Meeting the Bio Family: Chapter 10 – Another Big Bro and Cousins Galore

“So, when are you going back?”

I lost count of how many people asked when we planned a return visit to Maine, where our immediate family had marveled in the beauty of an east coast autumn while spending time with the paternal side of my biological family in October of 2018. I found it intriguing that folks didn’t ask if we planned to visit again, but rather when we’d venture that direction again. Could be the phrases that populated our accounts of the vacation—gorgeous views, awesome adventures, a great time with the “new” family—may have encouraged the “when” assumption.

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Since my husband and I had taken all of five seconds to sign-on for the big gathering of Grammy Brown’s branch of the family tree planned for July of 2019, the answer was a quick, easy, “Next July for an extended family reunion.”

I loved that a plan for a “next time” had been set in motion. And the potential to meet many more paternal relatives excited me. Another opportunity to explore Maine, to see the beautiful landscape in its summer colors coupled with more “first family” time and connections. July couldn’t arrive soon enough.

Our “Maine in October” adventure had left me immersed in yet another phase of processing. Honestly, it feels like I’ve spent the better part of the last three years in a state of wading through stuff. From the doorstep secret revealed and continuing through every new discovery, each in-person connection, the incredible trips to significant locales, my mind has remained in a near-constant state of sorting through a myriad of mental questions, see-sawing emotions, and potential future scenarios. Factor in the loss of both of my parents in the middle of all these breakthroughs and connections, and it’s a wonder my brain hasn’t turned into a puddle of mush.

With most of my faculties intact, the planning for Maine Adventure #2 commenced. I envisioned the lot of us together—bio dad, Aunt Donna, cousin Honey, brother Alan, and possibly, hopefully two other half-brothers we’d yet to meet. Not to mention the boat load of cousins attending the big family gathering. I was positively giddy.

But my excitement took a hit with the news that Aunt Donna and Honey would be unable to attend. I admit to a fair amount of what I’m sure bordered on badgering, but it was not to be. And then, bio dad confirmed he would not be able to attend either. The realization of how much I’d been looking forward to another in-person encounter with him explained the huge wave of disappointment that surged through me. The youngest of my biological brothers hailing from California admitted his participation would be a last-minute decision, one that looked less likely every day. Sigh . . . But the oldest of my birth father’s children confirmed he and his wife would make the cross-country trek from Washington state. Yes . . . I allowed myself a bit of time to pout and stew and fret. Then I tucked away most of my disappointment and moved on with the arrangements for adventures in Maine round two.

Maine Adventure #2

A super early July 19th flight dropped us in Portland by noon. We skipped from the airport in full vacation sightseeing mode, to take in the sights at Two Lights State Park. Drinking in ocean views never, ever gets old. Especially if you’ve lived your entire life in Indiana.

 

We sped north to the now sort-of-familiar Augusta and Waterville area for a nap, hoping to banish the sleepiness leftover from a very short night, and to prepare for an important family dinner.

While older brother Gerald knew the story of how I’d come to be his new little sis, we’d not yet connected in person, by phone or email. I’d already experienced the gamut of newly-discovered sibling responses, resulting in a variety of relationship statuses. From welcome to the family/let’s get to know each other to cordial but with little interest in connecting to an initial welcome that soon disintegrated into distant silence. I loved the close-and-growing-relationships. I understood the little interest one. I mourned the no-longer-a-connection-at-all relationship. I knew what I wanted from this newest sibling introduction. I also knew that I didn’t have the deciding vote.

A dinner date that first night gave us a chance to meet before the next day thrust us into the crowd of reunion attendees. Lots of conversation of the surface level and deeper variety flowed freely over a delicious meal in a cozy, back booth. We swapped stories about our individual families, a total of four sons, three daughters, and five grandchildren between the three half-siblings seated around the table. I sensed a cautious approach from this new older brother—one that I totally understood. He and his wife Furong didn’t know us from the man on the moon despite our shared DNA. But when we parted company, I inwardly declared the evening a success and set my sights on tomorrow’s main event, the Tobey Family Reunion that bio dad’s first cousins had been planning for nine months.

The Tobey Family Reunion

The next day we traversed roads not completely unknown to us to the rural area where Grammy Brown’s family had lived for decades. A long winding lane led us to a stone-quarry-turned-beautiful-pond property. The property owner/event co-organizer who knew immediately who we were—the new relatives from Indiana—shuttled us from the parking area to the circus-sized white tent shading folks from the blistering 91-degree heat. We donned name tags and set about meeting and greeting our kin.

