April 01, 2007

My New Identity Crisis: Part 4 - Finding Mama Joyce

From Ruth on November 27th, 2006:

"...five males were born in Humboldt County on 29 December 1963. You might be any one of these or none of them, it's hard to say. But here's the names:

(1) SCOTT B. FORD - mother's name CHAPPELL

(2) WILLIAM D. LIPSCOMB - mother's name GALONIS




"Like I mentioned earlier, it's quite possible that one of the above names might be your original name?"

Take a look at those names, all boys born on my birthday in the county where my birth certificate says I was allegedly born. Does any one of them strike you as possibly belonging to me? I looked them over and didn't see me in any of them, not the first time that this feeling would strike me during this adventure. But, it was a start, I suppose.

Why did your adoptive mother name you Michael, Ruth wanted to know? My simple answer was that my mom told me that I came to her with the name Mike. That's what they called me at the adoption agency. Since I was over two years old and responding to Mike, she said that she and Vernon decided that changing my name would be too confusing. They gave me the middle name of Louis, after Shirley's father. As far as I was concerned, it was another of those stories that revolved around me that couldn't be proven. Examples of these stories were that I was the product of an affair between a milkman and a college professor's wife, and that I had a younger sister in the same adoption agency at the same time as me who was adopted by the singer and Las Vegas showman Robert Goulet's brother.

I told Ruth of Mama Joyce, the mythical woman who had kept me for a number of months and who had wanted to adopt me, but had to give me up. The stories about Mama Joyce came to me from my second set of foster parents, Thelma and Laurence Wills (I called them Tia and Pop), who kept me for three months or so before my adoption but who I kept in regular contact with until their deaths. Mama Joyce, I was told, was planning to adopt me but when she got pregnant, her attachment to me created problems in her marriage. She evidently had given me up to the adoption agency at great emotional cost. Tia and Pop were reluctant to tell me much about her in respect to her privacy, but I think that they had some contact with her. Later, Tia and Pop began to have their own health difficulties and we didn't talk about my past much any more.

About a year and a half ago, Shirley sent me some information about myself that she had kept. Included in the information was a folder with sheets of paper written by Mama Joyce in which she catalogs my likes, dislikes, habits, speech patterns and development -- in a word, everything. Also in the information were two letters written by Mama Joyce in response to a letter that Shirley had written to her not long after my adoption. The letters showed the difficulties that Mama Joyce had in giving me up. She spoke of the excitement upon learning from her husband that a letter had came from Shirley (she was visiting an aunt in Oregon and was not home). She exclaimed how I was such an extraordinary child (her words, not mine!). In a second letter, after she had received the letter and pictures from Shirley, she speaks about how happy she is to see me in a good home, how she knows that I have gone to a good place, and that she can live happy knowing that I will be okay. These letters simply showed the depth of her feeling.

Unfortunately, after I had read them I somehow misplaced them. The letters had given Mama Joyce's last name and an address. Ruth felt that tracking down Mama Joyce would be a key component of the search for my roots. I literally tore the house apart looking for them. It took a couple of weeks, but I eventually found them sitting in a place that was literally in plain sight in our office, scattered amongst the detritus of my dissertation and other office clutter.

With this bit of information, Ruth went to work. She had already been tracking down tenuous leads. With a last name, she was able to first locate some records, but nothing current, and then finally she was able to locate a brother. With my permission, she called this man and explained who I was.

Mama Joyce's brother said he didn't remember me, but if I wrote a letter to her and mailed it to him, he said he would give it to her as she was visiting him soon. So, I wrote a letter explaining who I was and how I found her brother. I included a copy of my earliest photo, and put the envelope unsealed into a larger envelope so that he could look at it if he so chose.

It turned out that Mama Joyce's brother did remember me, and was trying to protect his sister. He knew how she would react when she heard I was trying to reach her. At her visit, he waited until her last night there to tell her about me. When she learned the news, she immediately got on the phone and called Ruth and they spoke. Ruth called me personally with the news that she had made contact, and that Mama Joyce wanted me to call her the following Sunday at home.

Mama Joyce couldn't wait for me to call, and called me herself. We spoke for about a half hour. I gave her a rough sketch of my life. She wanted to know why I wanted to contact her now. I told her that perhaps it was a mid-life crisis, but that I was curious about who I was and where I came from. I had heard the stories about her, and I finally wanted to know what the facts were. I also told her that I was interested in finding out more about my heritage and where I came from.

And then came some words that I was not really expecting, and which really floored me.

"Oh," said Mama Joyce. "Would you like to know the name of your birth mother?"

Next part: My Birth Mother and Baby Pictures

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Blogger Mary B. said...

You found Mama Joyce!! This is like peeling an onion, removing one layer that leads to a new one. Thank you for sharing this important experience in your life, Mike.

7:47 AM  
Blogger Pauline said...

Micheal... I have a question for you... How does it feel to know, that before a woman named Shirley eventually chose you for her own... that there had been two women who too, wanted you as their son? You were not only born to a woman but chosen by two others, and of the three, two had to give you up, despite the heartache and despair that went along with those decisions. Not a lot of people can say that they were wanted by so many.

10:50 AM  

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