Thursday, March 6, 2014

The Call

I don't recall pestering my mother to make contact after our day of discovery. Of course I wanted her to do so, but I don't remember feeling angst or impatience for her to do so. But I do remember her sitting on the information and doing nothing for a while. Thirty-two years distant, I cannot even tell you how long that "while" was, other than it was longer than I would have waited.

I am also unqualified to write this part of the story. I wasn't there. I didn't witness the phone call. I was not a part of the initial contact, which of course seems like only the natural course of events. A thirty-five-year-old child making her first contact with her sixty-five-year-old mother is something done without your fifteen-year-old son staring you down.

Nobody in my immediate family can call themselves "morning persons." Nobody. If you say you went to bed at midnight, it will probably be followed by, "why so early?" Even today, without the restraints of office hours and regimens, I find I do my best work late at night. It took me a long while after quitting my day job to realize that working until 4 a.m. and sleeping until 11 a.m. is okay.

And so that is how I was informed of my mother's first contact. I was sound asleep in the late morning hours on a November Saturday in 1982 when my mother awakened me with breathless shrieks of "I did it! I did it! I called her! I called her!" After recovering from the initial bleary confusion, I have to admit I was a bit dismayed to have not been witness to this monumental event , especially after having come all this way so intimately involved. But at least from the jubilant expression on my mother's face, I presumed it went well.

On hindsight my mother relayed to me how terrified she was to make that call. Through stories she had read in the press and from the nay-saying friends and relatives that knew of her quest, she heard the typical chorus of warnings:

"You know a lot of these don't go well. She may not want to hear from you."
 "She gave you away once. Are you sure you want to handle that rejection again?"
 "Calling her is very selfish. She's had a life for thirty-five years that you're just going to upset." 

Terrified of all the ways this could go wrong, my mother still picked up the phone on that early Saturday morning. The house was still quiet, and she could do this in a moment of privacy. The dialog is that told to me by my mother, and although the story has been repeated to me numerous times in the past, I would have loved to have had the opportunity again to ask my grandmother Helen again what she heard on her end.

How does one go about introducing yourself as someone's long lost child? Directly, of course.

Carol: "Hello, is this Helen Strukel?"

Helen: "Yes."

Carol: "I think you're my mother."

Helen: "What is your name?"

Carol: "It was Carol Sue DePrato."

Helen: "Oh my God! You're my daughter!"

And that was it. There was no confirmation of dates and places of birth, or quizzes as to what my mother knew or didn't know. The identities were confirmed with a simple exchange. But this was immediately followed by a dizzying cacophony of names and details and tidbits of information that my mother had immediately forgotten upon hanging up the phone. When asked about details in which I was interested, my mother's reply was "I don't know" or "I don't remember." I do recall thinking how little she had to offer in the way of concrete information after this monumental phone call. But on the other end, Helen had put down her receiver not having made any notation of my mother's married name, her address or her phone number. Although a plan to meet was already set into motion, had my mother chickened out, Helen would have had no way to find her again. I guess just making contact was enough for the both of them. The rest would come later. Actually, the rest would come the very next day.

What Helen did tell my mother that morning was just by chance her other daughter and granddaughter happened to be there helping her rake leaves. My mother's obvious response: "Sandy?"

"No, Dianne. Your other sister. Your younger sister."

And so the sibling tally went up another notch. My mother now had two brothers and two sisters.

Quickly, a plan was made. Helen would get off the phone and immediately reveal to Dianne she had a sister. My mother's existence had remained a secret to all members of Helen's family until this time, but Helen was not the least deterred from letting everyone know as soon as possible. And once that little housekeeping business was taken care of my mother would meet her mother and two sisters the very next night.

The questions and answers would wait one more day. Contact was made. It was a good start. A very, very good start.


  1. I feel like such a voyeur reading your blog, but am truly enjoying it. When you were looking for Long's Lock Shop, I was almost screaming "I know where it is!! Ask me!!" Very well written Michael!

  2. Michael,

    I want to let you know that your blog is listed in today’s Fab Finds post at

    Have a great weekend!

  3. This is a beautifully told, wonderfully heart warming story. Keep the instalments coming, Michael!

  4. Heard about your blog after listening to your interview with Drew Smith in a recent Genealogy Connections podcast. Enjoying your recounting of this fascinating family history story.