Last year, everything Bill Popp thought he knew about his family changed. He found out he had a younger sister, who his mom had to give up for adoption. In the first two stories, we heard why that family secret existed and how it was eventually revealed. In this final story, Anchorage Daily News columnist Julia O’Malley describes how the family was reunited again after fifty years.
Last fall, Brandy Miller, a 50-year-old billing clerk in a Colorado Springs law office, came home from work to find a message from an unfamiliar voice on her phone. It was a woman with the State of Wyoming, where Brandy grew up. The call wasn’t a legal matter, the woman said, nothing to worry about, but she needed Brandy call her back.
“BM: So when I got home from work I called her back. She verified who it was, is this Luarella Miller? And then she said, ‘Do you know that you are adopted?’ I got real quite for a second and said, ‘Well yeah, why? ‘And she says, ‘well I’m actually contacting you on behalf of your birth mother. And I dropped my phone.’ JO: So you dropped your phone. What was going through your head at that moment? BM: Well. I was 50 years old. And that was something that I had gotten to the point where I just didn’t think that would ever happen. I figured I would never know. I was just shocked.”
Brandy grew up with a brother, who was also adopted, in Casper, Wyoming. Growing up, her parents always said that her biological mother gave them a gift. Brandy was happy with the family she had. She never tried to find her birth mother.
“To me it was like that would be a ghost coming back out of her past. I didn’t know what her circumstances were and I didn’t want to go back and turn her life upside down if her family didn’t know about the choice she had made. And didn’t know about me,” Brandy said.
But now her mother was searching for her. Right away, Brandy knew she wanted to be found.
The confidential intermediary from Wyoming said that she’d provide Brandy with her birth mother’s number in two weeks time.
When the number arrived, Brandy made herself a glass of iced tea, sat on her couch and dialed. Thousands of miles away, in Mary Lou Popp’s apartment off Fireweed Lane in Anchorage, the phone rang.
“Four o’clock in the afternoon and I receive this telephone call and she said, are you Mary Lou Popp? And I said yes. She says my name is Brandy Miller. And I think? And I said, you’re my daughter,” Mary Lou said.
The next question Brandy asked was why. Mary Lou told her the story. She told her that she never wanted to give her up and that she thought of her every day afterward. They talked for an hour.
Brandy says she didn’t feel angry about what happened all those years ago, but she felt sad for what Mary Lou went through. Brandy says she’s grateful her life turned out the way it did.
“She didn’t have to do what she did. She could have gotten rid of me. She didn’t have to make the choices that she made. And I had a wonderful life growing up. Wonderful life. And I give her credit for that. Because she did do what needed to be done,” Brandy said.
Brandy found out she had an older brother, Bill, and two younger half siblings, Jeff and Kristin. And soon after she hung up the phone with Mary Lou, Jeff, Kristin and Bill arrived at her apartment.
They dialed Brandy again. Jeff and Kristin took turns talking to her first. Bill waited and listened.
“I was having a full blown panic attack. What the hell am I going to say to her? What do you say to a sister you never knew existed? And I’m listening to them. He’s hitting it off. She’s hitting it off and I’m just scared spitless. So Kristin’s wrapping up and I’m really getting short of breath and then she hands me the phone. I finally just said, ‘Hi, I’m your big brother Bill,” Bill said.
Less than two weeks later, in mid-October, Brandy got on a flight to Anchorage. As the plane taxied in, she felt sick with nerves. She walked down the terminal and passed though the arrival gate. Brandy had never met the people who rose to greet her, but she says their faces were familiar.
“BM: And he put his arms out, put his arms around me and gave me a big hug and the first thing he said to me is ‘Don’t get snot and mascara on my coat,’ (laughs). And I started to laugh and said, you lose, I’m not wearing any. So we giggled and laughed and I walked over and hugged my mother and it was an amazing feeling. And Kristen was standing there and I don’t have a sister. I didn’t have a sister that I knew and stood there and hung onto my sister and it was an amazing feeling and then hugging Bill (crying). That was amazing. JO: How come? BM: Because he’s my brother. And it was just, it was like going home.”
They went to Bill’s house. Being adopted, Brandy had given plenty of thought to the way nature and nurture shape a person. As she settled into the family room with her siblings, she realized that nature had far more influence than she thought.
“BM: It’s funny, it’s like the three of them are just each little pieces of me. Bill is very stoic, and he’s the strong one. I can be that way if I need to be. And then there’s Jeff who, I don’t know if you’ve met him? JO: I have. BM: I have the same sense of humor as Jeff. And Kristin and I, we were joking about how we both have the same lousy taste in men. And Kristin and I finish each other’s sentences and it just was really amazing how comfortable it was how quickly.”
And then there was Mary Lou. When Brandy looked at her, it was like looking in a mirror. They were both tall. Their faces had the same shape. There was something similar in the way they moved. For Mary Lou, meeting Brandy brought relief for the worry she’d carried for 50 years.
“Oh, I love her. I love her to death,” Mary Lou said. “We started out on the basis of Brandy and Mary Lou. One night she called me and she said, ‘Mom? Would it be alright, Mary Lou, if I called you mom?’ And I thought, god, you don’t know how alright it would be.”
Brandy asked Mary Lou what she knew about her biological father, John Lockhart. The last time Mary Lou saw John was in Gillette, Wyoming, she said, shortly after Brandy was born. She was with Bill. Lockhart passed them on the street.
“John walked by, and he looked down at Bill, never acknowledged me, never acknowledged Bill. And he just kept walking. So I thought, ‘That’s the way it’s going to be, you just keep on walking buddy,” Mary Lou said.
Later on, Brandy typed “John Lockhart” into Google. An obituary appeared. He’d died in 2003. It said, he’d retired from a career as a truck driver and lived in Texas, it said. At the bottom of the obituary was a list of survivors, including one son, Patrick – another brother. Brandy is actively searching for him.
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