My birth mother, known fondly as Tookie, had four children. First came Perry in 1949, then Rodger in 1952, then Phillip in 1962 and lastly me, in 1967.
Perry died the same year Phillip was born, the victim of an accidental shooting by Rodger with a gun their father bought them, a gun Tookie never wanted my brothers to have. She divorced their father not too long after that.
Sometime about 1965, Tookie rekindled a love affair with her high school sweetheart, a big bear of a man who was unfortunately (for my mother) married to someone else. When she discovered she was pregnant with me, she did not tell him. My brother Rodger, barely 15, drove Tookie to the hospital and didn't ask any questions when she came back home three days later without a baby. Those questions he'd save for later.
I was raised south of the river, my little town a 20 minute drive or so from the little town where Tookie was born and raised and where she brought up her two remaining boys. I've always known I was adopted, known it like I know my name, and accepted it as just the way things are. My adoptive mother told me a bit about my birth mother over the years: that both of my mothers were the same age (Tookie was in fact 42 when she had me, two years older than my adoptive mother), that I had brothers, that one of those brothers was known as a stellar guitarist and keyboardist even when he was a kid.
In the summer of 1979, my brother Phillip begged Tookie to allow him to live in Colorado with our cousins until school started again. She reluctantly agreed. He was killed in Colorado in a car accident a few weeks later.
When I turned 18, my adoptive mother handed me my adoption decree, which allowed me to know Tookie's name for the first time. I went looking, but found nothing. Tookie had moved several times over the years--to Kansas City, to Colorado, back to Kansas City, then to Reno--and I couldn't find her.
In 2001, I happened to see Tookie's obituary in the Kansas City paper. I went to her visitation. In my mind's eye, lots of people would be there and I'd blend into the crowd. The reality was a bit different. Maybe a dozen people stood around the front room of the funeral home, and when I walked in the door a little old man scurried up to me saying, "My lands! You must be Gene's daughter. You're the spittin image of him." That's how I discovered my birth father's name. Three more steps across the room and I felt a hand on my shoulder, turned, and came face to face with a small man in an ill-fitting tan sportcoat who looked so much like me we could be twins. We stood there staring at each other. "You're my baby sister," he simply said. "You're my big brother," I replied, and hugged him. The next afternoon he played a Jimi Hendrix song, Little Wing, at our mother's funeral. For weeks after that we were inseparable. Turns out he'd been looking for me since I was born, but didn't know my name because Tookie absolutely refused to tell him anything about my adoption. The years passed and we stayed in touch sporadically. He moved around a lot, always looking for another gig, another band that needed a guitar player, a keyboardist, a bass player, or a backup singer. Rodger struggled most of his adult life with alcohol addiction and so I heard from him most often in his periods of sobriety.
My friend Janice called me Saturday. She'd grown up with Rodger, a fact I didn't learn until very recently when I happened to mention to her that I was adopted. She said, "Oh, honey," and began to cry. Somehow I knew she was calling about Rodger. "Is it my brother?" I asked, and she said yes. Rodger had died on Tuesday at a hospital near Kansas City. I hadn't seen him or talked to him in nearly five years. The person who brought him to the hospital knew that his only kin was a little sister, but couldn't remember my last name. The hospital released Rodger to the funeral home in his hometown and asked the funeral home to notify them of any next-of-kin located. In the way of small towns, it went like this: the funeral home tried to call my brother's best friend Billy who happens to be without phone service because he's in the county jail, and then called a relative of Billy's who told them he didn't know my name but they should call Janice, then called Janice who gave them my name but told them she would inform me of my brother's death herself. I got the official phone call from the hospital ten minutes after I hung up with Janice.
Tuesday afternoon we will bury my brother on the hillside in Southpoint Cemetery near our mother and our brothers Perry and Phillip. I am now the only living child of Tookie.