Thursday, August 30, 2012

FAMILY: Seeing My Mother/Family Face-to-Face for the First Time in 18 years




TREAT: My mother's sermon on her 75th birthday

Many homeless people have lost contact with their families for various reasons and I'm no exception to the rule. In some cases, it's in direct connection with them having become homeless. I would dare say that, more often than not, it is the homeless person's sense of shame and not the family's rejection of them which is to blame for the loss of contact. In other cases, a person becomes a substance user and gives little or no thought to the concept of family. Still others develop mental illness that diminishes their ability to relate to or interact well with others and which may even cause them to develop unacceptable, problematic behaviors that their families are not capable of dealing with. Then again, even homeless people can have falling outs, vendettas or long-standing disagreements with family members just like housed people often do, as was the case with me. Nonetheless, my story ends well. As a matter of fact, things went so well that I decided I would tell it to other homeless people (and maybe a few housed people, for that matter), encouraging them to reconnect with family.

***** I HOPE TO RETURN FOR CHRISTMAS: If I can save at least $700 by December 4th, I may visit my mom on Christmas. Hopefully, I'll find cheaper tickets and be able to fly the girlfriend and myself for $500, the other $200 being pocket money for various other expenses (like food while enroute and a couple of modest gifts). According to my sister Mary Grace, plane tickets are cheapest from three weeks before the flight to two weeks before the flight. *****

On Friday, August 24th I flew to Florida and visited my adoptive mother Joanne Elizabeth (Tedesco) Sheptock (JETS) face-to-face for the first time in 18 years. I really wanted to be there for her 75th birthday celebration on the 26th and I put a lot of effort into making it happen. I stayed until the morning of August 27th then flew back to DC. As you can imagine, there was a lot of family news to catch up on. And I'm glad to be able to say that there was no animosity concerning the 18 years that I'd gone without visiting or the 11 years during which there was no phone communication. My mother was simply glad to see as many as possible of her 36 surviving children (1 having died) and 42 grandchildren along with several relatives and friends. When I called her in August of 2009 for the first time in 11 years, she seemed calmer and more peaceful than I'd ever known her to be in the past and that hasn't changed in the last 3 years. (For more on why we didn't speak for 11 years and how we reconnected, read the reposted story below this one. I'll also post a timeline at the end of this blog post for easy, linear reading.)

Assuming that you've read the previous blog post, I'll skip the details on how my mother and I reconnected on her 72nd birthday and explain occurrences that took place from December 2010 to the present:

On December 13th, 2010 I was featured on the front page of the Washington Post due to being a homeless homeless advocate who uses computers and had, at that time, 4,548 Facebook friends. Nathan Rott had interviewed me and followed me around on about five different days over the course of three weeks in November 2010. As it turns out he (like Pam Fessler of NPR) had contacted my mother while writing the profile of me and included her words (which I didn't fully agree with) in the article. (He actually asked several people their opinions of me.)

I called my mother on Christmas, at which time she told me that she heard a radio personality discussing events in DC and said to herself, "He's going to talk about Eric". Sure enough, he did. She explained that what he said was not good and she went on to express support for what I do, even suggesting that she might be called of God to actively support me in the near future, even traveling to DC. During that conversation, she also told me that she wanted to have a family reunion on Thanksgiving 2011.

On Thanksgiving, I called her to say that I was sorry that I couldn't make it. I actually felt ashamed, knowing that I'd had 11 months to save money for the trip. It was welcome news when my mother told me that the family reunion had been postponed until her 75th birthday nine months later. I purposed in my heart at that time that I wouldn't let it be said that I couldn't save enough money to make the trip with a full 20 months to do so.

I began to tell people about my plans immediately after the Thanksgiving phone call but didn't begin to plan in earnest for the trip until April 2012. I e-mailed people to let them know that I needed work -- if only doing odd jobs -- so I could buy a round-trip plane ticket and have some pocket money. I wanted to save $1,000, though I figured that I wouldn't spend more than $600, all things considered. As I did yard work, moved furniture, spoke for NCH (National Coalition for the Homeless -- www.nationalhomeless.org) and received donations to help me make the trip, I surpassed my goal. Then life happened. Unforeseen needs of mine as well as my girlfriend ate up much of what I had saved. Nonetheless, my ticket was purchased in June and the final challenge was trying to hold onto some pocket money. But I knew I would make the trip, if only with the clothes on my back; because, I had the ticket already.

