My brother called me one afternoon and said, “You aren’t going to believe this.” I felt a heaviness in my chest, a feeling of dread filled me. “Oh my God, what.” It had to be something bad.
Well, it wasn’t bad at all! Turns out, the state of Ohio had opened its’ sealed adoption files. They’d been sealed forever, keeping my brother and I from finding out who our deceased mother’s biological mom was. Until now! OMG!
The records office in Ohio told him over the phone that we would have to be there in person to receive the documents. Maybe it’s because the adopted person was deceased. I don’t know. But it didn’t take us long to make the decision to hop on the next flight from Nashville to Columbus. My brother’s wife decided to stay behind, which made me secretly and selfishly happy. I felt like this was our journey alone, just like it had been since 1988.
On the plane ride over, we could not stop talking about all of the possibilities that may or may not lay ahead. Our mother had no knowledge whatsoever about her biological family. She told me once that when she would ask questions about it, her adopted mother, Helen, as well as her two aunts, would shame her and harshly discourage her from bringing up the subject. They all died a long time ago. Before Mom died she confided with a little smile that she was thinking about looking for her birth mother. That’s why we had to find her.
After we landed, we got in the rental car at the airport in Columbus and headed straight to the adoption records office. We rushed as if someone were chasing us, we had to hurry. Hurry! We had gone so long without knowing, but all of the sudden it felt urgent. We pulled into the parking lot and the sign said to go to the second floor. There it is! First door on the right! We walked up to the little woman sitting behind the long, tall, desk. All the ladies back there looked like bank tellers, each at their assigned spot, with their little name plate neatly displayed on top of the worn wood. My brother went to the first lady and told her we were there to pick up our mother’s adoption papers.
We had to hold the form at the same time, him on one side, me on the other. We had to read it together. Walking down the hall we read, “Mary Ann Dean. Birth mother.” “Faith Mary” was the name filled in where it said “Baby Name.” Faith Mary! Her birth name was Faith Mary! She would’ve loved that.
We sat in the little rental car in the parking lot going over every square inch of that piece of paper. Where it asked for the name of the father, it was blank. We weren’t really surprised at that. It did give Mary Ann’s date of birth, address, and place of employment along with our mom’s birth weight and date of birth. We could see that her mother was 21 years old when she had her, she was a secretary, and she had given birth at St. Mary’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio. Wait a minute! It said Mary Ann’s address was in Warren, Ohio! Her biological mother lived in Warren? But that’s where mom grew up with her adopted family!
Okay, that’s so weird. We were to stay in Ohio two nights before we would catch our flight back to Nashville, so we decided we’d have to spend the first night in Warren!
The trip took almost three hours. We’d had a long day, so we pulled of the interstate in the middle of nowhere to find a motel. We hadn’t passed an exit in miles, so we crossed our fingers that this exit would have a place to sleep. It did. A Waffle House and a motel. Like peanut butter and jelly. The motel was one of those two story jobs, with the walkway and handrail on the outside of the building, overlooking the parking lot. It looked kind of iffy, but we were tired. We were told our room was on the second floor, so we hauled our bags up the dirty cement stairs and rounded the corner. There was a door with the yellow hazard tape stretched across the doorway in a big X. There was a piece of paper attached to it from the county health department, warning the public not to enter due to contamination. Our room was right next door. Yay!
Needless to say, we didn’t get a lot of sleep. We got back on the road pretty early the next morning. When our stomachs started grumbling around noon, we pulled off and stopped at a little diner to eat breakfast. I was well aware that we were in Ohio, which is a northern, or “yankee” state, to us southerners. My dad used to joke with our mom about her being a yankee, marrying an old southern boy. She easily earned country girl status, though, when she learned how to make fried chicken from our grandmother. I swear, I’d never tell my granny, but that yankee student surpassed the teacher!
We’re looking over the menu when our waitress came over to get our order. I thought it would be a funny private joke between my brother and I if I thickened up my southern accent for the waitress. For reasons I can’t explain, instead, I turned my country accent all the way up to a full-blown Hee-Haw Variety Show. “How much for them flap-jacks ya got thur? They shore do look deelicious!” I thought I was being so funny and that my bro would think it was hilarious, us being country folks up here in yankee territory.
