Day 17: Long Lost Family
Proverbs 23:24-25 Parents rejoice when their children turn out well; wise children become proud parents. So, make your father happy! Make your mother proud!
Song: We are family
Happy Seventeenth Day of Thanks Everyone!
Today, I give thanks for long lost family. It is so delightful for me to have finally met my other people (family) in this world. It is even more delightful that I am embraced and welcomed with open arms.
Since I was a teenager, I have had these “weird” experiences in the street where people would mistake me for someone else they knew. Little did I know that one of these random encounters would lead me closer to finding out some of the “unknown” historical pieces of my life. One day, as I was walking toward my five-story tenement building on Burnside Avenue in the Bronx, some random lady stopped me in the street and said “Yesterday, when I spoke to you, I thought you said that you weren’t coming.” I gave her this really confused look because I had no idea who she was and said, “Ma’am, I think you have mistaken me for someone else.” She called me someone’s name and said, “stop, playing! Why you acting like you don’t know me?” With a confused look on my face, I looked at her again and replied, “my name is Melissa and I really don’t know you or about what you’re talking.” When she realized that I was serious, she took a good look at me and asked, “Do you have family from [a specific part of] Jamaica?” I replied, “No, not that I know of.” She said, I can’t believe that you are not [this person]. You two are so identical, I can take your face off and place it on hers and there would be no difference at all. Are you sure your family is not from Jamaica.” She drilled me again asking if I knew several people, particularly the woman about which she was asking. I politely said again, “no ma’am. I don’t know anyone in my family from there.” She looked at me completely shocked and said that can’t be true. I know that’s not true.
When I left her and reached my apartment, I told my mother about the random encounter I had with the woman and she looked at me and said, “you didn’t know that my father is Jamaican?” I was so shocked and looking at her side-eyed (even, then) because I was wondering how I was supposed to know information that she, nor anyone else, had ever mentioned to me a day in my life. I never met her biological father and was raised only knowing her stepfather who had been around since she was a little girl. Although my mother and her oldest sister didn’t look like any of their other siblings, and I knew that their stepfather was not their biological father, there was never a mention of who my mother’s biological father was. This discussion started a world wind of questions. “So, who is your real father? What’s his name? Have you ever met him before? Is he here in NY or still back home?” And on the questions went. Eventually, I saw a blurry picture of a man who looked like a brown-skinned version of my mother when she was about 3 or 4 years. My mother said that she knew his name but didn’t know much more except that when my grandmother was pregnant, her mom, my maternal great-grandmother, who we call Mama, went to her father’s mother and told her that my teenage grandmother was pregnant and that she would need help raising the baby. My paternal grandmother said that she was completely pressed for money, because she had to send money back home and couldn’t really support the many children she already had. His mother told Mama that she could not afford to help raise another child. That conversation led to my teenage grandmother putting my mom in the foster care system for the first six or seven years of her life.
In my late twenties, the conversation of my mother’s father resurfaced because my aunt, my mother’s oldest sister, wanted to know who her father was. My maternal grandmother, Clara Pearl, said that my mother and her oldest sister had the same father. My maternal great grandmother (Mama) said that information wasn’t true. (I have no idea how and why Mama was so adamant about who’s father this man was because my grandmother had to know who she was sleeping with.) Mama said repeatedly, clearly and adamantly, that the man mentioned was only my mother’s father. My aunt looked for who she thought was her and my mother’s “biological father” and found him. She talked to him and eventually invited him to one of our family barbeques to meet everyone in my maternal family. He came to the exact location of the barbeque but chickened out when it came to meeting us. He stayed in his car and watched our family from a distance. Later, he told my aunt that he didn’t know how to have the conversation with his wife and children and family about us because he never mentioned to them that we existed. I asked more questions about him and got a few more details but nothing extravagant. My aunt and him continued to talk for some time but then stopped. I discovered later that my aunt did meet “her father” and his wife personally but never met their children.
