DEVOTED. CARING. ADVENTUROUS.
Have you always known who you were? I mean, really known, for sure? Not philosophically, but physically, genetically…
The reality is that we only know what we are taught. And our first teachers are the people we are brought up to trust the most. We believe, without question, the most ridiculous things, like Santa Clause leaves presents (through the chimney, no less) and the Easter Bunny brings candy and hides eggs. We assume that we are part of them…and so everything about them is in us.
What if, one day, out of the blue, you find that you have been lied to….ok, you can let Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny thing slide, I mean, that was all in fun. But what if you aren’t who they have said you are….and you find this out at age 60? Well, this happened to me and many others, with the wonderful discovery of DNA.
My husband, Darrell, had for years told me that he didn’t understand why I didn’t look like the rest of the family. When DNA testing became available, he thought it would be “fun” to do our DNA. And he said he was curious about my possible ethnicity….commenting that since we lived in the South and my father’s family had been here for many generations, that perhaps there was some mix of African American from many generations back. Having no problem with any of that possibility, of course, I agreed to test.
I had always been curious about my dark skin, brown eyes, black thick wavy hair-when all of my sisters were fair-skinned and blondes or redheads. My mother had dark hair but her skin was fair. I knew her maiden name was McFadden and so was probably Irish or Scottish. I also knew there were people of Irish descent who were dark, due to mixtures of races in the distant past. My mother always said that I looked like “her side of the family”….and not having any photos to look at, it seemed reasonable. She said that all my sisters looked like my Dad’s side, and this is why I looked different.
As a child, it never occurs to you to question what your Mother says. But when we were all together and introduced as a family, people ALWAYS remarked on my difference in looks….with remarks that at the time I didn’t understand. Why would I be the “Milkman’s Daughter”? I never asked.
My mom is 19 and pregnant from an Air Force Serviceman. In the wedding picture, they both look radiant. She is a beauty and he is so handsome! This was the era of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” in wedding/baby situations. The woman and the child were scorned in society-even though, throughout the ages, premarital sex has ALWAYS happened….and always will.
She had lost her father and brother in tragic deaths at different times in her young life. Her mother had moved on, remarried, had another child and, maybe in trying to forget the tragedies she tried to make a new life….and left her daughter out of it. So, this young woman, so beautiful and so needy for love found it in the wrong places. But, pregnant and now married to a man she barely knows, she is trying to become an adult.
Her husband left one month later for Korea….and while he is away, she loses this baby, a boy. All alone, a child herself, she suffers another tragic loss. A “fallen woman”, she is living in married housing for service families. She has no family for support with few friends. Eventually, she makes her way back out into the world and for fun.
One night she met another serviceman….a very handsome, dark Greek man, also 19. They shared time together, it was a one-night stand. She had already lost one baby-she was determined to have this one. Shortly after, her husband returned from Korea-and she quickly convinced him that she is pregnant with his child. Six months later she went into labor and delivered a 4 1/2 lb baby girl. She told everyone that the baby was premature.
I have a few pictures of dad and me when I was a baby. He’s grinning from ear to ear. But, he knew….he always knew. He finished his time in the service and he moved my mother and me to Kentucky, where his father was a Barber. He knew he had a business waiting, and security, if not much money, for his new family. He only told one person that he knew-to my knowledge.
My sister went to Barber School and came back to work with him. After a few drinks after work one night he told her a story. He said that when he brought me home his family took one look at me and said, “That is not your baby!” He said he told them “Yes, she is-and I don’t want to hear another word about it.” Apparently, they respected his word and they always treated me as blood. As soon as he told her, he swore her to secrecy.
My poor sister carried that story for many many years. And even after Dad passed away and I began to dig for the truth, she felt that she was betraying him by telling me. I truly think he wanted me to know SOMEDAY….and I am grateful he told her. He was protecting my mother and me. It did lead to much distrust in their marriage, and I understand that now. Ultimately, I think it played a part in their divorce.
