Share on Facebook  |  More Articles

Published Saturday February 27th, 2010 at 2:42pm

Original Article by Sue Shipman

Prior to several decades ago, a young woman becoming a single mother was a scary and bad thing. Society frowned on such women, who typically left home for several months to have their babies and give them up for adoption. Women were told, "Don't ever think about this again; no one will ever know about it, and it is over."

Sue Shipman recently reunited with her birth family after being given up for adoption where she was seven days old.

But the advisers telling these young women that had no idea the Internet was in the future, and would have the power to divulge information ... secret or not.

My parents never tried to keep the fact of my adoption from me. As a teenager, my feelings were, "If my birth mother didn't want me, why should I want to find her?" The chances then of finding a birth parent was very unlikely at best.

Then something changed in my thinking. I decided I wanted to find her. I knew I was adopted from the Edna Gladney Home in Fort Worth, so I joined an Internet chat group of Gladney adoptees and mothers who had given up their children there.

About 12 years ago, a chat group member asked me for my birth certificate number. She knew how to decode the number, and from that information she was able to narrow down the field of possibilities. She called my birth mother, thinking perhaps she had found her birth grandmother, whom she was seeking. When told no, she asked my mother if a June 10 birthday meant anything to her. At that point, my mother simply said, "Oh, honey."

A few minutes after this encounter, I received a phone call giving me my mother's name -- Deveda Watson -- and her phone number. I gathered up my courage and called Deveda. We had a very strained talk, since I don't think either of us knew what to say or how to act. Deveda told me she was afraid her children would hate her because she had me out of wedlock. She made me promise I wouldn't try to contact her children and I didn't -- for 12 years. I did send her a few letters and Mother's Day cards.

Then through a string of events, a miracle happened. A week before Thanksgiving 2009, my voicemail had the following message waiting: "Hi, this is Barbara Watson and I think you are my big sister." Wow, it is hard to explain how I felt at that time ... shock, excitement, apprehension!

I called Barbara back and we had a long talk. Immediately we bonded, and I felt like I had known her my entire life. Barbara told me that our brother, Roy, had been diagnosed earlier with cancer and wanted to go home to live with her parents Deveda and Edker. Barbara moved home to help care for him. After Roy's death in September, Barbara was cleaning up Deveda's office and found letters I had sent. In the letters were my address and phone number.

Barbara said she told Edker she had found the letters and he told her she was never meant to find them. She then told them both she was going to call me because I was her sister.

We started planning a "reunion," and then I called my husband, who was thrilled. When I called Stacy, my eldest daughter, I told her, "Your Aunt Barbara called." Stacy thought I meant my husband's sister, Barbara. I said, "No, my sister Barbara." I then told Stacy we were planning to meet Barbara while I was staying with her in January.

Barbara had told me Deveda didn't know whether she wanted to meet me or not. Barbara said she would keep talking with Deveda and see what she could do. She also told me that Deveda met Edker just after I was born, and when they were married he said he wanted to go get me and he would adopt me. However, I was already gone. I was just seven days old when adopted.

During the Christmas season, I received another call from Barbara. She told me she had my Christmas present. I told her that she was present enough for me. Then she said this was even better -- did I want to meet my mother? After the shock wore off, I said yes. Immediately after I hung up, I called my husband and told him I was going to meet my mother. He was thrilled.

I then called my daughter Stacy and told her that she would be meeting her grandmother, and her response was, "Wow."

Barbara and I had many more chats after that. I asked if Jeannie, my other sister, would be in Graham, Texas, when we got there, and she told me Jeannie wouldn't be able to make it.

Between that time and the day I left for Louisiana, I found Barbara's children on Facebook and she and I had many nice chats. I also found Jeannie on Facebook, and so was able to see lots of their family pictures prior to our visit.

Barbara's daughter Jackie invited us to her house near Ft. Worth, Texas, for a Tuesday night, and we had a nice surprise when we arrived. Jackie's sister, Christy, her brother Slim and his wife Casey, and all their kids were there. We had a great barbeque dinner and a nice long chat. Christy said it was spooky how much I looked like her grandmother and Slim said that when I hugged him it was just like hugging his grandmother Deveda.

From the time we arrived at Jackie's, everyone was so accepting and glad to meet us. We all had a lot in common, and I finally feel like I fit in somewhere. I felt like I belonged with this family. It is also a blessing to know the family history of problems such as restless leg syndrome, allergies and such.

The next morning, Slim and Casey came by to lead us to Graham, where we were to meet Barbara. They took us to IHOP for breakfast. Barbara kept calling to say, "Hurry."

We finally arrived in Graham at the Holiday Inn Express. Barbara came out to the parking lot with another lady. She told me it was Jeannie, and I said, "I know." After all, I had seen her picture on Facebook. But it was a great surprise to get to see her. Best of all was to be able to hug my sisters after all the years.

We checked in and then went up to the suite. When I opened the door I was in for a big surprise. The room was filled with family -- including Deveda and Edker. I had been apprehensive about this moment from the beginning and unsure how to act around Deveda, but when I saw her, all I could think of was to hug her. It felt right. We had a nice chat, and then all went to the Veale Cemetery to see where some of the family is buried. On the way to the cemetery, I told Stacy I was unsure what to call Deveda. Stacy suggested I call Barbara and ask her. Barbara told me everyone called her Mama.

After taking pictures of the tombstones, and family pictures too, we went to a restaurant called Mi Familia in Graham. The name of the restaurant just seemed appropriate for this gathering, at which 19 of us met for dinner.

As we were leaving, I asked Edker if I could call him "Daddy" and he said I could -- that I was one of his daughters.

The next day, we all went to lunch in Throckmorton, Texas, and then on to the cemetery where my brother is buried. We also saw and photographed more of the Wesley family plots.

We visited a third cemetery to see where my grandfather and his second wife are buried. Then a group of us went to Deveda and Edker's home. Deveda was tired and trying to get to her chair, so I helped her. She said thanks and I told her, "I have to take care of my Mama." She looked at me with a puzzled expression and then beamed. From that time on she was "Mama."

We sat around their living room looking at old family pictures and hearing stories about my siblings' childhood. I turned on a digital recorder I had with me -- and just in time. Barbara came across a picture of my uncle, Adrian, who was a singer and songwriter. She asked Mama if she remembered the song Adrian used to sing to the kids and Mama sang it. She then recited a poem he had written. I was lucky enough to it recorded, so I will always have my Mama's voice.

I sat next to Mama and we held hands. We took lots of family pictures and she and I are all smiles in them. We are both happy to finally be together. Then the time came to go back to the hotel, and Mama and I were crying. I gave her and Daddy big hugs and told them I would see them again soon. Mama said to not be a stranger and I promised her it wouldn't be another 63 years. I started missing her the minute I got into Jeannie's car and left for the hotel.

After another tearful goodbye in the hotel parking lot Friday morning, Stacy and I had breakfast with my sisters and then had to leave for Houston so I could catch my flight home on Saturday.

When I returned home, I uploaded photos and found a good one of Mama and Daddy, my sisters, and me. That one is now the wallpaper on my laptop and I look at it every day wishing I were back in Texas with them -- my family.