The Beginning Of My Searching…
May 10, 2006
Now that I am the oldest member of the family left, I can talk about a story that at one time could not be spoken.
My story begins in 1953, Waltham Massachusetts
When I was six, my sister was four. The year was 1953. Our parents had separated and my grandfather had tried to take on the responsibility of raising us. My grandmother had died in 1949. My mother was trying to live her life, my father the same, which left little room for us. I guess my grandfather decided to handle what he could. I don’t know all those things, I was too young to remember and far too young to understand.
As young as I was, I knew things were happening. I knew that things were going to change. This time it had to do with my sister. I must have had some idea of what was going on because one day she was there, then she was gone. At this time I was living with Will and Gert Morrison ( my grandfathers sister and her husband) on Alder Street in Waltham, Ma My sister Dorothy had been living next door with Ed and Gladys.
I am adding this note on July 4, 2012 because a few day’s ago I spoke with Will and Gert’s grandson Charles Winston Berry Jr whom I had not spoken to since about 1959. Strange that he did remember me. I told him that I visit Waltham a few times a year to put flowers at my grandparents and his grandparents graves. We may get to meet this summer, with flowers for those graves.
At that time, the word adoption had no meaning to me, so the days leading up to my sister leaving was not understood by me. For years, I would ask where she was and why did she go. In those day’s nobody would talk about those things. And in my case, it only made me mad. The following year my mother remarried, and I was still living with my grandfather. I guess I became a real behavior problem because I was always in trouble at home and then outside the house as well. My grandfather and I were close but he would never discuss the topic of my sister and what had happened to her. By the time I was ten, I was a walking problem.
In the summer of 1959 my grandfather and I went to Margaree Valley, Nova Scotia to visit his sisters and their families. I remembered that trip for many years and in the spring of 1969 went there myself. I arrived at 2 in the morning in the valley and the only house I could remember was Uncle Albert’s. So, I knocked on the door and after a few minutes he answered. Of course, the last time he saw me was 10 years prior so he did not have a clue who I was. His question was, “What can I do for you at this hour?”.
I explained that I wanted to rent one of his cabins . He looked at me and said “I haven’t rented those cabins for years.”
I said “Well, the last time I stayed here was in 1959.”
He looked at me and said “With who?”
I said “My grandfather, Hiram Phillips.”
“Come in boy, come in.”
Then he got everyone up in the house to re- introduce me to the family. We talked until 4 then everyone went back to bed. I slept on the couch until 8 o’clock then asked for directions to my aunt Jessie, Hiram’s sister’s house.
I told Albert I would be back before I headed back to Massachusetts. I followed the paved road almost to the iron bridge, took the dirt road and followed the sign to Portree.
As I traveled this road, I can remember the last time I was there in 1959 . When I turn left I remember the old house with the big porch. I arrived and knocked at the back door and this little lady opened the door and stood there a minute.
“Albert!” she said, I said I was. I told her I arrived in the middle of the night and the only thing I could remember was Albert’s house in Margaree center.
Jessie then said, “When you come to Margaree you come to my house. I am your grandfather’s sister, closer blood than Albert; he was a second cousin of ours.”
I did learn from Jessie about family; hers, mine, my grandfather’s and a number of other families in the valley. After my first visit, I was to visit there twice a year at least and sometimes more.
In November of 1971, I happened to be at Jessie’s , when I got a call from Massachusetts that my grandfather was in the hospital and I should come home. I came back in time to be with him before he died. After he was buried, I was given a few pictures that were in his personal belongings; one a picture of my sister dated 1959.
Then, I knew that he had known all those years where she was and with who yet never told me. That day I went to the cemetery and told him that I remembered my sister and and would not forget her and one day I would find her and bring her there to visit his grave.
Eighteen years would pass before that would happen because I did not have a clue as to how to go about getting the information needed to search. Everyone told me that the records were closed that it was too long ago, leave it alone or too many people will get hurt. All that is true but sometimes the need to know is stronger.
