Authors: Debbie White
My palms were getting wet and I could feel my face burn with redness. The burning feeling you get when you’re extremely embarrassed or shocked about some news you’ve just received. I swallowed hard before I asked the question.
“This brother, was he Teresa’s brother or a brother from another mother?” I said, not purposely trying to create a rhyme.
She said grinning, “Different moms. Teresa’s mom was a fat pig. Plain and simple. I don’t know what Lyle saw in her, but they were married and had Teresa,” she confirmed.
“Thomas was several years younger than Teresa. Your daddy sure had some children,” she said looking at Charles.
I cleared my throat. “We have to locate Thomas or his mother. That could lead us to my biological mother.”
I told Louise that Teresa was never kind to me, and, in fact, showed a lot of hatred toward me. I told her at one time I even thought she could have been my mother, but knew that wasn’t the case since she called Lyle Daddy.
“You know dear, back in the day, it was common for kinfolk to take on babies of unmarried family members and raise them as their own. I don’t know if that is the case with your story, but it could be. I don’t know why Irma or Teresa was so evil to you, but I had heard through the grapevine that Lyle worshiped the ground you walked on. Maybe they were jealous of his love for you.”
“I thought that at first, but something just doesn’t add up. If Irma didn’t want to adopt me, why didn’t she turn me over to the authorities when they reported finding me? Instead, they raised me as their own.”
“Maybe Lyle was your real dad,” she said candidly.
It was strange how this lady, Louise, Cousin Louise, as she was now known, had gone from mean and not wanting anything to do with us, to the most helpful woman on earth. I just had to know what made her decide to open up.
“Why are you sharing all this information with us now? You were determined not to talk to us. What changed your mind?”
“I decided that the secrets were kept long enough. I mean this is the year 1985. Who cares what people did back in the day? I, for one, don’t.”
“Do you have any other secrets to reveal?” Charles asked in his best investigator’s voice.
“Well, just that I have a couple of addresses you might want to check out,” she said as she scribbled some things down.
We drove to the address Louise wrote down in search of my brother. We pulled up alongside a cemetery. Charles and I took a second glance at the address on the paper and compared it to the street marker. It was the same. We parked the car and walked amongst the graves. Soon we were standing in front of a marker that read, “Thomas Bowman.”
“Why didn’t she tell us he died?” Charles said in disgust.
“I really need to talk to Teresa again,” I said walking away, but not before taking a picture of the grave marker.
The next few days we were busy putting the pieces to the giant jigsaw puzzle in place. Our table wasn’t suitable for eating anymore as newspaper clippings, and scribbled notes on yellow legal size pads dotted the surface. Just like old times, we made our way to the large oval coffee table and there among the overflow of data, we’d eat most of our meals.
“This next meeting with Francis is crucial,” Charles said as he worked diligently piecing events in chronological order.
I watched as Charles made a timeline. He scratched things out, added more items, deleted others and on and on he went. My head was spinning from all the dates, places, and names. I hoped he was right, and Francis would end the torture of me not knowing where I came from.
I realized it wasn’t important to some adopted children to know their earliest beginnings. It might not have been for me either had it not been for all the hints that were dropped, and the meanness of my mother. I’m sure I’m not the only child ever adopted into a family where one or maybe even both parents are mean, but I’d like to think it is a rare occurrence.
I went into the bathroom to freshen up. We were going to be leaving soon to see Francis. The coffee shop was so convenient before, we stayed with the location for our second meeting.
We were fully prepared this time. Charles had a small recorder, and I armed myself with a brand new yellow legal pad. I learned shorthand while in business school, and every now and then, it came in handy.
We arrived a little bit early and reserved our table. Charles sat himself facing the door so he’d know when Francis entered the establishment. I was feeling nervous; the butterflies in my stomach were fluttering away. I had a small wave of nausea come over me as well, but after a few sips of water, I wished it away.