On the morning of Wednesday, August 22nd, just when I was beginning to think that nothing else could go wrong, my cell phone began to malfunction. I didn't have the time or money to get it fixed, as I was busy making last-minute preparations for the trip. Those preparations included picking up $40 that I was owed on Thursday the 23rd and receiving a $40 donation the same day. (Upon my return to DC, my phone would eventually cost $60 to fix. It needed a new screen.)

I called my mother and a sister who lives near her from a pay phone on Thursday night. Neither one answered. I had no way of reminding my mother, whom I'd last spoken to in June, that I was coming. I tried again the following morning from the DC airport, but to no avail. (They may have been wary of answering numbers they didn't recognize.) I called from the airport in Gainesville, FL after landing and was finally able to reach my mother. My sister Mary Grace picked me up from the airport less than an hour thereafter and drove me to Mom's place in Interlachen, FL. I had a measly $70 in my pocket but was glad to reconnect with family. (I ended up not spending any of it and was actually GIVEN money while there.)

I would turn out to be the first arrival of many who came from out of town to visit my mother on her 75th birthday. I spent the evening visiting with my mother and the seven children whom she still cares for (3 of whom I'd never met) as well as my sister Mary Grace. The following day, my sister Mary Frances arranged for the family as well as friends and relatives who'd traveled from Georgia, Mississippi, south Florida and elsewhere to celebrate Mom's birthday (a day early) at Napolitano's Italian restaurant in Gainesville, FL. (Mom is Italian.) There were about 3 dozen people in attendance. During the dinner, my mother made a speech in which she admonished her children and grandchildren to be kind to everyone. The following day, on her birthday, she would preach a sermon entitled "The Hope of Jesus", during which she explained how she is looking forward with anticipation to the day she'll go to Heaven and meet Jesus. My brother Robert sang three solos which were intertwined with her sermon. (It can be found on the website for Bethel Assembly of God of Interlachen, FL in the archives for August 26th, 2012.)

While the visit was a pleasant one, I either heard some bad news for the first time or received confirmation for what I suspected. I've known about my father's death for quite some time now, though I didn't hear about it in time to make the funeral. I knew that my brother-in-law Dan Robinson came down with scleroderma in 1984 -- an autoimmune skin disease which can take 15 to 20 years to kill a person. By 2009 I had begun to suspect that Dan had passed, though I'd not heard about it. I saw while on Facebook last year that my sister Mary Frances (Dan's widow) had a new last name: Buckland. My brother Steve confirmed my suspicion several months ago in a phone call. There was further conversation about Dan Robinson during my trip last weekend. But I received the surprise of my life when I heard that my brother Jonathan (my middle name) had died at the age of 31 from a rare kidney disease. (He was not a substance user.) He was an autistic savant whose thing was dinosaurs. He knew everything there is to know about dinosaurs. I also heard about health problems which some of my surviving siblings have come down with.

While I can't bring back deceased family members or change the past in any respect, I CAN encourage those who have lost contact with family to reconnect with them. As my story indicates, the internet is a great way to do that. The person who gave me the $40 donation encouraged me to spend as much time as possible with family so that I have no regrets 30 years down the road. I sensed that he spoke from experience. I admittedly had some apprehensions about how the visit would go; but, they all dissipated as I met my sister at the aiport and then received a warm welcome from my mother upon my arrival at her home. She has entered a phase of life during which she wants to let bygones be bygones and sleeping dogs lie. I concur. She wants her loved ones to visit as often as possible, never knowing which day will be her last on Earth -- when she'll meet her Maker. It's safe to assume that many elderly parents share such sentiments.

But elderly parents and siblings are not the only loved ones that the homeless need to try and reconnect with. Many of the homeless have children of their own whom they haven't seen in quite some time. Whereas parents and siblings WANT to see their homeless family members, children NEED to see their parents and to feel loved -- even if the parent is homeless and broke. Love doesn't cost a thing. So, while I SUGGEST that the homeless reconnect with parents and siblings, I IMPLORE them to reconnect with their children if they've lost touch.

