Part 56: How I Met My Mother, by Marion Kminek, Plus Video of Riley Shepard
Today is Sunday, December 13, 2020. Trump continues to Tweet that he won the election by a landslide. The Supreme Court rejected the lawsuit brought by the GOP. Even Bill Barr admits that Biden and Harris won.
It looks like we'll be wearing masks until December, 2021. British citizens over the age of 80 received the first vaccine. Millions of doses of Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine are on their way to distribution centers in the United States. If storage, security, logistics and delivery go smoothly, that will pave the way for widespread vaccinations. Which groups should get the vaccines first?
Charlie Pride, the country western singer, died from complications of the Corona virus yesterday, Saturday December 12th. He'd attended the Country Music Association awards in November, it was an indoor event. Having an indoor event in November of 2020 is like...whoa. Poor judgement, CMA. Pride was the first black member of the Country Western Hall of Fame.
Since the shutdown in March, many have lost loved ones. We have three friends that have died, two had cancer, and one had ALS. It's a terrible time to have a close friend or family member die, because the virus prevents us from spending quality time with the ill person, or even attend a "non-Zoom" memorial.
One death hit me hard, because it was my friend, Julia, who I had met in high school. She died last week on December 6th. Julia helped me through a rough time when we were both fourteen years old, and we've stayed friends ever since. I was in a car accident right when I met her, (1979) my first year of high school in a new town. The accident severed the bones (through the skin) in my upper jaw. I sustained nerve damage, and I crushed the bones on my right temple, along with every bone in my nose. There were surgeries for the scar revisions on my face, and Julia helped me through those, because by that age, she'd had dozens of surgeries to relieve the tension from massive burn scars all over her body. She'd been burned as a baby, and only her face was spared, and the diaper she wore saved her bottom. She talked me through each of my surgeries with her dry humor and practical advice. She used to say, "too bad we can't just put my head on your body, we'd be the perfect girl." It's hard to quote her here in print, her teenage delivery was dry as a bone, and we laughed our asses off. I had a bitter edge, she had wit and grace. Later, Julia became a nurse.
Anyway, she had cancer, and I still can't believe she's gone. We'd been chatting a lot on Zoom and on the phone, and of course, Facebook. After all these years, I still can't believe we find out people are dead on Facebook.
My half-sister, Marion, also had a recent and sad loss. Her biological mother, Shirley, died a few weeks ago. Marion had planned to visit, as she did once or twice a year since they were reunited back in the 1970s, but the COVID-19 shutdown made that impossible. Shirley lived in a nursing home.
Here's something Marion wrote and I thought I'd share it with you, with her permission. It's a great story. To refresh, Marion's biological mother was dating my father in Chicago back in the 1940s. Riley dated Shirley while he was married to his second wife, Winnifred. Riley and Winn lived in Cicero, right outside the city. He told Shirley that he was sterile, and that she shouldn't worry about getting pregnant. Well, she did get pregnant.
Marion and I connected late in life, when she found the obituary I wrote for a hillbilly music site, mentioned in previous blogs. Dad had been dead for a few years by the time she came across the obit. I'd included many of my father's stage and pen names, and the fact that he'd been married multiple times. I didn't try to make up a fairy tale just because he'd died, but also, I wondered if someone might reach out. It felt like sending out a message in a bottle, which I might've written before, but that's exactly how it felt.
Below, Marion's story in her words.
How I Met My Mother
by Marion Kminek
"Have you found out who your birth mother is?", asked my real estate colleague, Gloria. My answer was that I had, in fact, discovered her--- and that my biological mother had married her high school sweetheart a couple years after I was born.
From the earliest years of my life, I always knew I was adopted at birth. Actually, I have no memory of being told that, but of course my parents must have told me for the first time in my early years, and always talked about the adoption. I knew that my aunt worked for the doctor who delivered me, and that another couple was planning on adopting me, but at some point changed their mind. My Aunt called my parents and asked if they would like a baby girl and they jumped at the chance. They were almost too old at 37 to have a chance on any of the waiting lists they were on.
I was loved, and protected, and encouraged to excel.
There were large families on both the paternal and maternal side of the family that had adopted me, and lots of cousins and family get togethers. But I never felt like I really belonged. I was loud, they were not. I talked very fast, they did not. And I always talked with my hands, which they definitely did not do.
When I was young, I would watch TV and wonder if my birth mother was an actress. In fact, my high school Spanish teacher told me I looked a lot like Loretta Young. So maybe she was my mother???? When I was in college, I thought I was Jewish. My parents had told me I was English, Irish and Scottish. They also told me that my birth mother married about 2 years after I was born. I did know the name of the hospital where I was born, and the attorney who handled the adoption. So these were clues.
In 1966 my first daughter was born, and I was asked for a medical history. I panicked because I had none. I was told that was no problem. Then the hospital staff asked about my husband’s medical history. Then I really panicked because his mother was also adopted. Needless to say, that is when my search for my birth mother began. I wanted medical history.
