By Deb Casey
PROMPT—I am grateful for ...
Kindness has transported me through this arduous journey.
The genealogist, in her soft voice, carefully explained her difficult findings. Pausing often, she reminded me this process did not need to be done quickly. Glancing at words, such as inmate and boarder on census documents, constricted my throat. Sensing my discomfort, she encouraged me to pace myself as she gently rubbed my shoulder. The receptionist on the phone, at a small church in Virginia, in a strong southern accent, apologized for her inability to locate my father’s date of birth in her records. “Honey, I’m with you. I know how hard this is. I know how important a birth date is. I have an adopted sister who has been searching long and hard for her biological family. Good luck, and please call again if you need anything,” she said as her voice choked up during our goodbyes.
The archivist at my library greeted me each week, following me to my favorite seat, asking how my search was coming along. Enthusiastically, she would research the smallest of details and was determined to find me any tidbit of information. “Maybe he lead a double life,” she said one afternoon, perplexed by his lack of information. We burst out laughing, agreeing that would make a great story. Grateful for the levity at that moment, I thanked her. The attorney, who expertly navigated me through the legal maze of becoming my father’s personal representative, shared his own challenging experience researching his mother’s father. The grandfather he never knew. The archivist in a small library in Utah, drove to her friend’s house, at the end of her work day, to speak with her about me. This librarian knew her good friend had personally known my father. Stunned and overwhelmed by her kindness, I asked why she’d been so generous. “She trusts me. I knew she would speak to you if she heard about you directly from me. She is a very private person. I knew this meant a lot to you, this was important,” she explained.
The attorney specializing in disability law, respectfully informed me there would be many unkind words and descriptions in my father’s medical records. “Try to keep in mind the documentation was not very polished during the time of your father’s placement. Brace yourself, some of it will be difficult to read. I apologize for that,” he explained. Zeni, in her thick Asian accent, shared the first positive and loving remarks I had ever heard about my father, reducing us both to tears. Graciously she answered my endless questions. Often having to repeat herself due to my inability to understand her English or my difficulties steadying my hand well enough to write down her answers as I cradled my cellphone, she hung in there with me. Ending our conversation, she invited me to visit her in Utah to hear more stories and see what had been my father’s world. “A kind man, who would do anything for anybody,” buzzed in my head for a week after that call. This journey of mine has taken patience, grit and more grit. Without the time, effort and compassion offered by strangers, I may not have had the fortitude to continue. With deepest gratitude, I thank them.
Deb Casey considers herself a very fortunate person. Healthy and retired, she has had the time to research her difficult family history, become part of a supportive writing group and slowly but surely begin to write it out.