All of this raises the question: Do I support efforts like those of New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg to reconnect homeless people with family as a way of getting them out of the system? As his policy stands, I don't support. With a few tweaks, I would. Homeless service providers should afford the homeless as many opportunities as possible to speak to family by phone. Then, if and when it looks as though the broken relationship has been mended, the homeless person should be given a round-trip ticket to the family member's home. If the attempted reunion doesn't work out, they can always return to the city in which they were last homeless. The second ticket should be a one-way ticket which they only receive after it is all but certain that a meaningful relationship has been re-established and the homeless person won't be needing homeless services anymore. That homeless person should be denied familial reconnection services for at least six months thereafter.

Such a program would most likely put a sizable dent in the homeless community. One can only hope. The cost would be justified insomuch as buying the train or plane tickets would get homeless people out of the system -- people who cost an average of about $15,000 per year to shelter and feed on the city's dime. If you're not sold on the savings, maybe you'll buy into the moral, loving imperative which is being set forth here. If that doesn't win you over, maybe there's no hope for you until you experience homelessness. After all, you're only a paycheck or one bad decision away from being homeless.

A Timeline of My Life as a "Sheptock"

August 1974: having been born in Atlantic City on February 15th, 1969, I had my skull fractured at the age of eight months. I spent almost five years in foster care. Rudy and Joanne Sheptock picked me up from Atlantic City in August 1974 after having picked up a girl named Becky from Morristown, NJ on the same day. We were their ninth and tenth children. Six of their seven natural children had been born and they'd already adopted two girls.

August 1975: The family moved from Chester, NJ to a 13-bedroom mansion in Peapack, NJ. That same month Becky and I got adopted in Elizabeth, NJ. My mother had recently converted from Catholicism to (non-Catholic) Christianity and made a rule that everyone had to have a name from the Bible. Becky became Mary Elizabeth and I went from being Eric Gooden to choosing the name Eric Jonathan Sheptock (a tough choice for a six-year old).

December 26th, 1984: Most of my family moved to Interlachen, FL. (I believe my parents had 32 of their eventual 37 children by this time with four having grown up and moved out.) I was one of at least a half dozen who stayed in New Jersey with Dad.

April 29th, 1985: Having turned 16 a month and a half earlier, I was one of six family members who flew to Florida. My brother Bobby whose birthday was two days earlier broke his toy guitar while on the Piedmont airplane. We flew out of Newark at 4:35 PM, reached a cruise speed of 450 MPH and landed in Jacksonville at 7:10 PM where it was 70 degrees. (The pilot told us.)

June 1987: I graduated from Hollister Christian Academy in Hollister, FL. Through a friend from church who also worked for the Job Service of Florida, my mom was able to get me into Job Corps even though you aren't supposed to attend job Corps unless you drop out of school or were in the military.

March 1988: I returned to Mom and Dad after being wrongly terminated from Turner Job Corps in Albany, GA. Due to there being some friction, I moved to a trailer park about a half mile down the road.

May 25th, 1988: I began working at Shands Hospital in Gainesville, FL. I would end up working there until February 14th, 1994.

Christmas 1994: I visited my family face-to-face for what would turn out to be the last time for the next 18 years, having first experienced homelessness ten months earlier. I recall telling my mother about Joyce, my girlfriend of four years who died on August 11th, 1994.

April 1998: I made the call to my parents which became the reason for me not calling for 11 years thereafter. It would be the last time I spoke to my father. (See previous post.)

September 13th, 2000: My father died from triple cancer (prostate, bladder and pancreas). Because I was not in contact with my mother, I didn't receive the news for quite some time.

September 2002: I put my then-wife Angela in contact with my mother (in keeping with a promise I'd made) but didn't get on the phone myself.

2004: My mother and several siblings moved from Florida back to New Jersey.

2007: My brother Jonathan and brother-in-law Dan Robinson died.

August 26th, 2007: I tried to call my mother from a friend's phone; but, I couldn't because I was unaware of her move back to new Jersey. I began to think I'd lost contact with family forever. (I wasn't on Facebook or Twitter yet.)

June 2008: I began to blog and I found info about my dad's date of death on-line. I began to use Facebook and Twitter that year.

