Thursday, October 21, 2021

CLOSING THE CIRCLE - Chapter 19

 

After a contentious, but rewarding divorce she had returned to Tanner, ready to forget her troubling past. Then, seemingly out of the blue, her own son had arrived on her doorstep.

As welcome as it was....the fact of his surprising presence....she was forced to admit that on a personal level her life was still less than complete. Even after their mother/son reunion the "Circle had not been closed." There was still a missing piece.




        Chapter 19


It was later on that Saturday afternoon, with the realization that he must return to Sacramento the next morning hanging over their conversation, when Jerald asked Erin and her daughter Susanne to join him in a quiet corner of the family room. As overwhelmed as he was by the day’s events, there were still loose ends he hoped to understand better.

“So what happened,” he began hesitantly. “When you came back to Tanner with no baby and no George? I’m guessing you went back to college. Right?”

“That’s right,” Erin replied. “I went down to Lawrence, to the university. I was ready to get away from home and move on with my life....to erase the past. 

"It was there, during my junior year, that I met Thomas. I suppose by then I was grabbing at straws, wanting to feel ‘that way’ again. So we got married. That's what they did in those days. 

"We’d known each other for six or seven months when we went off to Reno for a weekend. By the time we came home we were married.” She paused to reached over and pat Susanne’s head. “And a couple years later this little bundle of joy arrived.

“By then I was sure that everything had worked out for the best, as good as I could hope for. But you know what they say about hindsight. When I look back now, I realize the best times I’ve ever known were spent with George, here in Tanner. Unfortunately, those good times hadn’t lasted. They went away when George left and I gave up my first baby. 

“Anyway, by the time I'd gone through a divorce, and Susanne and I had come back to Tanner, I was seriously depressed about the future I saw for us....wondering how I was going to get by.”

“Depressed?” Susanne exclaimed as she leaned forward to join the conversation. “I never knew that.

“Why would you be depressed? You were back home, in our beautiful new home in the Heights, with the Country Club and all your friends. And you were still so young, not even forty. You had a whole lifetime waiting for you. Why would that have made you depressed?”

Jerald too was having a hard time making sense of Erin's "depressed" talk. "She's right, you know," he countered, picking up on Susanne's logic. "You haven't talked much about Thomas, but the whole world knows that he's rich and famous.....and he apparently left you well cared for. Truth is, I'm still trying to get my head around that....you married to Thomas Conners."

Shaking her head, Erin was shifting uneasily in her chair. “By the time we came back to Tanner I was depressed because my future did not look promising at all,” she insisted. “I had loved two men in my life, and both of them had left me. For the second time what I needed had been taken from me. And by then I certainly didn’t feel young at all. I felt old and alone, with nothing to look forward to.”

Susanne had never before heard her mother’s surprising disclosure. How could she possibly understand? “Mom, you weren’t alone, and you aren’t alone now. Not for a minute. You have Grandma and me right here with you.”

“Of course I do. I know that. And that’s been a huge blessing. Without you two to keep me going, I don’t know what I’d have done. But you know very well that’s not the kind of ‘aloneness’ I’m talking about.”

Turning to Jerald, Erin wanted to be sure he realized the life-changing impact his surprising appearance was making. “As you can imagine, when you handed me that note this morning, the one you’d already showed to Mom, that was something I never expected to see. 

"Once I realized what it was, I felt so blessed ....better than I have in a very long time. To meet my own son, and learn that I have a grandchild, that went a long ways towards closing the circle.”

“Closing the circle?” Susanne repeated quietly. “What does that mean?”

Again Erin was in retreat, looking for a way to explain what she had come to accept as her personal shorthand for gauging life’s completeness.

“Well,” she began. “For reasons I really don't understand, I like to think of life as a circle....like the face of a clock, going from twelve o’clock all the way round to where it started. That seems to me one way of imagining how a life should be.

“And for a long time it has felt like my life was something less than a complete circle....like the minute hand had stopped at ten or eleven. It never seems to go all the way back to twelve o’clock. There are lots of good things that have happened to me along the way, but at the same time I’ve known all along that something was missing.

“Now, here I am with both of my children for the first time ever....along with a daughter-in-law and grandson.” 

That brought an unembarrassed grin to Erin’s face. “How special is all that? Still, in spite of all those good things, I know there is a part of my circle that is still missing. It’s not closed yet.”

“Only one part?” Jerald asked.

Erin turned away from his question, knowing she must not minimize the impact of her son’s surprising return on closing her own personal circle. “Having you here is a very important part,” she nodded. “More than enough to keep me going to the end.”

“But not enough to close the circle?” Jerald knew exactly where he wanted his questions to lead her. Yet he dare not put words in her mouth. He was hoping to hear her answer, not his own. “But it means that your circle is still not complete.”

“There no need to dwell on that,” Erin replied. “Let me be thankful for what has been added to my life.”

“Of course I will. And you know that we’re just as thankful. But there’s more to it than that, isn’t there? And I really don’t want to leave in the morning still wondering what that ‘more’ is.”

It was a truth that Erin Conners had often denied, even to herself. How could she possibly consider telling him, the son she scarcely knew? 

Still, as Jerald had said, he would be returning to Sacramento tomorrow, and although they had exchanged email addresses and phone numbers, it might be some time before they were again face to face. If his question was legitimate, and it certainly was, it seemed she owed him an answer.

“It seems like you pick up on these things pretty quickly,” she noted. “There is ‘more’ to it, of course, and if anyone deserves to know about that I suppose it’s you. Because the part that is missing, and has been for a very long time.......is your own father.”