As things happen, a friend was with me one day in Boston. We had a house guest and the wife was working, I volunteered a trip to Boston. Gail Hirst, a family friend, decided she would like to join us on a trip to Boston.
Gail and I had planned to visit the Massachusetts Archives as part of the day trip, in my case to look into the Civil War names I had been researching. I sat there thinking, “if I can look at over 100 years ago and come forward why couldn’t I look at the 50’s and come forward?”
I was looking at the 1949 index of births when Gail came over and said “I thought you were working on The Civil War time span.”
I gave her a 5 minute story of my missing sister. Gail is a professional Genealogist, so as I tell her the little I know. She asked when and where this took place and I told her. “There may be a part of the record that never got sealed,” Gail said.
We end up in the courthouse and she is right. So, after 36 years I now have a name, location and the starting point to locate my sister.
Gail checked out a town near where I would be going, and she confirmed that the family was still there after all these years. The family meaning “Mrs. A…” only, the woman who adopted my sister. I had to go there to sort out the rest.
On April 19 1989, I boarded a train out of Boston, bound for Churchville, Maryland . The next morning, I arrived in Baltimore and drove to Belaire . There I spent the best part of the day at the local library looking at town street directories and high school year books searching for a my sister’s senior class picture. There was none.
That evening, I looked for the address that I knew would give me the answers I needed should there be no other way. Then on Saturday morning I got a map of the local cemeteries and began the search for a possible grave. My thought was, if I hadn’t found a picture, there was a possibly that my sister had died. At the second cemetery, I found a double grave site with a single burial of her adopted father.
At this point I went into Smith Chapel and met Mrs. Malloy, the church secretary. I told her I was doing some genealogical research and wanted to ask a few questions about graves I had found in the church yard. Mrs. Malloy told me that the minister was new there, but that she had been around here since the late 50’s, maybe she could be of help.
Looking around the church I saw a pew that had the family name “A…” on it and said that is one of the families I was working on outside.
Mrs. Malloy said “Oh, do you know my friend Vera?”
I said “No, not personally. That’s one of the research names I’ve been working on, though.” She then started talking about Mrs.”A”, that she lost her husband in the 50’s and raised her daughter Dorothy by herself. Mrs. Malloy then said that she had taught Dorothy how to play the piano right there at the church. “Dorothy’s daughter, Lisa was married here just last year, then she thought a minute, you know she said, Dorothy had a brother from Massachusetts as I remember, but know one knows whatever happened to him.”
Mrs. Malloy stopped short and looked at me and said “Here I am talking to you and I don’t even know who you are.”
Sometimes you have to make a decision, mine was to state “I’m the brother.”
She then said “You don’t even know what they look like.”
She went and got the church book that had pictures of Mrs.” A” and my sister and her family.
At that time. I realized that I had to deal with how I was going to make the actual contact with the family, so I asked Mrs. Malloy for 24 hours to try resolve my problem. She said, well it’s been thirty six years, what’s 24 hours. For that I will always be in debt to Mrs. Malloy.
I drove around town for awhile, stopped and had lunch, then called Mrs.”A”. At this point my thought was that the most important person here that could be hurt by all of this was Mrs.”A” and that was not why I was here.
I called Mrs.”A” and told her that I was doing genealogical research and Mrs. Malloy had said I should talk to her. She said “I’m sorry, my husband died many years ago and I can’t help you with your research.”. I said “Well, my name is Al Phinney.” Her response, Father or son?” “Son.” Was my answer. “Where are you now?”
“One mile from your driveway and now that I know that my sister is alive, I would like to give you my, address and phone number and maybe someday, when you are comfortable, I would like you to arrange for me to meet my sister. “
A few seconds passed and she asked if I could give her a some time to deal with that. I told her I would check into a motel and let her know where I was as I could stay until Monday.
At the motel, I sat for the afternoon with a bag of ice, bottle of Coke and a bottle of rum and waited to hear. Within 2 hours the call came that they would all like to meet me at 7 PM in the lobby of the motel.