August 2009: Due to having been on NPR, I regained contact with my mother. We discussed my father's death but not the other two deaths.

Christmas 2010: my mother expressed support for what I do.

August 2012: I saw my mother and other family members face-to-face for the first time in 18 years.

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Wednesday, August 29, 2012

REPOSTED from August 27th, 2009: A PERSONAL STORY -- Contacting my mother after 11 years of not speaking

REPOSTED (unchanged) from August 27th, 2009 in lieu of my recent trip to Florida for my mom's 75th birthday.....

TREAT: My mother's sermon on her 75th birthday

Millions of people around the world have heard about my advocacy efforts for the homeless community of Washington, DC. I write for 2 papers -- Street Sense and The People's Tribune. I've been quoted or written about in the New York Times, Washington Times and Washington Post. I've been on WPFW Radio, NPR (National Public Radio) and CNN. I've even been on a Russian TV station that broadcasts to 100 million people.

Few are they who know anything substantial about me as an individual. This blog post may very well change that. As it turns out, my life has been plagued with various difficulties, such as most people never deal with -- and I've managed to retain my sanity, in spite of it all. At the age of 8 months old, my skull was fractured by my biological parents. I then spent 5 years in a foster home, before being taken in and eventually adopted by Rudy and Joanne Sheptock. With the focus of this post being a recent reunion with my adoptive mother, I won't delve into the details of my childhood or what it was like growing up in a family of 10 girls and 22 boys, but will instead fast-forward to the matter that drove a wedge between my mother and I over 11 years ago.

I first became homeless in February of 1994, right after my 25th birthday. I worked out of labor halls for a while. Then, in October of 1997, one of the companies that I worked for decided to hire me. (This would end up happening 2 more times over the next 7 years.) I got out of homelessness for several months, by renting a house in south Orlando for $325/month. Around February of 1998, a certain man began to bother me. It got to the point where I bought a Marlin .22 caliber bolt-action rifle. Long story short, once the man knew that I had a gun, he left me alone. I never had to shoot him, though I had put the cops on alert about him bothering me. The Orange County sheriff deputies told me to make sure that, if I shot him, that I did it on my property and didn't run down the road shooting him.

Shortly thereafter, I wrote to my parents and explained the incident, being that I used to maintain semi-regular contact with them. In April of that year, I called to wish my father a happy 66th birthday. Little did I realize that it would be the last time that I would speak to him.....ever. He informed me that he had just retired. After he and I spoke, he put my mother on the phone. This is where the trouble began. She began to ask me rather sarcastically how I was thinking, if my head was screwed on straight and if I was having any crazy thoughts. This brought to mind all of the trouble that she and I had during my childhood and convinced me that she and I would never see eye-to-eye. I bit my tongue and politely finished the phone call. I then thought for hours on end before finally deciding never to call her again. I knew that she wouldn't approve of me calling to speak to my father only, thus creating a division between the 2 of them. I also knew that my siblings and I don't keep each other's contact info and we usually only meet at my parent's house on holidays. This meant that not calling my mother would, in effect, be disconnecting myself from my entire family. For the first few months, I actually had to fight the temptation to call. It got easier as time went on. Remembering the trouble that she and I had had during my childhood made it easier.

One must bear in mind that, at the time of my departure from their house, my parents had raised or were raising 32 children. Some of those children were retarded or physically handicapped. When speaking at different churches or news events about our family, my mother would mention this. When chastising various ones of us, she would turn psycho-analytical and play the junior psychologist, though she never went to school for it. She would claim that, if I got upset with someone it was misplaced anger about me having been abused as a baby. I could never get her to see that I was reacting to offenses committed against me in what was, at that time, the present. I couldn't get her to look at the matter rationally and to see that I was a normal, intelligent kid who was reacting to various stimuli in the way that any boy should be expected to, in spite of my head injury. She would say that I subconsciously remembered what happened to me when I was 8 months old and was acting it out. If true, this would mean that my subconscience at 8 months was more powerful than my conscious mind at 10 or 15 years of age. Needless to say, I don't buy that stuff about the subconscience. She would forbid me to play football -- even 2-hand touch. Then, when I would play anyway, she'd accuse me of failing to accept my limitations and wouldn't even acknowledge that, in spite of the head injury, I just had normal boyish ways. And these are just a few of the things that we would have at it about. So, you can imagine the flood of memories that I was dealing with after our phone conversation, even though I'd left her house 11 years earlier. It was easier not to call her anymore than to go through all of this all over again.

