Shawna got out and waited by the nearby stream while I went to talk to her mother as we had planned. "Hurry Tom. Don't take too long," she pleaded.
Doris went inside the house as I pulled into the driveway. The kids surrounded my car as I got out with a friendly smile on my face. I noticed Doris watching curiously through a window at the side of the house. A few seconds later she walked out onto the porch.
"Hi Doris," I said.
"Who are you?" she inquired.
I gave her my business card and told her I was a private investigator from Los Angeles.
"Can we talk in private for a few minutes... away from the kids?" I asked politely.
Doris ushered the children into the house.
"Do you know what this is about?" I inquired when she returned. "I have no idea!" she replied.
"Shawna," I said softly in case the kids were eavesdropping.
"Oh!... OK!" Doris gasped, then added, "How is she? Is she all right?"
I assured her Shawna was doing fine. I told Doris that Harold had been seriously ill and had died a few years ago. She was saddened by the news of Harold's death.
"Shawna hired me to find you," I informed Doris.
Although somewhat startled, she remained friendly. "Where can we talk? Shall we sit in your car?" she asked, appearing anxious to hear more.
Relieved by her cordial reception, I had a feeling this encounter would go well. As we sat in my car, Doris told me she often thought about Shawna, but had no idea how to find her. Harold had told her they'd be moving to either New York or Puerto Rico after the divorce and she hadn't had the resources to try and find them.
Doris told me she had been married twice since her marriage to Harold ended. Her most recent marriage had taken place just two years ago.
"Does your husband know about Shawna?" I asked.
"I told my husband, but I haven't told the kids yet," she responded.
I wondered about the children. Were they Doris's or her husband's from a previous marriage? Ranging in age from about six to fourteen, it didn't seem likely that she would have children this young. Shawna and I had assumed they were Doris's stepchildren.
"Were those your children, or your husband's?" I asked politely.
"No, they're all mine," she answered. My husband doesn't have any children.
Wait until Shawna finds out! I thought to myself. She's never had any brothers or sisters. Now all of a sudden she has four!
"Will the kids be able to handle this if you told them?" I asked.
"These kids?" she answered. "These kids can handle anything!"
I was elated by her response to my inquiries so far. This was more than Shawna and I had hoped for. Doris had not concealed the fact she had another child. She'd already told her husband about Shawna and she wasn't apprehensive about telling the children. . . Now I wondered about Doris's parents.
"I spoke with your mother a couple of months ago," I told Doris. "She said no one in the family had seen or heard from you since you were about twenty-one."
"Oh... They're all so prejudiced!" Doris replied in a huff. "They were just here a few weeks ago! They've never wanted anything to do with Shawna. In fact, when I tried to keep her, they wouldn't give me shelter or anything. That's why I gave custody to her father."
The puzzle was nearing completion. It was time to let Doris and Shawna finish it together.
"So, you're not upset that Shawna's been trying to find you?" I inquired, somewhat rhetorically.
"0h no!" she answered without hesitation... then added with a sigh, "lf I wasn't so poor..."
"Would you like to meet her?" I asked.
"Oh yes! I believe so," Doris responded sadly, still contemplating her limited assets. She obviously assumed I was referring to a reunion sometime in the future.
"Shawna's right down the road," I injected before she could say anything else.
"My daugh... my daughter's here!" Doris stammered. "Where is she? Down the road?... Where?!"
Clearly delighted, but in a state of shock, Doris was immediately concerned about her appearance and the condition of her house. With a little prodding, she eventually agreed not to worry about house cleaning or her make-up right now.
I went to get Shawna.
While I was gone, Doris brought her children together and told them about Shawna.
I arrived back at the house with Shawna a few minutes later. The kids came running out to meet us. They appeared to be excited about the surprise addition to their family. We got out of the car and walked to the porch.
Doris opened the door and extended both hands towards her grown up daughter. Shawna reached out. They stood in the doorway grasping each other's arms, their eyes glistened with restrained emotion. Without letting go, Doris guided Shawna inside and led her into an adjacent bedroom where they sat down to talk.