At 7:00pm, I walked into the lobby and seeing Dorothy was like looking at my mother maybe 25 years ago.
We went into the bar area, took a table and introduced ourselves . Mrs.”A” came with Dorothy and her husband, Dan.
We talked for awhile then Dan took Mrs.”A” home . While they were gone, my sister wanted to put me on the spot.
“How do I know who you are who you say you are? How do I know this is all true?”
I showed her my license and she already knew the names but she wanted to push the issue. Finally, I showed her the photo that my grandfather had carried all those years. She looked at it and said simply “I have the same picture at home.”
Dan came back and we all went out for dinner at a local restaurant. Then we went to a gin mill that played rock and roll until 2 AM and Dorothy and I didn’t miss a dance . We closed the place at 2 and we parted at the motel with plans to meet the next day at her house.
I got up early and headed to Mrs.”A”‘s house and she sent me across the street to Dorothy’s house and family. I was there only a few minutes when her daughter Lisa came into the kitchen. She took one look at me and said, “Well, now I finally know who I look like in the family!”
The rest of Dorothy’s children, Autumn and Danny came in and we all talked for some time.
Later in the day we went across the street to Mrs. “A”‘s house and talked some more. That evening, all seven of us went out to dinner. Everyone wanted to go to the local TV station to tell this story of our finally meeting after thirty six years apart. I told them that was not my interest, this was personal.
The next afternoon I boarded a train back to Boston with the promise of returning in June for a visit with my wife.
Once back in Marshfield, Mrs.”A” and I talked about once a week, first about growing up , then about my memories of 1953. We just plain talked.
In June my wife and I went down to Churchville to visit and stayed in the area 3-4 days.
Sometime in July, my friend Rinehart and I went to Philadelphia with the wives for a Hair Stylist convention. While they were at the convention, John and I drove to Churchville to visit. When we left, I invited Dorothy to come visit us in Massachusetts sometime and we promised to keep in touch.
Over the next few months, we talked many times and by November Dorothy called and asked if she could come and visit us for her birthday. We told her to get on a train and come up. She came and stayed a week. The evening before her birthday, we talked about Waltham and I said I’d like to take her there the next day to show her places from her past.
She said, “I was so young, I wouldn’t remember any of that.”
I said, “I remember.”
The morning of her 40th birthday we were in Waltham. I drove her around the city and showed her where she had lived and where our grandfather had lived in the 40’s and early 50’s.
Then we went to the cemetery to visit. We parked at the bottom of the hill and climbed to our grandparents headstone. I explained that our grandmother had died in May of 1949 about 7 months before Dorothy was born.
I said to my grandfather’s gravestone, “Hey, I told you I’d bring Dorothy here one day. That was 18 years ago and we are here. Dorothy asked, “What did you say?”
I told her that the day after I buried my grandfather I promised him that someday you would be standing here. And you are.
Up until the actual visit was planned, I had not told my mother. She had been living in Marshfield since 1984 when Ab (my stepfather) had retired. He only lived 6-8 months after retirement, so she stayed here in Marshfield. Being the oldest, I felt that it was up to me to take care of and watch out for her. My brother Butch ( Jim Frenett) had left Waltham right out of high school and only came back to visit. This got a little tricky because my mother still liked her “tea”. This had always been a problem. She was not very happy about my searching for Dorothy because she did not want to remember giving up her little girl. I had called my father as well and I told him it would not be a good idea that she gets to meet everyone at once. He thought differently, and showed up in Marshfield the same day as Dorothy.
I told both my mother and my father that I did what I did because I needed to have answers to what had happened to Dorothy. I did not need nor did I ask their permission, I did it for me. Because everyone was going meet in Marshfield, it would be on my terms, no pointing of fingers about something that cannot be changed. My main thought was not to cause any problems while Dorothy visits or you may lose her a second time. We did get to have a few dinners together and everyone got to spend time and try to be comfortable around each other. Dorothy was not very comfortable with my father or mother as she had very hard feelings at the time.
