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.
Wow. Just, wow.
That’s an incredible story right there. I felt like was reading the synopsis of a novel.
Oh, I am so THRILLED for you!!! What a wonderful gift, to be able to get to know your half-sister and brothers and the family you were always curious about. I’m so glad these poems have helped you in ways you couldn’t have imagined a month ago. Thank you for sharing each one.
Wow. (pass the Kleenex box *dabs eyes*) Wow.
Yeah, that’s pretty much how I feel. And remember when you said something felt different in one of the poems? That was after I had talked to both of my aunts and I found myself filtering the poem, afraid of how it might be through their eyes. And we all know that self-censoring isn’t good and changes things.
Oh Susan, what a wonderful story! And what a blessing your poetry has been; for yourself and your whole far-flung family. I have a feeling that harvest is just beginning to come in…
I am so happy for you..and for them. I’m thrilled for you. Amazing story. Thanks so much for sharing it with us.
Susan, This has been such a remarkable journey. I’m so happy for you and your family; all best as you continue to weave your new life pieces together. Thank you for allowing us in; should you choose to share this story elsewhere too, it has a message for us all.
Amy at The Poem Farm
What an incredible story! Thanks for sharing it with us. I’m so glad you pursued this and that your dream came true!
WOW see I can keep a secret. Yes dreams are meant to tell us things and yours was to never give up which you didn’t. Yes maybe you never got to know your father but wow you have found a whole new family. Well to you anyway they were there all the time just waiting for you to find them one day and fate brought you all together.
I am a true believer in fate and destiny and you have a great gift. How can anyone but not like you. This can’t be the end though I don’t think I could wait a whole year to read some more of your poetry. Where else am I going to get my inspiration from. You have helped me so much. This journey has helped me so much and I am finally finding me for the first time ever. It is not really as scary as I thought it would be.
I have a bit of a way to go but you know what I think I am going to make it.
Thanks so much xxx
This is an unbelievably moving story. I’m so glad I stumbled on your blog and wish you and your family (grin) all the best in the world.
(Insert sound of jaw dropping)
WOW! Thanks so much for sharing.
– Fred (Higgins)
Oh. Wow. Amazing. Astonishing. And downright magical! When you told me to wait until today’s post, I had no idea this was coming. Oh, Susan, I’m so happy for you! I don’t know what else to say . . . except I’m really really happy for you. In a way, you get another chance…
Thank you, Candace. It’s it just mind-blowing? I’m still getting used to so many wonderful relatives popping up all over the places.
This has been your bestest blog month ever and you have done some awesome blog posts over the years.
What a story. Now for the book . . .
thanks for sharing this story
crying along with you. What an amazing journey poetry takes us on.
— Laura @AuthorAmok
((Susan)) Brava to you, my friend, for your courage, honesty, and perserverence. You’ve embarked on an incredible journey–one that’s taken you so far, but which is only just beginning. Thanks for allowing us the privilege of accompanying you…I can’t wait to see where this leads you next! xoxo
I am so happy for you!
I loved the poems and hope you do a book of them.
I need to remember not to read your posts while I’m in the office. It’s a good thing I have a big box of Kleenex nearby.
I’d like to say this is a happy ending for you, but something tells me it’s more of a happy beginning.
Thanks for the wonderful reminder of the power of poetry. And bravery, something I think all poets need, and something you have in spades.
This is all so wonderful
Wow, this is an amazing story. Your poems are amazing, too, and you are SO brave. I’m over-the-moon glad for you.
Fascinating! So wonderful you’ve discovered all those people to fill in the cracks.
Oh my gosh. I’m so glad you followed up on all those leads and found so many open arms. That’s just awesome.
Thank you! It’s been heartwrenchingly wonderful.
I’m gobsmacked and thrilled and so happy for you!! WOW! Never saw any of this coming. Your incredible poems this month were already a huge achievement, and now this. Your grandmother liked to write poetry? All the pieces are coming together.
That pretty much sums up how I feel about it all too, Jama, gobsmacked. I’m still processing so many things.
And yes, when I found out my grandmother wrote poetry I just felt sooooo connected, at last. It’s been an amazing experience and I really appreciate the support throughout the month.
Poetry can change your life. But *being* and *living* with a poet’s heart (as you have) not only changes you but everyone around you. If you didn’t know it before, you are one powerful writer, Susan.
Thank you, Sara. I struggle soooo much with the confidence, especially when I try to wear the poet’s hat, but this journey has been especially rewarding. So much to process still but I am looking forward to putting the energy into a book.
Wow. I wish I had some tissue too. Thank you for sharing your journey with your readers. Enjoy your family!
Oops, forgot to say that yoneit is Jenny Schwartzberg.
Thanks for reading, Jenny. It is wonderful having family here now, at last.
I shouldn’t have read this at the office. I’ve got tears running down my cheeks!
I’m so happy for you, Susan. You summoned your courage and put your heart and soul out there on display for the whole world, and look what happened? You now have the family you’ve dreamed about all these years. I wish I could be there in person to give you a big hug.
This is amazing and very, very powerful.
If I had not known about this early on, I would be crying right along with the others. From time to time throughout this journey, I did shed a few tears at some of the things you or I had uncovered, just knowing how happy the discovery would make you, or maybe how sad the memories were that these new facts might bring up.