After my divorce, I become friends with a girl who did actually find both her birth parents and therefore learned a few ideas of where to begin. There was no internet and no ancestry.com or DNA tests back then. I started with my adoption records which, for some reason, had not been sealed. I called the attorney, but he hung up on me. I requested my records from the county. Once I had them, I then knew my mother’s first and maiden name. Next, I requested my birth records from the hospital, and as required had an attorney write the letter. Once I had those records, I now had my birth father’s first name, and my grandmother’s name, and their home address when I was born.
Now what?? A few years passed, and I eventually went to the County Recorders’ Office for my birth mother’s marriage records, which of course gave me her husband’s full name. Problem was her maiden name was pretty rare, but her married name might as well have been Smith.
I was stuck, and no idea what to do next.
Then my real estate friend, Gloria, asked me the question about my progress finding my birth Mom while we were working on a contract for a sale. "Have you found out who your birth mother is?" After telling her the married name and my grandmother’s name, her reply was "Wow...that's my sister’s best friend, Shirley."
Her reply left me a shaking mess. Previously I had gone to a psychic who told me I would find my birth mother through legal papers, and here in front of me was the real estate sales contract Gloria and I were working on!
“That’s My Sister’s Best Friend," she said.
Gloria insisted on calling her sister which I tried to discourage, but she did it anyway... and her sister said, "that is going to ruin a marriage." Click. She hung up on her. There went my best lead.
Gloria did know that my birth Mom had lived in Arlington Heights prior to moving to Georgia in the late 60’s. The next morning I called Illinois Bell Telephone Company and asked if they kept phone books from the late 60’s. The phone employee looked up the name and gave me the address. I then looked up the address in the Haines Directory (A directory showing who lived on each street and their address and phone numbers.)
I called a next door neighbor and told them that I had lost the address in Georgia of their former neighbor (I lied), and it was just that easy. I now had my birth mother’s address. Great! But what should I do next?
My friend who had previously found both of her birth parents advised me to write a letter stating where I was born, what hospital, and what day and year I was born, and state the maiden name of my birth mother. The letter was very general, and said that I was looking for medical history (which of course I was), and that I was born into the Maehl family. Then I made a copy of the letter (a copy in the “olden” days looked like a copy-- never like an original) and typed in her name and address and put it in the mail before I could chicken out.
I did this so if someone else opened the letter or found it, it would look like I had mailed out several copies to people with the family name of Maehl.
My birth mother, Shirley, received the letter and was reading it when her husband, Mel, came home from work. She gave him the letter and said, “This is my daughter”. (By the way, she had told Mel about me before I was born in 1944, when Mel was in the service. His statement back then was “Do what you have to do, and I will be here for you.” They were high school sweethearts, but were separated during WWII, and during that separation is when Shirley met my birth father, Riley Shepard, in Chicago.)
Mel read the letter and stated, “She knows you are her mother."
“No she doesn’t. Read the letter," Shirley said.
“I am telling you, she knows you are her mother," Mel insisted.
Mel and Shirley had never told their two grown children about me. They decided to write them letters, rather than telling them on the phone. Then, and only then, did my birth mother contact me by writing the most beautiful letter I have ever received. I wanted to include the words on this page, but sadly I cannot find the letter.
The same day I received the letter from Shirley, my maternal brother called me. That Thanksgiving we went to Georgia to my husband’s sister’s home, and met my birth mother and her husband and my grandmother. My grandmother’s first words to me were, “It has been a long time” (She had been allowed to see me when I was born but my mother was not).
Mel and Shirley lived in DeKalb, Illinois and I lived on a farm about 40 minutes from DeKalb but we often went to DeKalb.
Mel sold metal buildings to farmers and may have actually stopped by our farm and spoke to my Dad.
When Mel and Shirley moved back to Chicago, their apartment was in Evanston and my grandmother’s apartment was in Chicago near the Evanston border. We went to visit my grandmother most Sundays.
During my first marriage, I worked in Arlington Heights and often had lunch at a restaurant around the corner from Illinois Bell where Shirley worked.
I often shopped at the same clothing store where Shirley shopped, and she had worked right next door to the shop.
How many times had our paths crossed without us ever knowing it???
From left to right, Marion's biological grandmother, Marion's bio-mom, and Marion. Three generations reunited.
Thank you, Marion, for writing down that history of how you found your biological mother. It's interesting that you "wondered" while a child on your parent's farm if your mother was an actress, and it turned out that in fact, she was a professional actress. I'm so glad I got to speak to Shirley on the phone, she was so fun to talk to, open and humorous. I wish I'd called her again, but of course now it's too late for that.
Marion, I also "talk with my hands", I am also "loud" and our father, Riley Shepard, was loud and talked with his hands. I often overheard my father exclaim; "I'M NOT YELLING!!! THAT'S JUST HOW I TALK!!!"
Marion's bio-mom, Shirley, at age 18.
Below: Bonus material, clips from our father's cable access talk show in Porterville, California. These were taped around the time of the Monica Lewinsky/Bill Clinton affair. I filmed this VHS tape with my iPhone.
Next, blog 57: Newspaper clippings Riley saved, a sketch Jan made of Riley, and more of "The Riley Shepard Show."