During the initial stages of COVID in the US, I was in a time of deep prayer and my mother’s father name began to surface in my spirit. I didn’t look him up right away but I put it on my long list of to-do’s. In the second quarter of this year, 2021, a year and several months later, I started searching for him with a simple internet search of his name and a possible location. Another search engine allowed me to do a deeper exploration and gave me his location, phone numbers, and possible associations to him. What I discovered surprised me. After my paternal grandfather retired from the air force and left where he was stationed (the Philippines), he moved his family back to NY. All of the locations they lived were within minutes and walking distance of my grandmother’s house or where my mother lived when we were younger. As I thought about it, it couldn’t be a coincidence that his family was always living blocks away from us.
The first number the search engine gave me was no longer in service. The second number turned out to be a workable number. I didn’t think everything through as I decided to search for my biological paternal grandfather; I hadn’t even thought about what I was going to say or how I would introduce myself when I actually got to talk to my “grandfather.” Someone picked up on the other line, which I don’t even think I was expecting to happen. I introduced myself, “Hi. My name is Melissa Barber and I am looking to speak to a Mr. XX.” (I’ll leave his name blank to respect his family’s privacy.) The voice on the other end said, “I’m sorry but he recently passed away.” That was a blow I wasn’t expecting. I replied, “Wow! I’m sorry for your loss.” The man on the other end asked who I was and I formally introduced myself. He introduced himself and said that he was the man’s son. I let him know that I was calling because I wanted to talk to his dad to know more about his history and his life and thought it would be good to hear his thoughts and answers to questions I had always had in my mind. His son (I’ll call Jacob) said that one of his oldest aunts, several years ago, mentioned to him that his father had another family. Jacob said that he asked his father about the other family but was told that they’d have a conversation about it later. The conversation never came. However, Jacob said that there was some tension between his mother and father at one point, of which he chose not to get in the middle, because his mother discovered that his father kept the secret that he had another family of children that he never mentioned to her.
Jacob shared a little about himself and about his father’s history.
During that time he knew my grandmother, my paternal grandfather in his youth was a “hustler,” to help his mother feed those many children she had. When he was age eligible, he joined the military to get out of trouble and on a better path. He was stationed in the Philippines and about three years later met and married his wife. They had two children, a girl and a boy (Jacob). My grandfather’s daughter with his wife is three years younger than my mother. Jacob told me that they eventually moved to the states, back to the Bronx. He said that his father went back to the church of his youth and eventually got saved. He went from being an usher to a deacon to an elder and eventually became a pastor in his church, in the Bronx. I shared with Jacob a little about my history and told him the little history I knew about what my grandmother said before she passed and the encounters my aunt had with his father.
It was a great time of sharing. Jacob and I made plans to meet with our families once COVID minimized. A few weeks later, out of nowhere, my nephew called me and said that he was interested in knowing more about my paternal grandfather. He wanted to learn more about his history and asked if I knew anything. I shared that, interestingly enough, I had just done some searching and told him all I had discovered. I asked Jacob if I could give my nephew his information so that my nephew could ask more questions as well.
That long story was to mention that a week ago, I got a message from a woman on Facebook letting me know that she was my paternal grandfather’s living sister and would love to speak to me. I didn’t get the actual message until some days after she sent it but when I saw it, I called her immediately. It turns out that of my grandfather’s ten siblings, she is one of three left. Her mother had five children first and then waited ten years to have another set of five children. My great aunt was in the second set of five children and is only six years older than my mother. We talked for quite some time and she said she was happy and angry at the same time when she discovered through Jacob that we existed. She said, “I can’t believe that they all took this secret to the grave and didn’t let us get to know you all. You all have so much family and could have been part of us this whole time.”
