Sweet Reunion

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN CYNTHIA MARTENS
That empty space existing for a lifetime in her heart has finally been filled. The search is over.

Linda Klenda, 40, adopted at the age of 3 months, met her birth mother for the first time last year.

“It’s very overwhelming to finally find someone you’ve thought about all your life,” Klenda said. “Every birthday, you think, ‘Is she thinking about me? Who is she? Am I like her? Do I look like her?’ And then, all of a sudden, you’re corresponding.”

Living in Hillsboro with husband Frank and enjoying a blended family of six children, Klenda works as a foreman at Marion County Emergency Communications.

On May 30, 1964, she was adopted by Charles and Romaine Kenney in Los Angeles. She was the third child adopted by the Kenneys, who previously adopted a boy and a girl.

“My parents are my parents,” Klenda said. “No one can replace them by any means. They were just wonderful parents.”

None of the adopted siblings were biologically related. Each has a letter that was written by Romaine shorty after their adoptions. Klenda’s letter contained what little information her mother could glean from the social worker at the time of adoption.

Now yellowed and slightly tattered from years of wear and tear, the letter includes such information as her biological parents’ ages, height, weight, hobbies and schooling.

“I’ve always had this piece of paper,” Klenda said. “Just like my parents told me I was adopted, it seems like I’ve always known. It meant a lot to me. It enabled me to connect with someone-with my biological past.”

Unmarried, pregnant, about 20 years old and from a strong Catholic family, Klenda’s biological mother chose to move to California to quietly give birth 40 years ago. After briefly holding her newborn daughter, she let her go and slipped back into her previous life.

Raised in Concord, Calif., in the San Francisco Bay area, Klenda can remember what a treat it was to celebrate two birthdays.

“It was pretty cool growing up,” Klenda said. “I was adopted on May 30, so not only did I have a Feb. 18 birthday, but May 30 was an anniversary. We celebrated that day as well. We got presents for anniversary day.”

Recalling a happy childhood, Klenda also remembers the nagging questions about her birth parents.

“I think I’ve always wanted to look for them,” Klenda said.

Her first memory of questioning her adopted life was as a young girl in a mall, where she fantasized about her mother. Was she in the crowd, taking pictures of strangers and looking for her daughter?

As a young girl about 16 years old, she decided she wanted to search for her birth parents.

“I was going to do it, but it was going to cost $100 for them to help me search, and I was a teenager,” Klenda said. “So I just let it go.”

Years passed before she decided to look for her mother in earnest.

Five years ago, co-worker Loretta Klose was helping someone else search the Internet for their birth parents.

“She found sites where you can go and post names,” Klenda said. “That’s how she started for me and then kind of helped me with it.”

In 1999, Klose gave Klenda the name of a California woman who was willing to search the California birth-index library. Armed with Klenda’s birth name of Susan Lee Moon, the woman discovered that Klenda’s birth mother’s maiden name was Tuomisto.

“Finding that name alone was a very big deal to me,” Klenda said. “It actually connected me to someone. I continued to put my name and my information on different adoption-search Web sites. There are a zillion out there.”

She discovered a number of people had the last name of Tuomisto, especially in Minnesota. But at one point, she stopped searching.

“I think I got cold feet,” Klenda said. “I wasn’t sure if I wanted to do it anymore. I did, but I didn’t. I guess, it was the fear of rejection. I didn’t want to intrude (into her life) and stir up any bad feelings.”

On Jan. 30, 2003, Klenda received an e-mail from someone who signed her name Lee Moon, an obvious reference to Klenda’s birth name of Susan Lee Moon. But the e-mail was wrapped in mystery, and the writer said: “I’m going to have to get back to you later. I won’t forget.”

The next e-mail asked if Klenda was looking for her birth mother.

Klenda responded: “Please write more. I have no hard feelings toward anyone, just want to know who I am. Again, just looking forward to hearing more from you.”

Letters followed as the two women tread lightly and slowly began to exchange identifying information.

In their letters, Klenda discovered more and more information about her correspondent. She now had a name-M.J. Bennett, who was married, living in Alabama and had two step-children. She also had five brothers and three sisters.

Could Klenda actually have eight biological aunts and uncles?

“Once we started corresponding, she decided it would probably be a good idea to have a DNA test,” Klenda said. Following the instructions on DNA kits, both women swabbed their mouths last spring and waited for the results.

“They matched it up, and it was 99.9 percent accurate,” Klenda said. “That’s basically when you finally meet your mom for the first time. It was finding a piece of me, filling that hole, that emptiness. It was a little piece that wasn’t quite there that is now filled.”

Klenda discovered her mother spent a lifetime thinking about the daughter she gave up.

“She was always looking, always,” Klenda said.

After the DNA confirmation, Bennett told her brothers and sisters about her daughter.

“She sent them all letters,” Klenda said. “They were all very open and OK with it. They want to meet me now.”

Bennett and Klenda, biological mother and daughter, met for the first time last June at the Wichita Airport.

“She had sent me pictures, but as soon as she walked out, I knew who she was, and she knew who I was,” Klenda said.

“Tears just started falling, and we held each other. I told her it was OK. She was so worried about me being upset with her for giving me up for adoption. But, not at all. I was grateful, because the alternative would have been me not being here at all.”

The two talked, toured Wichita and basically discovered each other.

“Everything just flowed and things just clicked,” Klenda said. “I just think it was meant to be.”

The future for the two reunited women looks bright.

Klenda and her family have been invited to visit Bennett in Alabama. And this summer, the Klendas are invited to a family reunion in Minnesota.

Although Klenda’s adopted father passed away, her adopted mother is able to share in her daughter’s joy.

“On my 40th birthday, my adopted mom sent my biological mom flowers,” Klenda said.

“That was so cool. And they e-mail each other back and forth. Both moms are so thankful for each other.”

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