Ovid (publius_ovidius) wrote,

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Nothing Like a Little Fear to Spice up Christmas

This is a rather long post of little interest to anyone outside of my immediate friends. I'm recording it here mainly so that I can write it down immediately after it happened lest I forget too many details.

This was my first Christmas in twenty years spent with my family. Watching my half-sister, Lynne, introduce her mother and father to one another — only appropriate since they had never met — gave me a sense of just how difficult our family history has been. Of course, while it seems strange to me, it might even seem incomprehensible to the casual reader, so with the permission of the parties I spent Christmas with, I've decided to finally write out what little I know about how this strange situation arose.

Unfortunately, what I do know is often filled with strongly contradictory accounts. Some differences may arise from maliciousness, but most, I suspect (hope?) are merely due to memories fading over time. I'll never quite know the truth of any of this, but I'm close enough to it to be content. Or perhaps I'm merely tired of guessing. Who knows? What follows is what I think happened. Some of you know bits of this, so my apologies for being repetitive (and you might recognize bits I've left out).

In late 1966 or early 1967, my mother, father, and sister lived in Gourock, Scotland. My parent's marriage was not going well. What Jim did not know was that mom had previously spent time in a mental institution (since converted to a prison) in Pendleton, Oregon. Somehow, no one in my family thought to mention this to him. In Scotland, it was clearly making itself felt. The last straw, as far as I can tell, was mom repeatedly leaving my sister Gayle with the proprietor of a burger stand and taking off. No one knew where she went. My father, Jim, a Polaris Missile Technician with a high security clearance, was under increasing pressure from the Navy to sort out his personal problems so he finally sent mom home (note: this is one bit of the story I have heard several conflicting accounts on — including one version where mom was deported — so it's the one that I'm least clear on). Mom went to stay with (or near) Jim's mother in Fort Worth, Texas and it wasn't until Jim visited several months later that he knew he had another son — me.

(Note: He previously had a son with my mother, but that son died at only a few months old. Jim had another son in Fort Worth, but that son died in the 80s, apparently hunting rabbits. No one is sure if it was a hunting accident, suicide, or murder.)

While Jim states that he had no knowledge that his wife was pregnant with me and didn't know he was again a father until mom presented him with me, the situation is further muddied by the birth of my half-sister, Lynne. She's two weeks younger than I am — a short mathematical exercise in constructing awkward family trees. Mom did not know about Lynne, though she may have known about Liz, the woman Jim was seeing at the time. And while not offered by way of an excuse but mentioned nonetheless, from my personal observations of mom, her boyfriends (all enjoyed while she was married and sometimes while they were married), and the things she has told me, I've never known her to be faithful to any man, so I suspect the odds that she was faithful to Jim are quite small.

Three years later, Jim had fathered another child, my half-brother Greg. However, he and Liz had split up around that time and Jim was no longer living in Scotland. I don't recall all of what Jim said and much of it is complicated, but he came back at one point, found the flat that Liz was living in empty, paid off the landlord and returned to Moscow, where he was living at the time. At some point in this he found out that Lynne and Greg were living with foster parents (the parents that Lynne and Greg were raised with) and elected to agree to let his children be adopted, figuring that trying to take the children to Moscow and follow around in his life wouldn't be good for either him or the children.

Moving along finds me in my teens, hearing that I had a half-brother in Fort Worth who had just died. I hadn't really thought much about family at that time, but I did wonder if Jim knew about this. I had never known Jim or heard from him. I've never had much of a father figure aside from the various men wending their way in and out of mom's life, but I started to wonder about him. When I was 21 (1988), I finally decided to track him down. It only took a few hours and after a bit of time, I found myself on the phone speaking to a cousin I didn't know I had. She was probably about 12 years old or so, which explains why she was so ready to believe who I am, but she read off Jim's address from a postcard her family had received the previous Christmas. Then I heard someone else enter the room and it was my uncle Ronnie, another relative I didn't know I had. He spoke to me on the phone and assured me that they hadn't heard from Jim in many years.

A quick phone call to West German information gave me Jim's phone number and we spoke for the first time. It was awkward and strained, but I called him a couple of times over the following years, just trying to keep in touch. It was not until 1995 that it finally occurred to me to ask the obvious question: do I have any other brothers and sisters? Jim mentioned my brother Lewis, but said he didn't know how to contact him. Given the information Jim had given me, I decided to find my brother.

