Monday, March 15, 2010

Finding My Roots Part IV

For those of you who have been following my journey to locate my dad's biological family, I figured you may be interested in the latest chapter. For those of you who haven't read the whole story, it's here and here and here). I hesitate to really call it a finale because I do believe that now that I have found them and met them, they will be a part of my life forever. So, I believe it's actually a bit of a beginning really.

Sara, Maegan, my dad, me and Debbie

Sara & Maegan are twins!

This last Thursday I flew out to Arkansas. My dad flew from Colorado and met me at the airport. We were picked up by my dad's uncle--whom neither of us have ever met before. It felt a bit like those blind date set ups you hear about where the woman wears a red carnation or something else as an identifier. Anyway, I did actually think about not being able to recognize him because I've never met him before and all the photos I have of him are about 40 years old. So, we exchanged cell phone numbers. Would've been more romantic had I worn a flower, but a cell phone will do.

I have to have a side note in this story to say that a mom, such as myself, traveling without her kids is a mom who feels a bit lost. I can't remember the last time I traveled without a child and I really did feel weird and incomplete. I mean I could actually read a book! I didn't have to say, "Stop touching that," or "Here, have gummy bears for lunch," in order to control the masses. I missed my kids terribly. I felt weird without them with me. I can officially say I am a stay at home mom. Now, back to the story.

I called Darrel (my great uncle/my dad's uncle) and we met right at the escalator. He gave me the biggest, tightest bear hug and right away, I knew the trip would be good. He is a very handsome guy--he looks a lot like Colonel Sanders of KFC fame. His hair is the most gorgeous, white hair I think I've ever seen. I was telling his daughter, Debbie, how much I liked his hair and she said, "Oh yes. Dad is a dandy." In other words, he takes great pride in looking well coiffed and handsome. Sorry I am finding myself providing a lot of details here. You've probably all stopped reading by now. Darrel is actually in his pjs here. He didn't know I'd want to take a photo or he'd be looking even better!

Sara, Maegan, my dad, Darrel and Debbie

(Bethany was sadly gone that night.)

We chatted the drive back to Searcy and ate dinner together along with his daughter Debbie and Debbie's daughters Sara and Maegan (twins) and her other daughter Bethany. The conversation was nice and introductory. I was surprised to discover that they didn't know any of the story of my dad's birth. My dad's mom, Doris, had never spoken about it at all. Not to her siblings, not to her own mother even. I can't imagine how that affected her for the rest of her life.

I have to also say that when Darrel heard we were coming out he offered to have us stay in his house and drive his car, so that the trip would not be expensive. That is true charity. He didn't know anything about us other than my phone calls and emails and he completely opened up his home to us. He is an amazing man.

The next day my dad and I drove down to Little Rock, so that I could do some family history work on my grandma's lines (this is my mom's mom--I'm not trying to make this confusing I promise). Strangely enough she has several family lines that go back to Arkansas and now my dad's biological lines go back to Arkansas too! I was able to get some information, but unfortunately, the state of Arkansas has lost a lot of records to fires and probably some to tornadoes as well I'd guess.

Another side note--tornadoes touched down five miles away from where I stayed. FIVE MILES! We actually drove through where it landed and I can't put into words how seeing devastation like that in person will shock you. I've seen plenty of post tornado photos on TV and the Internet, but never in person. It's crazy. There will be one house razed to the ground and 10 feet away another house won't have a scratch. Whole trees pulled up by the roots, walls and boards thrown all over and just mass devastation.

The last day we were there I was able to finally meet my great-grandma. Do you realize that if my dad's mom were still living, there would be FIVE generations alive on the earth right now. (Five is apparently a theme here.) Since her son Darrel (my great uncle) is still alive, there really are five generations alive. That never happens anymore.

See how she's holding his hand. She didn't want to let go. It was so touching.

When we walked in to meet her she was so sweet and had us come right over to her and she kissed our cheeks and said how happy she was to finally see us. After I showed her some pictures and video of my kids, I had my dad go sit close to her, so I could get their photo together. She grabbed my dad's hand and didn't want to let go. She said, "I've missed you. I've thought about you again and again through the years."

It's how I imagine it'll be when we arrive in heaven. Our family will be waiting and they will hold us close and say, "I've missed you." I just can't tell you how much that meant to my dad to know that this woman has thought of him and worried for him. His biological mother died just three years shy of us getting to meet her and the woman who adopted him died when he was nine and the next woman that raised him died just a few years ago of Alzheimer's; not even recognizing him the last several years of her life. Then, here is this woman who has held his memory in her heart for 52 years and loves him immediately upon meeting him.

After we left visiting with grandma (or Me-maw as they say in the South), we went to the cemetery where my grandma, my dad's mom, is buried.

We ate BBQ that night and I ate a hush puppie (I liked it) and fried pie (I LOVED THAT!). I could definitely adjust my diet to southern cooking. Of course, Darrel cooked every meal for us and he's quite the host when it comes to whipping up a meal (sausage, bacon, biscuits and gravy along with homemade jam--and that was just for one breakfast!)

Debbie, Maegan, Bethany, Darrel, Sara, me and my dad

It was a very wonderful trip. I felt at home with these people. They are wonderful and accepting and so much fun. I want to visit again and continue to nurture this wonderful new family that I have been blessed to find.


Mariley Johnson said...

How exciting! So very happy for you!

steve said...

Hmmm so exciting, great story and thanks for sharing!
Yeah I'm excited! I've been wanting to blog but been so busy AND distracted. She's an amazing girl!

Amelia and Justin said...

What a wonderful story with a happy ending! That is so wonderful that you have been able to find your family :)

I really take for granted the fact that I know my extended family. It is really eye-opening to me to read a story like this. Thanks for sharing!

Melinda said...

Audrey, that is so amazing! I'm so happy for you and your family!!

Dahly Mama said...

Wow! So cool! What can I say more?

RussellsRoost said...

Audrey!! I had no idea that you were going to see them. We talked to Derek at church and he told us about it. I am so glad you had a good time! How awesome!!!

Tiffini said...

What a touching experience! There was so much that I wanted to comment on, but can't remember it all now. (I can blame it on pregnancy brain, can't I?)

I can definitely relate to your feelings of loss without your kids around. On the rare occasion that mine are with a babysitter, I feel so out of place!

Sabina said...

Audrey, I've been thinking about you often during the time you were on your trip. I so admire your ability to reach out and connect and love people. I'm so glad you had a good experience. You will be a blessing to that family. Thanks for sharing.

JLJ said...

I've been looking forward to the next installation of this story and was so happy to read it today. It makes me realize how much I take my family for granted - how I ought to be nurturing relationships that I'm not.

JenW said...

that is so amazing! i am so glad you got to do that! i love hush puppies by the by. so good.

Lara said...

So. Freaking. Cool.

I love that you got to do this, and I love even more how much they accepted you with open arms.

You're right...this is the beginning to the story. So wonderful.

Ruth Petersen said...

Thank you for sharing. Your are a brave, daring, faithful woman. What an inspiring experance.

Jack and Annie said...

Yay! I am so happy that it went well for you!

wackywilsons said...

You inspire us all!

Heather said...

What a neat experience!! They sound like wonderful people. I'm so happy you and your dad were able to finally meet them.

kjirsti said...

Amazing. Makes you look at people you "don't know" a little differently. Interesting that we treat people so differently when they're family.