Stolen, but Not Lost
A Key Discovery
*Excerpted with permission of Janet Tombow
When Uncle Rich answered my call, I said, “I am obsessed with finding Norma (mother). Do you know anything else that might help me get in contact with her?”
Quickly he responded, “I found her sister, Phyllis, listed in the Cleveland telephone book. She still lives in the same house she did for all of her life. I called her and she wants to talk with you.” I never asked him why he didn’t call me with this information sooner. I guess he didn’t call waiting to see if I truly wanted to find her. Or else sooner would have rushed the timing of my preparation. I needed to go through all of these steps to be ready for the contact with my birth mother.
“Does she know if Norma is alive?” I eagerly asked.
“Norma is alive and living in Florida” Uncle Rich answered and reiterated, “and your Aunt’s eager to talk with you.” So, he gave me her telephone number before I hung up.
I was still eager to make the connection to Norma, so I didn’t hesitate to make the call to my “Aunt Phyl”, as I remembered she was called. I didn’t remember anything about what my Aunt looked like, how close our relationship had been, or when I had seen her last. But my first priority was to find out how to contact my birth Mother, and this was finally the right connection I needed to be able to finally reach her.
When Aunt Phyl answered the call, she seemed very happy to hear from me. I explained who I was and that I “…wanted to reach my mother, Norma Wallace.”
She asked, “Why do you want to talk with her?”
For a moment I wanted to say that I’d prefer discussing that with my mother. But I was afraid to offend this direct link to finding my Mother. So, I went through the logic of, “…wanting to ask her forgiveness for judging her all my life and explain why I haven’t been in touch before this.”
She surprised me by saying, “I’ll have to call her to see if she will talk with you, because there has been so much hurt over this, you know!”
I thought to myself, “You’re darned right there has been hurt over this!” But instead of verbalizing that, I said, “Please see if she will talk with me”, and gave her my telephone number.
It wasn’t more than 15 minutes later and the telephone rang. I thought it would be my birth mother, so with some trepidation, I answered, “Hello?”
To my disappointment, it was Aunt Phyl again. She called me back with the update, “I spoke with Norma and she wants to talk with you…” Now I was getting hopeful, but then she added, “…but she wants you to call her because she’s afraid you’ll hang up on her if she calls you.”
That didn’t sound like a problem, so I said, “I will call her.” Then, she gave me my birth Mother’s telephone number in Clearwater, Florida. (By the way, William Wallace in Clearwater, Florida was on one of the lists Sally had given me; I just hadn’t reached that point in the call lists yet! I concluded that the contact was not supposed to be made via a “cold call”!)
Aunt Phyl wanted to talk a few minutes more, while I was eager to make that next call! But I was polite and took the time to converse with her briefly. Aunt Phyl told me a few interesting things that I didn’t realize had occurred. She asked, “Do you remember playing with Rusty (her son and my cousin)?” But I didn’t have that memory either. Then, she mentioned she had letters from me, as she used to correspond with me when I was a little girl. Surprised, I questioned, “You have letters that I wrote??”
She added, “Yes, and from your stepmother too!”
I told her, “I don’t remember writing those letters. But my stepmother used to write out the words for me when I was little, and I copied them into letters to people. So maybe that is what happened.” This was another memory of which I had no recollection, nor did I want to dwell on it. When I copied those letters, I remember getting verbally and physically abused if I made any mistakes. Not a happy memory!
I didn’t know I wrote letters or received any from relatives for all of those years I had been apart from my birth Mother. I thought no one wanted anything to do with me. So, hearing about these letters was a big surprise.
She added, “I saved them. I hope you’ll come to see me and I’ll show them to you.”
Now, my Aunt Phyl AND my Uncle Rich wanted me to come see them. But I could only focus on the goal of talking with my birth mother. So, I promised to visit in the future, but couldn’t promise when. We ended the conversation at that point.
Contacting the “Right” Norma Wallace…
Now I had the right phone number for the RIGHT Norma Wallace…but my first thought was, “Okay, what do I do now?”
I know this seems like a foolish thought at this stage of the search, but I was very nervous all of a sudden. After the two years of therapy, after hundreds of counseling assignments, after five years of knowing I was supposed to contact my birth mother but resisting, and now after an intense 30 day search, I was just one phone call away from talking with her. But I’m thinking, “The time’s finally come to make that call, but what if she rejects me again? What if she’s angry with me?” The “What ifs…” were attacking me again! So, I went to the bathroom, I was so nervous! That seemed like a reasonable stall!
While there, God said, “What do you mean, what should you do?? It’s time to call her!” God just wouldn’t let it go, would He! After all, He had been arranging this moment in time for over 45 years! He doesn’t give up. It’s just that sometimes we’re too stubborn to listen! So, I thought, “I had better obey!”
I grabbed a tablet and pen. I took a couple of deep breaths and picked up the telephone. It only rang a few times, and then I heard her say, “Hello.”
“Hello. Is Norma Wallace there?” I inquired.
“Speaking,” she replied.
"I think I’m your daughter.”
Another deep breath and bravely I went on, “This is Janet Tombow and I think I’m your daughter.” Now the moment had come. What would she say?
Gently, she said, “Hi Sweetheart, how are you?”
WOW! What a loving response. She didn’t yell at me. She didn’t hang up. She didn’t say, “It’s about time!” or “What took you so long?” That was pretty encouraging!
Now it was my turn to figure out what to say next. Tentatively I said, “Well…I’m not sure; but I think I’m a little older than when you saw me last.” Brilliant, right?
She chuckled and said, “I think so!” She had last seen me at 5 years old, and now I was approaching 50. It was my turn to speak again already, and I realized, even though I had rehearsed it several different ways, I didn’t know what to say next! So, I said, “Even though I’ve called over 250 people across the country asking them if they were my mother, now that I’ve found you, I don’t know what to say next.”
Gently she offered, “Why don’t you let me start?”
With that, she proceeded to explain much about the past that I didn’t know. I was still thinking that she didn’t want me or love me my whole life. So, I was listening with a doubtful and hostile heart. She wasn’t hesitant about answering any of my questions and promised to be honest with me.
Learning About Our Separation…
Then, a most shocking statement was made next, “When your father kidnapped you from me, I was never able to get you back!” Holy smokes! Kidnapped? That was something even Beverly, my Counselor, hadn’t suggested, and definitely wasn’t part of any explanation I heard over the years. She added, “ Whenever I’d go to a different state, we (her and her second husband) would hire an attorney to try to get you back. But the attorney would say, because you were in California, there was no hope of recovering you from your father.”
*Excerpted with permission of Janet Tombow
To read more about this remarkable story go to http://www.amazon.com/Stolen-But-Lost-Janet-Tombow/dp/0984977112.