And now, the rest of the story, or more specifically, how poetry, Google, and Craigslist helped me find the family I never knew I had.
In November of last year I wrote about finding my father’s obituary. It was an odd feeling to find him but to not be able to talk to him. Thanks to the Internet and Google I was able to use some of the information in the obituary to get a pretty good idea of where my aunts were living but I didn’t do anything with the information. They were old and I was scared. How do you suddenly drop into someone’s life and announce yourself as a relative? What if they yelled at me? So I decided to do nothing. I’m good at that.
Along came National Poetry Month and I had the idea to explore my relationship with my father through poetry so that I could finally make peace with it all and then move on. After I had posted the first few poems I was contacted by Diane Main, a local teacher, who had read my poems and been moved by my story. And it turned out that this teacher had a passion for something of her own, genealogical research. She offered to see what she could track down about my father’s family.
In no time at all she located my father’s half-sister living only an hour away from. She had been given up for adoption by my grandmother but had the opportunity to correspond with her mother/my grandmother, before my grandmother’s death. I sent my aunt a link to some pictures I had of my parents wedding and in the set was a picture of me as a toddler taken in front of the Christmas tree at the car dealership where my mother worked. My aunt recognized the car dealership because she had grown up her entire life living right next door to the owner! My mother, when asked, remembered my aunt’s parents but had no idea that their adopted daughter was related to me.
You can read more of Diane’s side of her research for me here.
Each night while I worked on my poems Diane worked on my family tree. She found one Webb after another. My aunts and uncles. My great grandparents. Suddenly I was surrounded by Webbs. But most of her research went backwards, toward the older and mostly dead Webbs.
That’s when I thought of those names and cities and states I read in my father’s obituary. And I finally felt brave enough to try and make contact. Thanks to Google, I found the phone number for both of my aunts. I called the one that I knew my mom had met. And yes, my heart was pounding, wondering what I was going to say. I ended up just blurting out, “My name is Susan and I’m Tommy’s daughter.”
It was a wonderful conversation. She’d had some health issues so her memory wasn’t as great as I had hoped for back when my mom and her brother were married but she never once doubted me and she told me so many stories about my father’s childhood, stories that helped me make sense out of the type of person he had become. When she ran out of stories about my father I asked her about her mother, my grandmother. She paused and then said, “Well, she loved to write poetry.”
That was when I burst into tears. There is no one on my mother’s side of the family that has any inclination toward writing at all so this small piece of information touched me to the core. The next day I was still feeling pretty brave so I called my aunt Kitty and again I was greeted with open arms. She was able to tell me even more about my grandmother and she stopped every so often to call out the name of another relative. The following day I called my father’s widow Ruth and she was able to fill in a few more pieces, but not much, about him.
Until I called them, none of these people knew about me.
Aunt Kitty gave me phone numbers for three people that, until I read the obituary, I never knew existed. My two half-brothers and my half-sister. I tried my sister first but the phone number didn’t work. Then I tried my youngest brother. She had given me his cell phone but he had recently moved and she wasn’t sure if it would still be connected. It wasn’t. But for some reason I decided to put his cell phone number into Google. I’m not sure what I was hoping for but what I got was something I didn’t expect, an ad from Craigslist. He was selling some furniture and it had has cell phone listed and another number that I assumed was the house phone. The ad was fairly recent and I knew what city he was in so I looked up the area code and added it to the house phone and hit the send button on the phone.
I think I gave him quite a shock when he answered the phone and I told him we were related.
We had a nice talk and then he gave me my sister’s phone number so I could finally talk to her. And that was the best conversation of all. We laughed. We cried. She said, “I took a nap and I was the oldest in the family and I wake up and I have an older sister.”
Lori and I have been piecing together our joint history. The most surprising discovery has been that her mom knew about me all my life but us kids were all kept in the dark. Since then I’ve made contact with my brother’s wife, cousins, second cousins, and a whole lot of Webbs. My brother sent me pictures of my siblings and my father’s widow and cousins have sent me pictures of my father.
Back in 2005 I wrote about a dream I had about my father and how in that dream, he gave me a gift. And now, five years later, I think I understand. It wasn’t in him to be there for me but through him I now have that family connection I’ve been searching for all my life.
All because I wrote some poems about something that mattered to me. Poetry can change your life. No doubt about it.