In June of 2002, I met Angela Lorraine Hoskins-Bradley while in Morehead City, North Carolina and ended my homelessness for a few more months. Due to a slightly complicated set of circumstances, we had to marry the following month, if we were going to remain together. (I was her 2nd husband.) We married on July 29th.

She'd dealt with some childhood difficulties of her own. She was still a bit of an emotional wreck because of it. As a coping mechanism, she had come to see a then 88-year old woman who she affectionately knew as "Mama Edith" as her mentor/mother figure. Angela was fearful of Mama Edith's impending death and didn't know how she would cope with the loss. I told Angie about my family. She asked me to put her in contact with my mother, in hopes of my mother becoming her new mother figure.

During our time together, I needed to travel back to Florida, where I had moved with my parents in March of 1985, at the age of 16. While in Florida, I wrote a flurry of letters to my mother, Joanne Elizabeth Tedesco Sheptock. I explained that she had been wrong over the years for giving my father such a hard time and being such a fussy woman. I informed her that the Bible which she had read and believed for so many years is quite chauvinistic and puts the man in control; but, if it is what she claims to believe, she should govern herself accordingly or change belief systems. I referred her to scriptures such as Genesis 3:16-17, 1 Peter chapter 3, 1 Corinthians 14: 34-35, Ephesians 5:22 and 1 Timothy 2:9-11.

In September our marriage fell apart. However, I still made good on my promise to connect Angie to my mother, who had changed her number as it turns out. I was able to find out her new number and called her. As soon as my mother answered the phone, I handed it to Angie. I wasn't sure as to what my mother was saying to my now ex-wife. In retrospect, it is safe to assume that she was explaining that my father had died and possibly saying a few more things.

Over the next 2 years, I would continue to travel up and down the east coast doing day labor and migrant farm work. Then, in August of 2004, I returned to Gainesville, Florida, where I'd lived from May of 1988 until February of 1994. I would remain there until July 6th, 2005, the day that I began my 25-day hike to Washington, DC. However, on April 24th, 2005 I ran across Martha Fortineaux near a convenience store. When my father was the assistant director of Enviromental Services at Shands Hospital in Gainesville, she worked under his authority as a supervisor. I later was employed by her. (My father had actually switched departments before I began working there and left the hospital altogether about a month after I began working there.)

I told Martha that I needed to buy a card for my father, whose birthday was in 5 days. She gave me the meanest, grimmest look as she exclaimed,"Sheptock, do you mean to tell me that your father's been dead for 3 or 4 years and you're just now finding out???!!!" Those words still reverberate in my head until this day. I felt my heart drop to my left knee. I was too stunned to ask about the details of his death, so I didn't. In utter dismay, I simply got on my bike and rode off.

I began to wonder if I'd ever be able to reconcile with my family, now that I'd missed my father's funeral and hadn't been there to help him in his last days or to help his widow after his death. I thought to myself that what's done is done and I can't change the past. If my family wanted to disown me for this, there was literally nothing I could do about it. Then again, it does no good to remain mad at someone for missing a funeral. It won't bring the deceased back. What's done is done. At some point, my thoughts shifted to me just wanting to know the details of my father's death, a wish that would eventually be granted in increments.

On the night of July 31st, 2005, I arrived in the nation's capital. I made many acquaintances. As has been my habit throughout my adulthood, I continued to tell people about my upbringing and my extraordinary family. (As a matter of fact, I had just told 2 women on my job about my family on August 25th, though I wasn't even thinking about the fact that my mother's birthday was the next day. The timing was mere coincidence.) Now, I needed to account for my father's death somehow. I began to tell them that he died on 9/11/2001 as a result of his bad health (not the attacks), basing my guess on the words of Martha Fortineaux. However, I was ashamed to let anyone know that I had actually missed my father's funeral. I'm over the shame at this point. Life goes on.

