MORE FIRSTS

 

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Photo Credit: Joey Steadman

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.

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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!

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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!

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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.

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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?!

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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.

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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!

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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!!

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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.

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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.

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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!

 

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