My family tree has an invisible asterisks after the title itself, set there in an attempt to be honest of my faint origins while maintaining the dignity of respect for my adopted family. I love my family, along with it's regular amount of drama and unsettling factoids. The complications of explaining the family org chart is already un-simple, complete with half siblings, step parents, missing links and whatnot. Toss in the adoption fact and watch your audience dwindle quickly while the faithful few try to un-spin their heads. The entertainment value is certainly there, but usually the conversation simply concludes with the all-too familiar phrase. "That's crazy!!!"
To keep things straight, I wound up creating two family trees: one for my adopted family and another for my birth family. As of last week, I still had no specific information about my mother other than her full name. It was as if she had disappeared when she went to Oregon with my father, never to be heard from again.
I learned something important when I discovered the identity of my birth father: Time is the relentless enemy. Lynn passed away 8 years before I had a chance to know him, and he was 10 years older than my birth mother, Kathy. And while I had a hard time passing 2nd year calculus in college (okay, didn't pass that one), I was pretty sure the laws of math were telling me I had limited time to find my mother. Given her lack of any digital footprint, the odds of her having died were growing by the day.
So with determination to exhaust every possible lead, I went back to the beginning. The intake person at Children's Home Society of Washington suggested I re-check a database which had some significant expansion recently. "And when you run her name, use her married name. If you find a new marriage, check again with any new married name you find until you get to the end."
|Kathy, age 19|
This technique proved quite revealing. I located a number of marriage licenses for my mother in short succession. Her longest marriage was about 8 years to a man named Jensen, who passed away and left an obituary mentioning his daughter, Kim. More math told me Kim was born while my mom was married to Jensen. Another half-sister!
By researching each married name, I was able to locate more pieces of information about my mother. Land records showed she obtained property in Sequim several years ago from her mother Nadine (who, incidentally, also obtained the property several years before that from her mother, Lillian). Open source records showed her ex-husband Bill was living there currently, so after verifying the car in the driveway did indeed belong to Bill, I decided to go for the proverbial knock on the door, hoping for the next lead that might lead me closer to the goal of finding her. My wife and I took a ferry to the Olympic Penninsula for the fact-finding mission realizing full well that we would most likely come home with another dead end lead.
When we arrived in Sequim, I soon found the address of the property owned by Kathy Zucchelli. After a couple of passes by the house and a resolve not to leave the penninsula without some new direction, I went to the door of the home.
I knocked, then looked around the carport to notice the V8 engine sitting in the yard in front of the shell of a car. When the door opened, I spun around to introduce myself to Bill. The Internet itself had failed to tell me one small, important fact: Bill and Kathy reconciled after their divorce and have been living there together for the last 5 years. And just to make sure I was fully caught off guard, Bill wasn't home when I knocked. Instead, a 5'9" woman with grey hair, a curious dimple, and exceptionally large hands answered the door.
It was quite a moment.
I realized instantly this could be my mother, but having never seen an image of her, I retracted the thought quickly figuring it could be Bill's new girlfriend. Probably a Sarah or Margaret, maybe a Stephanie. Smartly, instead of asking for Bill, I asked for Kathy.
"Yes, I'm Kathy?"
More than 40 years of preparation for this epic moment and the eloquent and succinct speech that would accompany it were suddenly and entirely unavailable to me. Instead, I attempted to explain my presence. "Hi...I'm Alan. From Edmonds." Like that was supposed to make sense. I grinned, then tried to be sure I wasn't giving off a weird, creepy grin, but was pretty sure I already had awkwardness all over my face. My own flood of 47 years of wonder began to crest. Alan from Edmonds? It sounded weird when I said it, like it was clearly not the point.
"....Yes?" Kathy seemed willing to endure the clumsiness.
I then remembered to breathe while I gathered up every ounce of courage and depth of meaning I could muster. "Kathy, yes. I have been looking for Kathy Wiley...for a very, very long time. Actually, for my whole life."
With that short announcement, Kathy Wiley was transported back 48 years and to a time when she was 17 years old, newly married, and facing the hardest moment of her life. She stared at me for what seemed to be a full minute as she began to well up and tremble. I truly couldn't believe it was finally happening.
"How? How did you find me?" Then that question didn't matter as she looked at me intensely with her soft, beautiful brown eyes. She then spoke the words I had craved to hear from the one person I hoped beyond hope to meet.
"You're my son!"
|I finally found you.|
Kathy ran out onto the porch and hugged me. We cried together, heads buried into each other's necks. And finally, finally I was able to tell her thank you. "You did good. You made a good choice, and I owe you my life for it. I am so thankful for you."
We eventually recovered. As we came down the porch steps, Kathy told me I looked just like my dad. Again, words I'd never heard before but which satisfied a need I never knew I had. She told me how she didn't ever know whether I was a boy or a girl when I was born. "They covered my head so I couldn't see you. I wasn't allowed to touch you or make any kind of connection. I always suspected you were a boy, but I didn't know for sure." Kathy told me her husband insisted they could not keep the baby, and since she was only 17, she went along with it believing it was probably for the best. But she always wondered if she made the right decision and felt like she didn't do what she really wanted, especially as she looked back years later. Kathy hugged me over and over as she told her story, beaming with happiness, curiosity, and wonder.
We visited for about an hour, then after exchanging phone numbers my wife and I left to give some time to process. We returned with flowers a short while later and visited into the evening, marveling at our similarities as we looked at old photos and shared stories.
|4 generations, plus me under the flowers|
Time didn't win. I found my mother with time to spare. And not a moment too soon.