Showing posts with label Huffman. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Huffman. Show all posts

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Thankful Thursday - Meeting My Biological Family

It has been a few weeks since I received my original birth certificate. As I announced in a previous post Surname Saturday - Huffman I was adopted and just received my original birth certificate in August. Before I tell my story, there is something I have to explain. My life has been like a puzzle with missing pieces. There are pieces of me that never quite fit anywhere. I did not look like anyone and often heard people casually state they had grandma's eyes or their mother's bone structure. These comments happen more often than you think. But many of the missing pieces had nothing to do with appearance. It was also my personality - the essence of who I am. Things like morals and ethics are all taught and my parents taught me well. And part of who a person's personality is molded by their environment and experiences in life. We are, after all, constantly changing and it is our life's experiences that help change us. But a part of each person's personality comes from somewhere deep within their genetic make up. I have always known this because a huge part of the person I am had no explanation and I never understood that part of me. As time went on I realized I was trying very hard to fit into a mold but I never quite fit. I have tried all my life to fit that mold and because it never quite fit me, I was not comfortable in my own skin.

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

Surname Saturday - Huffman

Today, I am coming out of the "genealogy closet". This is not easy for me. Today's blog post is the most personal thing I have ever written publicly. After years of working so hard on the Napolitano and Dewey families, I have met so many wonderful cousins and I hope this does not change anything for them. I was adopted. I was raised by a Napolitano and a Dewey and love them with all my heart and soul and they are the only parents I have ever known from the time I was a month old. All I am morally and ethically comes from them. My "adopted" family IS my family. But, I always felt different, because I was very different. My cousins all had dark eyes, dark hair and I was the tallest member of my family since the age of 11. I did not look like anyone with my blue eyes and blonde hair. I never quite fit in. There were always so many questions. But the biggest questions were who was I, where did I come from, why was I given up, what was I (ethnically) and did I have brothers and sisters somewhere. I was raised with such strong Italian roots I always wondered if I really was. Pictured here is The Chicago Foundling Home where I began my life. It is gone now, replaced by a parking lot for The United Center. About 3 years ago, I wrote for my non-identifying information which adoptees are entitled to by law. The information I received told me my birth father was 100% Italian and my birth mother was German and Irish and German and Dutch. She was 22 years old, a waitress and unmarried. Last year I took not one but 2 DNA tests after I learned the surname of my mother, Huffman. What I did not know was her first name. Last Saturday I received my original birth certificate. I now know her name. It did not take me long to find her as well as answers to some of my questions. She died in 2010. Her husband died in 2000. Her sisters also died so it is doubtful I will ever learn the true identity of my bio-father. Someone living may know, perhaps her best friend if she is living. But it is doubtful. Still, I have hope.

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.

I learned this small town had a Historical and Genealogical Society that was only open a few hours on Tuesday and Saturday. So, a few days after I learned her name, I drove to Rossville. Once I finally arrived there, I found myself quite nervous and it occurred to me I had no idea how to handle this delicate situation. Shirlee was no longer alive but her son is and he still lives there. I did not want him to find out about me through gossip in the small town. I did not want to mention her name. I tried to get what I came for - the yearbooks. I wanted pictures and that was my only way of getting them. I tried but the woman who was working at the historical society had a book I needed that she would not let me look at. She was very nice, but I imagine she had the privacy rights of living people to consider. I had no choice but to reveal her name. After that she was able to pull the appropriate yearbooks and these revealed several pictures and more information. She was quite active in school and was in sports, a cheerleader, in choir and on student council. Each activity meant another picture. A thousand thoughts raced through my mind as I turned the pages of each book. I was told of a town genealogy book that was done and found the entry for her family. I was not able to focus properly. In just a few days, I was overwhelmed with so much information. I could have probably gotten so much more but I had a hard time processing everything. I will have to return for what I missed. I have written my (presumed half) brother and wait to see if he responds. When I was finished at the historical society, I went to the cemetery to pay my respects. Her parents and grandparents are buried there also. It was a very hot, sunny day but as I arrived I noticed a few clouds. I did not have the location of her grave so every time I got out of my car huge raindrops fell then stopped. Finally I saw her grave from my car and when I did it was raining (not hard, just those large rain drops) but the sun never stopped shining. As I got out of my car the rain stopped and as I stood in front of her grave, I saw a small portion of a rainbow in the sky. Overcome with emotion I never knew was there, I cried for a long time. After, I felt a peace I have never known before. This is the beginning of my journey to discover who I am and where I came from.