Erin paused again, and for a moment Jerald was not sure if she would continue. When she finally did, her voice was soft and a bit shaky. “I know it wasn’t his choice to leave Tanner. It was something he had to do. But still, what he left was a hole in my heart, a hurt that has never completely healed.”

“But you ended up marrying Thomas Conners,” Jerald interrupted. “My God, he’s a world-class guy. Everyone knows about him and what he’s done....with his software empire and all that.”

“You can be very sure that I know exactly who Thomas is,” Erin nodded. “But I also knew from the start that I was not a good fit for the life he wanted. And I certainly knew that he was no George Casey, and never would be.

"By the time our marriage was over the best thing about Thomas and me was the daughter we had created.” Her wink was aimed at Susanne, who sat quietly, taking in her mother’s surprising revelation.

“Anyway, I’ve known for a very long time that closing my own circle would require both my missing child and its father. And I was sure I would never know about either of those.” Reaching for her son’s hand, she added, “Yet, here you are.”

“But he’s not here," Jerald replied, taking a moment to make a mental note of George's Casey's last name .....the first time he had ever heard it.

“Of course he's not. He never can be. That’s what makes having you, and Megan, and Ryan with me so very special.”

“But I’m here because I was able to find you.” It sounded as though his mother wanted to drop the subject, but Jerald was reluctant to do that. “What if we tried to find him....to see if that could complete your circle....and mine too?”

“Don’t be silly. He certainly has a family. Probably even grandchildren....like me. Why would I do something that might upset all that?”

“You don’t know that he has a family.”

“No I don’t,” Erin agreed. “But I do know that my son has found me. He’s right here, along with my daughter. That has me feeling quite blessed.”

“Do you suppose your friend, George Casey, the guy who is my father, still has family here in Tanner?”

“Heavens, I don’t know. His parents were pretty old twenty-some years ago. But I suppose they might still be around.”

“Were there any other kids....brothers or sisters?”

Erin mulled his question for a moment, before repeating her earlier caution. “Jerald, I don’t want you poking around where you’re not wanted.”

“Come on. I’m not ‘poking around.’ He paused to drape an arm over Susanne’s shoulder. “I just found out I have a sister I never knew about. That’s pretty darn cool.

“If your George has kids, then I have more brothers and sisters. There may be aunts and uncles ....George’s siblings....hiding out there. It seems to me I have a right to know about my own family.”

Noting his mother’s doubting frown, Jerald backed off. What was the sense of sabotaging her upbeat mood? A moment later he was surprised to hear her final ‘George’s family’ revelation.

“He did have a sister....Ruth, I think it was. She was a couple years younger that us.”

With that Erin was on her feet, making for the kitchen, ready to escape her son’s uncomfortable probing.

Tuesday, October 19, 2021

CLOSING THE CIRCLE - Chapter 18

Though thoughts of giving her child up for adoption had spawned predictable doubts, in the end she settled on what seemed best for the child.

She was still processing their surprising reunion, unwilling to consider the 'still-missing' piece that would close the circle for her.
 


                           Chapter 18


The tension was building as Erin's 'birth-mother' disclosures grew more intimate. She needed a break, a walk to the back bathroom and a splash of water on her face. By the time she returned to face her anxious audience she was ready to continue ....then hopefully put that part of her story to bed forever. But first she would have to deal with her own mother’s continuing questions about her teenage disappearance.

“You knew, of course,” Elaine insisted as her daughter rejoined them, “How upset your father and I would be when you left. We were beside ourselves with worry, certain that you and George had gone off together.

"Your father wanted to call the police, even the FBI, to report a kidnapping. He finally talked himself out of that....because there was a chance the Tanner Times would pick up the story and make it more public than he could deal with.

“I remember weeks later getting the first letter from you,” Elaine added. “It was postmarked from Kansas City. We couldn’t imagine how in the world you had got there, or what you were doing. But you said that you were safe and cared for. That was a big relief. Though I have to tell you, when your father read it, and found no mention of George, that was enough to make his day.”

By then Jerald's questions were coming faster than ever. His own mother was speaking of the hateful man, his grandfather, who would have rather have seen him dead than alive. And then there was George, his  father, who had apparently been chased completely out of her, and his, life. 

Most importantly, he was learning more about his unexpectedly-bold mother, the one he had blamed for so long, the one he was sure had given him away for no good reason. It was sinking in, the undeniable truth that she had, in fact, been the bravest one of all, defying her parents and convention to insure that her son would have a life.

Then, before he could put his first question into words, Erin was offering her final confession. "I will admit," she said "By the time you were due to arrive I was having second thoughts. I was told that happened sometimes.....when a mother isn't sure she can give her child away.

"There was a time, when they brought the final papers for me to sign, that I was ready to change my mind. That's when Sister Doris had a long talk with me, asking me to imagine the life I had to offer my baby. 

"I couldn't go home. If I had brought you back to Tanner Daddy would have run us both out of town. I had no money and no skills. I couldn't take care of myself.....let alone a child."

There would be another quiet soup and sandwich interlude while Erin decompressed a bit. Meanwhile Jerald struggled to digest her unsettling story....and the improbable reality that at one point his very life had been at risk. Finally, with a last sip of coffee, she leaned back to sum up her story, while she was still able to carry on.

“The thing is,” she began. "It was Sister Doris who convinced me that the best thing I could do for you was to let you grow up with a good and caring family.”

Jerald seemed to be nodding in time with his mother’s quiet admission, wanting to thank her for the decision she had made, while wishing there had never been the need for such an awful choice. Still, he kept those thoughts to himself, rather than interrupt her continuing story.

