Authors: Debbie White
We drove in silence. I was trying to digest what we’d just been told. We weren’t any closer to finding out the truth.
When we got back to our little bungalow, I went straight into the kitchen and started a pot of coffee. I was banging cupboards and clanking cups when Charles entered the kitchen.
“I know you’re upset. It may not have been the news you were hoping for, but it’s a lead. We’re not throwing in the towel because of what the sister told us,” he said turning me around to face him.
A tear started to roll down my cheek. I shuddered a little when he brought me in close for a much-needed hug.
“Don’t cry, Pat. We’ve just begun to touch the tip of the iceberg.”
I loved how he always made comparisons of our trials and tribulations to old clichés. That’s one of the things I loved most about him. Realizing he was right, I pulled myself together and made our cups of coffee. It had been another challenging day.
Charles was in the other room making contact with Francis again. The phone rang. I could hear quiet mumbling coming from the other room.
“Pat, the phone is for you,” he called out.
I was so happy to hear from Lisa. I wasn’t sure if she’d really contact me. We made arrangements to have lunch the following day. Charles said he’d drop me off at the restaurant and visit the library and other places while I had lunch. I’d ask Lisa to drop me off at home afterward.
“This is so nice…us having lunch together. I thought about you so many times over the years,” she said while she wiped the sweat from her glass.
“Seems so long ago. Pool hall, apartment, you across the street,” I stammered.
“Do you remember the time you rescued the family from gas fumes?” She asked.
I’d totally forgotten about that. All of a sudden the memory came crashing through. It was Lisa’s next-door neighbors, a young couple with an infant.
Lisa and I accompanied her mother when she went to see the new baby. It was wintertime, and the heater was on in the house. One by one, the occupants started feeling dizzy and sick. I knew something was happening. I quickly grabbed the infant and ran out the front door, collapsing on the stoop. I woke up in the Smithfield’s home with everyone swooning over me.
Looking her straight in the eyes, I said, “Wow, I forgot about that.”
Smiling she said, “Yep, you were the citizen of the year after performing that heroic act.”
“I realize everyone got out, but we never discussed what exactly happened that day,” I said looking for answers.
“After we saw you grab the baby, it all made sense what was going on. We followed you out the door. I almost dropped to the ground too.” Then she added, “That baby was so lucky.”
“So tell me, how come the newspaper office?”
“Well, my family owns the paper. We’ve owned it for about 30 years or so. I started out writing obituaries, and then progressed to news stories, and now, I help with the counter,” she said taking a bite of her salad.
“Well, my husband – Charles, and I own a private investigation service. We’re retired now, but still have the practice.”
“Just like Magnum P.I.?” She asked.
“We had some fascinating clients. It was pretty exciting in our youth. Like everything, age has transformed it some. We still try to find missing persons and follow husbands and wives, but the real strange stuff…well, we leave that to the younger investigators.”
“Hey, do you remember the time your dad made that old sled out of sheet metal and rope?”
“Yes. All the kids made fun of it until they saw how fast it went down the hill,” I said laughing.
She nodded. “What about the time you got locked in the freezer in that old warehouse?” She asked.
I’d totally forgotten about that memory. The kids had found an old freezer in an abandoned warehouse. It was the kind used for meat storage. They were playing in it. Lisa even got inside. I just stood and watched. However, the following day, I went back alone. At least I thought I was alone. After I had climbed inside, a boy that didn’t much care for me locked me inside.
Daddy was getting concerned because I hadn’t come home yet and went looking for me. There in the warehouse he found me, locked in the darn freezer. He quickly opened the top and pulled me out. I was red in the face, and sweat was dripping from my forehead and temples. He switched my behind all the way home.
“What possessed you to go back alone the next day?” Lisa asked.
“I suppose, I was curious. I remember after I got inside and couldn’t get out that I was rather calm. I tried kicking the top and screaming. After a while, I just gave up,” I said solemnly.
“Why do you suppose you gave up?” She asked.
