Friday, May 8, 2015

Chapter 21- GOING HOME (part 1)

I peered out the window of the Qantas airliner as we circled Adelaide, South Australia.  I had never been here before- except a quick pass-through in our family "Combi Van"  (Volkswagon Bus) on the way to a trip through the Outback in 1972.  I knew that I was hours away from laying eyes on Malcolm- the man that I had been told for 30 years was my biological father.
 I had landed in Melbourne three days prior and spent that time with Lynn and John at their home near Echuca- on the boarder between Victoria and New South Wales.  As I had already met them, that visit was the least stressful.  I figured a relaxing catch-up would be the best way to prepare for the days ahead where I would continuously be introduced to new relatives.  Though I had received warm welcomes from several family members via the internet and Skype- I wasn't sure how the rest of them would take this new stranger materializing into their lives.  Luckily, I had already met Serena.  She and her fiancee, Aron, had made a trip to Los Angeles the past October and we had the opportunity to spend several days getting to know each other.  It certainly took the edge off- knowing that she "had my back".  I had told Serena that I would like for her to take me to meet Malcolm- and under no certain terms was she allowed to leave without me.  Though he had all but insisted that I stay as a guest at his home, I went ahead and booked a hotel room.  As the outgoing introvert that I am, that is just the way I like to roll.  I don't like feeling as though I'm under anyone's feet- and I always need a quiet place to retreat and re-energize.  I also knew that, in this highly unorthodox event, I needed to feel in control of the situation.

Aron was at the airport to greet and transport me to Melita's home.  Her youngest daughter was having a birthday party and she had told Serena that it was ok for me to attend.  I was nervous to meet Melita.  She had been cordial during our brief exchanges on Facebook.  I could tell she was indifferent to me- probably because of her indifference to her father.  She made it clear that she was really not interested in speaking "in-depth" about Malcolm with me.  That was fine.  I get it.  We all have our ways of dealing with stuff.  I was just thankful that she was willing to be in the same room as me- let alone have me in her home.
We pulled up to the house and no sooner had I exited the car did a blonde grommet come running up and attach himself to me.  This was Jack, Serena's youngest boy.  He wrapped his arms around me and I couldn't think of a better way to break the tension I was feeling.  I asked him if he knew who I was and he replied, "Yes.  You're my Auntie Julie."  Melt.  He took me by the hand and led me into the house.  Serena hugged me and handed me a glass of wine.  She knew me so well already.  One by one I was introduced to friends and family.  James and Jorjia, Serena's two older kids.  Sonya, Serena's cousin on her mothers side- she has a laugh that is infectious.  Then there was Vicki, Malcolm's first wife and mother of my half siblings.  She was charming, relaxed and succeeded in abating any nerves that I had had about being there.  Then there was Melita.  She greeted me warmly and introduced me to her partner and beautiful children. They all did a great job of normalizing this highly irregular meeting.  To an outsider it would have appeared like a normal family gathering.

