Teresa dug into my DNA matches along with me and I deeply appreciated the effort. She was the one person willing to work with me on this impossible task and thus, could always follow my train of thought in trying to solve my case. We were still feeling our way with understanding DNA and not getting a lot of traction. The people that I DNA matched either didn’t have a family tree on Ancestry, or they had a lousy one. I finally got two paternal fourth cousin DNA matches that matched me and each other at 23andMe and I excitedly reached out to both of them. One never answered; the other one told me that she’d let me see her family tree as soon as she had “fixed it;” whatever that meant. I was matching her mother’s branch, this I knew because her mother had tested, too. Over the years, she would drop me a line from time to time, wondering if I’d found my father. I’d tell her that I hadn’t and she’d say that she was, “still working on her tree” but she’d let me see it, “soon.”
I’m still waiting.
Out of sheer frustration with her, Teresa and I created a tree for her using Google and census records. We knew the connection was back around her great-great-great grandparents, so we took the tree back to the year 1800 and included absolutely everyone this woman could possibly be related to on her maternal side from then (1800) to now. It felt like an “ah-ha!” moment when one of her branches trailed off into Maine. The problem was, we just couldn’t get anyone on her tree to Androscoggin County, where I was born. All of her relatives were all dilly-dallying out in Knox County. Useless.
At this point, I decided to take a different approach with my mom. Rather than asking hard, specific questions about my father’s identity, I’d ask more chatty, general ones. I figured if I could get her talking, maybe some wonderful, case-cracking detail would fall out of her mouth.
“So how long did you date my father, anyway?” I asked one day while we were alone together, having coffee, sitting around my dining room.
“Not very long.” She casually answered.
“Like a couple of hours?” I laughed.
“No,” she chuckled. “A little more than that, Laurie.”
“Were you dating him when President Kennedy was shot?” The helpful thing about being conceived around the time a President is assassinated is that everyone knows exactly what they were doing at the time.
“Oh, no. I hadn’t met him yet,” she replied.
“Christmas, 1963. Were you dating him then?” I asked.
“No, your dad and I were still together that Christmas.”
Using a handy reverse pregnancy calculator I’d found on the Internet, I knew my conception took place at some point around January 19th-ish. If she wasn’t dating this guy at Christmas, it sure narrowed down the length of the relationship. Then, I remembered the story of my conception being tied to the furnace breaking down. “Wait, were you dating him when the furnace broke and you decided to get back together with Fred?”
“Yeah, well…that,” she said, her voice trailing off as she brushed away the non-existent crumbs from the table with her hand; a little tidying habit she had when she was organizing her thoughts.
“I’m all ears,” I said.
“Yes, I was dating him when the furnace broke. But, I did go out with my girlfriends and your grammy that night, just like I’ve told you. And your dad, Fred, was watching the boys…all true,” she began.
“What’s the part that isn’t true?” I asked.
“Well, I went out with my girlfriends and came home to the broken furnace. Your dad and I bundled up the boys and we went to a motel. The thing is, it was the weekend and Tim was supposed to be in Massachusetts, you know, where he lived. He was only in Maine on weekdays. For whatever reason, he was in Maine that weekend and tracked me down where your dad and I were staying. He called me there. At the motel! Back then there weren’t individual phones in the rooms; at least not in motels in Maine anyway. You had to take phone calls at the front desk, thank God. Someone came up to the room to tell me I had a phone call. I thought it was your Grammy. It was Tim. He wanted to know why I hadn’t called him to let him know about the furnace so he could’ve helped me. I never thought about calling him. It wasn’t his problem. Plus, you know, your dad was there with the boys and everything. I wasn’t going to call Tim. Anyway, I told him that I had second thoughts about my marriage; that I didn’t want to take the boys away from their dad, and that I was going back to Fred. He was having none of it. He said that if I was going to break it off with him, I was going to do it in person. He said he coming right over!”
“What?!” I exclaimed.
“Right? I told him that there was no way he was coming over to the motel; your dad was there! He said he didn’t care who was there. He was coming over to talk to me. That was that. He was driving right over and I better have myself outside of that motel or he was coming in!”
“Holy crap! What did you do?”
“What do you think I did? I don’t know what cockamamie story I gave your dad about where I was going, but you better believe I was outside of that motel to meet him.”
“This is insane!” I laughed. It wasn’t lost on me that she had to have remembered this little footnote every time the story of my conception was told. Of course she did. And if she remembered it, she had to have always known that there was chance I wasn’t Fred’s daughter. “Wait,” I began, “my conception was after the furnace broke…are you implying that this last meet-up is when I was conceived?”
“Yes, I think so,” she said.
“Wow!” I laughed. “I feel like I’m Marty McFly or something with my existence resting on whether or not you’d kiss the right guy at the, “Enchantment Under the Sea” dance.”
“So, if he didn’t push hard to see you that night,” I said, “I wouldn’t be here at all what with you wanting to break up with people over the phone. Really, mom. Over the phone? How impersonal and ill-mannered of you. I’m glad he was tenacious!”
“Tenacious?” she chuckled, “Yeah, that’s a good word for him.”
“I don’t know how you’re not angry with your mom,” Teresa said, after I told her about the conversation with my mother, “She had to know all along. Ugh! I’m furious with her for you!”
I was angry that she wasn’t providing a correct name and enough detail so I could find my father. Absolutely, I was. I wasn’t sure what I was going to do when I found him, but I needed to find him with every fiber of my being. Angry about the rest? Not-so-much. What was she supposed to do? Run off and marry this guy she had known for a couple of weeks? Call him on the phone after she’d broken up with him to tell him, “I think this child I’m pregnant with might be yours.” There was no DNA test to take in 1964 and no home pregnancy test to take the first day of a missed period. Women didn’t skip over to the doctor to take a blood test unless they were darn sure they were pregnant. How many missed periods would that take? I figured about two. How would she know for certain which of the two of them was my dad? At best, it would be supposition and my mother was far more practical than that. She’d do whatever she thought was the right thing to do at the time and that was to assume Fred was my dad and just go with it. It would’ve been for the best that she just forget the brief relationship with my father; like it never happened at all. So, that’s exactly what she did.
If this were a perfect world with infallible people that always make the best choices in every situation, I wouldn’t exist. And neither would a whole lot of other people. I’m happy to be here and whatever life my father has had, that life was meant to be every bit as much as my life was meant to be. If it took him threatening a bunch of drama, insisting that my mother break up with him in person for me to be here well, I guess that’s what it took. I didn’t particularly like that she had spent 47 years withholding this information from me, but at least now I could understand why: she did the only sensible thing she could do at the time.
I also learned something else: my father was a loose a cannon, at least in his youth.
And I liked that about him.
Perpetually curious. I love history, genealogy, old movies, good books, all sorts of music, and adventures involving travel. In my spare time, I help admin a genetic genealogy Facebook page for CeCe Moore ("DNA Detectives") and coach people how to connect with their biological family using DNA.