“Maybe I knew my daddy would find me. I don’t really know. I just remember feeling calm, at peace.”
“It gives me goosebumps thinking about what could have happened,” Lisa said.
Lisa drove me back to our little bungalow. We vowed to meet again. I wasn’t sure if we’d follow through, but it was nice just the same to suggest it.
“Don’t be a stranger,” she called out as she drove away.
Charles was sitting on the couch with Spunky when I came in.
“Did you have a nice lunch?” He said looking up from the yellow legal pad he was writing on.
“We did. We did a lot of reminiscing. She reminded me of things I’d forgotten about,” I said, leaning down giving him a peck on the cheek.
“Like what?” He asked.
“Just kid stuff. Nothing to help us with what we’re doing. In fact, we didn’t even talk about that. Strange, huh?” I called out from the kitchen.
“Well, I got a reply back from old Francis. We’re going to meet her at a local coffee shop tomorrow. In the meantime, she’s added a few more names to the family tree.”
“That’s interesting,” I said plopping down next to him on the couch. “I’m nervous about meeting her.”
“Nothing to be nervous about, Pat. You’re with me, and I’m not going to let anything happen to you. You know that, right?” He added.
The following day we drove to the coffee shop. It was more of a diner. It had lots of glass windows that looked out to a rather busy street. Its location was ideal. We weren’t sure what Francis would look like so I scoured the place looking for an older woman with glasses and short hair. I don’t know why I thought that’s what she’d look like, but I did. I knew she wouldn’t be holding up a sign saying “Phillips Family.” That much I knew.
The diner was busy and only a few seats remained unoccupied. Just as we were about to give up, thinking perhaps we’d been sent on a wild goose chase, a short man with glasses and graying hair approached Charles.
“Are you Charles?” He asked.
Charles and I looked at one another and then we both nodded. The man led us to a table he had secured in the back corner. Charles and I sat next to one another with Francis sitting across from Charles. Who’d have thought, Francis would be a man! Boy, our investigative skills needed sharpening.
We ordered cups of coffee and water, and soon Charles had Francis engaged in deep conversation about local events, sports, and the weather. I learned early on that part of being a good detective is to get your opponent softened up, so they spill the beans later. Charles was doing just that.
Our coffee arrived and I fixed Charlie’s and mine with a splash of cream while the men continued talking. I listened intently as Charles soon changed the tone of the conversation to more about what we were gathered there for and less on the local politics and weather.
“I knew your sister, Patsy.”
Those words stumbled around inside my brain for a while. I wasn’t sure what to make of it. I searched his face for more details, but I also realized he was waiting for me to make a comment, a sound, a facial expression – anything after he told me this startling news. I finally said, “Oh.”
“I dated her after her husband passed away,” he added, hoping that would get me to say more.
“Husband passed away,” I repeated, looking at Charles then back to Francis.
“Eddie Spencer was his name.”
“Does this mean Teresa is still alive?” I queried.
“Yes, she is. She’s in a convalescent home, however. She was stricken with a rare bone disease and unable to walk anymore. Her son…”
“Her son lives here too?” I interjected.
“No. I believe he moved to Texas,” he concluded.
We learned that Teresa’s husband had passed away from all his years of drinking. We also learned her son, James was alive and well. In fact, he was a prominent attorney. I knew from my private investigating days that attorneys could also muck things up. “Lawyered up” was a term I often heard in our line of business.
“What can you tell me, if anything about my parents?
“You mean your biological parents?” He asked.
I was about to correct him, when he added, “I know who your real parents are.”
I couldn’t believe what I’d just heard. Did he really say he knew who my real parents are? I pondered his statement and what it could mean for me. Was I really ready to know the truth?
Charles, sensing my stupor, interrupted my thoughts and what I was about to say.
“Hold on just a moment,” Charles said in a commanding voice. “Let’s take this a bit slow,” he said tapping my hand lightly reassuring me he was on my side all the way – I needed that right about then.