“A couple weeks later," Erin continued. "After giving up my own child....I came back to Tanner. By then I had grown up a lot, and was better able to look out for myself. We had a very blunt talk, Mom, Daddy, and I. I told them nothing at all about where I had been, or what had happened there. I came home with no baby and no George. I told them they would have to settle for that and move on.”

“That is exactly true,” Elaine chimed in. “Until these last few minutes I had no idea of what had happened back then, beyond all those sanitized letters. Your father died knowing only that he had been spared the embarrassment of a scandal.”

Their conversational marathon was nearing an end. The adults were winding down, and baby Ryan was beginning to fuss, ready for a bottle and diaper change. Elaine took a few minutes to start a new round of coffee, while Erin and Jerald sat quietly, each lost in their own thoughts.

Finally, Jerald leaned back in his chair to ask a last question. “So what about George? It sounds like he is my father. Right? What can you tell me about him?”

Erin was shaking her head before she said a word. “Not now,” she whispered. “This has been a very special day for me. One that I never thought I’d see. I’m not ready to set all that aside to dwell on the part that is still missing. Please let me enjoy this for now.”


Sunday, October 17, 2021

CLOSING THE CIRCLE - Chapter 17

Erin was spelling out some of the details of her life in a home for unwed mothers, fielding her mother's probing questions about the parents' concerns during that trying time.

It seemed that her son deserved to know the 'why' of her dramatic escape.....why she had felt forced to leave Tanner so suddenly.
 


                          Chapter 17


Their Saturday morning reunion had taken the two of them, mother and son, in a most unexpected direction....to a place neither of them fully recognized. In that unfamiliar space Jerald was confirming the truth he had only guessed at before, while Erin found herself face to face with the reality of her own long-ago choices. 

By then, however, she was also reveling in a startling, totally unexpected new sensation. For the very first time she was relishing the role of grandmother....carrying young Ryan from one end of the house to the other, doing her best to coax a smile, or any reaction at all. On two occasions her mother had stepped in to enjoy her own first moments as a great-grandmother, only to have Erin pleading for the boy’s return.

Finally, it was back to business. Together they were taking the first tentative steps on a new, uncharted journey, with so much to be learned. By the time they joined Megan and Elaine at the dining room table for a soup and sandwich lunch, Erin was ready to continue with her story.

“Okay,” Erin finally said when Megan had produced the bottle her son was fussing for and a semblance of quiet had settled over the room. “I promised that I would do my best to explain the great ‘little angel’ mystery.”

Her audience nibbled tentatively at their sandwiches, unwilling to miss a single bit of her revelation. Across the table Elaine leaned forward, as eager as Jerald to hear the details that she too had never heard.

“To begin with,” Erin continued. “A friend of mine at Southside High was the one who told me about the San Jose Home for Unwed Mothers. That’s what they called it in those days. She and I had talked about that the year before. 

"You remember her, Mom. Shirley Carrow....the one who dropped out during our senior year. That’s where she went. So that was who I called, the San Jose Home, when I decided I had to leave. They said they would take me in if I could get to San Jose. So that was my job when I left Tanner. Fortunately I had a few dollars, and Greyhound went to San Jose.

“Anyway, the home was a rather small place, kind of cozy. Years before it had been a Catholic home, run by nuns. Back then they could deal with ten or twelve girls at a time. By the time I got there it was smaller, mainly because the church had stopped sponsoring it. 

"There were a pair of retired nuns and a couple volunteers running the place on a shoestring. But they still worked with the County Hospital, which was just around the corner. So we had access to really good medical care.”

By then Jerald had lost interest in his meal, dwelling instead on his mother’s litany, soaking up details he had never imagined he would hear. Elaine, however, was not willing to put her questions on hold.

“But what did you do all day? My Lord, you were gone for months. It was like you just dropped out of our lives. We were frantic, not knowing where you were or if you were safe. I wanted to call the police, to have them look for you. But your father couldn’t bring himself to do that. He couldn’t stand the possibility of having the whole town read about it in the newspaper.”

“In the first place,” Erin chuckled. “Having a baby takes months. You can remember that, can't you? 

"Besides, I kept busy at the home. There were only a few ladies on the staff, so the girls....the five or six of us ‘unwed mothers’....always had jobs to in the kitchen or on the cleaning crew. And don’t forget, I wrote to you every single month. You knew I was being taken care of. That was one of their rules. We had to write every month to let our parents know that we were safe and okay.”

“But those letters came from all over the place,” Elaine countered. "There was never a return address, but they were postmarked from Arizona, or Kansas, or California. Goodness, we even had one from Florida. We had no idea where you might be.”

That had Erin laughing as she remembered how Sister Doris had explained that bit of duplicity. “That was one of the nuns’ old tricks, from when the Church ran the home. Back then they had homes like that all over the place. They had learned a long time before that sending letters like mine to one of the other homes to be postmarked and then sent on to the family would make it harder to trace their girls”

“Maybe so,” her mother answered. “But how were we supposed to track you down when they did that?”

“That was the whole idea.”

Pausing for a bite of her sandwich and a sip of punch, Erin was preparing to shift gears. She had never considered what came next....telling the son she never expected to meet of the harsh reality she had run away from. Now he was sitting there beside her and it seemed he had a right to know.

Reaching for Jerald’s hand, she began, “You can tell it was a drastic thing I did....running away like that. In some ways it was probably foolish....even stupid. If Susanne, my daughter, who you will meet this afternoon, ever did that I would be a basket case.