The two small girls climbed on the bed next to Shawna, examining their new big sister, touching her hands and playing with her long braided hair. The boys stood in the nearby doorway - their gentle smiling faces expressing approval of the events unfolding before them.
I could only imagine what effect this was having on Shawna. She was prepared for rejection, but instead, she was welcomed, loved and adored.
I leaned into the room and suggested that I go into town for awhile so they could be alone to talk. They agreed and asked me to come back in about an hour. Then we'd all decide what to do for the rest of the evening.
Returning to the house later, I discovered Doris's husband, Joe, had come home from work. After learning about the reunion that had just occurred, Joe volunteered to stay home and watch the kids while Doris, Shawna and I went to the local cafe to spend some time visiting over dinner.
On the way to the cafe, I asked Doris if she cared if the people in town knew about Shawna.
"Oh, I could care less. This is a small town. Everybody knows everybody. But I don't care what people think!" she responded.
Doris spoke candidly in front of the two ladies working in the tiny house trailer restaurant. She talked about her marriage to Shawna's father as well as their divorce. She didn't appear to have anything to hide. I was impressed with her openness. It was a display of self-confidence and independence; character traits I knew Shawna identified with and respected.
Shawna seemed attentive, but stared at her mother as she listened to the voice she'd longed to hear for so long. Her face remained blank and expressionless. Finally she turned to me and said, "I'm just blown away! I can't believe I'm looking at my mother!"
This would be a phrase I'd hear frequently before the evening was over. "I'm blown away too!" Doris added occasionally, approving of her daughter's joy.
Shawna and her mom posed while I took their picture. They held each other with arms wrapped in back and their fingers interlaced in front as if they were afraid someone might try to pull them apart. Later, we talked as we picked away at dinner. No one was really hungry.
I noticed how similar Shawna's personality was to her mother's. Shawna and her mom also saw the similarities and were fascinated that they could be so much alike with virtually no contact since Shawna was born. The biological connection seemed to be alive and well.
Back at the house, we visited for a few more hours. The kids posed proudly as I took pictures of them individually and with Shawna.
It got dark all too soon. An owl sat on a tall pole outside the old house hooting it's approval of the evening's events. It was obviously getting late so we began making preparations to leave. The two small girls hugged Shawna... then turned and gave me a hug too!
Nothing was said. It wasn't necessary.
The kids stayed in the house with Doris's husband while the three of us walked to the car. I got in and waited while Shawna and her mom stood outside, their sillouettes illuminated by the lights shining from the doorway of the old house behind them. After several minutes, Shawna and her mom began walking arm-in-arm to the house.
"I'm just going to walk her back," Shawna called to me.
When they reached the front porch, they embraced as they talked and cried together; then, they went inside. Shawna came out thirty minutes later!
As we drove away, Shawna apologized for taking so long. She told me her mother was having a hard time saying goodbye. I assured her I wasn't the least bit upset.
"She kept saying how sorry she was. She couldn't stop crying." Shawna said. "I tried to tell her she didn't have to feel sorry. I told her I understood."
Doris had tried to persuade Shawna to stay longer.
"She wouldn't let me go!" Shawna told me. "I promised I'd come back as soon as I could and I told her I'd write her a nice long letter when I get home."
Emotionally exhausted, Shawna curled up on the front seat of the car, using her coat as a blanket.
"Tom, I'm blown away," she mumbled, "I'm just blown away!"
Within minutes she was asleep.
I love this job! I thought to myself.
Headlights lit the dark winding road as we left the small town on our way to Albuquerque. Recalling the elements of the case I was about to close, I tried to imagine what it all meant. The lives of these two women and their families were permanently changed, in fact, I believe, enriched. Their future looked bright, but I couldn't get my mind off the past.
Grandmother, grandfather, aunts, uncles, cousins, brothers, sisters, and, a mother; twenty- six years of relationships, lost forever - simply because a baby's skin tone was half of a shade too dark!
Where was the logic?
Once again I searched for answers... this time, for myself.
It was going to be a long drive.
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