Francis, realizing he may have coughed up a bit more than we were ready to handle, leaned back in the booth and let out a sigh. “I’m probably a bit overzealous in my approach – given that you just started your search and all,” he said.
I nodded my head. Clearing my throat and as delicately as I could, I asked him if he’d give us the address to the convalescent home Teresa lived at. He scribbled down the address and slid over the information. As I went to get the paper, he quickly took it back saying, “You might want her son’s information too.” He scribbled something else on the paper and this time let us keep it.
“Do you really know who my parents were?” I blurted out.
“Yes, I believe so. I know what Teresa told me. However, based on some of the information I have, it may not be true. Unfortunately, she had a habit of not telling the truth. That’s why we broke up. I’ll reserve the information I have until you can confirm or deny some things. We’ll meet again,” he said looking at Charles and me.
We finished our drinks and pleasantries and promised to keep in touch. He said he understood that it was a lot of information to take in during one meeting. He offered to meet us again after visiting Teresa. I wanted to see what she’d offer up first before I got the information from a stranger.
That night, over grilled cheese sandwiches and hot tomato soup we discussed our next plan of action. We both found comfort in the savory taste of tomato soup and grilled cheese on sourdough bread – it helped calm our nerves and allowed us to be able to think clearly, or so we believed.
“Do you think he’s telling the truth? How do we know he's not a bold face liar?” I asked slurping my soup.
“If he’s a bold face liar, he’s a good one,” Charles said in between bites and slurps. “He went out of his way to enter valuable information on your family tree, then went a step further and agreed to meet with us. I truthfully think he knows something…how much remains to be seen,” he said looking me deep in my eyes.
“Well, I trust your instincts better than mine,” I murmured. “I’m probably too close to the situation,” I added.
I tried to sleep that night, but all I could hear in my head were the words my sister and her son were still alive. I hadn’t had any contact with her in over thirty years. It was going to be strange seeing her again. I wondered if she’d mellowed in her older years, and maybe even got a bit nicer. We’d find out soon enough. I tried to close my eyes and rest. I knew that I had a big day coming up.
Finally, after what seemed like hours, I drifted off to sleep. When I awoke, I didn’t recall dreaming about anything, so I guess my brain finally did succumb to darkness and I rested.
The convalescent hospital was an older building that appeared to have wings off a central area. Charles found a parking space and we walked to the sliding front doors that would take us inside. Once inside, we approached a front desk that was busy with people answering the phone, looking at charts, and helping visitors. It almost had the appearance of a hospital.
“Can I help you?” A pleasant voice asked.
“Yes, my wife and I would like to visit one of the residents. Her name is Teresa Bowman - Spencer. We were told she’s here. We’re visiting from out of state,” he added.
The young attendant looked at a chart and then directed us to room 15.
The hallway was bustling with activity. There were residents in wheelchairs rolling about, nurses pushing medicine carts, and down at one end we could see the meal cart delivering lunch. We came to room 15 and stopped to catch our breath before entering.
The room had two beds, but only one appeared to be occupied. The bed closest to the window was neatly made and had a couple of stuffed animals on top. On the built-in dresser top were personal items such as a handheld mirror, brush, comb, and pictures of people. I walked over to look at the photos.
“Do you think this is her?” I asked Charles.
It was a picture of a young woman with a young child and a man. I assumed it was her and her husband, when their family was young and just starting out. The other picture was of my mother and Teresa during the latter years of Mother’s life. No picture of Daddy, and definitely none of me.
“Ahem,” a voice said behind us.
We both turned around to see a woman in her late seventies in a wheelchair. I could immediately see the resemblance and knew it was her.
“Can I help you with something?” She said rather abrupt.
I didn’t blame her for being angry. After all, two people were in her room, snooping around.
“Yes, you can,” Charles said. “My name is Charles Phillips and this is my wife, Patricia. You may have known her as Patsy,” he added.
The woman shot a glare at me that told me she knew exactly who I was.
