April 18, 2007

I Have Bifocals

Okay, I've officially joined the old geezer club. I now have bifocals. No, there isn't a line separating the two lenses -- they're much more sophisticated than that -- but it's noticeable to me. I get a slight buzz moving my head back and forth, especially watching the computer screen, and seeing it go all wavy when different areas of the lense move across the screen.

But hey, there's a bright side...they have cool magnetic snap on shades!

The picture at left is me in my new shades. The girl? I couldn't keep her off me after I picked them up. I gotta shake her loose before Megan gets home!

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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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April 06, 2007

My New Identity Crisis: Part 7 - I'm a What?

"It may come as somewhat of a surprise to many to learn that there exists in the northern counties of (West Virginia) a racial island of mixed bloods, known locally as 'Guineas,' numbering several thousand persons. The origin of this mixed race is unrecorded, and the relative proportion of white, Negro and Indian blood entering into its makeup is difficult to ascertain....It is difficult to find a completely acceptable term to designate these mixed people. Stigmatized by white public opinion as a sort of outcast group, they dislike and resent any designation used by outsiders for themselves.

"The family names of the Guineas are limited in number and are the most important
items for identification of members. The characteristic names are Adams, Collins, Croston, Dalton, Dorton, Kennedy, Male, Miner or Minard, Newman, Norris and Prichard. of these by far the most frequent in occurrence is Male....The Males, who also spell their name as Mayle, Mail and Mahle, trace their descent back to an ancestor who was said to have come over from England during colonial times. One observer thinks that there may be some connection between the Males and the Malay Race. It is said, moreover, that in the Male clan the white and Indian is much more prominent than the Negro.

"A considerable period of isolation must be assumed to account for the long-continued inbreeding which has characterized the Guineas for a number of generations. "According to West Virginia law white schools are to be separate from colored. For at least 30 years the Guinea children have been attending schools separate from the white....Apparently no Negroes attend these Guinea Schools and there are several Negro schools in the two counties also.

"The contempt of some of the neighboring white people for the Guineas is marked. They are regarded as the dregs of society, as outcasts of little consequence or importance. Others among the whites feel much more sympathetic toward the Guineas and speak of them as capable people when they are given opportunities for advancement. The chief complaints which one hears made are chicken-thieving, bootlegging of illicit liquor, and similar derelictions.

"Permanent migration out of Barbour and Taylor Counties has been recommended by local white officials as they best solution for the individual Guinea. By moving to a community in which there is no knowledge of the Guineas as a group it is quite possible for the individual to pass into the white classification in many instances."

Excerpts from Gilbert, Jr., William Harlen,"Mixed Bloods of the Upper Monongahela Valley, West Virginia." Journal of the Washington Academy of Sciences 36(1): 1-13.

Irish, English, German and French Canadian. That's what I was. Whenever I asked my mom (Shirley Hess) what nationality I was, that's what I was told. Pretty white bread, if you ask me. Nothing really exciting there. I mean, sure, the Irish history and all has been very exciting for me to explore as an adult -- all the mayhem, blood, fighting, repression and such. But I've only appreciated it as an adult. And the German history -- they always seemed to be the troublemakers of Europe starting from the time the various tribes periodically sacked Rome, all the way up through Nazi Germany. That was pretty exciting too, even as a kid, but the Germans were always the bad guys. The English always seemed staid and boring to me. Sure they built a great empire and gave us Shakespeare, but as a kid I couldn't get excited over it. French Canadian? What did that mean? Did that mean I was French, or Canadian?

So, imagine my surprise when I learned that my birth mother, Ruby Rodger, was originally Ruby Mayle from West Virginia, and that she was from a group of people called the "Guineas." The Guineas are roughly equivalent to other ridge dwelling peoples of the eastern mountains of America stretching from West Virginia down through Kentucky and Tennessee. Similar groups of people are called "Melungeons" in Kentucky and Tennessee. They were generally the "backwoods" people, awfully poor, and generally scorned by the rest of society.