Growing up in the south in the late 50’s and all of the 60’s as a dark-skinned little girl, I couldn’t help but feel different. Yes, I had the occasional “N” word tossed at me, but mostly I was just out of place among a small town of English, Irish, and German descendants. It’s not like it was talked about. Back then, we were all just Americans, but when everyone around you is blonde and blue-eyed, you stick out like a sore thumb. Nevertheless, I was always loved by my family.
No one discussed my apparent difference in looks. My Dad was strict but not any more than other Dads of the times, and, despite my sisters saying I was his favorite, as the oldest, he was the most strict with me. My mother suffered from depression, sometimes so debilitating that it was hard for her to function. This was long before antidepressants were invented-so she struggled. The secret of the circumstances of my birth had to have added to that stress and anxiety.
We took our first “vacation” when I was about 12 or 13 years old to Clearwater, Florida. We rented a little beachfront motel. My sisters and I made friends with another family that week. They were Greek. It never even occurred to me, then, that I looked like them….thinking back, my mother must have surely been a nervous wreck wondering if I would have questions. Nope, I had bought her story and it never occurred to me at all.
Don’t worry, I won’t bore you with a blow by blow of my life. In a nutshell, I repeated my mother’s life. I got pregnant and married at 18, but instead of a miscarriage, I had a beautiful baby boy. My Dad was so proud! Drew was the first boy in the Williams family since my Dad was born. He was one proud Grandpa!
The marriage was a mistake. In 1974, you still “had” to get married, if you were pregnant….society rules….especially in small rural towns. There were whispers, but you were doing “the right thing” if you got married. Two 18-year-olds staying married any length of time is a miracle. My soon-to-be ex-husband was emotionally abusive. When he became physically abusive, I left.
In January of 1979, I met my second husband. He was younger than me but had also seen hard times himself. We were kindred spirits. Within a year we were married. People said it would never last. He took my son and me under his wing, no questions asked, and took on the role of husband and father. Our daughter came along and completed our family.
We made the decision to start our own business in 1989, during one of the worst economic downturns ever. We sacrificed family time and marriage time to get it off the ground. We had good times and bad times in our family. We had grandsons born! We continued to work hard and do the best we could. And here we are 40 years later….when one day in the office, Darrell suggests doing our DNA.
It was an average day. We had sent off our samples of saliva several weeks before. Darrell’s came back first and he was a mix of everything. My results took a little longer but finally they, too, popped up in my email. There are no warnings or disclaimers or disclosures before you open this information. When I opened the email I was shocked to see almost 50% Greek. My first thought was even though my Mother’s maiden name was McFadden, there had to be some mixture there, since she also had dark hair, and I was supposed to look like her side of the family. So, I was shocked—yes, concerned, no.
I called my sister into the office (she works for us) and asked her if she would care to do her DNA. She readily agreed. Meanwhile, my husband is looking at me and saying, you know what this means, right? And am saying, it means nothing! I can explain it! You will see once we get my sister’s results! Denial ain’t just a river in Egypt!
A few weeks later, the results came back and my sister had NO Greek heritage. Now, I am starting to panic….but still trying to make sense of it. I go to my 80-year-old mother and tell her that I need her DNA. She looks at me and asks why. I exclaim, in a somewhat exacerbated tone, “Because I’m GREEK! And my sister isn’t! And I need to know what is going on!”
Why she didn’t just confess then, I do not know, but she agreed to do the test, grudgingly. She asked me, “What if it comes back that I am not Greek?” I said, “Well, Mom, then we need to talk.” She never said a word.
Her results come back and, as expected, she has no Greek DNA in her profile. By this time, I knew in my heart, but my head is still trying to find a way around the fact that my Dad was not my birth father. I asked my mom immediately and her answer was poignant. “Maybe, I have blocked it all.” She was not going to give this burden she had carried for 60 years up easily.