What an amazing story, Susan. Thanks so much for taking us along with you for some part of it.
This is beautiful and inspiring, Susan. What an extraordinary journey you’ve been on. Thank you for sharing so much of yourself through your poems all month and now, sharing the fantastic results that you couldn’t have even imagined. I am holding your story close, as I have been dreaming about and imagining and exploring what it means to me to have been adopted at birth and not knowing my birth parents. Cheers to you, Susan! — Emma D Dryden http://www.drydenbks.com
I don’t know if you’ve heard this part of my story or not, but I was adopted at birth by an older couple. Trying to find my birth parents was always in the back of my mind but I chickened out until the year 2000. I was 45 when I found my birth mother. And what did I discover? She has written poetry her entire life, and used to write scripts for Walt Disney. Poetry seems to be hereditary. Kudos!
No, I didn’t know your story. WOW! Love the idea that poetry is hereditary. I’m so glad you were able to find your birth mother. I’m kicking myself that I didn’t try to find more recently to find my grandmother. I think I’m more than okay about not finding my dad.
Glad I keep Kleenex by my desk. Wow.
Beautiful story. Since mine is somewhat similar, I can relate. I’m so happy for you. Keep those poems coming.
Wow! What a story! I am hoping you are in touch with a publisher who is going to publish your poems. I know hundreds of kids with dad-shaped holes in their hearts. They need your poems.
I’m so very happy for you! Poetry is a superpower!
Enjoy all your new family in the world! You deserve it, you are very brave!
all things poetry
Wow! Just wow! What an incredible and moving story.
Wow! What an amazing story. I’m so happy for you, Susan.
How very, very wonderful for you!
It truly is a great story – a poetry month (or any month!) to remember. And I loved both the story and your writeup of it, too.
But, uh, how you gonna top this NEXT April, huh? Thought of that yet? 🙂
As many have said here before me but, well, it bears repeating – wow!
Bravo, is simply excellent idea
This amusing opinion
What a lovely, moving story, Susan! And I confess to a certain quirky curiousity about where your family is located as my maiden name was Webb. ;D I know it’s a popular name, but hey, who knows?
Wow! What a wonderful journey … and the bravery as Tricia said to share it. You’ve struck a chord in ways I could never explain. Thanks for making my Sunday.
I feel kind of guilty that I wasn’t reading these daily during my travels. But they had so much impact as I went back and reread Week1 and then read the rest of the month. More like reading a book, which I just loved. What a brave and beautiful journey you shared with us! Helped me understand a little bit of that missing feeling. Since my parents don’t care for children much, I had some of these same feelings and longings even though I grew up in a two-parent home. Not nearly to the extent you felt them, I know, but it helped me relate more.
Some of the longing/melancholy put me in mind of the song “Superman,” by Five for Fighting. Do you know it? Here are some of the lyrics:
I can’t stand to fly
I’m not that naive
I’m just out to find
The better part of me
I’m more than a bird…I’m more than a plane
I’m more than some pretty face beside a train
It’s not easy to be me.
I wish that I could cry
Fall upon my knees
Find a way to lie
About a home I’ll never see
It may sound absurd…but don’t be naive
Even heroes have the right to bleed
I may be disturbed…but won’t you concede
Even heroes have the right to dream
And it’s not easy to be me.
Up, up and away…away from me
Well it’s all right…You can all sleep sound tonight
I’m not crazy…or anything…
I can’t stand to fly
I’m not that naive
Men weren’t meant to ride
With clouds between their knees
I’m only a man in a silly red sheet
Digging for kryptonite on this one way street
Only a man in a funny red sheet
Looking for special things inside of me
inside of me …… inside of me …ya inside of me… inside..of me
I’m only a man in a funny red sheet
I’m only a man looking for a dream
I’m only a man in a funny red sheet
If you don’t know the song, look for it on youtube. It’s just gorgeous. That longing for a home he’ll never see/father you’ll never know…really gets you in the gut.
More thoughts later on your email, Susan, but just wanted to send you big hugs and a huge high five. You made it through the month and you rocked it!
I have always loved that song.
tanita says 🙂
I’m not sure I can say anything coherent with this suddenly blurry vision. Suffice it to say that I am SO HAPPY FOR YOU. And feel blessed just standing next to you (metaphorically) while you receive such joy. WOW.
Poetry is life-changing!
Poetry does make a difference!
After this April and reading your essay, I am more convinced than ever.
Thanks for sharing!
Susan I read your story on Greg’s blog
and it just touched me so much. I hope
your new family ties and connections
give your heart much comfort and
joy. Maybe another book about this
amazing reconnection is brewing?
I hope so.
Susan, I have neglected LJ lately but dropped in to begin catching up on your Father poems. First I find your stunning garden pics. Wow! You did all that in what? Two years max? I am so impressed.
And then I find this lovely post with your amazing story and I am so moved and I haven’t even begun reading the poetry yet.
I am so looking forward to that. Really happy for you, BTW!
Thank you, Joyce, for all the kind words. I designed and we put in the garden two years ago and not long after that, I was laid off so I was able to give some time to it while I made that adjustment.
This family story has been so intense, in a good way but still intense.
I hope you enjoy the poems.
I am feeling more and more lost with keeping up on blogs lately and I feel like I’m going backward instead of forward. How do people do it all?