The difficulty for the Guineas was the taint of non-white blood. In this society, and we even see this today, unenlightened people still consider it a defect if you're less than white. The Guineas, according to Bob and other accounts, certainly had Indian in them. There is also strong evidence that some mixing with blacks also occurred. Today, up in the Chestnut Ridge area of West Virginia, you can find families, all with the same last name, whose people look pure white, pure black and everything in between. Bob told me that even within his own family, he looks pretty white, his younger brother had blond very curly hair, and his sister looks very Indian. "A motley, mixed race crew," he proclaimed us.

Bob has introduced me to Diana Jones, a first cousin on my birth mother's side. Diana's mother, Ruby's sister also came from West Virginia, got married and moved to Oklahoma. Diana lives in North Texas. Diana is also a prominent Mayle family genealogist. When Bob sent me a bunch of pictures of his family, I told him "I don't think I look like any of you." Bob sent a few more pictures. He said "I think you look like my son, Jesse." He also sent some other family pictures from the past, and sent a picture of one Thomas Male, who he said was our most African-American looking ancestor. As I was looking through the pictures, I could see some resemblance to Bob's son, but the picture of Thomas really struck Megan and I as resembling me in certain ways. Megan pointed out the nose, the blue eyes (they look gray in the black and white photograph), the line of the jaw and even the forehead. Above are the pictures of Jesse, me and Thomas Male. What do you think?

I guess the question is what do I think? Well, I am actually kind of excited to have my blood and heritage spiced up like this. I have only visited West Virginia once -- I drove through on a business trip and stopped at the fabulous New River Gorge to look and take pictures, but it left a great impression on me. I also visited Appalachia twice, Hazard Kentucky to be specific, and really felt an affinity to the place. Perhaps subconscious memories of my ancestors' environment were haunting me at the time. Being able to say that I have Indian, and perhaps even African-American, blood doesn't bother me in the least. I like the fact that I can explore this brand new heritage. However, I must be careful with my new family. Diana warned me that some members of the Mayle family, particularly older members, are not ready to talk about some aspects of their lineage. It's much easier for them to accept Indian heritage than black heritage. In the case of the older members, being labeled as "colored," being victims of discrimination, being labeled and outcast has left raw open wounds. I don't necessarily want to poke at any of these. Slowly, Diana and other younger members of the Mayle family are pushing for the Mayles to embrace their history, but it takes time and old feelings and secrets are hard to change.

At least I know that I'm a little more complex than Irish, English, German and French Canadian. And that's kind of fun, don't you think?

Next up: To go or not to go, that is the question

Photo 1: Thomas Male, probably late 1800s or early 1900s?

Photo 2: Jesse Rodger, Bob Rodger's son (and my nephew, I guess!)

Photo 3: Do I look more exciting to you now?

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April 04, 2007

My New Identity Crisis: Part 6 -- My New Brother

How was I to approach my new brother? He was interested in hearing from me, so that was good. But what would I say to him? Hi, I'm your brother Mike? Hey Bro? Bruuuuuutherrrrrrrrr!!!!!!??? It was hard for me to work up the nerve to contact him and I didn't think I could do it by phone right away. Since Ruth had forwarded both an e-mail and a phone number, I opted to do the e-mail first to introduce myself.

I wanted to make a few points clear, just because I would have had these questions had I been in his situation. First, I wanted to make clear that I wasn't expecting anything. I had started this search simply to learn more about myself and where I came from, and I didn't want him to think that I had any needs or issues. Second, I wanted him to be able to tell me how comfortable he was with this process and I wanted him to give me an idea about how far I could question him. Third, I wanted him to feel free to break off any time he wanted to. In other words, I wanted to give him the opportunity to control the pace of everything. I also had no idea whether or what he would tell his brothers and sister about me at this point, and on the expectation that they would have questions, I wanted to be as upfront about my motivations and expectations as possible. So I composed the following e-mail:

Hello Mr. Rodger,

Ruth ______
e-mailed me and told me that she spoke to you about me and that it would be okay for me to contact you. As you know, we have reason to believe that I am related to your mother Ruby Rodger, and therefore to you and your siblings. Ruth assured me that you seem to have no difficulty with this and are willing to speak with me. I hope therefore that my contacting you is not presumptuous in any way.

