Imagine My Surprise

I missed Rene yesterday while wrapping a calendar for a Gift Exchange. Rene was a gift-wrapper of extraordinary talent. Actually, she excelled at several crafts involving small muscle control and an artistic eye. Joe and I framed the baby blanket she crocheted for Michael rather than risk what would most certainly happen to this piece of art in the crib of a newborn.

As you may know, Rene was my travel companion when I started this adventure 3½ years ago. I introduced her to parts of California she had never visited, including Lake Tahoe. It was here that I learned of workamping opportunities with the Tahoe Heritage Museum, where I plan to be this summer.

I mention Rene not to merely mourn her absence, but to write about an unexpected outcome of the memorial blog post I published in April 2014 about her passing. One of the people who read it was a man searching for his birth mother. That man was Rene’s son.

Imagine my surprise when I opened his email.

All I knew (and I had found this out inadvertently 40 years before) was that Rene had a son who she gave up for adoption with the condition he be welcomed into a Jewish family. The last name of the man who contacted me indicated he was a member of the tribe. To protect his identify, I’ll call him RS (for Rene’s son); his wife, RD; his son, RGS; and his daughter, RGD. Yep, there’s a whole mishpocheh (Yiddish for family). Rene was a grandmother.

I forwarded RS’s email to Rene’s oldest sister (Cousin 1) and remembering my shock when I innocently opened it, called to give her a heads-up. If she was surprised I knew about RS, she gave no indication. Based on his birth date, place of birth and other information, Cousin 1 and Rene’s other sister (Cousin 2, aka The Dame) confirmed that yes indeed Rene was his mother. Cousins 1 and 2 sent RS a lovely email identifying themselves as his aunts.

Then the real fun began.

Although we’re a fairly small family, few were aware that Rene had a son. So they had to be told. I found myself in the unusual position of knowing something my brother didn’t. I was exceedingly proud of myself for keeping this secret for as long as I had. I had never told anybody, ever, unless you count my Mom, who is now  92 and anyway had forgotten.

Thus began a flurry of email exchanges between RS and the family, with everyone hitting the highlights of their lives and the various successes of their children. Think glowing Christmas letters summarizing the past 45 years, skipping over any inconvenient developments such as children not staying in touch, multiple divorces, drug addictions and alcoholism.  You know, the usual.

This was followed by actual plans to meet. My brother, Gary, and sister-in-law, Faith, who travel frequently (sometime even together!), would be the first to find themselves in the same city as RS. Naturally they made plans to visit him and his family. Unbeknownst to them, the aunts were somewhat put out that they themselves wouldn’t be the first to meet RS. I explained it probably never occurred to Gary and Faith there would be any feelings of propriety. That just pissed them off more. Fortunately, the aunts finally realized the benefits of  having RS meet the family members with the best social skills. I know I was pleased when my son’s girlfriend was introduced to my family at a Gary and Faith BBQ. They are normal, nice people who live in an actual house, for example, in contrast to my son’s mother (me), a kind of gypsy who travels around in an RV and spins tales. Although I don’t mind not being normal, I understand why my lifestyle might cause my son some concern.

RS and his entire family eventually flew out to Los Angeles to meet his aunts, uncles and assorted cousins. Although I wasn’t there, I understand the visit was a tremendous success. Apparently, RS and his family weren’t put off by effusive people with odd obsessions who constantly interrupt each other. Although I was the conduit and get credit for the family reuniting, I have yet to meet RS. I have, however, seen family photos and the physical resemblance to his parentage is eerie. There is no doubt whatsoever that RS really IS Rene’s son.

Cousin 2 found an envelop of memorabilia when she cleaned out Rene’s room that she was sure Rene kept for her son. Rene had accomplished much of what she had wanted to do when she passed away just short of her 65th birthday. One unfilled wish, however, was to reunite with her son. She had registered with the adoption agency that handled her case, indicating she would welcome contact. Unfortunately, it came too late for her, although not for the rest of us.

close-upIn going through her room, Cousin 2 also found a jean’s jacket that Rene had embroidered. It is now being worn by Rene’s granddaughter.

One final lament on how much I miss traveling with Rene. She was funny and smart and considered everything that happened, whether good or bad, as part of the travel experience. I hold out hope that one day Cousin 2 will find Rene, whose ashes she apparently has misplaced, so that a small part of her can continue traveling with me