Francis didn’t keep us waiting too long. He sat down in the empty booth and placed a large photo album on the tabletop in front of us. I was quite sure it had to be pictures of my family and I. Why else would he bring it?
“Thank you for meeting us today, Francis,” Charles said looking at me for approval.
“Yes, thank you,” I added.
He cleared his throat. “This here is a photo album that spans about thirty years or more.”
I instinctively reached for the album carefully opening the cover. I flipped through the pages until I came across one I remembered. It was a picture of Daddy, Teresa and I standing in front of our old car.
“I remember when this was taken,” I said excitedly. “Daddy had just bought this car. He was so proud of it. He wanted a picture taken, so Mother obliged him, but she was scowling on the other end of the camera lens.”
Charles and Francis let out a chuckle.
“It seems funny now, but then, she never seemed to be happy about anything that involved Daddy - or me for that matter.”
I continued to flip through more pages. I stopped and stared at a picture that caught my eye. Francis realized what I was looking at. He offered up some information regarding it.
“That’s,” he said, pointing to the picture, Teresa, her husband, Eddie, and their son, James.”
“Yes, I recognize Teresa. I didn’t know Eddie or James. Teresa moved back to Iowa and she must’ve met Eddie here in Iowa,” I said looking up at Francis for acknowledgment.
“Yes, she met Eddie Spencer at a dance hall in Sioux City.”
I flipped through the rest of the album. Most of the people I didn’t recognize. Once I closed the cover, Francis opened it back up and started naming names, and places of the ones I didn’t know. I missed the picture of Whitey.
“He was my favorite cousin,” I said.
“We drove out to the nursing home, but Teresa was angry to see us and told us to leave,” I told Francis.
“I’m sorry she did that to you. Give her some time,” Francis muttered.
“Time? I don’t have time. I’m not staying here in Iowa for years. I’m here for just a short while longer,” I said feeling frustrated.
Charles told Francis how we also paid another visit to the farmhouse and that Louise was more forthcoming with information regarding another child of my Dad.
“Oh, you mean Thomas,” he said matter of factly.
I guess I was the only one that didn’t know about him. Francis told us he was about four years older than me. I couldn’t fathom how they kept him a secret.
“He lived with his mother,” Francis replied.
Francis shed light on a new woman in my dad’s life, Thomas’s mom.
“I knew Teresa was from an earlier relationship of Daddy’s but had no idea there were two children.”
“It wasn’t just a relationship. He was married to Thomas’s mother,” Francis said.
“Married?” I said, shocked by the news.
Francis nodded, confirming that indeed Lyle, my daddy, had a previous marriage – other than to Teresa’s mother. I tried to figure out how that could be. Had he divorced Irma, and then remarried her later? Now things were really getting interesting.
“Her name was Mary,” Francis told us.
“Mary?” I queried. “Mary as in the initial M that is on the consensus form we have?” I said shaking.
It turned out that Francis had a wealth of information. More than we could have ever discovered on our own. He gave us names, addresses and he confirmed that Louise was indeed a cousin on my daddy’s side and that Thomas was indeed my half-brother.
“Why do you suppose Louise didn’t want to talk to us at first, but then later opened up?” I asked Francis.
“She’s kind of eccentric, that one. I think all the Bowman’s were kind of different,” he said.
“Different?” I said a bit hurt.
“Well, I don’t mean any harm by it, but it’s just that they were so good about keeping all the darn secrets – even Lyle, your daddy was good at that. He may have been a good man in your eyes, but he has some part in all of this mess,” he spluttered out.
“That’s fair enough,” I admitted. Taking my cue from Charles that I was getting a bit overheated, I backed down and let Charles and Francis talk.
“Ok, we now know that Louise is related to Pat and that she has a half-brother who is now deceased. What can you tell us about Thomas’s mother?”
We both left Francis feeling we’d accomplished something, but how much was still to be determined.
“Louise must know who my mother is then?” I said as we prepared dinner.