After the party it was time for Serena and I to head over to Malcolm's.  I was thankful for the wine induced confidence.  When we pulled in to the driveway I could see Malcolm in the garage.  He was a tall and imposing man with a shock of thick white hair.  We hugged and I was careful not to disturb the enormous bandage the covered his entire right arm.  When I asked about it he inferred that it was new work on an old injury that he had sustained at- wait for it- Three Mile Island.  I knew enough by now not to ask him to be more specific.  The fact is, Malcolm has been a truck driver for most of his life (he refers to them as "road trains").  As Australian vehicles have a right hand drive, one would conclude that his right arm has been exposed to the punishing Australian sun. Australia has long been known to be directly under the hole in the O-Zone Layer and, as a result, Australia has the highest incidence of skin cancer in the world.  This latest work had been performed by a dermatologist- so I can only conclude that Malcolm was undergoing treatment for Melanoma- or some other sun related malady.
It was obvious that the garage was the place to be for Malcolm.  He was currently working on restoring a VW Combi-Van for his wife, Carol.  We had spoken about my desire to own one as it was a throwback to my childhood.  He was proud of his vehicles. He spoke of them at length during our phone conversations.  We went in to the house and I was welcomed by the lovely Carol, and Malcolm's American Pit-bull- another of his prized possessions. At that time, I asked him when he had last eaten.  I needed to collect his DNA for 23andme and wanted to do it before he had an opportunity to refuse it.  I had previously sent him a kit, which he had completed, but it was never recorded as having arrived at the lab.  At first I thought that he was dodging the inevitable- but I later discovered that 23andme doesn't accept kits that had been delivered in the U.S.- but returned from an international location.  Anyway, I wanted to get this task out of the way first. I didn't know how much time I would spend with Malcolm, so I wanted to be sure to complete my ultimate goal in having both of my parents DNA for my genealogy project.  He took the test willingly and I was relieved to have that task out of the way.
We began to go through some albums that he had gathered for me.  It was amusing to watch him get irritated at Serena every time she came in- and several times he decided to switch locations- away from Serena's eyes and ears.  It was pretty obvious that he was uncomfortable with all three of us being in the same room and I assume that it's because it would be more difficult for him to stick with whatever stories he has shared with each of us.  Serena thought it was a fun game and I could see the delight in giving him a hard time about it.
The first album was pictures of Oil Rigs (I think) that he had worked on.  There were no people in most of the photos- except for one that had the silhouette of a man in front of what appeared to be a large tanker fire.  He said that the silhouette was him.  Next was a collection of Semi-Trucks that he had owned and loved and then there was an album of dogs that he has had throughout his life.  After perusing them together he arranged them into a neat, but heavy, stack and presented them to me.  "You want me to have these?" I asked and he responded,"Of course."  I told him that, while I was touched that he wanted me to own this part of his life, I had limited space in my luggage and really needed to save room for "family" pictures.  He grudgingly agreed and then we moved on to the final album.  The album that had been left by Arline.  He had never altered it because it was apparently in chronological order.  As we scrutinized each page there was a gold mine of family photos.  Some of them he could identify, many he couldn't- but had names written on the back, and even more were complete mysteries.  It was fun to be able to point out to him who some of the people were as I had seen them in photos supplied to me by Barb and Tricia.  There was even a photo- that he had forgotten about- of he and my mother.  Eureka!  They looked like they were on a date somewhere and were posed on the steps of what looked to be a facade of an Ansett plane.
Lynn and Malcolm

There were many pictures of him as a baby, child and teenager.  He had many freckles as a boy and was quite photogenic.  I was able to see Arline throughout the years and there were also a few photos of Lionel and Arline in happier days.  Lionel appeared to be quite an interesting character as well- often posing with koalas and snakes, sleeves rolled up and preening for the camera as if he was in an episode of Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom.  There were sweet photographs of Grandma Ethel with her two grandkids, Gloria (who looked to be a statuesque debutante) and Malcolm- looking adoringly at her with heavy lashed eyes.  All of the pictures were black and white- but he had dark brown eyes and, I am told, dark auburn hair.
There were many unlabeled pictures of people that could not be identified- even by other relatives that I met later and, as of now, still remain a mystery.

When we reached the last page, as I was hoping, Malcolm presented me with that album to take with me.  Yes, that was what I had been hoping for.  I was so thankful that he was willing to let me have such an important symbol of my heritage.

After having pizza for dinner I began to feel the strain of the day.  It was time to leave.  I had to break it to Malcolm that I wouldn't be able to see him the following day as Serena had planned a family outing to the Murray River (they are a water skiing family) and it would be my only opportunity to meet Adrian- my half-brother.  Malcolm was not pleased about me spending so much time with those from whom he is estranged- but he feigned displeasure about not being invited.  Of course, inviting him was not an option as he had not been in the vicinity of his former wife and alienated off-spring for many years.  I feel a certain gratification about his greed to "keep me to himself"- even if it is only to maintain control of my opinion of him.  What he doesn't quite grasp is that my viewpoint is mine alone and I was more than capable of reaching my own conclusions about him long before I had spoken to anyone else.  I did, however, need to meet my Auntie Kym, so I was able to make arrangements for him to bring her to my hotel on Monday afternoon.  As there was no internet at his home I could use the hotel wi-fi to share with them the family tree that I have been so diligently constructing.

