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.
Yesterday, I took a 3-hour drive South to be welcomed not only by my Sister and Brother-In-Law’s hospitality, but was also pleasantly surprised to be showered by even more hospitality from their Sister-In-Law, Barbara! Patty and I made a sporadic decision on Friday, to have a Girl’s Day Out on Saturday! No real reason. We just wanted to see each other and hang out…You know, like sisters do?! We didn’t really have any big plans, she was just going to show me around the small town she lives in and the town she works in.
So having Barbara join us on our outing was just fine with me! I am friends with her on Facebook and I recalled that she also loves the beach, so I figured we would get along just fine! We headed downtown to a little dress shop where I was encouraged to partake in a little retail therapy…They had to twist my arm, but I gave in. Then we went to a newly opened shop accross the street where they had a variety of beautiful things, including a lot of handmade and usual jewelry pieces….Right up my alley!!
Patty and I were looking at some engraved necklaces and bracelets and found one that said something about “having a sister as a grown-up best friend, starts with all of their wonderful, shared childhood memories.” We put it down and both just looked at each other…And said “Uh No. That’s not us…We were robbed of that part.”
You see, we just met last January at 55 and 60 years of age. Up until then, we had never even met. And she didn’t even know she had me as a sister. She had never heard my name. Or seen a picture of me. Or been told about me. And I had only recently learned about Patty after finding my Aunt Nan through Ancestry DNA testing. Aunt Nan remembered Patty as a cute little bitty girl. And she also remembered a younger, little brown-haired, brown-eyed baby sister named “Teresa” being with her sister, our biological mother. When I initially contacted Aunt Nan, she was just sure I WAS “Teresa.” Little did she know, that I was not “Teresa”…I was a much better kept secret. And that there were many more secrets and twists and turns to follow.
I have written about the loss of my adoptive mother and all of the trauma that surrounded that situation. That loss, coupled with the loss of relationships with other adoptive family members on my father’s side of the family left a big void. I feel certain they were told they had to choose…him or me. And since he has the bigger wallet and bank account, you can probably guess who they chose. My Momma had very few family members left and none of them were close geographically. I had my immediate family, and my husband’s family, whom I loved dearly, but I was used to having lots of extended family. And after we moved from the area in the country where I grew up and the county where I went to school and had made many friends, I really felt kind of “alone”.
We had also just been through a legal battle involving my Momma’s resting place and a lawsuit filed by my father, which I will get into in another blog. But all of these things helped to push me toward searching.
However, as silly as this may sound, it was actually a novel “The Secret Daughter” by Kelly Rimmer, I read that I consider responsible for making me take action. I will never forget staying awake all of one night back in the fall of 2016. Brad woke up at about 4 a.m. to look over and see me still reading away on my Kindle…He said “What in the world are you doing still reading?? Do you realize what time it is?” And the truth was, I had absolutely NO idea what time it was or how long I had been reading…I just knew that I could NOT stop now!! And I told him so…It picqued his interest so he wanted to know what was so intriguing?
I began telling him about this book I was reading. It was about this young woman who had gotten pregnant before marriage in the late 1950’s. She was not allowed to stay with her family and her boyfriend was away at college. So she was sent to a “maternity home” in a neighboring city. She was alone and afraid. And learned very late in her pregnancy that she would be expected to give the baby up for adoption, even thought she did not want to and neither did her fiancé, but the families were of no support and basically, she really just had no choice. Enter this social worker from the Maternity Home who took a special interest and liking to the young lady and was so sympathetic to her pleas to keep her baby, that this social worker agreed to take the baby, personally, on a temporary basis with the understanding between her and the young lady that as soon as she got out and was able to get with her fiancé and get married, she would give the baby back. However, little did she know, her husband had a different idea.
Long story short…The young lady NEVER got the baby back. The Social Worker’s husband made a deal with the administrator of the maternity home to “change” the records, including the babies’ date of birth, name, etc. to match when she came to he and his wife and they kept the baby and raised her as their own. And they never told her that she was NOT their own flesh and blood.
She found out in her late 30’s when she got pregnant and decided to have her own baby. That is when the truth finally came out. The young woman was completely devastated by this news…She was hurt, and angry and scared, and made a decision to try to find her own mother and hopefully, her father. And she did. And she had several siblings…And she was warmly welcomed by all of them! The birth mother was beside herself happy…Giddy, would actually be a better word. After they were reunited, they became very, very close and had a wonderful relationship! Her birth mother told her how there was never a day that went by that she didn’t think of her. But that she had agreed in a legal document to not look for her daughter, but said she had been hoping since the day her daughter turned 18, that she would find her so they could be reunited. She was heart-broken that she had not been allowed to keep her baby and had always hoped and prayed for a reunion. And that her daughter was happy and well taken care of. It got me thinking about my own adoption situation and some of the things about it that just didn’t make much sense to me.