“I wouldn’t be surprised. It’s as if she’s been sworn to secrecy over this crap. Maybe if we stumble on the truth she’ll come clean, but in the meanwhile we have to do all the digging,” Charles said as he set the table for dinner.
Over a glass of wine, we went over the information we’d uncovered thus far. We laid out the information in an organized fashion among the rest of the stuff we’d collected. Charles looked at each piece with an eye of an investigator.
We plotted out our agenda for the following day. We were going to visit the last known address of the mysterious woman who gave birth to Thomas.
On the drive to Mary’s house, I told Charles that I was getting tired of the circus, and all the running around we were doing just to find out names and associations.
“Don’t tell me you want to give up. We’ve come a long way, and, I think we’ve done pretty well in uncovering information for the little time we’ve been here.”
“I know you think that, but I know this family probably better than I realized. They’ve always been good at keeping secrets, not dealing with issues, and quite frankly, I don’t know why I ever felt so compelled to do this.”
“I’ll tell you why you felt compelled to do this. You were depressed, you wanted answers, and, you wanted to find out if you had any blood relations left alive,” he said matter of factly.
I wasn’t sure if the sacrifices we were making were justified – if it was truthfully worth it. I realized a long time ago, Charles would do anything for me. Had I taken advantage of his love for me and dragged him clear across the United States in search of people, who quite frankly, I wasn’t sure I even wanted to know any more? I cleared my throat.
“I love you, Charles. You are the best thing that ever happened to me – besides our beautiful children. It seems we’re just chasing our tails. I’m sorry for that. I know you don’t like to give up, or be defeated. I’ve made up my mind, though. We’ll check on these last couple of leads. After that, we’re packing it up and going home.” Home. I loved the sound of that.
“This is the house. This is the address Francis gave us as the last known address of Mary,” Charles said pulling up to a large gray-stoned house with a wraparound porch. A gravel driveway led to a garage that was situated in the back of the property.
“This is a very nice district. I wonder where my dad met this Mary person,” I said, taking in the house and the grounds.
“Well, let’s get this over with,” I said as I opened the car door.
Charles knocked three times. There was no answer.
“No one must be home,” I said as I descended the stairs toward the car.
Just about that time the door slowly creaked open, and standing in the narrow doorway with a walker was an elderly woman.
I climbed the four steps back up to the porch just as Charles handed the woman one of our business cards.
“Hello, I’m Charles, this is my wife, Pat. We were wondering if we could take a few moments of your time. My wife,” he explained, nodding my way, “is the daughter of Irma and Lyle Bowman. Did you know them?”
We were invited in. She led us to a large formal living room that was in the front of the house.
“Would either of you care for some tea?”
Feeling not only comfortable in her home, but also her kindness, for a moment I was hoping she was my mom.
“Yes, tea would be nice,” I said nodding.
“How about you Charles, would you like some tea as well?” Mary asked as she pulled herself up from the couch, grabbing her walker.
Jumping up from my chair, I quickly followed Mary to the kitchen offering my assistance.
Soon we were back in the cozy yet formal living room. I looked around. Mary definitely had money. The furnishings were of Chippendale quality and there were several antiques in place as well.
“So,” she said looking at us while sipping her tea. “I don’t get many visitors. This is a treat. What can I do for you?”
I didn’t know where to start. I wanted to spew out all the questions I had stored in my brain, yet I knew that wouldn’t be polite, and could possibly cause her to become tight lipped. We didn’t want that. I did the best thing and looked over to Charles giving him the cue to ask the first few questions.
“As I mentioned at the door, Pat was the daughter of Lyle and Irma Bowman. You must have known them. We’re trying to find out some ancestry information. Pat is searching her family tree. We’re on an extended vacation gathering all the data to put together the tree.”
I loved how Charles could get people to open up to him. He was the best private investigator in the entire world as far as I was concerned.