“Are you making fun of my accent?”, the waitress asked me point blank. I looked up at her confused stare. I glanced nervously over at my brother, and I could tell immediately that he wasn’t going to be any help. His amused eyes and smirk said, “You’re on your own, sister.” I looked back up at the waitress and blurted out as fast as I could, “No! No! Actually, I was making fun of our accents! We’re from Tennessee, and people comment on our southern accents all the time, and I was just being stupid! I’m so sorry! I don’t even know what your accent sounds like! No! Not making fun of you!!!”
“Oh ok, well, I’m from Alabama, so people make fun of my accent all the time,” the young waitress said. Oh my god, I could have crawled under that formica table and died. After she walked away, Billy looked at me and was grinning from ear to ear. He chuckled as he said, “You just made the biggest ass out of yourself!” Yes. Yes, I did.
I was looking forward to seeing the town mom grew up in. The adoption papers had her parents’ address on it, so we knew where to look for her old house. Warren was a town that once was. Huge factories lay empty and dark. Old businesses had long since closed, and it just looked hollow and sad. It didn’t take us too long to find mom’s childhood home. We had brought some pictures from home of mom, and luckily there was a couple of her old house. It was neat to compare the two, and not a whole lot had changed in the modest little red brick house. It was in a typical cookie cutter neighborhood, where the streets looked like a dozen tic-tac-toe games, dotted in the corners with red stop signs, in almost perfect symmetry.
Mom rarely talked about her mother, Helen. But I do remember her telling me how strict she was, and that she grew up very lonely. She never did have any brothers and sisters. She recalled that as a child, her mom would let her go down the street to play, only as far as the closest stop sign, no further. I could see now that the closest stop sign was only four houses away. The other children would zig and zag across backyards, over driveways, and fly circles around telephone poles. “Just be home by dinnertime”, their moms would say. I can’t imagine being as confined as Mom was. She must’ve felt like a bird in a cage.
Now that we’d seen mom’s old house, it was time to find this Mary Ann person’s house. We pulled out the ole folded map to help us find our way. We found the street name at the bottom of the map, it told us what letter and what number to look for. We’d find it in the middle of where they crossed. Our index fingers made a line up the page to her street.
We just sat there in silence and disbelief as we stared at the paper map. I looked over at my brother, my face mirroring his expression of, “What the hell”? Mary Ann’s house was only three blocks over from our mother’s. They literally lived in the same neighborhood! We were in shock. No way.
Sure enough, Mary Ann’s house was just a few minutes away. A right turn, a left turn, and we’re there. We sat there and stared at the house, trying to drink it all in. I think we said “Oh my God”, and “I just can’t believe”, and “Do you think that…” a hundred times. How could Mary Ann live so close to her daughter and not know it? Did the adopted parents know that the birth mother was so close and that’s why they wouldn’t let mom go further than the street sign? Did the adopted parents and the birth mother know each other? Surely not! That’s crazy! Right?
Mentally drained, we decided we’d find a place to stay the night. We just needed to regroup. We found a nice hotel that was free from contamination. As soon as we got in the room, we threw our bags down and flopped down on our beds. We went over the whole day, the adoption papers, the two houses, and of course had a good laugh about the diner. It occurred to us that it was possible, not likely, but possible, that this Mary Ann still lived in Warren. What if we got the phone book, and looked up and called anyone that had that last name? Worth a shot, right?
I sat on the bed in the hotel room and found the phone book in the bedside table where it always is. That and the Bible. Billy sat in the chair right next to me and anxiously watched me flip through the thin pages. The small phone book had four people listed with that last name. I picked up the receiver and began dialing. The first person with the last name Dean picked up and said hello. “I’m calling for a Mary Ann Dean,” I said. Wrong number. Second listing was also a wrong number. Third listing was a Bart Deneen. “I’m calling for a Mary Ann Dean,” I said for the third time. A shaky male voice said, “My sister was Mary Ann Dean.”
TO BE CONTINUED…