What if the reason my adoptive father wanted to keep me and my adoption such a secret was that maybe something like this had happened??!! It would make sense as to why he went ballistic when I found out at six years old that I was adopted and why he wouldn’t want that informtion to get out. And did it have something to do with my Aunt (his sister’s son had told me about my adoption) and her family…Is that why he didn’t speak to her for over 45 years?? Until my Momma left him?? And having learned what I had about him and how he controlled my adoptive Momma, and that she had left him once shortly after they were first married due to being treated badly, but had came back and then they got me not long after??? Was all of that just a coincidence. My imagination was just absolutely running wild with itself! Could all of this be inter-related? I had so many thoughts and questions, and “what ifs’!! And I had no idea how or from whom to get any anwers?? I knew so little about my own adoption that I felt anything could be possible, right?
So, later that morning, I called my Aunt and Uncle in Florida…They were two of Momma’s few remaining close relatives. I got their voicemail. I got a call back from my Aunt that night. We caught up a bit and I asked her if she would mind to tell me what she knew about my adoption. She said she didn’t know a lot and didn’t think my Momma knew very much either. However, she said as best as she could recall, Momma had told her that I had been abandoned and left in an apartment in Evansville and was found by some neighbors who turned me over to Social Services. I asked her how old I was when my parents got me. She said she knew I was close to a year old, but didn’t know my exact age, but stated my birthdate as the one I had aready known. This was all basically what I had been told by my Momma, but then my Aunt dropped a BOMBSHELL…She said “I do remember your Momma saying something about “them” thinking that there was a twin brother, but they weren’t sure where he was or what had happened to him?” WHAT??? A TWIN??? Now my head was spinning….I said “Wait a minute…They thought there was a twin brother?” She said that was what Momma had told her that she had been told. I asked if they ever found him?? She said that to her knowledge, it was never confirmed. I told her I was in shock! She asked my Uncle, who was there with her what he remembered and he concurred with her story. And the location. And the timeline. I was totally blown away! I thanked them for taking time to talk with me and asked them to let me know if they remembered any other details and they promised me they would. I then called my adoptive Momma’s younger sister and asked her if she remembered anything about my adoption or about Momma and my adoptive father getting me? Surprisingly, she said almost exactly the same thing as my other Aunt, including the “twin” part…I asked her if she knew if they ever found or confirmed that there actually was a twin? And like my other Aunt and Uncle, she did not. She said she never heard any more about it, so just figured it wasn’t right or that something had happened to him.
To say I was floored, is a huge understatement!! I was not prepared for what I had just learned! Was there really a twin brother out there somewhere?? And why hadn’t my adoptive parents, especially my Momma, ever mentioned this to me? Had my father forbid her from telling me? Had she learned that the twin didn’t make it and she didn’t want to upset me by telling me that? Or did he get kept by my biological mother? Or father? Or both? Because he was a male? Why didn’t my parents adopt him too? Was there something wrong with him? Were we together when we were left in that apartment? Did we look alike? How long were we together? Were we hungry? Did we comfort each other? Were we cold? Did we have on clothing and blankets? What was his name? Did he go to my school? Was he in my class??? Oh my gosh….So many questions?? I went and got out my school yearbooks looking at the boys in my class to see if anyone looked like me?? Of course, the mind will see resemblances if you are looking for them?!
So….THAT was the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back! That was when I decided I had to find out if I had a twin brother, or any other siblings for that matter?! At that time, I had no idea how one would even go about starting a search like this? But I was determined to find out!!
After doing a little bit of internet researching, I learned that I could request my records from Vital Statistics in the county where I was born, so I began by going there and asking for my original birth certificate. What I got was my birth certificate with my adoptive parents’ names on it. Once they learned I was adopted, I was referred to the State Office of Vital Statistics. I was told I had to complete some forms and they would be reviewed to see if they could give me any of my identifying information. I did so…meticulously answering all of the questions I could and stating the reasons why I wanted to know. I mailed that in on October 31, 2016. About a month passed and I received a letter from Vital Statistics in Indianapolis and a form containing “non-identifying information”, which was virtually of no help to me. However, I was relieved to know that it did confirm my birth date. I also learned that I weighed 6 lb. and 1/2 oz., and was 18 1/2 inches long, which could be small enough to be a big twin. But it was also very close to the weights of both my babies and they were single births. There was nothing noting whether I was a single or multiple birth. I learned that my biological mother was reportedly 24 when she had me and my father was reportedly 27. But no names or anything else that would be helpful.