I told her I loved her and that it didn’t matter. I deserved to know the truth, for medical reasons, if no other. I told her that I wasn’t mad or upset, that I was going to find the truth, whether she helped me or not. Ever so often I would visit her and I would state facts like…” I recently found out that in 1956 a six-month gestation baby would have weighed about 2 lbs and probably would not have survived… I weighed 4 1/2 lbs….premature, yes—that premature, no.” I had not found any close DNA matches, but I had a lot of distant Greek cousins who kept popping up. I was desperately searching but hitting dead ends everywhere.
One day, Darrell was boarding a flight to China for business, and I got a text from my mother. It said, “His name was something starting with a C or a K and ending in is or as. He was stationed at Parks Air Force Base in 1955. We met at a USO dance. I didn’t sleep around with anyone else, so when I became pregnant I knew it was his. Please don’t be mad at me. I was trying to protect you. I had lost one child and I was determined to have you and love you.” I can not describe the feeling that I had at that moment. The closest I can come is that it felt like a black hole had opened up underway feet and half of me was sucked inside…gone forever.
Life is strange. It just keeps on going, like nothing is different. And you have to keep going with it….but all of a sudden, your reality isn’t jiving with life! It is almost like being in a funhouse, where the mirrors make you look like you are fat or skinny or walking sideways. Everything is out of whack.
First, I was lost, but determined to get to the bottom of it all. Looking back, I think my desperation for answers was a way to delay the feelings that accompany a discovery like this. I spent hours looking at those distant Greek connections, trying to find military records, writing down every name that was remotely similar to my mother’s meager information. Nothing was working. I was in a daze about the whole thing….really….part of me felt like it was an “aha” moment of understanding.
I looked in the mirror and I understood why I look the way I do! That actually felt good! All these years I felt odd, out of place, an ugly duckling…when I was actually a Greek Goddess! Wow! And yet, I felt a huge loss. I needed to know who I actually was…and I was determined to figure it out.
After a few weeks of dead ends, Darrell suggested that I hire someone to help me. We contacted one of the DNA company’s research teams. They agreed to try to help. After reviewing what information they DID have, they basically gave me a very guarded, but optimistic outlook. They could tell I was a first or second-generation American, meaning that either my birth father or HIS parents had emigrated from Greece. That in and of itself was amazing to me! I was only one generation, maybe two from being an immigrant?
They could tell that my birth family was from the island of Crete….because of the endings of the names of the matches coming up. Crete is known as the birthplace of the Gods! Other than that, they could not tell me much because the Greek people did not start coming to America until about 90 years ago and all the records would be over there and not on public databases….and it is an island….so there is a lot of intermarrying.
They suggested we upload my DNA to every site…all of them. They said maybe, just maybe, a close relative would put their DNA on one of these sites and we would be able to find out more. Basically, we are looking for a needle in a haystack. I was discouraged. I told Darrell that there was no way that I would ever get answers. He kept saying that he knew I had family out there, maybe even brothers and sisters….maybe my birth father was still alive! But, I am the realist of the family and I knew the odds were against me.
My sisters were wonderful….after the shock of the whole discovery, they were supportive of my efforts to find answers. Some families don’t want people to rock the boat. They want the person to hide it and to ignore it. I chose to share it with family and friends, but keep it off social media to respect my mother and father who raised me.
My daughter said she felt like she was on some crazy show like Jerry Springer….my son didn’t say much….my grandsons were appalled that their GG had apparently “slept around”….but once I explained the story as I knew it, I believe everyone just accepted it. No one really talked with me about it after that.
I have found that when something like this happens to you, you need to talk about it! Later, I realized that it is part of the grieving process. I needed to go through all the stages of grief for the person I thought I was. I had days of such sadness. The day I realized that my sisters were technically only “half-sisters” was hard. They don’t care, of course. They love me and I love them, just the same. But it is moments like this that almost take your breath away at first.
My cousins who I was raised with aren’t even related by blood. I felt adrift, like I really was not connected completely to anyone—and yet, they all loved me and I loved them just the same. My Dad had passed away a few years before my discovery. On the five-year anniversary of his death, I had a horrible day. I wished I could have told him that I knew and to thank him. I wondered how he felt about my search….did it bother him? Did he care?