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Thelma Tobey Brown

The next four hours were a whirlwind of conversations, of hearing how much I looked like looked like my Grammy Brown, of being greeted by folks who’d heard my story and were thrilled to welcome us to the family. I leafed through photo albums where I spied pics of my birth father as a teenager. I tracked down Jill, the cousin whose amount of shared DNA nearly ruined the “poster family” status I’d been touting to demonstrate the accuracy of Ancestry’s testing process. Jill’s dad and my Grammy Brown were siblings, making Jill my bio dad’s first cousin and my first cousin once removed (1c1r). But our shared DNA comes in at the very highest level for 1c1r, so high that we could have been first cousins. Of course, I insisted on a picture and Jill graciously agreed. I met other DNA matches–Priscilla and Margaret–chatted with the reunion organizers–Robin and Noreen–swapped tips and techniques with fellow genetic genealogy enthusiasts, all the while scoping out the crowd for family resemblances and scanning name tags for folks from the family tree.

At one point, my head whipped around for a second look at a tall gentleman who looked remarkably like my birth father. Had he popped in at the last minute? Like we’d contemplated might happen? Nope. Just his first cousin who bore a striking resemblance to him. And threaded throughout the afternoon, another round of just-introduced siblings engaging in the odd combination of catching up and getting to know one another all at the same time.

Throughout the afternoon I murmured time and again, “These people really know how to do events . . . ”  My brain had kicked into event-organizing mode the moment we arrived, calculating the time and effort that had obviously been invested in today’s festivities. When the first signs of tear down and clean-up began, I felt prodded to hop up and help. But instead I continued to mingle and visit, pushing aside the guilt for not pitching in. The afternoon came to an end before I got a chance to meet everyone. But I’m counting on a next time.

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More sibling time . . .

Sunday found us sharing another sibling/spouses meal with lunch at a favorite local seafood joint. Recollections and stories flowed between Alan and Gerald, prompted by the same box of photos we’d pored over last October. And I again imagined myself as part of their lives as well as them alongside me in my growing up years. Furong had forever captured a moment when, side by side at the reunion, Gerald and I had not only shared the very same expression, but also displayed a remarkable resemblance. I promptly texted the picture to my son and daughter back in Indiana who marveled at the similarity.

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We gathered one last time for dinner, a boisterous bunch including Alan’s immediate family, all folks we’d met last October. The family vibe around the long table intensified my extreme dislike for the 1022 miles between us and the Maine bunch and the 1989 miles between our Hoosier home and Spokane, Washington, where Gerald and Furong lived. But we’d made a genuine connection with them leaving no doubt the promised “let’s stay in touch” sentiments would indeed come to fruition. Hugs all around times two left me sad that our time together had come to an end.

More scenic views

While they headed north to take in more of Maine’s beauty, we plotted our three remaining days. Alan joined us on Monday for a full day of Camden State Park and wild blueberries, lighthouses and ocean views, and of course, more seafood.

 

 

On Tuesday we launched from Boothbay Harbor for a four-and-a-half-hour whale and puffin watching excursion. Miles and miles of ocean and blue skies, and yes, we saw a whale. But the highlight of the trip was the stop at Eastern Egg Rock, a seven-acre island located six miles from New Harbor, the world’s first re-established seabird colony, managed by The Puffin Project.

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On Wednesday we enjoyed lunch with some relatives on Grampy Brown’s side of the family. Some DNA detective work on Aunt Donna’s part had solved a long-time mystery that led to us lunching with Tisha, our first cousin twice removed (1c2r)—a first cousin to our Grampy Brown—and her daughter Lisa, our second cousin once removed (2c1r)—a second cousin to our bio dad. Is that cool or what? Too, too fun. We’d hoped to meet up with a couple of other DNA-matched-cousins from Massachusetts–Meagan and Daniel–and from Georgia–Berry–but arrangements did not fall into place. “Another time . . . ” we all promised. “Another time.”

A quick stop in Belfast left us once again in awe of the beauty Mainers enjoy all year round. Literally at the water’s edge, we spotted a three-sided structure that housed of all things, a library. I immediately envisioned myself enjoying a good read under sun drenched blue skies surrounded by the ocean.

The day ended with a farewell seafood feast at Alan’s. When we couldn’t eat another bite, we leaned back to give our stuffed stomachs a bit more room. Conversation lulled for a moment before Alan’s tone turned serious with a pointed question. “When are you coming back?”

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I reminded him we had journeyed to Maine twice since his visit to Indiana. He reminded us we’d barely scratched the surface of all that Maine had to offer–a fact we knew well. “We’ll come back someday, I’m sure . . . ”

“But probably not next year.”

“No, probably not.”

With no specific plans in place for a “next time,” this last-in-a-series of goodbyes was tough. But we would be back. We will visit again.

And the processing continues. I’m beginning to realize it will probably never end. This week marks the 3rd anniversary of Aunt Donna popping up on our DNA results. Within hours, the mystery was solved, opening the door to so many people and experiences and relationships that, now,  I honestly can’t imagine not being part of our lives. I’m so looking forward to what year four has in store.

If this is your first introduction to my story, check out the beginning here.