So, the next day, I called the new friend I had made at the Vital Records Division and asked her what I could do now? She told me that my adoption record was sealed, which she had already told me was common and likely the case. My recourse was to petition the court to appoint an advocate and ask them to release my identifiying information. I talked to a friend of mine who was an attorney and got some coaching as to what to put in the letter and completed the additional forms required. I mailed it November 16, 2016.
I got an early Christmas present on December 23, 2016 that the Judge had ordered the State Registrar to respond to this petition. I called my friend at the Vital Records Divison again and asked what exactly this meant. She said that it would likely result in an intermediary being assigned. At that point, I would need to pay $400 in attorney fees and this intermediary would research my record and give me the information they felt I should be privy to. I was trying to be excited, but somehow, that didn’t really feel like a “win” and it didn’t sound overly promising.
It was that same year on my December birthday that I found the DNA Detectives group, made a post about my birthday and noted being abandoned, caught CeCe Moore’s attention, got invited into Foundling Finders, shared my story and ordered a DNA test, submitted it and got assistance from CeCe Moore and some other special search angels when my results came in.
So fast forward to April 2017 when I first talked to my biological mother on the phone after I had messaged her asking if I could possibly be her daughter. It was not a pleasant initial interaction. She denied that I could possibly be her daughter, stating that my brother Michael was born less than 2 months after me, so it couldn’t be possible…The problem was, I had already talked to my brother Michael and he was actually 13 months younger than me, but she argued his birthdate with me. She told me I likely belonged to her older brother. I asked why she thought so and she said because I looked like a photo of him she had hanging on her wall. (Well, he is my UNCLE, after all?!) There was really nothing positive about this phone call and honestly at that point, I sort of hoped she was not my biological mother, because she didn’t seem very nice.
After consulting with CeCe Moore regarding her denial, she suggested Aunt Nan and I do 23 & Me DNA tests to see if our Maternal Haplogroups from our Mitochondrial DNA was a match. This would tell me whether my parent was one of Aunt Nan’s brothers or sisters. There were 5 brothers and 2 sisters besides Aunt Nan and Aunt Carol had already DNA tested and she was clearly my Aunt.
Skip forward to mid-May while I am in Florida visiting Aunt Nan. And Sissy, who I believe to be my sister or half-sister, has come in for a visit. Our 23 & Me results came in on our last evening there. And to no ones’ surprise, my Aunt Nan and I had matching Maternal Haplogroups…meaning that her sister WAS indeed my mother!! And Sissy was indeed my sister or half-sister. And Michael was my brother or half-brother. Had I mentioned that I had a “pretend” brother named Michael when I was a toddler and pre-schooler (I was an only child at the time)? How crazy is that?! It would also mean that little Patty who my Aunt Nan remembered was also my sister or half-sister!! WOW! Just Wow! DNA is giving us some cold hard facts, but no answers to “why?”
Sissy did an Ancestry Test and somehow talked our biological mother into doing one too. I talked to Michael about doing one, as well. Sissy also got her original certificate of birth and learned that our bio mother had 12 pregancies…According to this document, three of them were not viable and reportedly 4 of the babies who were born living, had since passed away by the latter part of 1966. That would leave five siblings living. Meaning if we found Patty, there was still at least one more to find. I still wasn’t sure who I was at this point…Maybe I was Teresa, but maybe not?
Sissy’s DNA test came back showing us as half-siblings. Shortly thereafter, she found her biological father’s name, but unfortunately found that he passed away about one year ago, so she would never get to know him. She did; however, learn that she had a number of half siblings! So that was exciting and a bit overwhelming. And our bio mother’s DNA results came back, clearly showing me as her “daughter”. So I contacted her and she returned my phone call. She said, “So, I guess I am your mother. You probably have some questions.” Seriously?? Of course, I had questions…About a million, actually! First one was of course “Why did you give me up?” This immediately put her on the defensive. She said that she had NOTHING to do with that! I asked what she meant. She said it was my father. I asked the next logical question…”So who was my father.” She said “Well, I will tell you about him and she gave me a name and then went on to say that he was a ‘mean, abusive bastard’ and he got mad one night and packed you and your brother up and left!” I said, “Wait, so I had a brother??” She said “Yes, he is your full brother and his name was Tommy.” I asked if he was older or younger? She said “younger”. I said “So Michael was between us?” She got a little flustered and said, “No, no…Wait, you were the baby…Tommy was older.” I asked her what my name was that she had given me and she told me I was “Karen Elaine”. Hmmm…sure didn’t ring a bell or sound familiar in any way.