“But you must understand. I was just seventeen. The law said I couldn’t decide those things for myself. My parents must be the ones to do that for me. And my father, who was a doctor, had already made arrangements with a friend of his for the abortion he insisted I would have.”

That startling recital brought Erin to a momentary stop, and the realization that she was about to introduce a new player in that long-ago teenage drama. 

“Daddy had already run George, your father, out of town,” she continued. “He threatened to have him charged with Statutory Rape, which of course was ridiculous. But Daddy knew all the judges and lawyers. There was probably a good chance he could have done that. So George had to leave. There was no way he deserved to go to prison for what wasn’t even his fault.

“Anyway, by then it felt like I was absolutely alone.” Erin’s voice trailed off to a remembering silence, until she finally added, “Daddy knew that I wanted to keep my child, but he couldn't accept that. We had screaming matches about it. Anyway, in the end I had to leave....to save my baby.”

She was frowning a bit as she turned first to Jerald, then Megan. “I didn’t know anything about having a baby in my life. Not like you two do. But I knew an abortion was not the right answer.”

For the first time Jerald raised a hand to offer a question he had never before considered. “You mean, if you had stayed here in Tanner, with your parents, there would be no me. Is that what you’re saying?”

“That is exactly right.”

A moment later Elaine was interrupting to add her voice to Erin’s story. “It’s hard to describe how angry her father was. He was a pillar of the community, on important boards and commissions. People knew and respected him. That image was very important to him. 

"The thought of his own daughter being led astray by some boy from the Flats....the wrong side of the tracks....was more than he could deal with. No one must know about that. It had to be hidden. He was absolutely insistent that there would be no baby.”

“And that’s why I had to leave,” Erin nodded. “But you can be sure that no one ‘led me astray.’ No one cared more about what happened to me and our baby than George did.”



Friday, October 15, 2021

CLOSING THE CIRCLE - Chapter 16

What were they waiting for? Who were they waiting for? And once he knew those answers, how would he ask his questions? Fortunately his own grandmother was on hand with a ready answer.

Each of them had lived with their doubts and dreams for as long as they could remember. Small wonder their reunion would be awkward in ways neither of them could have imagined.
 



                         Chapter 16


While Elaine busied herself with kitchen make-work, Jerald and Megan were seated at the breakfast-nook table, nursing their coffee and wondering what they were waiting for. 

On the floor, next to his mother, baby Ryan rested comfortably in his car-seat carrier. For the last fifteen minutes their awkward small-talk had taken them through an unsettled conversational landscape....how nice Elaine’s home was, how far the Rogers had traveled from Sacramento, and what a “handsome young fellow” their child was.

From the beginning the couple understood there was a reason, some reason, they were being asked to wait. But the ‘why’ of it had not been spelled out. In fact, their hostess seemed intent on avoiding that line of questioning. More than once Jerald was tempted to ask, but each time Elaine’s active disengagement had him stalling a while longer.

Then, without warning, came an unexpected call from the front of the house....loud and feminine, “I’m here, Mom. Where are you?”

“We’re in the kitchen, honey. Come on back.”

Picking up on her mother’s “We’re in the kitchen,” Erin Woodman wondered who else might be there, Given her mother’s social bent it could be any of several country-club friends. Yet, when she walked across the kitchen to offer her customary hug, she knew at once that she had never met the young pair sitting at the nook table.

“You have company,” she said, stating the obvious.

“Yes I do. Actually, we do.” Wiping her hands on her apron, Elaine nodded toward Jerald and Megan. “This is my daughter, Erin.” 

Then to Erin, “This is Jerald Rogers and his wife, Megan. The little fellow next to the table is their son, Ryan.”

“Glad to meet you,” Erin nodded. “I don’t believe I’ve seen you around Tanner. Have I?”

“No, ‘ma’am,” Jerald answered. “We’re from Sacramento.” By then his thoughts had returned to Elaine’s introduction of a second, more age-appropriate E Woodman. Was that who the older woman had them waiting for?

“Sacramento? My, you are a long way from home.” Hopefully Erin's easy smile would help relax the grim-faced young man. “So what brings you all the way to our fair city?”

Jerald was not ready for that. He was sitting in front of Erin, sensing a certainty he had not felt before....confident that he knew exactly who she was. Still, he could not find the words to offer an answer. Instead, he turned to Elaine, chewing his lip, his eyes pleading for her help.

Meanwhile, Elaine too was waiting, and just as anxious as Jerald for her daughter to realize what the young man’s silent reluctance actually meant. Fortunately, she had an idea that might facilitate that process.

“Jerald,” she said in a calm and quiet tone that belied her own anxiety. “Why don’t you show Erin the pages you showed me. Perhaps that would answer her questions.”

That was enough to win his relieved grin. With no further explanation he produced his copy of the brief handwritten note and handed it to Erin.

“This little angel has been with me for nine months,” she read silently, before stopping short and looking up to study Jerald’s face. Without waiting for a further prompt, he handed her the Birth Index Registration form, with its Tanner, Oregon residential notation.

Erin studied the new page long enough to understand what it was. Then without a word she clutched the papers to her chest, turned and hurried off toward the adjoining family room. A moment later Jerald was close behind, drawing on his own unexpected boldness. He had come too far to let her walk away like that.

When Erin plunked herself deep into the first armchair she came to, Jerald pulled a leather hassock in front of her chair, sat down, and waited. He would be waiting for a while.

Finally, wiping at tears Jerald had not noticed, Erin leaned forward, shaking her head. Reaching out to rest her hand on his knee, she asked, “You came all this way to find me?”