The first few days of the visit, Dorothy had extra people to deal with, then she became quiet. My sister was not happy with me. During her visit, she looked around and felt that somehow she had been left behind. Look what I had, I was the lucky one. I knew everyone and they had kept me , they let her go away. Look how she grew up and on and on. Finally I had to sit her down and explain who I was. What I had put my grandfather, his sister and her husband, my mother, my father and stepparents through. I was one angry kid growing up because of her disappearance and they all paid dearly for it, not to mention myself. Dorothy went home hopefully with a little better understanding of me. I’m really not sure how much through. We kept in touch but not as often as Mrs. A. and I.
We have had many conversations since then about who we are. We both took the hard way of getting over life’s early bumps, but the important thing is we survived.
On my birthday in May 1990, my mother arrived at my office at noon time” in the wrapper”. She was still upset about my searching for Dorothy and now that she has been found and they had met, she was upset that I had done this.
I removed her from my office, called my wife and explained that she had better come here soon. She came and took my mother home. I told her I did not want to talk to her until the weekend and then we would resolve this matter. After forty years, I had enough. She never had another drink again.
In October 1993 one of my brothers (Steven) died. I flew out west to bring him back to be buried in Marshfield as was the family wishes.
I was out of the country when Mrs. A. died. My sister tried to reach me and couldn’t. When I returned home and returned her calls, she was not very happy that I was not here for her when she needed someone. I told her I was sorry.
In May 1995, my father died. He never got over losing my younger brother at such a young age. I called to tell Dorothy and she said she wouldn’t be coming to the service. I told her I understood. Her children thought otherwise, talked her into it and she came.
In December 1999, I went looking for my sister to wish her happy 50th. She had no address listed, no forwarding and no phone. I remembered that her daughter Autumn was going to collage in up state New York, so I tracked her down and when we spoke she invited my wife and I to her graduation. I told her she should talk to her mother about that first, if she would be there. Her comment, “I’m inviting you and I will tell her that.”
We went and it was in the same time span as Dorothy’s birthday so we combined the two and all went out to dinner.
In 2001, we had given my mother a trip to Hawaii for her 75th birthday. She had 10 great days and became a social butterfly, something that I had never seen before. We came home and the following Thursday she came to dinner for her favorite meal; corn beef and cabbage.
As she was leaving she said “See you in the morning.”
The next day she did not surface by ten so I went looking for her. She was gone. (I am a person that remembers numbers and the strange thing is my mother died thirty years to the week that her father died.)
I did what I needed to do and followed her wishes to be buried with Ab. My brother Butch was not happy that she was cremated, but that was her wish and I respected that.
After I buried my mother, my wife told me a story I had never heard before. While we were on vacation my mother and Sal had plenty of time to talk. It seems that when she was a kid, she was in an accident and in a coma for a few months. She came out of it and went on sixty plus years. Now looking back at my grandfather, I guess I understand why he let her run, he was just happy to have her alive at all.
I still have the pictures of my grandfather and I, when I was very young, Today I am the grandfather with pictures of my own grandson’s. I think that is what made me start thinking more about writing this story.
I didn’t call my sister to tell her that our mother had died. I guess my reasoning is, if she had wanted contact, she would have had it long before she died. She had already lost the only mother she really knew, there was no reason to start another unhappy ending. I had tried early on to encourage communication between them but both waited for the other to take that first step. Neither did.
Dorothy and I still have contact, maybe not enough, but looking back at all those years of wondering, I know that I needed an answer to what had happened to her and once I had the answer it closed one door and opened another.
Now, when someone comes to me with that very personal search and they end their story with “I just need to know,” I tell them I understand very well.
In late July 2016 Autumn called to tell me that her mother was in the hospital and not doing well. Thankfully she does keep in touch with me. August 2, 2016 Dorothy passed away.