So, I guided the conversation back to our “father”. I asked her if they were married? She said that they were NOT. I asked about him taking us and asked “So did he kidnap us?” She said she wouldn’t exactly call it kidnapping. I asked her what she would call it? She said that he just got mad and took you and your brother and told me I couldn’t do anything about it!! I said “So, what DID you do?” No answer. I asked “Did you call the police?” She said “no”. I asked if she went to look for us…And she said “no”. I asked if she did anything? And she said “No! I told you he said there was nothing I could do!” I’m thinking…Did I just hear all of that right? Didn’t she say our father was a mean abusive bastard? But yet she just let him leave with her toddler son and infant daughter and did “nothing”? That just doesn’t make sense to me…
I asked where I was born and she told me Evansville. I asked which hospital and she said she didn’t remember. I named the hospitals that were there. She still didn’t remember. I asked if she had my or Tommy’s birth certificates and she said “Well, no, I had to move out of that house and I couldn’t bring all of that junk with me.” I asked if she had any pictures of us when we were little? Same answer. I asked her if there were any other siblings besides Tommy, Sissy and Michael. She told me about Patty. I asked what happened to her and she said she chose to live with her dad. And I asked why she hadn’t kept Michael…Guess what? His dad was mean and abusive too; however, she was married to him. And Michael reportedly “chose” to stay in foster care even though he had an opportunity to come and live with her again, so that was also “not her fault.”
She then asked me if I had heard about her other “daughter”? I told her I had heard that she was actually her granddaughter and that she had reportedly raised her. She went on to tell me how spectacular this granddaughter was and how she home-schooled her many children and about the job she had previously and just how she was wonderful in general and had really “made something” of herself. She then said and I quote “Well, she’s just the best ‘daughter’ I could have ever asked for!” I said “Well, what about Sissy? She seems to have done well…She has a good long-term job. And a family.” She said “yes, she’s done all right for herself.” I told her that I had been at my job 22 years and the kind of work I did, and that I was married for 36 years, and that I had a son and daughter and 3 grandchildren and had been lucky to have a wonderful adoptive Momma and great grandparents and some wonderful extended family too. She said that she needed to get off the phone as she had somewhere to be soon. She did tell me that I could come and visit her at her grand-daughters if it was alright with her. And that if I needed anything else to let her know.
I got off the phone and thought…what did I learn from all of that? My head was still spinning. I learned that nothing seemed to be her fault and she took no responsibility for what happened with these babies and children she had given up. It also appeared that she had no sentimental feelings about me or Tommy, since she referred to our birth certificates and pictures as “junk”. I learned that she apparently did not really miss me, or care that I had a good life, or that I was even alive for that matter, as she said nothing about being relieved to hear that. Or glad that I had found her. Or that she ever gave me a single afterthought. And obviously she didn’t really even consider me as a “daughter”. She was definitely “detached”, to put it as kindly as I can. However, always being the optimist…I did learn what my name had reportedly been before I was adopted. I learned that I supposedly had a full sibling and his name…And that was exciting! And I learned the name of the man my bio mother claimed to be my father. And she confirmed that there was, indeed, an older sister named Patty. So, I thought at the time, that it wasn’t a total loss.
A good friend of mine who does some local genealogy work, agreed to help me try to locate my original birth certificate or some records regarding my birth now that I had a name and that we could possibly search for my brother, Tommy’s, too. We tried but came up empty handed. So I called my friend at Vital Records again to see if the new Indiana law had gone into effect allowing adoptees to obtain their own birth records. The law had passed, but it would not go into effect until the first of the new year. I told her I had been in contact with my bio mother and had found her through DNA. She told me I could ask her to give permission for them to open my adoption file….She would just have to complete some forms. So I called her back and asked her if she would and she agreed. I had the packet sent to her. This went on and on and the papers were finally completed correctly after Christmas. They were received at Vital Records after the first of the year and the turnaround time was at least 8 weeks. UGH! More waiting.