I discovered that Lilah is born on the same day as my great aunt. She recently celebrated her 70th birthday and many of her nieces and nephews came from far and wide to celebrate her. She told them all about me, which was why I started getting so many friend requests on Facebook from these “unfamiliar” people. My aunt told me that since they didn’t have television back then, all of her older siblings had at least eight kids each. That is at least 40 cousins in the immediate family! They sound much like my maternal family! I got so many people ya’ll! As I was talking to my aunt and she was telling me about one of my cousins, that same cousin, Douglas, and I were having a conversation on Facebook. My aunt told me that Douglas was a prayer warrior and on fire for God. How ironic that the two of us would be the first to meet and talk! If you all know anything about me, you know that I am a prayer warrior too and have that same zeal and fire for God. It turns out that Douglas is the son of the aunt who originally told Jacob about us. I laughed when I found out about the professions of Douglas and several of my cousins. They were the answer to my prayers when I was younger and I didn’t even know it. (Every time I had to be the carpenter in my house, I always prayed, more like complained, “God where are the men in this family that could and should be doing this instead of me?” ) It turns out that I have a fleet of male cousins who are all carpenters or construction workers. Well, what’d’ya know! They existed, I just didn’t know them.
We are still working to know more about each family and sharing photos and details. Unfortunately, the folks who know all the details about the saga have all transitioned and we have to piece much of the story together with the little fragments we have. My hope is that eventually we can get DNA test to confirm stories and identities. I also can’t wait to see clear pictures of my grandfather to see where my and mother’s face come from.
I haven’t shared my search details with my mother yet. Pray for me with that one ya’ll. She had a period where she was adamant about not knowing or meeting her biological father. She said, “he abandoned me and didn’t think to know me, why should I bother with him.” It turns out that my maternal grandmother revealed to my sister about two years before her death that my grandfather had always come around and asked for or about my mother until she was in her late fifties. My mother just never knew those details (or perhaps decided to ignore them). I have no idea why my maternal grandmother chose to keep those details from her. I’m not even sure why my grandmother assumed that his great grandchildren wouldn’t want or need to know those details either.
Those kind of family secrets are deadly and create a lifetime of trauma, anger and bitterness for the children, that only God can uproot. I spent a great deal of my life living away from my family since I was thirteen because I lived at school. I wish I was around to ask the necessary questions and find out how my grandmother really felt about my grandfather. Since he actually did see my grandmother in person several times and came to check for my mom while he on break from the military and talked until my mother was in her late fifties, they could not have been enemies. My maternal uncle, my mother’s brother who is born directly after her, said that he remembers seeing my mother’s father often as they were growing up and described how he looked. I’m waiting to get pictures of my grandfather so that I can confirm with my uncle if my grandfather was the man he remembers seeing “often” when they were growing up. Lots of questions very few answers!
This journey of discovering my paternal family has been one of joy and excitement. It is beautiful to know that I have so much family and history that I didn’t even know existed. I can’t wait to meet my uncle Jacob and his sister in person and their families. They just recently came back from the Philippines. My uncle Jacob also married a Philippine woman and they still visit all of his mother’s and her family there. I suggested to my great aunt that we schedule a family zoom “meet and greet” soon since everyone is scattered in different parts of the US and throughout the world. I’m told that I look like a great deal like one of my cousins in Arizona.
It’s bitter sweet that I just missed meeting my grandfather face to face and that I may never know or discover all the details of what happened between those two teenagers who procreated and conceived my mother. I’ll never find out why he always lived so close to us and thought to check on my mother until she was in her late fifties without getting to know her. (Or maybe he did, and that is another secret that is being kept.) I’m happy to hear that my mother’s father did check on her all of her life. There has to be another story. I hope that my mother discovering that fact will change some of her reluctance to knowing more about him, will give her peace and chisel away at much of the anger and bitterness she has carried toward him for so much of her life.
Today, as we give thanks for long lost family, I pray that you choose to discover your roots and history with all the genetic testing that can be done nowadays. I pray that you have the courage to share that history with your family and your children so that they too can have a sense of identity and know who and where they belong. No more family secrets and covering the “shame” or “guilt” of our past. Lets get free. Additionally, I invite you to donate to the organization, Together Rising (https://togetherrising.org/give/), who does amazing work at connecting a donor’s generosity to an identified need in the world and addressing it. Whether its protecting detained children at the border and reuniting them with their families, or providing therapy to essential care workers, to providing funding a single mother’s breast cancer treatment, they are providing a way for our communities to help and love each other, one concern at a time. One hundred percent of your donation will go to the cause and will only be directed to administrative cost, if you choose.
Have a Great Day of Thanks!