“Why are you here? I don’t want to see you. Get out. Get out the both of you. Leave now before I call security,” she bellowed.
I started to shake. I guess I wasn’t expecting that kind of reaction. Or maybe I expected exactly that kind of response but didn’t prepare how to handle it. Charles reached for my hand.
“Listen, there’s no reason to shout or get belligerent. We came in peace. Pat is just trying to find out some things regarding her childhood. We were hoping you’d help us. I can see that is out of the question, so as you requested, we’ll leave.”
“What is it you want?” She bellowed.
“Answers,” I said.
“You never cared a thing about Irma. Why now?” She asked me.
“Are you serious? She was my mother. I always wanted her to love me, but she never did. You two had a better relationship than we did, and you weren’t her daughter either!” I yelled, realizing I shouldn’t be raising my voice in the nursing home.
“She was more of a mother to me than my own mother,” Teresa spat. “I took care of her until she died. Where were you?” She sarcastically asked.
“I was in California taking care of my family. The family that loves me. We just have a few questions, and then we’ll be gone. Please tell me who my real parents were.”
“Lyle and Irma were your parents.”
“I don’t believe that. Maybe Lyle was my dad, but there is no way in heck Irma was my mother. She detested the very earth I walked on.” I said boldly.
“Don’t be coming here trying to stir up old stuff. That was a lot of years ago,” she reminded me.
Charles had had enough of the back and forth and not really getting anywhere.
“Francis thought you might be able to help us,” he said straightforward.
She looked him up and down. She curled her lips and out came the hatred I was accustomed to. Nothing had changed, not even in a seventy-something old woman. “Francis is full of B.S. He doesn’t know a thing,” she spewed.
“So is that your final answer. You’re not going to give us any information about anything. Not a name, a place, or a date we could possibly investigate further?” Charles appealed.
She let out a growl letting us know she would not be offering up any information.
As we walked past the old woman, Charles tossed a business card in her lap. “In case you change your mind,” he said irritably.
We both sat in the car for a few minutes gathering our thoughts. I was breathing heavy, and Charles worried I was having an anxiety attack.
“Take some deep breaths, it’ll be ok. That woman knows something,” he said annoyed.
“I think she does too but doesn’t look like she wants to tell me... us,” I stammered.
We drove home but not before stopping at the local grocery store. We both agreed it would take more than tomato soup or grilled cheese sandwiches to comfort us that night.
Over take-out pizza and red wine – just like old times when we were hunkered around a coffee table, we discussed our next plan of attack.
“I think we should look up her son,” Charles said in his best Magnum P.I. – Tom Selleck voice.
I got a little tipsy on the wine. It did that to me sometimes, especially if I was stressed or overtired. I was both. I started to get a little playful with Charles.
It had been a while since we’d been romantic. He took my lead very fast and soon we were kissing. His lips were warm, and the taste of pizza and wine just added to the heat I was already feeling. Soon we were breathing hard, and unlike our other lovemaking episodes, we didn’t retire to the bedroom to play it all out. Charles gently laid me back on the couch.
He moved over me with such ease. It was hard to believe we weren’t young kids. He was so suave and debonair and knew just what to do with his hands. He gently caressed my skin, moving to parts of my body that left me tingling and wanting more. I was moving under him, slightly letting him know I wanted him. I softly whispered in his ear how much I loved him – his breathing egging me on. I softly kissed the inside of his ear causing him to let out a moan. Soon we were making love and it was better than when we were young.
Spent from the lovemaking, we lie in each other’s arms and soon fell asleep.
“Wake up, Charles. Let’s go to bed. We’re both going to wake up in the morning with cramps in places we didn’t know we could get cramps in,” I said rustling him up from the couch.
He walked toward the bedroom half asleep, occasionally bumping into a wall. I picked up the pizza box and wine bottle and took them to the kitchen. I didn’t want to wake up to ants, or worse, cockroaches! I cleaned up the kitchen, and then joined him in our bed.
