“Ashleigh! Ashleigh, I just…You need to sit down. I just…I have to tell you something!” Hearing my mother’s excited tone over the phone and her struggle to put words together made me know it was something big. I’d barely said,”Ok,” when she blurted out, “I just talked…a man called here…I just…you have a brother!”
“I’d heard Dad had a son named Michael.” Though she’s never said so, I think it drives my mother crazy that I’ve always spoken slowly.
“What? What do you mean you heard your Dad had a son?! How could you know and not tell me?”
“I dunno…” (Brilliant answer) “I know he was married a few times, so I figured there were probably other kids. I asked Aunt Inez one day and she told me there was a man in Mississippi named Mike Carter who was said to be Dad’s son.”
“How long have you known about this?” Poor Mom. I was in nursing school at this time- I think I found out about Dad having a son when I was still in high school. I’d never told anyone.
“I dunno.” (More brilliance) “A few years maybe?” As a child, I was painfully/abnormally shy and quiet (to the point it was almost debilitating) around anyone except family, and was sometimes very quiet even around them. This lasted well into young adulthood, and as a result I was pretty adept at keeping others’ secrets.
With a short exasperated sigh, Mom went on to tell me all about the phone call and her excitement soon revved up again. After calling a few wrong numbers and getting redirects, Mike had phoned my mother. He’d been told that my mother used to be married to my dad, was divorced and remarried, and someone gave him my stepdad’s name. This was an age way before Google and Internet Explorer, so it definitely took determination and a bit of luck on Mike’s part to reach her.
Mike shared with her that he was at a point in his life where he wanted some information on his biological father; Mom was happy to give him all the information he requested (and more!) After a lengthy conversation, she asked him, “Did you know you have a sister? She would like to know about you.” (He actually had two, as Dad had also remarried and had another daughter.) He politely thanked her, but said he really didn’t want the contact to go any further. After assuring him that she would respect his privacy and not tell anyone, they ended their conversation. She immediately dialed my number.
The next afternoon after class, I called his office- luckily he had given that number to Mom…or more likely she finagled it out of him. I left my name and number, and it wasn’t long before the phone rang. My heart was racing so fast when I answered the phone! Though I don’t remember how the conversation started or even what we talked about, I know we spoke for a long time that day and the following ones.
After spending hours on the phone and exchanging letters and photos, we had developed trust. Since both of us were convinced the other was not an axe murderer, we decided to meet in person and Mike drove to Alabama to spend the weekend with me. Knowing I was nervous, my college roommate waited with me, providing both emotional support and comic relief. She has a big heart and was just as excited as I was to finally meet him. If Mike was nervous at all, he certainly didn’t show it and his calmness helped to calm me. We had a wonderful weekend and went to my Mom’s and stepdad’s house for dinner one night so they could meet him too.
It was probably a few months later when Mike and I went to Louisiana for him to meet our grandfather…both of us were nervous then and it showed. We got to town late that night and had to stop at three different motels, in the pouring rain, before finally finding one with an available room. We were both pretty tired and by then it didn’t matter (too much) that there was a flashing, partially broken hot pink and green neon sign outside shining through the broken window blinds, water was dripping from the shower head, or that we didn’t really want to take our shoes off!
Mike waited until about 5:50am the next morning to wake me -Carter men like to get up early- and he did so with a giant cup of coffee in hand so we were able to remain friends. We decided the best strategy was for me to drive to the farm alone to tell Grandpa about Mike first since it was a surprise visit.
I sat with Grandpa, unsure how to begin, and finally said, “Dad has a son, Grandpa. His name is Mike, he’s here in town, and he wants to meet you.” Grandpa smiled, and then grinned. He got up and started pushing me toward the front door saying, “You go and get him, honey-bunch! Go get him right now. I want to meet him too!” I’ll never forget the smiles on the two men’s faces when they shook hands for the first time.
A couple of years later, I got married. Before the wedding, I called Dad and told him that Mike would be there. I felt it was the fair thing to do. Dad didn’t say anything yet still made plans to be there to give me away and to bring my little sister, Jordana, who was one of my bridesmaids. Leaving their meeting each other in Divine Hands, I didn’t give it a second thought until I heard my name being called at the reception. I turned around, and saw Mike, his wife Cissy, their daughter Catherine, Dad, and Jordana grouped together summoning me for a family photo! That was awesome.
Over the next months and years, Mike got to know his extended family and his father, and Dad experienced true peace, probably for the first time in his adult life.
I admire my brother’s courage for making those phone calls years ago, and am grateful to Mom for being too excited not to tell.