It's not that I searched day and night, but I did try over the years to track him down. It was in 1997 or 1998 that I finally found an address that could have been his mother's (Valerie). I considered writing, but I had no idea what she would think, if the woman at the address was really Lewis' mother, or if she would even give Lewis the letter. I tried calling information, but Valerie's number was ex-directory (unlisted), so I thought I was stuck. In 1999, I was checking out Active Worlds — then known as Alpha World — and ran across someone from the UK and explained a bit of my story and asked if he had any ideas. He asked me to wait an a bit later came back with a phone number that he said was for the neighboring address to Valerie's (I really wish I could remember who this person was so I could write to him and thank him). I called the number, explained the situation, and half an hour later, Lewis was on the phone talking to me. In October of 1999, I flew over and met my brother for the first time. Despite a bit of initial awkwardness, we got along fabulously and those who've met us say the family resemblance is clear.

It was during this stay when I found out that we had two other siblings, gender unknown, who had been given up for adoption in Scotland. I tried to find them, but not knowing their names, I came up empty-handed. I even filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the US Navy in an attempt to find out more about Jim's time in Scotland, but they replied that they did not have records going back that far.

It was about a year and a half ago that the breakthrough happened. Unbeknownst to me, Lynne had also been looking for her family. She had always known she had been adopted and was curious about who her biological father was. After a bit of research, she managed to find him via the Simon Lake Association, the ship he was stationed with in Scotland.

She sent an email to the man she thought might be her father and tells me that in the evening, she had an inbox with mail from our father Jim, a new brother in London, a new sister in Texas, and from myself, in Oregon. She tells me she cried and I easily appreciate how overwhelming such a situation could be.

While it was wonderful to have so many brothers and sisters back in touch, the fly in the ointment was our brother, Greg. He had grown up with Lynne but, unlike her, didn't grow up knowing he was adopted. How this happened I really can't say, but it was only a couple of years ago that Lynne told him and he's had quite a struggle with it. He didn't want to speak to me on the phone, didn't want to meet our father and begged off his first meeting with our brother Lewis. Eventually he did meet Lewis and they hit it off well. One down, two to go.

When I first moved to the UK, about 6 months ago, I finally met Greg — it was impossible to avoid since I was staying with him and his mother — and one comment we have heard several times is how unsettling it is to see us interact as we're both so similar in how we talk, think, and act (the comment's also been made about Lewis and myself). Since we've met, Greg and I have spent more than one evening, looking up at the clock and realized that it was four or five in the morning and we've blown the entire evening drinking, smoking, and sharing stories we're unlikely to share in other company.

And this brings us to Christmas. Lynne invited Jim and myself to spend to spend Christmas with herself, Greg, and their mother Nellie (Nellie's husband has recently passed away). Lynne also invited Lewis, but he couldn't be here at the same time. However, Lynne and Greg's mother, Nellie, was not happy at the thought of her children's biological father being there. She finally relented when she realized that Jim had no one to spend Christmas with, but Greg was also rather uncomfortable about this. After all, who the hell is Jim, this mysterious father who's not been part of our lives for over three decades?

On the Saturday morning before Christmas, Lynne and I drove to the airport. We were extremely concerned about how Christmas was going to work out, but the die had already been cast. Jim was on his way and we'd sort things out as they arose.

After picking Jim up, we drove back to Newcastle under Lyme and Lynne introduced her parents to one another. They were both polite, no fireworks, but not wild enthusiasm, either. As the day wore on, things gradually relaxed and we waited for Greg to show up. Greg, it turns out, was a bit late. He finally met showed up, shook his father's hand and eventually warmed up to him. Later Jim privately thanked Nellie for everything she had done for Lynne and Greg and everyone got on very well. It was, all things considered, a wonderful Christmas and all involved were quite happy with it.

One terrible note about all of this is the last year or so for our father, Jim. The woman he has loved and lived with the last 20+ years, Brenda, recently passed away from a brain tumor. That's when Jim discovered a horrible quirk of German law. Jim has no legal rights to their combined assets other than what he can prove he paid for directly. One of Brenda's brothers, an ex-con who served time in a French prison for armed robbery, immediately hired lawyers to seize all of the assets he could. In fact, at one point lawyers were suing my brother Lewis for a large amount of money in an attempt to recover the child support that Jim had paid — apparently it was paid from a joint account. Though that was dropped, Jim has lost most of the assets that he and Brenda had acquired and can no longer afford to retire. He's lost his retirement fund and the woman he loved, and gained an unknown family in return.

Tags: family, language, my past, personal
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