He answered with a nod, choosing instead to focus on the heart of the matter. “You wrote that note, didn’t you? You’re E. Woodman.”

Erin would have been hard pressed to describe the soul-deep satisfaction she was feeling at that moment. The unexpected reunion they were living out felt nothing at all like she might have envisioned, a point she wanted her son to understand.

“I'm afraid I don't know what to say. I've never imagined a moment like this."

"I guess that makes two of us," Jerald nodded.

"I suppose I've always assumed you would hate me,” she half-whispered. “It’s hard to believe that you’d come looking for me.” 

By then he was looking into her face, seeming to seek the intent he found in her eyes “I suppose there were times when I did hate you," he admitted. "At least I hated what you’d done. But mostly I was just hurt, thinking that you’d given me away like that. Like I wasn’t worth keeping. 

“Then, just a few days ago....after we had a child who was missing one of his grandmothers....my folks, the Rogers, the ones who adopted me, showed me the note you have there. I could tell then that you didn’t really want to give me up.”

Reaching out, Erin took both his hands in hers and held on tightly. “It was Gladys, you know.... the office lady at the home all those years ago. When I told her I wanted to include my note with the adoption papers she said she would try to do that.

"I never knew for sure if she had, or just told me she did. But I know now, and I’m glad for the chance to explain what really happened. But before I do that I must ask a special favor. 

"You see, I never had a chance to hold you before they took you away. I would really appreciate the hug I missed back then. After all this time would you do that for me? "

Jerald had come all the way to Tanner not knowing what to expect. Erin Woodman had arrived at her mother’s home expecting a lighthearted social visit. What neither of them could have imagined was the moment they were about to share....the mother/son reunion they were each so sure could never happen. It took no more that a second or two to know that their warm embrace had been worth the waiting.


Wednesday, October 13, 2021

CLOSING THE CIRCLE - Chapter 15

 




Following Megan's city-map instructions Jerald drove his young family past block after block of impressive homes and country-club opulence. Obviously their birth-mother search was taking them to an affluent part of town.

Minutes later they were standing before one of those elegant mansions as Jerald summoned the nerve to ring the door bell. The woman who opened the door was sure they had the wrong address, until he produced his 'evidence.'



                           Chapter 15


TANNER, OR (March, 2016)

It took Jerald and Megan only minutes to realize that Tanner Heights was not a normal, run-of-the-mill suburban subdivision. The palatial mansions and manicured grounds they passed on the street leading to the top of the “Heights” were enough to confirm that. By the time they slowed to take in the sprawling Tanner Heights Country Club complex the reality of life on “The Hill” was becoming ever more obvious.

As they passed the Club’s parking lot Jerald was ready with his own observation. “Man, just look at those fancy vehicles. You won’t find many Fords or Chevies in that bunch. I’m guessing economy cars don’t sell all that well in Tanner Heights.”

“Well, just look at these homes,” Megan added as they turned onto Tanner Heights Boulevard. “At least the ones we can see, that aren’t hidden behind a wall or a fence. Who is going to park a car like ours in front of these places?”

“I’m guessing we’ll be doing that,” he answered, squinting to read a half-hidden street number. They were getting closer. 1430 Tanner Heights Boulevard must be just ahead on the right, directly across the street from the Country Club’s long, green fairway.

“There it is,” Megan said, pointing out the rustic mail box, and the shrubbery-lined driveway leading to an unseen home.

Jerald pulled to a stop, and for a moment seemed to be doubting his own resolve. Was he ready to do what must be done? Then, with a last deep breath, he turned into the narrow driveway that wound its way up the gentle slope, through what had the look of a well-maintained park.

“Look at that,” Megan gasped as they rounded the last turn and the imposing two-story brick home stood before them. “My God, it looks like a palace.”

“Yeah, it does. I hope they won’t mind if we park our Kia in front of it.”

A moment later, while Megan unbuckled Ryan from his car seat in preparation for their Elaine Woodman introduction, Jerald sat gripping the steering wheel, reminding himself what was actually about to happen. He had moved beyond the dreaming and dreading. After a lifetime of wondering, his questions were hopefully about to be answered.

It was a decidedly timid procession that traipsed slowly to the wide, colonnaded front porch. Once there, standing before the ornate door bell, he nodded to his wife, hoping his trembling anxieties were not as obvious as they felt. Finally, with a nervous flourish, he pressed the button and listened as the multi-tone device summoned whoever was inside.

Seconds later the massive door inched open to reveal a matronly, gray-haired woman, wearing a floral house coat. “Yes?” she asked, obviously surprised to see the young family standing there on her porch. “May I help you?”

For long seconds Jerald stood expressionless, looking into the woman’s face....until Megan’s gentle nudge brought him back to the moment.

“Yes, ma’am,” he stuttered. “Yes you may. You’re Mrs. Woodman, right? Elaine Woodman?”

“That’s right,” she answered, then waited, until finally she wondered if it was time to end their mysterious stand-off. “Can you tell me what you’re about?”

For an instant he sensed the urge to turn and run away. Why was this woman, who could well be his own mother, so cold and indifferent? The reunion he remembered envisioning had never begun like that. Yet there she was, standing right in front of him, seeming to lose her patience. He must move ahead.

“You see,” he finally continued. “I am Jerald Rogers. This is my wife, Megan, and our son, Ryan.”

Was that supposed to mean something to her? It certainly did not. “I don’t understand,” she replied.

