Click for Part 1—Adoption
After the chills shot through my body, I had just enough time to say, “Oh my God, that’s my sister!” before we were instructed to put away all electronic devices. The plane was taking off.
I was traveling with a colleague. At the time, my son, Matt, was working with us remotely, and Rob and I had gone down to Greensboro to meet with him. But even quick trips can be exhausting, and Rob just wanted to nap on the flight home and get back to his family. So I sat on the plane staring at my switched-off cell phone with no outlet for my mounting anxiety mixed with excitement. Good thing it was a short flight; but it would take an additional hour-and-a-half or more to drive home from the airport.
Finally, in the early evening, I was back home. I called my father’s wife, Emily, to continue our truncated conversation from earlier that day. She was a bit giddy, but also cautious. Rather than give this “Vicki” person my number, she took Vicki’s number and said she would have “Bob’s daughter” get in touch with her. I lost no time making the call. It was a wrong number.
I called Emily back to check the number. I had written it down correctly. Now what? Emily said “Vicki” had sounded nervous and that she wasn’t sure she’d ever call back. I said, “Don’t you have caller ID, or can’t you do *69 or something?” “Wait a minute. Let me hang up and look at this phone.” So, I hung up and waited . . . and waited.
Almost half an hour later, the phone rang. “Pam?” “Yes?” “The lady at the number I called gave me your number.” “Vicki?!” “Yes.” Pause. “We thought we’d lost you. What’s your number?” It was one digit off what Emily had given me.
“Hi.” “Hi.” Obviously, we shared a creativity gene. When in doubt, I let my “business” persona take over. “Why don’t you tell me what you know, and I’ll answer any questions you have.” So “Vicki” read me the information from her adoption papers, and I compared it with the birth registration Wayne had found. Date of birth: check. City of birth: check. Parents’ names: check. Birth name: check. And she knew the name of the hospital where she’d been born: check. “That information exactly matches what I have. I think you’re my sister.”
When we recovered our voices after the moment of emotional overwhelm, we talked for almost an hour. She told me about her adoptive family–father deceased, mother then living, older brother (biological son of adoptive mom and dad) grown and living out west. Then she described where she’d been brought up–at one point she lived practically around the corner from my first married home, and she had always lived in the vicinity of Philadelphia, as had I. (Now I’m in New Jersey, but she’s only an hour away–whereas she was once 50 years away.) Then she told me about her own family–married with two children. I had two “new” nephews!
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My WASP-by-birth sister had been raised Jewish, and her sons–my nephews–Dan and Jason, had both been bar mitzvahed! Wait ’til I tell Sandee, I thought. As I said last week, Sandee, the star of Friday’s post, was beyond thrilled when she finally got this news–especially about the bar mitzvahs. Also as I’ve mentioned, Sandee’s entry into and departure from my life eerily coincided with Vicki’s story. I found Sandee just as my sister was born and was lost to us. And Vicki found us just as Sandee was becoming ill and would soon be lost to us. It felt as if they were exchanging places . . . but, of course, only in my world.
Vicki’s story contains other strange coincidences. Although I’d known of her existence since I was 18, I had never made an attempt to find her. That cold, lonely winter of early 2009 just after my father died, I was sitting in my home office feeling bereft. Sandee had emailed her family and friends an urgent plea on behalf of one of her sick cousins, who was in dire need of financial help, and she was asking people for contributions. After I sent mine, Sandee’s efforts on behalf of her family got me to thinking more about mine. I’d been watching those adoption programs on TV and suddenly had an impulse to check into some of the resources they’d mentioned. It was time to find my sister.
I registered with a family reunion site, providing all the information I had about my lost sibling. Then I waited. But I heard nothing. Not until that August day stepping onto the airplane. While Vicki and I were on the phone that first time, I asked her what had prompted her to try to find us now–only several months after I’d started my initial efforts to find her. She said she’d just read a story about adoption and had a sudden impulse to grab a Philadelphia phone book and look up the family name on her adoption papers. She’d always known she was adopted, but it was not until her father died seven years before that she’d found her papers and learned of her birth name.
Now, here was another strange thing: Growing up, again knowing she was adopted but not anything more, Vicki’s favorite name was . . . Susan. Her second favorite name was . . . Mary. As you’ll see in another installment, my mother refused to let her baby leave the hospital and go to a new mother’s arms without a name. The name she gave her that day in September 1959, the one that appeared on “Vicki’s” birth records, was Susan Mary.
And one more eerie matter of timing: Not only had Vicki and I had an impulse to try to find our lost family–and she not even knowing who she was looking for–within months of each other after a span of almost 50 years, but had Vicki waited to pick up that phone book just a few more months it would have been too late. Our father’s house was sold three months later, and the phone number was disconnected. It was almost as if my father was helping to orchestrate this reunion from wherever he was. I remember that later on Sandee concurred with that notion.
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Now it was my turn. Wayne and I hadn’t had the happiest of childhoods, so I thought carefully about how much I should tell Vicki about us . . . and about how she came to be given up for adoption at birth. “Well, you have me–I’m your older sister by seven years. I’m married, for the second time, and have a grown son, Matt. And you have a brother–he’s 20 months younger than I am and about five years older than you. He’s married and has a grown daughter, Lindsay, who’s also married. And . . . oh my God. You have a mother!”
That’s when it hit me: who was going to tell “our” mother!?
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Part 3—Communion tomorrow.