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Last week my mom emailed me about her aunt Janet’s passing.  My mom had never met her.  Janet refused to speak about my mother.  Once Janet’s sister Rita decided to give the baby up for adoption, Janet and Rita left that day in the past. 

My mom only had the names.  She knew her father’s name.  She knew her mother’s name, married and maiden.  All along she never expressed any interest in meeting her parents.  As she says it, “They made a decision.”  She didn’t want to thrust herself into a situation where she wasn’t ultimately wanted. 

About 6 years ago, for no apparent reason, my mom was fiddling around on the internet, idly passing time and decided to google some names.  At first, she didn’t find anything revealing.  But then it came like a tidal wave.  She found the family tree her sister had created online a few years earlier as part of a personal research project.  Awash by names, history, connections, she took a few days to herself, writing notes, creating the links in her head before she told anyone else. 

After she had a slight grasp on the situation she asked me to dinner.  She waited for the drinks to arrive and then proceeded to lay out the stacks of papers she accumulated.  “I found something” she started.  She told me she has a younger sister and brother and a mother who is still alive.  Her father had passed away.  She told me we were descendants of Abraham Weintraub from Poland.  She told me about my aunt who lives in London and my uncle in Los Angeles who are both CPA’s (at the time I showed interest in sitting for the CPA exam).   My mom stayed very calm through all of this.  She had this calm happiness about her.  Her parents married soon after her adoption and grew their family. 

My mom isn’t terribly computer savvy.  Savvy enough to find the family tree but no pictures.  She wanted pictures.  I told her I would try to find something.  A quick search and I found her sister, or, my mom with a different haircut.  I was stunned.  I showed my mom and she knew.  This was her family.  My mom eventually gained the confidence to write her sister a letter.  She was apprehensive to contact her mother considering her age.  After the letter, a slow, hesitant, stream of communication opened up.  My aunt and her uncle had a delicate conversation with their elderly mother.  There wasn’t any anger but questions.  Lots of questions.  Questioning my mother’s motives.  Why after 60 years, she wanted contact.  My mom had no motives.  Question still remain for my grandmother but there won’t be any answers since her health has deteriorated.  An adoption specialist, who my aunt knew, was brought in to help everyone navigate these waters.  She suggested my mom write a letter to her mother and include pictures of her childhood and her children so her elderly mother could take it in at her own pace. 

Everyone agreed to a meeting.  My aunt was going to be in the US visiting friends and family.  It was going to happen.  My mom flew to Los Angeles.  They picked a generic meeting place.  No homes, with family pictures.  Somewhere generic with no home-court advantage and everyone had an equal footing. 

A few months after the initial meeting, I got to meet my new family.  I sat down at a restaurant in Malibu and met my grandmother, aunt and her wife.  My grandmother was quiet and the conversation was slow.  There was a lot of staring on my part.  I’m glad my mom was there to keep the conversation going.  I see myself in my aunt.  I see my brother in my uncle.   Now I know where I get my ears from.  My aunt had an old picture of her dad’s side of the family.  Ears, ears, ears everywhere.  Finally my unfortunate ear affliction had been answered! 

Stories about family members trickle in.  With my great-aunt Janet’s passing, I found out she was friends with Oscar de la Renta.  According to my aunt, she had a note in her office signed by Oscar that said something to the effect of – I just came up to squeeze your tits.  She was a model turned buyer for Saks Fifth Ave and friends with Frank Sinatra. 

“Respected, loved, feared by all”
Janet Reis – March 12, 1919 – October 21, 2012

I haven’t fully started calling them aunt, uncle and grandmother yet.  It’s odd to have a family but be strangers to each other.  I have to remind myself that some families spend every holiday together and are still relative strangers to each other.  For years, I just had my dad’s side of the family.  It’s important to know where you came from and we are slowly trying to make up for lost time.