I wanted to contact you first by e-mail rather than by phone, just so that I can explain myself and my motivations for looking into my biological history. Ruth probably told you the story about how she and I became acquainted with one another while I was looking into my adopted family's history and that at some point in our correspondence I told her that I was adopted. She offered to help me find my biological family if I was ever interested in doing so. I had been informally kicking around the idea for a couple of years. There was a rumor about my biological parents and birth that floated around with me and which I wondered if was true. There was also a rumor that I had a sister or a half-sister (based on the fact that there was a little girl that looked so much like me though younger, at the Children's Home Society who was adopted out to Robert Goulet's brother). These rumors were interesting. I agreed to let her find what she could.

In the course of her investigations, she found five boys who were born in
Eureka, California on December 29, 1963, my birthdate, and told me that one of them or none of them could be me. One of the boys was a Michael W. Rodger, born to a woman who's maiden name was Mayle.

Ruth also helped me trac
k down a foster parent who had taken me in from the age of 5 months to 2 years. This woman, who I called "Mama Joyce," had wanted to adopt me. I was the first baby she took in, and she became very attached to me. She had been trying to become pregnant for 9 years, and had given up. However, not long after arranging to adopt me, she became pregnant and her husband wanted to raise their own daughter so she very reluctantly gave me up. I was eventually adopted at 2½ by a couple, Vernon and Shirley Hess, and raised in Fort Bragg, California.

"Mama Joyce" was very excited to hear from me and asked me why I sought her
out now. I explained to her that for me, life really began at 2½ when I was adopted, and were my earliest memories. I told her I had been getting more interested in learning about my history before that and where I came from over the past couple of years (probably a little mid-life crisis) and she said "Oh, well would you like to know the name o
f your mother?" I expressed surprise that she had that information, and she said that foster parents usually didn't have it, but somehow she did. She informed me that my biological mother's name was Ruby M. Rodger, and that my original name was Michael Wayne Rodger. She said that the information said "father unknown," and that the birth mother was "allergic to metals."

So, that left little doubt that Ruby Rodger was my birth mother. Ruth did
some looking through her genealogical resources and found that Ms. Rodger died in 1997 but that there were four children born to her and Alexander Rodger. At that point I had to make a decision on whethe
r I would be interested in contacting you.

I want to let you know that there are no ulterior motives on my part in
contacting you. I realize there are many reasons why adoptees seek out their biological families. I am not seeking anything but information. I'm married, and working on a Ph.d in Political Science which should be finished sometime in 2007. I'm comfortable and secure. I don't really need to know about my history to live out my life in satisfaction and happiness. I'm just curious about
the circumstances of my birth and where I came from.

Nor do I expect a warm and fuzzy "family reunion" and to be accepte
d with open arms by the Rodger family. My goal will be, if you are willing, to explore and simply let this process take its course. If I gain new friends and self-understanding, that would be wonderful and the most of what I seek. If I do gain a new "family", which I've heard happens to some adoptees that seek out their biological families, that would be more than I expect.

I told Ruth before she contacted anyone that if there is any indication
whatsoever that my surfacing or resurfacing in your life would be painful, traumatic or cause any distress whatsoever, I would back off immediately and cease any attempt at present or future contact. I have no wi
sh to cause anyone any pain, and as far as I'm concerned, everything that I've learned up to this point has been wonderful and a real bonus. My sister even managed to track down a young picture of Ruby Mayle on a website so I've actually seen something of my biological mother's face. I am attaching it if you haven't seen it -- hopefully it is actually her picture.

So, all that being written, I am looking forward to speaking with you and
learning more. Please let me know what might be a good time and day to reach you. Alternatively, you can contact me via this e-mail, or by my phone numbers.