Keep going, Jerald told himself. Stick with the plan. “The thing is, my name is Jerald. But I believe you once called me 'your little angel.” There, he had said it out loud. Surely she must understand by now.

The woman’s confusion was growing by the second. There she was, on her own front porch, early on a Saturday morning, playing word games with a complete stranger. How could she put an end to that?

“I called you 'An angel'? Why in the world would I have done that? I’ve never seen you before. I think you have the wrong address.” With that she reached back for the door knob.

“Just a minute. Please.” From his jacket pocket Jerald produced a pair of folded pages, glanced at them to be sure he had the right one, and handed it to her.

“You’re Elaine Woodman aren't you?” Accepting her hesitant nod as an answer, he added, “Then I believe this will explain what I’m about.”

Unfolding the single handwritten page she read, 


This little angel has been with me for nine months. Now he or she deserves a better life than I could ever give him or her. Please help this little one have the best future possible.  


E. Woodman




Elaine read his note once, and then again, before handing it back to him. “I have no idea what this is about.”

By then the truth was sinking in. The woman Jerald believed to be his own mother was unwilling to accept the fact of him in her life. Perhaps that was how it would end. Still, he had one last card to play. Without another word, he handed her a second page.

“What is this?” Studying the paper for a moment Elaine asked. “It says it is a Santa Clara County Birth Registration. What does that mean?”

“It means what it says. See the date....July 7, 1994. That’s me. That’s when I was born, in San Jose, California. You can see at the bottom of the page that my mother said her name was E. Woodman, and she lived in Tanner, Oregon. That’s what this is about. It’s about my mother.”

“Oh, my God.” 

With those few emphatic words Jerald’s questions, the ones he had waited so long to ask, were put on hold. More to the point, the possibilities Elaine Woodman was weighing at that moment threatened to overwhelm her ability to carry on.

She had set that contentious bit of family history aside decades before....consigning it to some rarely-visited corner of her memory, far from the light of day. But now this young man, and the evidence he offered, could not be shunted aside. He was standing there before her, sounding quite insistent.

Finally, Elaine looked up at the young couple. “Won’t you come inside?” she asked quietly. “Please. There’s no need for us to stand out here.”

With questioning frowns Jerald and Megan stepped into the tastefully decorated entry hall, standing in awe, surrounded by perhaps the first honest-to-goodness mansion they had ever seen up close.

“Come with me,” their hostess urged, motioning them through the wide double doors into an elegantly appointed living room.

“Can you tell us what’s going on,” Jerald replied. “Why the sudden change?”

“Give me a couple minutes to put the coffee on, and make a phone call. Then perhaps we can try to solve this mystery of yours. I’ll be right back.”           

In a matter of minutes the coffee maker was perking away and Elaine was leaning against the kitchen counter with her cell phone to her ear.

“Good morning, Erin. You’re still home. I’m glad I caught you.”

“I’m just getting ready to drop Susanne off at the club for her tennis lessons.”

“Good,” her mother answered. “Because I need you to come by here as soon as you can.”

“Susanna too?”

“I think not. It seems like this might be something just for you.”

“What do your mean, ‘Something just for me’? I don’t understand.”

“Please hurry. You’ll see soon enough.”


Monday, October 11, 2021

CLOSING THE CIRCLE - Chapter 14

There was no reason to put it off. Though it was not a sure thing.....the pieces seemed to fit. A day-long drive to Tanner, to learn if the lady was really his mother, was not too high a price to pay.

For years he had wondered about the fact of 'her' .....who and where she was......did she really want nothing to do with him? Yet never once had he considered what he would say if ever they stood face to face.
 



            Chapter 14


By the time Jerald reached work that morning, explaining that a “last minute emergency” had cause him to be late, his mind was on overload. Less than an hour before he had spoken to her. At least it might have been her. In his mind that certainly constituted an 'emergency.' 

Several times in the course of the day's work he paused to remind himself that perhaps she was not the one....the long-absent mother he hoped her to be. Yet each time those doubts surfaced he chased them away, preferring instead to dwell on his well-practiced longing.

That evening, after a dinner hour filled with strained small talk, Jerald motioned for Megan to join him in the living room. She laid their sleeping son on the sofa and took a seat, waiting to hear what they had so carefully avoided over dinner. She would be waiting a bit longer, as her husband assembled the churning thoughts that had haunted his work day.

When he finally looked up, he was frowning.... chewing his lip and shaking his head. Then, without further introduction, he said firmly, “I have to go there....to Tanner. To see if it is really her. It’s the only way I’ll know for sure.”

“And if it’s not her?”

By then Megan realized there was no sense debating her husband’s logic. He had made up his mind. He needed to know if the inexplicable E. Woodman/Tanner connection they had located in the Birth Index led to his mother. More to the point, was Elaine Woodman, whose voice he had heard that morning, that person?

“Come on, honey,” he countered. “I have questions to ask the lady. And they’re not the kind to be asking over the phone. I need to be there to look her in the eye and see how she reacts.

"Actually, I want us to be there....you, me, and Ryan. This is a family thing I’m talking about. Seeing Ryan, perhaps her own grandson, might be the clincher for her. So our whole family needs to be there.”

“Are you sure?”

“I’m sure.”

“When would we go? It’s quite a ways, isn’t it?”

“According to the map it’s probably a nine or ten hour drive. Basically a whole day.” He had spent the afternoon working out the details. Could he sell Megan on his plan?

“If I took Friday off work, which I’m sure Ernie would let me do, we could drive to Tanner and get a motel. That would give us Saturday to go calling ....to see what we can learn. The thing is, you’ve been talking about going back to work half-time after the first of the month. Which means this week-end is the best time to do our traveling. Right?”

