It’s never too late in life for major surprises.
Just ask 77-year-old Judie Huff, who lives in Pilot Knob, Missouri.
In November 2016, Judie noticed an official looking letter from the state of Illinois, among all the other mail stuffed in her post office box. Pilot Knob is so small (estimated 2016 population 705) that it doesn’t have door-to-door mail delivery. Each residence is allocated a post office box in the town’s only post office.
The letter appeared unimportant and it certainly was unexpected. It didn’t arouse any interest and like junk mail was placed in a pile of mail to be read later.
When she finally opened it, her eyes widened. She stared in disbelief at the contents. She called the agency and quickly learned that she had a half-brother – me.
“I was raised as an only child,” she said, in November in a phone conversation. “Now at the age of 76, I find I have a half-brother.”
Judie was the second sibling I found in my search for family. As an adoptee facing an uphill struggle finding family due to confidentiality issues, it has taken decades to determine my natural mother and father, let alone any siblings.
In 2014, after Illinois changed some of its adoption laws, I learned through a non-certified birth certificate the name of my natural mother and enough information about her to determine where she lived, who she married, how many children she had, what she did for a living, when she died and where she was buried. I also discovered the existence of a half-sister named Linda Lottes living in Georgetown, Minnesota across the river from Fargo, North Dakota.
My significant other, the Yard Sale Queen, and I drove 1,600 miles one way to meet her in July 2015. We delayed the initial visit until she felt well enough visitors because she was valiantly fighting ovarian cancer. However, we traded emails and spoke on the phone for more than a year before meeting.
The meeting for both of us was emotional and bittersweet. The Yard Sale Queen, who has three siblings and parents still living was equally excited. Linda, who was blinded at birth, was asking about me, while inquired about her and our shared mother, who passed away in 1994.
Linda, who said she was extremely close to her mother, knew nothing about her mother’s pregnancy, which resulted in my birth more than 600 miles from her home and job.
Unfortunately, Linda lost her battle with cancer in April 2016 at the age of 63. The Yard Sale Queen and I flew to Fargo for the funeral and had the pleasure of meeting her loving longtime boyfriend Al and his wonderful family. Linda never married and had no children.
My quest to find the other half of my family became an urgent mission. I filed papers with the Illinois circuit court and called the Confidential Intermediary Service, a state agency set to help people like me locate family.
That is agency who tracked down Judie. Thankfully, Judie embraced the process because if she had told the agency that she didn’t want any contact my search would have been over. The agency had braced me for possible rejection. However, I was optimistic that it would work out.
After I received an email with Judie’s contact information, I almost immediately called. We spoke for hours.
I knew a few general non-identifying facts about my father. Judie filled in the missing and eye-opening but not surprising pieces. Our father, Merton Latshaw, was a travelling salesman, who never knew of my birth. Do I need say any more?
We both have taken DNA tests and the results indicated Judie was either half-sister or aunt.
The Yard Sale Queen and I flew out to meet her last December and Judie visited Culpeper in April, just in time for my birthday. We still chat on the phone and exchange emails.
The long search was worth it and brought some much-needed answers for both of us.