Mary put her cup down on the glass top coffee table and cleared her throat. “I did know them. I knew them well.” She looked at me long and hard.
I felt a large lump in my throat, and my heart felt like it was going to bust out of my chest it was beating so hard and fast.
“It was a long time ago. I was young and very impressionable. I was looking for love, but in all the wrong places,” she said laughing at the parody of the words.
I was starting to feel like I was going to get all my answers in one fell swoop – here at Mary’s house. I kept waiting for the few words I was desperate to here.
“I met Lyle over at his cousins’ house. I was friends with his cousins’ younger sister.”
Already knowing the answer, I queried, “Which cousin is that?”
Charles and I looked at each other then turned to Mary. “You know we’ve been to Louise’s house, don’t you?” I asked her.
She nodded. “I’ve been waiting for you to come.”
I swallowed hard. “Tell us more, please.”
“I was seventeen years old and Lyle…well, Lyle was twenty-five and just divorced. He’d been married to Teresa’s mom. Anyway, he was sweet, kind, and something about him intrigued me.”
“Did you get married?” I blurted out.
“We did. It was a small ceremony. My parents were livid I was marrying an older man. They disapproved of the marriage. It tore me apart that they didn’t want anything to do with me or our son.”
“Thomas. My half-brother,” I confirmed.
Mary got up from the sofa and retrieved a photo album from a nearby shelf. “The housekeeper isn’t doing her job,” she said blowing off the dust. “Come sit over by me. I can tell you more while we look at the photos,” she pleaded.
I flipped through the album noticing the age of the pictures. Most of them were black and white.
“This was Thomas when he was about one,” and flipping the pages she pointed to another one, “and this was when he was about two.”
Pointing to an image of a young couple sprawled on a blanket and looked to be having a picnic, she said, “That’s your daddy and me.”
“You both look very happy together,” I replied.
She nodded. “I loved your daddy. He was the nicest man. I could never understand what he saw in Irma. She was so mean…and domineering. In fact, he told me later that Irma was a lot like Teresa’s mother and he couldn’t believe he fell for the same type of women twice.”
“What happened between you and Daddy? How did he ever end up with Irma anyway?” I asked.
“Well, that’s the twisted part of this whole story.”
“One night he was out with his partying cousin and he ran into Irma. One thing led to another and he was unfaithful to me. It was just a one-night stand, and it didn’t mean anything to him, but I was hurt, and I didn’t think I’d ever be able to trust him again. At first we tried to work it out, but images of Lyle and Irma kept creeping back into my mind. It didn’t help that she put the pressure on him as well. She told him if he didn’t leave Thomas and me, she’d make his life a living hell. Ours too.”
“She was an evil woman, that Irma. So between me not being able to trust him, and Irma always interfering, we divorced,” she murmured.
“Thomas was hurt and never quite forgave Lyle. I forgave him. I knew my heart wouldn’t heal and be able to move forward if I didn’t forgive him. I guess that’s the Christian in me,” she told us.
“I don’t know if I could have been so forgiving. I truthfully didn’t know Daddy could be capable of anything so distasteful either. I guess in my eyes he was the hero, and nothing Irma could do was right. I’m not sure if I should feel sorry for Daddy and the miserable life he had with her.”
“Don’t be so hard on him, dear. It was so long ago.”
“When Irma and Lyle moved to California I was relieved. I wouldn’t have to see him, or her for that matter and…”
“And?” I asked after a long pause.
“Who is my mother?” I blurted out.
“I don’t know,” she said getting comfortable on the couch.
“Well, we have an old consensus sheet showing Irma with a child at the Mt. Saint Francis convent. You wouldn’t be that M. Brown, would you?” The investigative side of me asked.
“If you’re trying to connect me with her, don’t bother,” she said disgustedly. “I’m not related to her in any shape or form. The “M” you refer to is for Irma. Her real name was Mary Irma. Folks around here called her Irma.”