“I suppose so. Besides, it sounds like you can’t wait much longer.”


         ~~~


Their Friday drive to Tanner was long....hour after hour of sterile Interstate sameness. Jerald and Megan took turns driving, while the other tried to calm and comfort young Ryan. During those hours, with too-much idle time on his hands, Jerald’s thoughts quite naturally turned to what he would find in far-off Tanner.

For mile after mile he played and replayed his imaginary scenario.....the moment he was standing at Elaine Woodman’s front door, summoning the nerve to push the door bell, and wondering how to introduce himself to the woman who might be his own mother, the one he did not remember at all.

It was that last possibility....meeting his own mother....which finally overwhelmed those insistent mind-games, leaving him to consider a most surprising realization. Never once in all the years he had dreamed of their imaginary reunion had he ever once stopped to envision that particular moment.... standing face to face with the complete stranger who might be his mother. How could a person possibly prepare for that?

By mid-afternoon, after hours on the road, the evolving truth of Jerald’s situation was sinking in. It was time to be shifting gears. If the signs could be trusted, his task was no longer finding her. Instead, he must prepare to meet her.

It was five-thirty that evening when the young family checked into the well-advertised chain motel at the South Tanner interstate exchange, the one that appeared to be the least expensive among the three or four options. 

A hurried dinner at the nearby fast-food emporium would be the extent of their night on the town. Once back in their room the evening’s television entertainment would be the quiet, low-volume sort....the kind that would not disturb their fussing, light-sleeping son, who had not yet adapted to life on the road.

Truth to tell, Jerald was in no mood for entertainment, loud or quiet. Perhaps never, at least not since the day of his birth, had he been so close to the woman who might be the one who had given him life, then given him away. At one point he took a moment to dwell on an earlier dinnertime thought, when he had paused to look around the crowded restaurant, telling himself she could be right there with them, and he would never know.

With young Ryan resting comfortably, at least for the moment, the two of were stretched out on the bed, with Megan snuggled against his shoulder. For the last half hour she had avoided any intrusion on her husband’s stoic silence. Yet there was no quieting her questions.

They were in Tanner, and the stage was set for something....but what? Since he had volunteered nothing, perhaps it was time for her to be asking.... carefully, of course.

“So what are you going to do?,” she wondered out loud, without looking up at him. “Do you have a plan or anything?”

“I suppose it’s pretty simple,” Jerald whispered reluctantly. “We have her address. After breakfast I’ll use the map we got at the convenience store to find out where that is. We’ll drive there, and I’ll go knock on her door. I don’t know how else to do it.”

“And what are you going to say?”

Megan was pushing again, he told himself, as he focused on what seemed to be his last unanswered question. They had come so far....from what had begun as little more than an existential longing ....tracking a name that might be her, and a place where those secrets might be revealed. All that, and still he had no idea of what to say when her front door opened and he was standing in front of her.

“I don’t know what I’ll say,” Jerald finally admitted. “Whatever it is, you’ll be right there to hear it.”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean I want you and Ryan to be there with me. I want her to see that it’s more than just me.”

Reaching over to the night stand, he retrieved his Kindle and pushed himself up against the headboard. “Anyway,” he said. “Enough of that for now. I’d rather concentrate on finishing this chapter.”


Saturday, October 9, 2021

CLOSING THE CIRCLE - Chapter 13

It must be a name.....the brief inscription on the cryptic note. Did it mean she actually cared what became of him? Was there a reason to try and find her?

Ah, the wonders of Goggle. A few minutes on the computer....a few false starts......were enough to produce the hopeful possibility he had always assumed was out of reach. It was by no means a sure thing, but certainly worth knowing more about.



             Chapter 13


E. Woodman. E. Woodman. For the umpteenth time Jerald Rogers assured himself that cryptic inscription had to be a name, perhaps a viable clue to the identity of his own birth mother. In a matter of days, as her apparently caring note washed away layers of encrusted resentment, a new and unfamiliar notion of looking for her had won a place in his thoughts.

With his parents’ approval and Megan’s continuing encouragement, his long-held reasons for not acting were losing their power  and fading into the background. The urge to act was growing. Perhaps it was time.

“Do you want to go looking with me?” Jerald asked, looking up from his mac and cheese dinner to address Megan, who at that moment was trying to coax their son to accept his bottle.

Shifting Ryan in her lap, she answered, “Looking for what?”

“To find out if that E. Woodman name is really a lead or not. I was thinking we could start with a Google search for State records under that name. Assuming I was born in California, that is. If that doesn’t work, and I can’t believe it will be that easy, I don’t know where we might go next.”

“We won’t know ‘til we try, will we?” Megan replied. “I’m just glad you’ve decided it’s time for that. When I get Ryan in bed, let’s see what we can find.”

What could they find? That was the question. In the rapidly evolving internet age, where exhaustive Google searches might be just a click or two away, where would 'E. Woodman' take them? 

“Your folks adopted you through an agency in San Jose. Right?” Megan asked later that evening as the two of them settled down in front of the computer. “That’s what your Mom said. If you call up Google, and enter California Birth Records, that might get us started. If we could find a record of your birth, that would give us something to go on.”

A moment later a page labeled California Birth Index 1905-1995 appeared on the screen. “I was a 1994 baby, so the record ought to be here,” Jerald said. “Except look at the fine print at the bottom of the page. You have to be a member to access the index....and that’s twenty bucks a month.”