I sent this off in mid-December. I didn't have long to wait for an answer. Bob e-mailed me right back. In his e-mail, he indicated that the photo (shown in my last post) was indeed Ruby Rodger. He said that she took up with a man named Andy Andraza, though he wasn't sure if that was the way to spell the last name. They moved to Eureka for a while in the early sixties. He said that years later his mother sadly said "I once knew a woman who gave away her baby," and that his sister once found some adoption papers. He said he was convinced that I was Ruby's baby.

He also said, in response to my statement about a family reunion, that both of his brothers had died and his sister is mentally ill and living in Florida, so that for all intents and purposes, he is what's left of the family. He told me that he was glad to hear from me, and that he would send information and photos.

Since then, Bob has sent me a steady stream of information. We've talked once on the phone, for approximately two hours. From my little bit of dealing with him, I like him very much though I have to be patient about getting information -- I have so many questions that it's hard to wait for something new.

Bob was born in 1949, so he is approximately 14 years older than I am. He is a half-brother as his father and my father were separate people. He lives in California, and he makes a living creating and constructing trade show displays. I've also learned that he is an artist in his spare time. He is married, and has three children. One, a daughter is in her 30s and lives in Sacramento. Another daughter is attending college in Eureka. His son is in his last year of high school.

I've learned from Bob that his older and younger brother have both taken their own lives. His sister spent most of her adult life homeless and is in a relatively stable place in Florida right now.

About my birth mother, I've learned a bit from him in the e-mails, on the phone call and from an account that he wrote up about her. Bob does not want the information details to be disseminated and I respect his wishes but I believe that I can make some general statements. In general, I learned that Ruby had a very difficult life. She was born in West Virginia in 1923 in a coal mining area -- many of her family worked in the mines and it was an awfully hard life. How hard? She was one of 11 siblings, five of which died before reaching adulthood. One brother accidentally drank lye water and suffered terribly for few years because of his burned esophagus until he died, and another sister died of typhoid fever. Her family, the Mayles (pronounced May-lee) is one of only six or so family surnames in that area that inhabited the area very early in America's history and interbred with Indians and African-Americans. In fact, this cultural cross-breeding was enough to brand these families as "colored."

I've learned that Ruby moved to Ohio in her late teens where she met her husband. She quickly realized that her marriage wasn't great but only got divorced in the early 60s. She met a man, Andy, who was the love of her life and she had a stormy and tempestous relationship with him for about 10 years. I was the product of that relationship. I learned that my biological father may have been the main reason for her giving me up for adoption. I have learned that Ruby spent her last years beset by major health problems, and suffered from some regrets about giving me up. However, it appears that her death in 1997, at which Bob was present at her side, was a peaceful one.

I have learned that my father was a blue-eyed sax player from Canada, a milkman who liked the ladies. I don't know much other than that, except that he was fun loving and that Bob liked him. I don't know if he is still alive, but chances are slim.

I've taken in this information but it hasn't really emotionally hit me yet. I think, when I meet Bob in person, maybe this year, I might be able to realize the enormity of it all. The life of my birth mother sounds like a hard and a sad one, and it sort of answers one of my "what if" questions. My life would probably not have been better with her. However, I would have liked to have had the chance to meet her, to learn from her about her life, and to see for myself this person who gave me life. I haven't truly dealt with the fact that I have a mentally ill half-sister, or what that may mean for me in the long run. Bob has encouraged me to leave her be and again I am more than willing to follow his judgment -- he said that she is in the most stable place she has been in years and that simply knowing of me might upset that balance.

So, I still have a lot to learn about my biological family, even though it seems that I've learned a lot so far. And I still don't know what emotionally and practically this all means for me. What this journey has done, however, is connect me to a whole new culture wrapped up in the story of Ruby's family, the Mayles, and the other families of Barbour County, West Virginia where she came from. More about that fascinating story in the next post.

Next up: I'm a What?

Photo 1: Ruby and Bob Rodger, 1950

Photo 2: The Rodger family in the early 50s, Bob, Ruby, Alex Sr., Alex Jr.

Photo 3: Jeanne Rodger, 1968

Photo 4: Andy, my biological father, 1969

Photo 5: Bob Rodger, my half-brother, circa 2005.

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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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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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