as well. I thanked him (?) and asked that he plaease forward me the documents. He said he would. This was on a Friday afternoon.
I went down to one of my co-workers offices in the building I was in, who was also a very good friend, and proceeded to tell her about the phone call and to fall apart. She was also in disbelief. She said “Surely, this is a hoax?!” I told her, as sick as that would be, I certainly hoped it was. I called Brad and he couldn’t believe it. He also thought it was someone playing a sick joke. I called my daughter and told her and she also couldn’t believe it. I kept checking my email, but had not received anything by the time I left work…So, I was beginning to think maybe it was just a sick, sick joke.
I decided to contact the actual cemetary office and ask them if they knew anything about this. The office assistant who I talked with did not; however, she did tell me that back in the spring, my father had come to their office with a document from the Dept. of Health with their permission to exhume the body and demanded that it be scheduled. The date that he had requested it be done was May 29th. WOW! Just Wow! That date is Brad’s and my wedding anniversary AND my younger brother’s birthday. The date that he had filed the paperwork with the Dept. Of Health was the day after we put up our “For Sale” sign on our house. I asked the office assistant what had happened with this request. She said that he was told that while he did have to have permission from the Dept. Of Health to exhume a body, that he also had to have an order from a Judge for the same. I was now prepared for the worst…because this confirmed that he was actually attempting to do what this attorney had said.
I was beside myself to say the least. I called my younger brother to let him know what was happening. He was livid! He couldn’t believe that this could possibly be happening?! I called Momma’s family and let them know and they were appalled and also in disbelief. I also called Momma’s best friend and told her. She said she had never heard of such a thing?! But also said she wasn’t completely surprised at anything that my father might do. I contacted my neice and her mom and they were also in shock. Everyone I called was just floored by this possibility! I messaged my therapist and told her I was going to need to talk…soon. I went to the cemetary that weekend to see if everything was still intact. It seemed peaceful, but it also seemed surreal. Could it be possible that a Judge would allow my Momma to be disturbed from her resting place, near her parents and grandparents…Her body to be dug up and moved on a truck to another place? And where would it be?? I was just sick.
But Monday came, and I was even sicker because I received a copy of the lawsuit that my father had filed. It was for real. And it was filed about the time we put the “Sold” sign in our yard…Imagine that??
I could hardly believe it!!! And we weren’t really part of it so I wasn’t sure what I could do? I had an appointment with my therapist later that afternoon, so you can imagine our conversation. She was also in disbelief. She said she had never heard of such a thing?? She said “You do realize this is how your father is choosing to punish you for selling your home and moving and getting out from under his thumb?” I told her I knew it was most likely done to hurt me. And Brad. And my younger brother…especially in light of the first requested date on the Dept. Of Health document to exhume and move Momma’s body being our anniversary and his birthday. I asked her if she knew of a good attorney from Evansville, where the cemetary was located? She said she did and gave me the name and number and told me to tell her that she had referred me.
So, I drove across the street to the cemetary and called this attorney from Momma’s gravesite. She was also in disbelief….But she said she would talk to the other attorneys in her practice and see if anyone had dealt with anything like this and she would get back with me. She asked me to send her the document if I could, so I did so. And I waited. And later in the afternoon, she called me back. And she apologized. She said that none of the attorneys in her office had any experience with anything of this nature so they didn’t feel comfortable taking it on.
I was about to cry when she said; However, I do have someone who used to work for our firm, who now works for another firm, and we think she would be perfect. And she gave me her name and number and told me to tell her that she had referred me to her. So, I made another call…And was put on hold. I was silently praying to God for a miracle and to please let this attorney take this case. And shortly after, I was talking to this kind, obviously intelligent attorney who was shocked by this lawsuit being filed after hearing a shortened version of the whole story, but immediately said that she would like to take the case! (Thank you Lord!) However, she said that time was of the essence and we would need to intervene in the case right away, since we weren’t named, so that we could make our objection known. We set up a meeting with her for the following afternoon.
Brad went with me to the appointment and we immediately liked this attorney very much. She patiently listened as we told her the story of the past year and a half. She was in awe of all that we had been through already and APPALLED that this lawsuit had been filed. She was extremely empathetic and she sincerely vowed to do everything she possibly could to keep this from happening to my Momma. So that day, we hired her, on the spot, to represent us on Momma’s behalf.