So now, we are in January of 2018…Sissy and a good friend of hers who does traditional genealogy helped her locate Patty with the help of the birth certificate Sissy was able to obtain and then by finding Patty’s marriage license. Within a day, Patty had been contacted and on the third day, I was in my car driving down into Kentucky to meet my other sister!! It was amazing. And so was her story. She was left at 2 1/2 years old. And she said she truly remembers it, even thought she was so young. I believed her….It would have definitely been traumatic. She said her father was often away for business or whatever and she was raised mostly by babysitters. She said she “panicked” if she was in public with a caregiver and she lost sight of them. She said that her abandonment issues have always plagued her, but she is very, very strong. She has probably been the most excited about all of the new family she has gotten to meet because she really had NONE throughout her life. She was not only disconnected from our bio mother’s family, but her father was evidently estranged from his family so she didn’t know them either. She only had her OWN family that she had made, including her husband, kids and grandchildren. She also had the family of her husband, including Barbara, who I mentioned meeting in the beginning of the story. I would have given anything if Patty could have been adopted with me…And we could have grown up together! I wished all of my siblings could have been kept together and adopted by my family!!
In late March I learned that I was NOT who my bio mother had told me I was, when I finally got my original certificate of birth, my record of adoption, and the death certificate of the man listed as my father on my birth certificate. My name was not Karen Elaine, but Sherri Ann, the same and only name I had ever known! Sissy got her genealogist friend involved again and with the death certificate of the man listed as my father on my certificate of birth, she located some of the family members who were still living. She was able to get me on the phone with one of the cousins who actually remembered me as a little baby. And she also remembered Karen Elaine…evidently she was my sister! And she said she doesn’t remember seeing Tommy, but remembers the family talking about him. According to her, we were all left with her Uncle, the man listed as my father on my birth certificate. She did tell me that Social Services somehow got involved and one of the aunts and uncles wanted to adopt all three of us, but it wasn’t approved, so we were all split up and adopted by different families. I asked one of the younger cousins if she would do a DNA test just to make sure that I was in the right family. She agreed to do one and it was sent to her.
In the meantime, I was able to get the remainder of my sealed adoption record in the county I was born. Brad and I drove to Evansville to pick it up. And I was in for yet another big surprise! According to the court documents and case worker notes, my mother had “abandoned or deserted me for six months or more”. And that wasn’t all….No where in any of that document was the man listed on my birth certificate nor that last name listed. I was referred to as Sherri Ann Kalman (which was my biological mother’s last name.). It was also noted that “Paternity was not established or determined.” Boy, oh boy…Why? Why all of the false information?
I learned through further study of my DNA results (after contacting CeCe Moore once again and sharing this latest set of facts) that the man on my birth certificate was NOT my father! I belonged to a completely different family!!! I was actually a Whitfield!!! I am still trying to figure which one of three potential brothers I belong to. They have all passed away. And two of them have no documented biological children, so there is no one to test. My bio mother will not tell me which brother it was, even though I have asked the direct question. She “doesn’t want to talk about it anymore” and “it is none of my business.”
Patty and I tried to pay our biological mother a visit a few months back, but none of the dates we could get off work to travel there worked for her. We just wanted some answers as to “Whys?” Why did she not want us? Why didn’t she ever look for us? Why did she only keep one of her babies to raise? Why doesn’t she consider us her daughters? What did she do with all of the other babies that were born? What were their names? Where were they born? What happened to those that reportedly died? Where are they buried? Who were their fathers? And on and on and on. So many unanswered “why’s?” Our only hope is that some other family members out there will DNA Test and we will get some new matches leading us to our other siblings who are hopefully still out there too!!
I have made contact with some of the Whitfield family and a few of the second cousins live fairly closeby. I have met them. Kathy and Joyce have been very nice and have provided me with some pictures of the brothers and my grandmother. I definitely look like her and I even favor these two second cousins! The two first cousins, who were actually the DNA matches that led CeCe to the three brothers, one of which is my father, are from Chicago and California. I have not had the pleasure of meeting either of them yet, but hope to one day soon! Some of the members of this family feel pretty certain of which brother I belonged to and they also feel certain that he didn’t know about me or he would have wanted to take care of me because he was a really sweet man. And that made my heart happy…Maybe I got some of my kindness from him. But I have to wonder, again, why? Why was I kept from him? Why didn’t he get an opportunity to know about me?
For now, we just keep plugging away…trying to find out the answers to at least some of the “why’s” we have…One thing I believe for sure and that is “why” certain people have come into my life. I believe that God knew I needed them. And maybe some of them needed me too. I believe everything happens for a reason…Sometimes it just takes a while to figure out what the reason is. But I am thankful for the new family members who have embraced me. And I am thankful that some of them live close enough to visit pretty regularly. And I am thankful for social media and texting and FaceTime, so I can stay in closed contact with those who live farther away. I have gotten to meet most of the relatives on the maternal side now and we have made some awesome memories. So even though we were “robbed” of our earlier days together, I feel we are destined to enjoy each other now and to make the most of our time together.