April 03, 2007

My New Identity Crisis: Part 5 - My Birth Mother and Baby Pictures

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

I was speechless for second. Ruth had suggested that finding Mama Joyce would be a key to finding out more about myself. However, I had expected clues about me, not names. From talking to Tia and Pop over the years, I knew that foster parents were not supposed to know anything about the birth parents of the children to maintain privacy.

"You have that?" I asked after a moment's silence.

"I have it right here in this book I made," she said.

What else could I say but yes?

"Your name was Michael Wayne Rodger," Mama Joyce said. "Your mother was named Ruby Rodger, and I even have an address for her in Santa Monica, though this was 40 years ago."

I later looked back at the e-mail that Ruth had sent with the names of the five boys born in Humbolt County on my birthday. Sure enough, I had been looking right at Michael W. Rodger in the midst of those. I was one of those boys.

I wrote the name and the address down. Oddly, I was curiously detached at the moment. I had just learned that my mother's name was Ruby, and that I was Michael Wayne. It just didn't fit with what I felt about myself. This was the first moment of disconnect I felt with the whole experience, where my identity crisis began. I was discovering a whole new area of my life to explore, but it was like looking at something through a window -- I just couldn't touch it and feel it yet.

Mama Joyce and I talked for a little while longer. She told me that a woman who used to be a neighbor and who is presently in a nursing home would be very happy to know that she heard from me. She said this woman just loved me, and was very sad when I left. Before we hung up I asked her if she would be willing to see me the next time I got out to her area when I visit my family. She said she would love to. So far I have not been out there yet, but she will be one of the first people I see the next time I'm there.

I e-mailed Ruth about the phone call. She was very glad Mama Joyce and I had talked and felt very good about her role in getting us together, and said she just knew that some good information would come out of it. I passed on the information Mama Joyce gave me about my birth mother. Not only did we have a first name and a last name, but we also had a maiden name thanks to Ruth's original search that first yielded the name of Michael W. Rodger. The information also included "Mother's maiden name Mayle." Ruth began to search again. Meanwhile, after telling my sister this story, she Googled "Ruby Mayle" and turned up a picture. The website that had this picture was put together by a man named Glenn Barnett in Columbus, Ohio, and listed a Ruby Rodger along with a whole host brothers and sisters. According to the website, this Ruby was married to a Alex Rodger, and they had one son, Alex Jr. I had no knowledge of whether this was the same Ruby Rodger that was my birth mother, and I sent an e-mail to him. However, it bounced back to me.

This was to be the first picture I ever saw of my biological mother, Ruby. As I looked at it, I examined it minutely for any semblance of myself in it. I had supposed that if I ever met my biological family, I would look somewhat like them. If this was my mother, I couldn't see myself in her. Again, I felt strangely detached. Where was the connection, and when would I feel it?

Mama Joyce gave me another priceless gift that I didn't expect. She had told me that she had a number of pictures of me when I was with her. I was hoping that when I got to see her, that I would see these pictures. But a few days before Christmas, I received a package from her in the mail. Inside was a gift wrapped item with a small tag that read "Happy Birthday." My birthday was must one week away. The item was a photo album, and it was filled with pictures of me, from 5 months old to two years.

For the first time in this whole process, I really felt emotion. I haven't felt this emotion since then either. Most of this process has left me in a state of detachment. I'm not sure why this is, though I think that I began this search as an exercise in intellectual curiosity. Before the search, there were the "I wonders..." and the "What ifs..." and the "Why..."'s. During the search, one clue seemingly led to another, and it became a kind of puzzle that needed to be solved.

But when I received the photo album from Mama Joyce, the meaning of this enterprise hit home. The photo album is not simply pictures pasted into a book. The album was put together carefully and lovingly. It has captions under the pictures. The first one which reads "6-08-64. Our first baby - Michael Wayne Rodger. Say "ah" Mikie. 5 mos. 26" tall. 15 lbs." There is one that reads "Bye Mom, I'm going for a walk now..." One says "Hi Daddy..." At the end, there was a full, 8½ x 11 family photo. This album was the beginning of a family album. A woman does not use words like "Our baby," "Mom" and "Daddy" if there isn't a familial and emotional bond. Clearly, I was to be part of this family. For some reason, that didn't happen. I hope to question Mama Joyce more about what led her to give me up and see if the reality matches with the stories I've been told. What really jumped out at me from the album, however, was the care, the love, and the emotion conveyed in the album. It all overcame me and flooded me with emotions. A hole had been filled in part of the empty history in my life from birth to 2 years. I wasn't sure what I would do with it, but I felt good about it. Given my dysfunctional family life over the years, where unconditional love becomes in many ways "conditional," to know that I was unconditionally loved by someone during my most formative period made me feel very blessed -- how many orphaned children who aren't adopted until they are over 2 years old can say the same?

Meanwhile, Ruth was busy working through what seemed to me to be an almost magical genealogical process. She soon e-mailed me with more information. Ruby was born in 1923 in West Virginia, and died in California in 1997. There was no information on how she got from West Virginia to California, though her Social Security number was apparently obtained in Ohio. She was married to an Alexander Rodger. Apparently, there were four children by this marriage, three boys and a girl. These children would apparently be my siblings. A divorce with Alexander went through in 1962.

The fact that she had apparently passed on made me pause for a moment. I would never be able to meet and talk with my mother. I had many questions that couldn't be explained by official records. For example, what led Ruby to divorce? The fact that she was divorced in 1962, before my birth, still left more questions. My birth father was listed as "unknown" in the records. It could have been Alexander, but probably not since I was born at the end of 1963, so most likely my father was somebody other than Alexander Rodger. Who was he, and what was he like? Why, if Ruby lived in the LA area, did she travel several hours north to Eureka to give birth to me? Why did she give me up for adoption? Did the children have any idea that I exist? Most of them would have been old enough to know something, it seems. Would they accept me if I came into their lives? These and a host of questions were swirling around my brain.

Then, this missive from Ruth:

"I just spoke with your brother, Bob....He told me that you can feel free to contact him any time. That there is probably a lot you'd like to know about your mother and there might be some information on your biological father, too??....He does not appear to have any issues with your birth."

Next up: My new brother

Photo 1: Ruby Mayle, my biological mother

Photo 2: Michael Wayne Rodger, my earliest photo (5 months old)

Photo 3: What might have been...the Rice family circa 1964 - William, Joyce, Michael.

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Blogger Mary B. said...

Those baby photo comments made me tear up. And now you may have a brother?! This is facinating for me, but this has got to be kind of a raw spot for you Mike. I can't imagine how you must feel, especially when I'm only learning the story thought bits and pieces and you're living it! Until next time!

10:34 AM  
Blogger Michael L. Hess said...

I don't know if it's a raw spot, but I'm not sure that I have fully taken in all the implications of it. There's still more coming!

12:46 PM  

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