The next day was the river trip.  I was assigned to ride with Adrian, Vicki,  and Adrian's two young boys.  Serena correctly thought that it would be a good time for us to bond.  In Adrian,I discovered an easy going individual who was quick to laugh at my jokes (always a bonus).  He didn't take himself too seriously and it was clear her was a "go with the flow" type of person.  I liked him instantly. While I don't see any physical resemblance between me and my half sisters, upon reviewing photographs of the four of us taken on that day, I thought that Adrian and I had facial similarities.  Vicki never offered information about her past with Malcolm, but was always willing to answer whatever questions I may have.  She's a real class act.  It was a fun day at the river.  At the end of the day I was exhausted and gratified that I had managed to blend in- and hopefully didn't make a huge fool of myself.

The next morning (Monday) was the time I had reserved to take a walk to the State Library and Archives.  This was where I could access the "Electoral Rolls" that are not published anywhere on line.  Malcolm had told me that I had been unable to find him for so long because the government had not allowed him to register publicly- due to the "sensitive" nature of his "work".  I took this to mean that he believed that he had a price on his head.  I, of course, doubted the validity of this claim, and, perhaps unnecessarily, needed to see for myself if he was, indeed, absent from the Electoral Rolls. With the help of a grumpy librarian (really the first truly cranky individual I had encountered so far)I commenced a tedious search.  When I asked the curator why South Australia was the only state that refused to release the Electoral Rolls she responded with an agitated "you'd have to ask the State Government."  Really?  I found it hard to believe that a government employee would have no "pat" answer for such a question.  I wanted desperately to tell her that if it was indeed released on line she wouldn't have to speak with annoying researchers like me.  I opted to just zip it.  Finally, I procured the evidence that I had expected to find.  Although I was not surprised by my findings, I was still a little angry to have definitive proof that Malcolm had unnecessarily concocted a fallacy that did nothing for his case. It was as though it was a knee-jerk reaction to make something up if he just didn't know the answer.

 When I began writing this blog, I wasn't sure how I was going to handle the aspect of basically telling the truth about Malcolm.  I don't have any sort of claim on him and it's not really my duty to "out" him- but in the interest of my favorite topic, truth, I simply couldn't gloss over the absurdities that it was presumed that I would believe.  After speaking to me on several occasions- surely he had realized that I am far from gullible. I truly believe that his affliction is chemical AND psychological. That is my main reason for referring to him under a pseudonym (as well as all the members of his extended family).

That afternoon I waited in the lobby to finally meet Kym.  She has possibly been the most welcoming of everyone.  She loves family fiercely and was no less than thrilled to add me as a member of her extended family.  Due to health issues, she doesn't drive so I was delighted that Malcolm was willing to pick her up and bring her to the hotel.  The three of them arrived  around two and we headed up to the restaurant.  Kym and I held hands and periodically looked into each others eyes- as if we couldn't believe it.  Truthfully, I've known of the existence of Kym almost as long as I've known of Malcolm.  She has often been the subject of my search as, being so much younger than her brother I figured she would be more likely to have an online presence.  She had also been the conduit to my connecting with Malcolm.  After the passing of Arline, she had lost the connection with that side of the family- so I have a certain amount of gratification in being able to reintroduce them.  I showed them my Ancestry family tree- as well as several of the historical newspaper articles I have compiled.  They were quiet as I tried to point out the connections and how I had arrived at the conclusion that these were their ancestors.  I wonder if the concept of actually having proof of connection was a tough one for Malcolm to wrap his head around.  A few weeks previously he had told me that he had "happened upon" some relatives at an auction house in another part of the state.  I excitedly took down the phone number and contacted this cousin- who immediately sent me the complete file of his "Campbell" family ancestry.  After perusing it for a half an hour or so, I came to the conclusion that these were not "our" Campbells.  There was not a single reference to any of the Campbells in my research- in fact, I had seen some of these ancestors during my work and realized then that there was no connection.  Malcolm protested, saying that they had agreed that their grandfathers had the same name.  Indeed, they did not-unless Cyril Gordon is a pseudonym for Clarence Victor.  In all, I saw no connection- and my research actually dated further back than this tree.

After our all too brief visit, it was time for them to depart.  I was expecting my childhood friend, Sharyn, to arrive at any minute.  She was flying in from Melbourne, renting a car and we were to set off on a road trip back to Victoria the next morning for further reunions with the Brant and Campbell families.  I was ecstatic to have met Kym and only wish we could have spent more time together.  Malcolm left me with a warm hug and lots of advice on how to maneuver the treacherous roads of the South Australian desert.