I wondered how in the world he and my mother lived with this information all their lives and never once spoke of it to each other….how do you live in a marriage with someone and not discuss something like this? I can’t even imagine. I was “the elephant” in their room their whole lives. My mother told me she’d actually forgotten about it. The brain can do some crazy things and maybe she pushed it away so much that she actually rewired her memory and believed the lie she told for 60 years! Maybe my Dad did the same…..I will never know.
There were several times in my life where she could have “come out”. When she and my Dad divorced, I was only in my 20s. She could have told me then. When my Dad passed away, five years before my discovery, she could have told me then. To me, these were lost opportunities. I asked her why she didn’t tell me and she looked at me with truth in her eyes and said, it never even occurred to me. She was so entrenched in her story, that it became her truth.
I truly believe her. And that makes me sad because I deserved to know the truth. These are some things I just had to work through and come to accept. You can’t go back in time and change things. I would never want to change her initial decision or my Dad’s acceptance of me….because then I wouldn’t have had my three wonderful sisters or all of my family I was raised with. I would have liked to have known as a young adult, for health purposes and to get to know my other family….my culture, my heritage, my roots. Those were stolen from me and I don’t think I will ever really get them back.
So, I waited for a match….and nine months went by. One day I got a close match on Ancestry and my team calls to tell me….this is a first cousin….your birth father’s brother had several out-of-wedlock children and this is one of them! They told me my birth name was Kastrenakes! But they still didn’t have MY father’s first name.
I wait another month and then get a close match on 23 and me! Another close relative, so I figured, another one of “Uncle Demi’s” children….but I went ahead and reached out to this young woman. A few days passed and she returned my email with an amazing revelation! She explained her maiden name was Kastrenakes and she thinks her family has the answers I need!
Apparently, when SHE saw the match, she went to her father and said, “who is this? Why is she so close to me?” They looked me up on Facebook and Instagram and took one look at me and knew we were related! She asked if her father could call me…and of course, I said yes! A few moments later I get a call from a man who says, Hello, Lorna? This is Michael and I am pretty sure I am your brother! He said you look more like OUR father than any of us! He was so sweet! Of course, the next news really shocked me. I had a brother (him), two sisters, and a huge extended family! And my Birth Father was alive! Wow!
2018 – Present
I immediately was embraced by my new siblings and even their own children! BUT, they were very concerned about our dad, who was in poor health, and their mom and how she would feel. They knew I was conceived long before they were married, but being in their mid 80’s and finding out this shocking news was pretty intense for them. So, I agreed to not contact my biological father because I figured in the back of my mind that at some point, if it was not too late, the siblings would let me meet him.
Two years pass as we learn about one another….but still no chance to meet my father. Last January, my daughter, out of frustration, told me she had written him a letter! I called Mike right away and he went over to our Dad’s house! There was the letter on his desk! He had thought it was a scam.
Mike sat him down and told him about me….he was shocked. He had no idea I existed. Mike asked him if he wanted to meet me and he immediately said he wanted to talk to his wife. She hesitated for about two seconds and said “What would Jesus Do?” He would have invited her to lunch! Invite her over!
So that is how I came to be on his doorstep, with my husband, video going. His wife wanted to greet me and she lovingly welcomed me into their home. In true Greek form, all my siblings were there, and eventually throughout the day, I met lots of nieces and nephews. When I walked in, there he stood with his walker….and OMG, it was a beautiful moment!
He sang to me, held my hand, told me what he remembered about my mom and their encounter! We spent the afternoon together. Then two weeks later, my daughter got to meet her grandfather! Six weeks later, he passed away….but I will never forget what he said to me that first day. He told me “Maybe God has kept me alive so that we can meet!” Maybe so Dad, maybe so.
The family asked me and my husband to come to the funeral. This was a bittersweet day because it was a celebration of a good man’s life, but it was also a full and unconditional welcome into the family that day…..I felt loved, I felt at home….it was amazing.
My new siblings and I are still learning about each other and I know we will never have the relationship we would have had if we had grown up together, but that is ok. I know we love each other and that is enough.