I began advocating for the homeless in June of 2006. In November of that year, David Pirtle told me that, unless I learned to use computers, I would be of no use to the Committee To Save Franklin Shelter. He then took me to the MLK library and helped me to open an e-mail account. I had some trouble when I tried to log on without him the following day. I eventually got some help from another committee member named Michael McFadden. I've been using computers ever since. My ability to use computers would eventually enable me to reconnect with family, though it happened in increments.

In July of 2007, I met Julie Sommers who was a chaperone for a YSOP group. YSOP (Youth Service Opportunities Project) is a national youth volunteer corps which sends groups from different cities across the nation to DC. While here, they serve food at soup lines, help clean in around different shelters, do meals on wheels for the elderly and perform various other types of volunteer work. Their itinerary always includes feeding dinner to the homeless at my church. During that time, they sit, talk and play games with the homeless.

Julie's group was from Elkhart, Indiana (one of the places that has been hardest-hit by the rcession). I told her about my family and that there was a book about us entitled: "Our Growing Family", which was published in 1980. I got her e-mail so we could stay in touch and her group returned to Elkhart. In September of 2007, she mailed me a copy that she'd bought at her local library. I carried it around and showed it to dozens of acquaintances. I still have it. This exchange had been made possible, in part, due to me having learned to do e-mail a mere 8 months prior to meeting Julie.

On August 26th, 2007, someone asked what the date was. Though they were asking the general crowd, I answered and stated that it was also my mother's birthday. A friend named Ron who was standing nearby asked if I had called her. I said,"No, I don't have a phone or money to call." He handed me his cell phone. I told him that she lives in Florida. He didn't care. I was out of excuses for not calling now. Or was I? I called the number that I'd found in 2002. That number was non-functioning. I called the number that I'd known her to have before that. Nothing. I called 411 and long-distance information (area code + 555-1212). They had no listing for a Joanne Sheptock in Interlachen, FL. I handed Ron's phone back to him as I began to think that I would never see my family again. As it turns out, my mother had moved from Florida back to New Jersey for 3 and a half years and is now back in Florida.

Though I had learned to do e-mail in November of 2006, I didn't actually learn what a search engine was until some time in 2007. I used Google and other search engines to find various bits of information related to my advocacy and would eventually use them to gather info about my family members. I found my brother Jon on-line. He was born with no arms and a short right leg. He is quite intelligent and works as a lawyer in New Jersey. He is married with children. He tried out for American Idol and was rejected. He is suing; because, he thinks that it was due to his handicap that he was rejected. He can be found on-line singing by Googling "Jon Sheptock" (no "h"). I've also learned that my brother Sam works at Shands Hospital and that Joseph, who is grossly retarded, is now in a group home. I learned this and more about family members well before actually communicating with them.

That same year, David Pirtle and Mike O'Neill of the National Coalition for the Homeless encouraged me to start a blog, being that I was writing for a paper called Street Sense and they both thought that I write rather well. I didn't take them up on it. On May 6th, 2008, while at a meeting in City Hall, I met a man named Greg Wragg. He made the same suggestion and, in June of that year, he actually set up my blog at his website. Though my knowledge of computers and the internet was increasing, this still wasn't enough to reconnect me with family. There were still a few more links to the chain.

In late-May or early-June of 2008, I decided to see what info I could find on-line about my father. I found a directory that listed him as living in Interlachen, Fl and being 76, which he would've been if he hadn't died already. I also found an on-line death certificate from which I was able to glean the date of his death -- September 13th, 2000.

Around September of 2008, I began using Facebook, though I don't recall who turned me onto it (though I think it might've been a woman whose AKA is Louise Thundercloud). I didn't have many contacts and it was no fun. I left it alone. Then I became good friends with a woman named Ingrid who'd begun to attend my church. She said that she found me on Facebook. I told hr that my account should've been disabled for lack of use. She told me that it wasn't and encouraged me to resume using it. I did and now I have 1,400 friends, with Ingrid being one of them of course. Around May of 2009, I decided to search for family on Facebook. I've found about a dozen family members so far. Coincidentally, my eldest sister Mary Grace was also trying to track down family. She contacted me on Facebook through the application "We're Related". My Facebook friends now include my eldest brother, Rudy, Jr. and my neice Whitney. Through Whitney I was able to reconnect with my brother Steven who is her father and who doesn't use computers. (I also began using Twitter earlier this year, though it didn't aid me in fnding family.)