Stunned with the new information, I looked to Charles. “M. Brown also known as Irma. What about the P. Brown that was with her?” I asked.
“Well. I don’t know for certain, but I’m betting it was her little pain in the butt sister, Priscilla Inez. She was known as Inez around here.”
“When was the last time you saw Teresa?” I boldly asked.
“Oh, it’s been years. However, this is a small town, so back in the day, we’d run into each other every now and then. We didn’t hate each other; we just didn’t respect one another.”
“Oh, why is that?” I asked.
“Well, she always saw any woman that came into Lyle’s life as someone who had the potential to steal his love for her. She had some issues for sure. She was a bratty child, and from what I’ve been told, an even more hostile adult. Irma was the only one who could keep her in line. I think she was afraid of her.”
“I bet. I was scared of Irma too!” I exclaimed. “Teresa was mean to me. She’d slap me, push me down in the dirt, and pull my hair. I bet these were all learned traits, from Irma,” I added.
“Lyle did the best he could. But as you know, he was a man of few words. He probably gave up on her. But boy was he protective of you,” she revealed.
“We went out to the nursing home to see Teresa. She wasn’t very receptive to our visit. She told us to leave. I think we should make another visit out there. Maybe this time, I can get her to talk.”
“What more do you want to know?” Mary said cocking her head.
“I don’t know. I guess I’d like to ask her one more time if she knew who my real mother was.”
Shaking her head, she said, “You’ll just be setting yourself up for more heartbreak. Let sleeping dogs lie,” she added.
Changing the subject, I asked, “How did Thomas die?”
“That was such an awful time for me, and for Elaine. They’d only been married a year when the accident happened. He was on a ladder to get up on the roof of their new house. He was going to do some repair work. The ladder slipped and he fell 25 feet, hitting his head on a rock as he landed. He died instantly.”
I reached out and gently touched her hand. “I’m so sorry.”
“He was my only child,” she quietly said.
I couldn’t imagine how it felt to lose a child. I had three lovely children, and each one was as precious as the next. It would tear my heart out to outlive any of them. “One last question, and then we’ll get out of your hair. Why has Louise been so secretive about things? What does she have to gain?” I asked.
“Louise always has been…well…strange. I think she’s lived in the country too long,” she added laughing.
I nodded. I was aware of all the game playing this family could do, but I was always surprised by the next level of game playing we came across.
“Well, we’ve probably taken up too much of your time this afternoon. It was a pleasure meeting you. I can see what Lyle loved about you. You seem like a very sweet woman.”
“Well dear, it’s nice seeing you again. You’re all grown up now. Do you have children of your own?” She asked.
“Oh yes. We have three children. Charlie, Carole, and Peter.”
“Grandchildren?” She asked.
“Yes, we have a few,” I smiled thinking of them.
I hugged Mary good-bye, and Charles and I left the big stone home on the tree-lined street and headed for the nursing home once more.
“You heard what Mary said. Let sleeping dogs lie,” Charles said agitatedly.
“I know. I just want one more time with her. She is my sister,” I reminded him.
We were beginning to really know our way around Sioux City. It was a big city, but with a small town feel. We were in the burbs anyway, so it definitely had a small town vibe.
“You wait in the car,” I ordered when we pulled up to the nursing home.
Looking rather shocked, but nevertheless obedient, Charles stayed in the car.
I quickly found Teresa’s room. She was reading a book.
“Oh so you enjoy literary works, do you?” I sneered.
“What are you doing here?” She smirked back.
“Listen. We can hate each other if that’s what you want. Me, I prefer not to hate. It takes too much energy to hate, and I don’t have time for it. I’ve met a lot of friendly and interesting folks this time in Iowa,” I said pulling up a chair.
“Well, I’m glad. But I told you. Lyle and Irma were your parents, and as much as I hate admitting it, Daddy loved you more than me.” Then she added in a whisper, “That’s always bothered me.”