Today marks 58 years since my birth mother died in a car accident when I was 9. It is a date I always remember. She was 31. With her gone I lost all hope of ever learning so many things she could have told me, questions I would only be able to ask when I was much older.
The reason I named this blog “Nomadic Spirit” has to do with what my life became, both before my mother’s death and after. In my lifetime of 67 years I have lived in as many different “homes” as my years (yes, 67+). As a child we moved often and I had to find a way to steady myself in the world when there was no stability to count on or a real “home” to call my own. This moving around continued into my adult life when I went to college and then when I was married and my husband’s job relocated us often. At some point I realized I was living a nomadic existence, unrooted and adapting to whatever environment I was in. I wanted a place to call home forever, or at least a family home I could come and go from at times and there was a great-aunt whose home provided some of that but she is long gone now, too.
I was born in Los Angeles and also spent a lot of growing-up time in Reno, Nevada. For many reasons, I feel at home in the landscape of the Great Basin, with all its open space and I have romanticized it, too. Being out here in the far northeastern corner of Nevada has been a gift although I don’t think I can or will stay because it’s not tenable for me to be here without an income and a car; I gave up my car to go to graduate school and cannot afford to get one. So I look for communities where I might be able to live with a lower cost of living and public transportation since I know I cannot return to California, either, with its prohibitive costs.
I will eventually go check out South Carolina this spring, where yet another sister lives, and see if I can find what I’m looking for there. It’s not that I don’t have a “home” inside me, for I always have in the form of my spirit and my openness to learning whatever I can wherever I am so that my life is enriched in ways that often exceed the longing. But, I never intended to be a nomad in a physical sense, only in the figurative sense of my far-ranging curiosity and thinking, which I treasure as my lifelines.
Still, there has been one long unanswered question for me all my thinking life: where or who did I come from? I knew my mother even though I often didn’t live with her at times. And I had a wonderful stepmother that I lost in 1989 and still miss. It was the question about fathers: who was my father? One man claimed me and I was raised by him up to adolescence, believing he was my father. He was my “daddy” and I carried his name along with the rest of my sisters. But we are a mixed bag of half-sisters, step-sisters in terms of various parent combinations and no one else had mine. When I was 15 I learned that my last name was not the one I had, that there was a different one on my birth certificate and I was so dismayed. He was my mother’s first husband, one she separated from and divorced all around the time of my conception and birth.
I met this man, through searching, when I was 18. The first thing he told me was that he wasn’t sure if I was his daughter or not, that he didn’t know. I was stuck with the name (Puffer) of a man who never claimed me as his own child and even when we met I felt something was off. But I wasn’t allowed to change my name then, either, and so, grudgingly, I began the ambivalent relationship I have had with my last name ever since I was forced to use it.
Now, in an extraordinary moment, one of my sisters who is a genealogy expert, has found the name of the man who fathered me, using DNA. I am stunned by this news but also relieved because suddenly so many questions are being answered. I didn’t think that this late in my life I would care anymore, but I do. There is a story, a war story, surrounding this coming together of my mother and him that resulted in me. I will not tell it here but it has had my head spinning. He, unfortunately, was a young Marine shipped off to fight in the Korean War and died within months of landing there. His family may not be interested in knowing that their eldest, unmarried son fathered a daughter; he, himself, may not have even known. I will never know but I know now that some of the things I have felt and been told over the years about my genesis are coming together in a story I can believe.
Ironically, he was from South Carolina and maybe I will even find some sense of home there someday. My trip to SC was planned months before this news reached me but it is so coincidental to be worth taking note.
And today I wonder a lot about my mother and I can only wonder so much about him without more information. But my heart has felt a dam burst in it, a dam I put there long ago to stop the hurt of not knowing. So much more makes sense. As for the nomadic life, I want to settle down somewhere and maybe it will be back out here in the West, maybe not. But the small hole of wondering that I have long carried inside is feeling healed and as a more whole person I will still wander but with more purpose and a bit more joy for having had that burning question answered.