April 11, 2007

My New Identity Crisis: Part 8 - To Go or Not to Go, That is the Question

Well, this is (temporarily) the last of my suddenly 8 part series about my new identity crisis, though I will periodically keep you updated on my adventures in discovering new things about my life from this point onward. After all, I still have to have my meeting with my half-brother Bob, I need to meet the legendary Mama Joyce, and there are a few other things that still need to be learned, such as tracking down the lady-killing milkman, my biological father Andy.

For this last post, however, I will explain my current dilemma. My newfound cousin, Diana Jones, told me over the phone that there will be a Mayle family reunion in Ohio on June 16th. At the reunion will be my biological mother Ruby's last two remaining siblings, my new aunts Garnett and Maxine.

A couple of weeks ago, Bob told me that I should call Maxine. He had told her about me and she was anxious to talk to me and was expecting my call. I mentioned this to Diana over e-mail, and she called me to give me the "lay of the land" in terms of talking with Maxine. This was helpful, or I might have stepped early on a couple of land mines. However, Diana also encouraged me to call Maxine. She reiterated that talking to her will be as close to talking to my biological mother as I would be able to get. After talking with Diana, I planned to call Maxine on the following weekend.

I put the call through on a Sunday afternoon. Again, I was a bit tongue-tied at the beginning and all I came out with was "Hi, I'm Michael Hess, and I have recently discovered that I am the son of your sister Ruby. I guess that makes you my aunt." Maxine responded, "well, I guess that does." She proceeded to welcome me to the family.

Maxine is in her 70s, and lives now in a town just outside of Cleveland, Ohio. She told me that she misses West Virginia, and would love to live there again but her kids and grandkids are all close in Ohio so she stays there. In a way, I understood her quite a bit. She reminds me of a combination of my adoptive mother Shirley, and Shirley's mother. She has reached an age where she tells things like she sees them and isn't apologetic about it. We spoke for about a half hour. She told me that Bob is a wonderful guy, and that when he came to visit they drove to her and Ruby's old hometown in West Virginia. She related some stories. She's very sensitive about how outsiders view people from where she's from, which makes sense if you read the previous post. She said that she told Bob on their drive down that he should get out of this head the notion that people there are like hillbillies and walk around barefoot. She told me that no sooner had she said this than they rounded a curve, and there was some guy sitting on the porch of his house, smoking his pipe and his bare feet up on the porch railing!

We talked about my mother, and my biological father. "I've met your father," she said, "Ruby brought him out here once. I don't think he like me very much."

Why, I asked?

"I run a decent house," she said. "They were unmarried, and I didn't want that to be an example to my children. So I made them sleep separately. I don't think he liked that too much."

"Well, it was your house and your rules," I said. "Good for you for sticking to them!"

Like Diana, she invited me to the family reunion.

My problem is this. I am going to El Salvador for about a month starting in early May. I will be coming back on June 9th, just a week prior to the reunion. The week after the reunion, I will be heading to California for a good friend's wedding (Go EB!!!!), and a possible meeting with Bob. I'm not sure that I can afford another trip to the Midwest, both in time and expenses. However, I also am keenly aware that these remaining links to my birth mother are getting older, and that you never know how long these opportunities will be around. So, I'm quite torn at the moment between going and not going.

I would appreciate any thoughts you have on the matter. I'm sure that these meetings will happen sooner or later, but it's difficult to say whether I should bite the bullet and get it all done now.

So, here's the synopsis just so you can remember the journey we've traveled so far. I went searching for family history on my adopted father's side. In the process, I met a person who helped me find that history, and offered to look into my adoption and that story. With her help, we managed to uncover the identity of my birth mother, which led to the discovery of a half-brother and sister, a new family and a new family history and heritage to explore. I've been accepted as one of that family, and now I am struggling with the pace of learning more and meeting people in that family.

The final thing I am asking myself at this point is "Who am I?" Am I Michael Wayne Rodger, born to Ruby Rodger and a part of all that history? Am I Michael Louis Hess, who was raised by Vernon and Shirley, with all that good and bad history. Am I Mike, raised for a year and a half by Mama Joyce who clearly was responsible for some of my most formative years? Am I a combination of all of those? What has turned me into the person I am today? As I move forward, how do I approach these questions? Will I come to emotionally feel my connection to all of this, rather than experiencing all these new revelations as a purely intellectual curiousity? The way that I relate to the world and myself seems to be in the balance, and I quite haven't made sense of what it means. It's confusing and exciting all at the same time. I just hope that my emotions someday catch up.

Photo 1: Diana Jones and former Green Bay Packer Wally Mahle - both newfound cousins.

Photo 2: My new aunts and uncle, Garnett, Charles (deceased) and Maxine, circa 1999.

Photo 3: 2006 Mayle family reunion.

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Blogger Mary B. said...

This has been a great series of blogs, Mike. You've stirred up a lot of questions that only you can answer, but you have also have found a lot of opportunities. Cool.
As for the reunion, think of it this way. The El Salvador trip will keep you too busy to worry about the reunion and the wedding afterwards will let you unwind with good friends. See you in California!!

8:41 AM  

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