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Published 11/25/2009 at 11:55pm  |  Views: 8782
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by Thomas J. Prohaska
Original Article

David Ekkel has lived in Michigan most of his life, but he's been a Buffalo Bills fan since he was 12.


David Ekkel of Grand Haven, Mich., is reunited with his mother, Lillian Watson of Lockport, after having been separated from her since shortly after he was born. They will have Thanksgiving dinner together today.
That was when he rummaged through his adoptive parents' papers and discovered his birth name was Timothy Lee Holmes, and he was born in Buffalo.

Ekkel, 56, spent years trying to track down his birth mother, and finally had a breakthrough last month.

And that's why Lillian Watson of Lockport will have Thanksgiving dinner today with her son -- a child she last held in her arms when he was four months old.

"I felt something that was missing," Ekkel said Wednesday, a day after he was reunited with his birth mother at the airport in Grand Rapids, Mich. "There was a longing for completion. If you haven't experienced it, it's hard to explain. It's really incredible."

"It was really a miracle," said Watson, 76. "Only God could pull this off."

They are spending the holiday weekend together at Ekkel's house in Grand Haven, Mich.

Before Tuesday, the last time they saw each other was in 1953, when 20-year-old Lillian Holmes, to use her maiden name, handed baby Timothy over for an adoption she didn't want but was forced into by her parents.

Unwed mothers were less common than they are today, and parents, at least in the Holmes household, a lot more strict.

"Things were a lot different than today," Watson said Wednesday. "You did what your parents said instead of having the children tell the parents what they want."

She had graduated from what was then Girls Vocational High School and was working at Buffalo Weaving and Belting on the East Side when she became pregnant.

She gave birth in Booth Memorial Salvation Army Hospital in Buffalo. "That was a home where you stayed until the baby was born," Watson said.

After the birth, her parents sent her and baby Timothy to a Christian children's home in North Carolina, while they worked on the adoption with a lawyer. When Lillian returned to Buffalo, the news was dropped on her like a bomb.

"I didn't know anything. I was numb. I didn't have any say," she said. But at least she thought she'd given her baby a good start.

"He was well-loved," Watson recalled. "First I had him dedicated to the Lord and I asked the lawyer to put him in a Christian home, and he did."

The child was adopted by a childless couple in Dearborn, Mich., who renamed him David Ekkel. They told him at age 8 that he had been adopted.

"I knew when I was 4 that something wasn't right," Ekkel said. "My parents were 50 years my senior."

Not until four years later, when he went through some papers while his parents were away, did he discover that he was born Timothy Lee Holmes in Buffalo.

Ekkel then decided that since he was from Buffalo, he ought to back the Bills.

"I'm a huge Bills fan, because I was born in Buffalo. It's part of my identity. You just say 'Buffalo' and I get excited," he said.

Watson said after the adoption, her parents sent her to Missouri to stay with some people they knew. Shortly thereafter, she left for Chicago, and eventually she joined the Army.

Stationed on the Pacific island of Okinawa as a military policewoman, she met Staff Sgt. William B. Watson Jr., whom she married.

Although she left the Army after three years, her husband stayed in. She accompanied him as he was transferred to Germany and then to various spots in the U.S.

"She's a veteran. That's top-notch. I'm very patriotic myself," Ekkel said.

Sgt. Watson was sent to Vietnam, where he was killed in action Feb. 23, 1966.

After his death, Lillian continued to live in Toccoa Falls, Ga., but she was never comfortable there, although the couple's four children remain in the South.

"I'm from New York. I just didn't fit in," she said.

Four years ago, looking for a place in the Buffalo area, she settled in Lockport.

Her eldest son, William Watson III, unwittingly provided the catalyst for Ekkel to find his mother.

Looking for people who might have known his father in the Army, William III entered some information about him on a genealogy Web site. The posting included his mother's maiden name.

That enabled Ekkel and his wife, Marie, still searching for Lillian Holmes, to hit pay dirt when they searched the same Web site. "There was a phone number and everything," Ekkel said.

Marie made the fateful phone call Oct. 12.

"When she said 'Timothy Lee,' I knew right away who it was," Watson said. She talked to David and felt something only a mother could feel.

"We felt that on the phone, right away," Watson said. "It makes me feel great. You can't put it into words."

She attends Eastern Hills Wesleyan Church in Clarence, and she said her rediscovered son will visit her soon, to speak at a service. Ekkel said he hopes to do that before Christmas.

Ekkel said, "She gave me such a good start those first four months. That bond was always there. It was stretched a little bit, but it was never broken."