On June 9th of this year, I was featured on NPR (National Public Radio)'s show called "All Things Considered". I'd been found by Pam Fessler who covers poverty issues as she searched the web for links on poverty and homelessness in DC. Being the diligent worker that she is, she checked her facts by calling my mother. (Journalists need to check their facts in order to avoid lawsuits.) After I was on her show, she invited me to tour the facility. As she finished the tour, she told me about having spoken to my mother and that my mother said that she loved me. Pam told me to keep in touch. I suspected that she invited me for the tour more as a way of letting me know that she'd contacted my mother than it was because of her wanting to give me a tour. I took it in stride.

Three days after being on NPR, I was on CNN, due to them having seen me on the NPR website. The day after my NPR stint, I had 553 new followers on Twitter and 277 messages from Facebook, with 8 of them being from friends that I'd already had, the rest being friend requests. I gained about 60 new contacts after being on CNN. I still get an occasional message from someone who heard or saw me on NPR or CNN.

Finally, all the planets had aligned and I would be able to contact my mother. I thought about asking Pam Fessler for my mother's number right after the tour but decided against it. I still hadn't worked out how I was going to talk to my family about the details of my father's death, though I had some of them on Facebook.

Then, I was using the computer on August 26th of this year, flipping back and forth between Facebook, Twitter, my blog and my e-mail when I noticed the date. I was in Facebook at the moment; so, I decided to post an update explaining that it was my mother's 72nd birthday, that we'd lost contact and telling anyone who might know her to wish her a happy birthday for me. Rudy, Jr.(actually: Rudy, II) responded by letting me know that he would send me her number if I wanted him to. Then, wouldn't you know it, the computer that I was on at the Library of Congress began to act up. It took me over a half hour to get it to send my response. I feared that Rudy would get off of the computer before I got my response to him, though I'd seen his messge moments after he sent it. I finally sent my message and got off of the computer immediately thereafter. Due to the half-hour spent dealing with a malfunctioning computer, I didn't have time to wait for him to send the number. I had to go outside so that I could make some calls on my cell phone.

Before going to the MLK Library, I needed to stop by where I stay. While walking there, I called Pam Fessler, who I'd also e-mailed earlier in the day asking for my mother's number. She was busy and asked if she could call me back, which she did within 15 minutes. She gave me 2 numbers, of which she said that only one worked but she couldn't recall which one it was. She also informed me that she had found my mother's number by simply going to an on-line directory called www.whitepages.com . (This is good advice for anyone trying to find a loved one.)


I called both numbers. The latter one worked. Someone answered whose voice I didn't recognize. When I said my name, they hung up on me. I began to think that my family had disowned me. But I tried again. This time my mother answered and we spoke for about 10 minutes. She told me about my father's death, not knowing that I'd already found out. However, I didn't know the cause of death. I knew that he had double-bypass heart surgery on September 12th, 1990 (Martha's 60th birthday and the day her husband, Warren, died.) I explained to my mother that my father lived 10 years and 1 day after his heart surgery and that they say you live about 10 nyears after heart surgery. That's when my mother explained that my father actually died from a combination of pancreatic, bladder and prostate cancer. She said that my older brother Robert had taken a 3-month leave of abscence from his job to care for our father in his last days and that my father died at home. She told me that she had adopted 5 more kids since we'd last spoken, bringing the grand total to 37 (7 natural and 30 adopted). 2 of them are actually her grandchildren. She said that she still goes around speaking at different churches about the love of Christ. We discussed other family members, exchanged words of love and she told me to stay in touch.

I couldn't help but notice that she was calmer than I'd known her to be in times past. When I was a child, if she and I had argued right before I went to bed, she would pick up where we left off in the morning. However, when we spoke on her birthday, she didn't seem to care why I hadn't called in 11 years. She was just glad to hear from me. It reminded me of my relationship with my now-deceased girlfriend Joyce Ann Williams of Gainesville, FL. During our 4 years together, there had been a 6-week period during which we separated. On the day that I returned, she said,"I thought you didn't wan to see me anymore." I simply said,"I'm back." That was all she needed to hear and we picked up where we left off. That much being said.....

.....I'M BACK!!!!!

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