“But it says we can sign up for a free one-month trial subscription. That’s all we should need. If we’re lucky, a ten minute trial would be enough.”

In a matter of minutes Jerald had filled out the appropriate form, supplied the required credit card information, and was ready to follow the bold-faced prompts that would take him to the Birth Index.

“Don’t let me forget to cancel this when we’re done,” he reminded Megan. “If I don’t I’m on the hook for a twelve-month subscription. You can bet we’ve got better uses for two-hundred forty bucks.”

“We won’t forget. Now let’s see where E Woodman leads us.”

Ah yes, the wonders of today’s internet. How had mankind managed so long without it? As new, and very temporary, members of the highly-touted search service, calling up their California Birth Index listings took all of ten seconds.

Then, entering the now ubiquitous 'E Woodman' in the search line, along with a qualifying “1994” date, Jerald clicked once more and a new screen offered an eleven-line listing of 1994 records that include the name - E. Woodman.

“There we are,” Megan nodded. She was standing behind him now, looking over his shoulder. “If this index is complete, you and your mother ought to be right there in front of us. So which of these fit the timeline of your July eighth birthday?”

It took only a quick cursory glance to earn Jerald’s emphatic “Damn. We’re right back where we started.”

“What does that mean?” She was squinting to read the small computer print.

“Just look. There’s a July third entry that lists Everett Woodman as the father. I'm guessing he didn't have that "little angel" with him for nine months. 

"The next line, for a July seventh birth, just lists E. Woodman, the same as we already have. But even if that’s the right record, chances are it doesn’t have anything new.”

“Let’s call it up and be sure.” Megan pulled her chair closer to better see the screen. “Maybe it has some other details.”

A single click and a few seconds wait for the file to load produced a facsimile of an original birth record,  which earned Jerald’s disgusted, “See what I mean?

“It’s the same E. Woodman. She had a son on July seventh. That’s a day before what the folks thought it was. But there is no father listed. The entry is from Santa Clara County, which I didn’t know before, but that doesn’t matter either. It’s another dead-end. There’s nothing here that gives us a clue about where to go next.”

“That is a bummer.” Megan too seemed ready to admit defeat. In fact, it was hard to know why she even noticed the last receding lines of print as Jerald clicked back to the index listing.

“Wait,” she blurted. “Go back for a second.”

“Why?”

“Just do it. I thought I saw something that didn’t fit at all.”

A second later, with the E. Woodman file back on the screen, she was pointing to the lower right corner. “There, on the “Residence” line. See? She was having a baby in Santa Clara County. But she gives her residence as Tanner, Oregon. What the heck is that about?”

“I don’t know. But an 'Oregon' baby in California doesn't make any sense. Seems like we've got more looking to do.” 

Jerald closed his eyes and his chin sank to his chest. They had caught a hopeful and altogether unexpected break with his mother’s ‘E. Woodman’ note. Now it seemed they were watching that intriguing possibility go bad. With that weighty disappointment washing over him, it seemed like a good time to step back and consider a new approach.

Sadly, that ‘new approach,’ whatever it might be, had still not made itself known the next morning when the two of them sat down for a coffee and toast breakfast. By then, though Jerald showed little interest in discussing the matter, Megan could tell the wheels were turning.

“Do you have any new ideas?” she asked when he finally set the morning paper aside. “We’re not going to give up are we?”

“No” was the extent of his unenthusiastic reply.

“So what are you going to do.”

“I’m not sure," Megan answered. "I’ve tried to imagine how we could use our new temporary membership to search the Oregon records. But we wouldn’t know what to look for. Besides, how would we tell if we found the right someone? The latest census records are from 1940. That’s before you came along."

“The lady we’re looking for could have been just fifteen when I was born....or she could have been forty. I don’t think it’s practical to check out every Woodman in the state.”

Megan stood to clear away the few dishes. then stopped short, hijacked by a new and different possibility. “I’ll be right back,” she said as she hurried off to the family room.

A couple minutes later, as Jerald started to the bedroom to dress for work, Megan was calling for him to join her at the computer.

Her mischievous grin had him wondering as he pulled a chair up beside her. “It was my turn to spend some big bucks,” she explained. “It cost us a dollar ninety-nine to look up this phone book listing. Take a look at what I’ve found.”

There, midway down a page from the Tanner, Oregon telephone white pages was the single bold-print line.


Elaine Woodman, 1430 Tanner Hgts Blvd--followed by a 503 area code phone number.


By the time he had read and reread that phone-book line, from a town he had scarcely heard of, Jerald Rogers sensed that he might be late for work that morning. There was, of course, no way of knowing for sure that it was the right E Woodman ....the elusive connection they were looking for. The name was a fit, and place matched the reference from the Birth Index. Right or wrong, it felt as though he had never been so close.

There was no way he could explain his impulsive response to that new bit of information. It was eight o’clock in the morning....hardly the time for a social call. Yet by the time Megan returned to the kitchen she found Jerald sitting at the breakfast bar, with the wireless phone to his ear. She waited silently, listening as his call was answered and a mechanical sounding voice said, “Hello.”

For an instant Jerald was not sure he could reply, or what he would say if he could. Twice he started to form his words, and twice he came up short. 

“Hello?” the feminine voice asked again. “Is anyone there?”

The possibility that she might hang up was enough to spur the young man into action. “Is this Elaine Woodman? Is that you?”

“Yes.”

Though Elaine Woodman had no way of knowing, their abbreviated conversation was over. With a deliberate poke at the ‘End’ button Jerald set the phone on the counter, bowed his head into his hands, and shed the soft tears his wife had not seen coming.