The next morning, we acted like shy young lovers. It was hard to believe one could be so intimate with another person. We talked about our plans for the day over coffee. “With your permission, I’d like to contact James.”
“Ok, that’s fine. Go ahead,” I said ready for the next step.
We later both agreed it was too easy. James would not take our call, would not return our call, and soon we were back to square one.
“So…Pat, what do you want to do? Teresa won’t talk to us, and neither will her son, James. That leaves Francis. He’s the only one who will.”
Nodding my head, I agreed. He was our only link left. “Call him,” I said.
We set the appointment up for later in the week. I wanted some time to check out some other prospects. We both agreed that a trip back to the farmhouse was in order as well. Maybe the lady of the house would have a change of heart.
I know you said you didn’t know the Bowman’s at all,” Charles started off telling the woman who greeted us on the gravel driveway.
“Yep, that’s right. I don’t know the Bowman’s,” she spat.
“What about the Browns? Did you know anyone with that last name?” I probed.
The lady just stared at the two of us.
“How long has your family lived here?” I asked.
“Listen, I know what you’re doing, and it’s not going to work. I told you then, and I’m telling you now. I don’t know any Brown’s or Bowman’s!”
I reached out and gently touched her arm as she was trying to escape the unpleasant conversation we were placing her in.
“I’m not trying to stir up any trouble or bring up undesirable memories. I just want to find my family,” I pleaded.
She stopped in her tracks. She paused a moment and turned to face me.
“Come inside,” she said as she walked toward the front door.
Charles and I looked at each other, no one had to invite us a second time. We followed her lead.
The farmhouse hadn’t changed a whole lot since I was a kid. White kitchen cabinets, linoleum on the floor, and a large rock fireplace in the living room told the story of an old house that was left behind. It even smelled that way, old and musty – as if it needed a good airing out.
“Pull up a chair. Coffee, tea, water?” She asked politely.
We both answered coffee at the same time. Seemed she’d mellowed out, and we liked what we saw and heard.
Over coffee, we found out her name was Louise Bowman-Jefferson, and her brother, Jessie was not only Lyle’s friend, but they were also cousins.
“So let me get this straight. You, Lyle and Jessie were cousins?” Charles asked.
Louise nodded her head as she took a sip of her coffee. “Our daddies were brothers,” she informed us.
“Mary and I were friends. She’d visit and it seemed she was always timing it for when Lyle was here. One thing led to another, and soon they were a couple. Quite a scandal them two,” she added with a grin.
“Why a scandal?” Charles asked.
“The age difference was one concern, and the second one was because he’d been married before.”
“I was close to my daddy’s sisters, and of course, Whitey, but now you’re telling me Daddy had other relatives too.”
“Well…Whitey was the son of your Aunt Margie’s husband from a previous relationship. He wasn’t blood kin to you,” Louise said dropping yet another bombshell on my head.
I never asked how I was related to Whitey. I was always told he was a cousin and that’s what I’d refer to him as. Seemed there were a lot of second wives and husbands in my family’s past.
“Was Aunt Margie’s husband married to Whitey’s mom?” I asked, already knowing the answer. He’d been a womanizer all during their marriage so I was sure it wasn’t something he’d just started doing.
Shaking her head, Louise confirmed what I already knew.
“I don’t recall seeing any strange women hanging around. Who was she?”
“Well, that’s another mystery, dear. You see, he never would confirm who Whitey’s mother was. I’ve heard different names throughout the years, but I don’t know for sure.”
I thought back to the time Whitey and I had gotten into an argument, and he blurted out that my mother was a whore. It now appeared his mother may have been one as well.
“That’s so odd that Aunt Margie never told me that Whitey wasn’t her real son. That tells me she was good at keeping secrets just like the whole family. Maybe even the one regarding who my real parents were.”
“Well, since you didn’t know about that little detail, you probably don’t know that you also have a half-brother named Thomas,” she blurted out.