Wednesday, September 5, 2012
Soon after I obtained my birth certificate, I discovered I had a biological brother. I wrote my brother and waited to see if he would respond. I waited over a week and when I heard nothing, I began the process of accepting the fact I never would receive a response. I was sad, but I understood and had hope he would change his mind. I woke up on my birthday and made my coffee as usual. As I was sipping my coffee, my phone rang. I answered it and heard "Happy birthday Sis!". I was speechless - and trust me, that NEVER happens! We talked for about a half hour and one thing was clear. He was just as happy as I was! After I hung up the phone, I cried - very happy tears. It was the best birthday I ever had. He called me back a few days later (as promised) to arrange our meeting. It was during this phone call I learned I also had a sister! A sister and a brother! My head was spinning! And, the best part was they seemed as anxious as I was to meet. I was overjoyed! After 50 some years of separation, I was about to meet the siblings I never knew I had. The first time I would come face to face with a biological family member. During my initial phone conversations with my brother, he seemed so excited and happy which instantly quelled all my fears. I will forever be grateful for his obvious enthusiasm.
As I drove the 3 hours to meet them, I felt every emotion you can think of. And I wondered...would they like me, would this be our only meeting, what were they thinking and so much more. I worried I would get too emotional and make a fool of myself. I decided I was thinking too much and turned up the car stereo and tried to relax. As I pulled my car into our meeting place, I took a deep breath and got out of the car. Lots of hugs ensued. Except for the birth of my daughter it was the happiest day of my life. I never expected the warm welcome I received. And it just got better as the day progressed. It was still a shock but my brother's happiness was contagious. Considering they never knew I existed, I am sure they were in more shock than I. By the end of the day, I would learn all my fears were for nothing, but was glad I expected the worst because it just enhanced my joy that day. The day began meeting my new found brother, his wife, my sister and her daughter (my niece!). The day ended meeting a few cousins and the sister of my biological mother, my aunt. The day was overwhelming (in a good way). I had so much to absorb. Seeing people who looked like me for the first time was so surreal and so amazing. I saw so much of myself in my brother, but not just our faces, but also in his personality. I thought I must be wrong. What made it more amazing was each one of their reactions to me. Every person I met made it clear I was very welcome - as a member of the family. That was something that I had not expected and honestly a scenario that never occurred to me. I never looked past the moment, it was way too scarey for me. All that fear is gone now, replaced with joy. As I met a cousin and my aunt, I felt this strange feeling that I can only describe as a familiarity like I had met them somewhere before...but I knew that was not possible. They lived over 100 miles from me. It was a wonderful day I was told the annual Huffman family reunion was the following weekend and was asked to come and of course I agreed. During the week, I talked to both my brother and sister on the phone and chatted online with my brother's wife almost every day. It occurred to me that I genuinely liked my brother, his wife and my sister so much that if we had not been related, I still would have liked them as friends. The day of the reunion came and the day began badly - I was running late due to many reasons I arrived and met my brother in a parking lot so he could show me the way to the park and of course, so I would not have to walk in alone. I will not go into detail about the day but it was amazing. And as I met and talked to each member of this large and beautiful family, I began to see so much of myself in them both visually and in their personalities. I was not nervous but was completely at ease and I was myself. I recognized much of my own personality in so many of these people. The day ended too soon and I left wanting more time. I got in my car and began the 2-3 hour drive home. As I drove, I thought about the day and the conversations. My first visit to Rossville (before I wrote my brother) ended at the grave of my biological mother. I knew I was a secret (she left Rossville for the orphanage in Chicago when she was 3 months pregnant) and I asked her what would she think if I broke her secret and wrote my brother. As I began to cry, I looked up and saw a sliver of a rainbow. About an hour into my drive home from the reunion, I was thinking about what my new uncle had told me. He told me he asked my mother if she ever thought about those babies she left at the orphanage shortly before she died. She told him, every night before she went to bed. As I drove, I thought about that statement and how very sad it was. It must have been such a heavy burden for her to carry. I began to cry and as I looked in the rear view mirror, I was shocked to see a rainbow. I had to pull off at the exit. I pulled into a parking lot and cried. And I thought about everyone I met. I was thinking about all the similarities I saw in my own personality. And for the first time it occurred to me, I fit in. I was myself completely and never once tried to fit a mold - I did not have to. It was then I realized, all the pieces to the puzzle that was me, fit perfectly together. I am part Huffman, part Napolitano, part Dewey and part me. I now know who I look like and finally understand why I am the person I am. I can at last be comfortable in my own skin. I have been truly blessed with not one, but two awesome families. I would be remiss if I did not thank my friend Jim Bianco, who gave me the push and support I needed to find my family and in that process, myself. I now feel complete. If you were adopted and hesitating to find your family, my advice is this. Do it! Even if your story does not have the happy ending mine did, it is worth the risk. Unless you try, you will never know.
But, this story is far from over. If you read this well, you may have caught what my uncle asked my mother...those babies...plural. I was not the only baby my mother gave birth to and had to leave at an orphanage. There are more missing siblings! Another child was born in Chicago and we believe 2 were born in Louisville, Kentucky. And this warm and wonderful family wants to be reunited with them too. And so a new journey begins, to complete our family. My next blog post will give all the information I know regarding my other adopted siblings. I hope you will share it and help us find them.
Friday, August 3, 2012
She came from a very small town in downstate Illinois called Rossville. My original birth certificate was very blurry but her name, place of birth, and age were very clear. Shirley Huffman, age 22, born in Rossville, Illinois. It was not hard to piece together parts of her life. Within a few hours, I learned some of her story. The birth certificate told me the first part. She had a child before I was born. She left the small town of Rossville and her 4 year old son and went over 100 miles to Chicago, when she was 3 months pregnant with me. She lived the next 6 months of her life in The Chicago Foundling Home (pictured above) until I was born. It must have been so difficult for her to leave the safety and security of her family, home and small town for a treacherous neighborhood in Chicago, all alone and pregnant. No home, just a bed in a room with other beds of other expectant mothers. I cannot imagine how hard it was for her to leave her young 4 year old son for 6 months. I can only assume after I was born she went back to Rossville. Back to her parents William Marion and Mary Elizabeth (Smith) Huffman and her 4 year old son. It took great courage to have and keep a child at the age of 18 back in 1954, and I can only assume that a second child (me) was too much to bear financially and socially. Her parents must have been quite unhappy about me. After reading the birth certificate, the first place I looked was the 1940 census where I found her living with her father, mother, 2 sisters Lorene and Betty and younger brother William. She was the only Shirley Huffman in Rossville in 1940 and her birth date matched perfect. Other searches revealed she married (Robert) Daniel Allison in 1963. What I found after that, I never expected. Shirley had diabetes. This disease caused her to go temporarily blind and destroyed her kidneys. Her grandson (who would have been my nephew) gave up a career in football to donate his kidney to her. This story was made into a movie by Showtime and starred Debbie Reynolds as Shirlee (Huffman) Allison. When I learned this I knew somewhere there would be a picture of her in a newspaper article. At last! I could see what I have wondered my entire life...what she looked like and did I look like her? The only picture I found pictured her wearing sunglasses so I could not see her eyes but what I did see revealed I do look like her. I did not expect the tears that followed. Next I rushed off to the library to rent the DVD of the movie. Watching the movie was so surreal not to mention emotional. I was quite surprised by some of the thoughts going through my head when I watched it. I probably noticed things in that movie that no one else would.