Family found

Last week, Betty Barr came face-to-face with an agonizing secret she had kept hidden far too long.

The newborn daughter she had been forced to put up for adoption more than 56 years ago?and had not heard of since?was standing in the living room of her home at 312 E. A St. in Hills?boro.

?It?s a deep emotional thing for me,? Betty said about meeting the Panama City, Fla., woman who grew up to be Kathy Smith. ?I have kept so much hidden for so long.?

Joining the gathering filled with poignant memories, bursts of laughter and a lifetime of stories were Sandy Berg, Newton, and Greg Camp, Fresno, Calif., the two adult children Betty had raised before the eyes of the world.

Sandy and Greg knew nothing of the existence of an older sister until about 21?2 years ago, and held out little hope of ever meeting her until a about two weeks ago.

And, of course, Leon Barr was there, too?Betty?s husband of two years, who played an unintended role in the direction of events past. Now he was the first to forecast the future for this once unimaginable reunion.

?I think it?s going to become a family unit,? Leon said. ?That?s the way it?s headed.?

*?*?*

?

Betty Hastings and Leon Barr had been grade-school sweethearts while living in Wichita. When Betty was 16 and he was 18, Leon proposed. But their secret engagement ended when a classmate found one of Leon?s letters to Betty on the hallway floor and posted it on the school bulletin board for all to read.

When her parents forbid them even to see each other, Betty was angry and heartbroken, but felt she had no choice in the matter.

?You didn?t buck Mother and Daddy,? Betty said.

Six months later, Leon was married to someone else.

Betty went on to college, where she met Jim Camp, who was in the Air Force. He was stationed at Tyndall Air Force Base just east of Panama City when Betty was admitted into a private hospital to deliver their first child.

The baby was born July 16, 1954, into a hard situation and a different time. When Jim refused to pay the hospital and doctor bills, the hospital forced Betty to give up her baby to a family that could pay the outstanding expenses.

?I was away from my family and anybody I knew,? Betty said. ?I was literally dependent upon (the baby?s) father and he let me down. He let me down many times.?

After the adoption, Betty and Jim maintained a strained connection for several more years, she living on her own and supporting herself while he was away on overseas assignments.

More than once Betty threatened to end their relationship, only to take him back when he came home on leave.

A son, Dickie, was born to the couple the day after Christmas in 1955. Jim was stationed in Wichita but serving in Japan. While he was stationed near Big Spring, Texas, daughter Sandy was born in 1959.

Not long afterward, Jim put in for duty in Hawaii. Betty and her daughter moved to Wichita, where she found work at ?about anything I could get.?

?I wrote him and told him that I didn?t want him ever to come back,? Betty said. ?But the next thing I knew, he was back on my doorstep.?

He took them to California, and Betty became pregnant with Greg during his 30-day leave. With Jim gone again on assignment, Betty found work in the area fruit-packing sheds and a turkey processing plant.

?I had three little kids, and he again was in Hawaii and wasn?t sending support,? Betty said. ?I had no choice. I again told him it was over.?

But he turned up on her door?step once more. She eventually followed him to Spokane, Wash., when he transferred to Fairchild Air Force Base.

?Everything came to a climax then,? Betty said. ?He had rented a house for us and told me on a certain date he was going to have all the utilities turned off, the phone taken out and I wouldn?t get any assistance from him until I left Spokane.?

She left and eventually moved back to California, where she met and married Jack Price. In time, they opened a bed and breakfast in 1999 at their home in Hillsboro. Jack died three years later.

*?*?*

The couple who had adopted the infant from the Panama City hospital had been married 14 years. They took her home to an adopted brother July 28 and named her Kathy.

?My parents told each of us at age 5 that we had been placed up for adoption, and that we were special children and it wasn?t anything about us?it was just our circumstances,? Kathy recalled.

?They were fine Christian people. Every time the door was open, we were there.?

Kathy said she went on with her life without much thought of her biological origins?until she was married and became pregnant with her first child.

?I really wanted to know about the medical history and all that,? she said. ?My mom told me, ?I don?t know anything, but you came from really good people. You don?t have anything to worry about.??

When Kathy?s son was 4 and she was pregnant with her daughter, Kathy was working in the county health department in the area of vital statistics. The pregnancy got her thinking again about her birth mother.

?I didn?t know how my parents or anybody else would react if I would start looking,? she said. ?But I always felt like we were in the hospital long enough that we bonded. I always knew she loved me and cared about me.?

But Kathy was well aware that these kinds of reunions don?t always end happily.

?I never wanted to walk in and totally destroy another family just by saying, ?Here I am,?? she said. ?I wanted to make sure I did it the correct way.?

In 1995, a friend encouraged Kathy to work on her genealogy. Knowing her birth mother?s last name was Hastings, Kathy researched materials for Bay County, Fla., in 1954 and 1955?and found one ?Betty Hastings.?

But Kathy let the discovery rest until a year later, when she came across the original hospital bill while moving her parents things to a retirement center.

?That?s when Mother said, ?I think it?s time to start looking?you need to know,?? Kathy recalled.

That same year Kathy registered with two organizations founded to help with adoption searches: the International Soundex Reunion Registry.

?I promptly went on about my life until I got the phone call from Sandy,? Kathy said.

*?*?*

More than two years prior to that phone call, Sandy? boss had suggested that each of his employees create a genogram, which is a pictorial display of a person?s family relationships and medical history.

?We were researching our genograms and I said, ?Mom, I can?t find a wedding date for you and Jim,?? Sandy recalled. ?She said, ?Oh, I was afraid you were going to ask that question one day.? She told me they were not married. I said that?s fine, it didn?t matter to me. And then she said, ?There?s other children.??

In that moment, Sandy assumed her mother was referring to Jim?s children from other relationships.

?She said, ?No, we had other children.? That?s when I found out about Kathy,? Sandy said.

When she told brother Greg about the news (Dickie had died sometime earlier), both were excited but cautious.

?We decided not to pursue it, and we let it sit for about two years,? Sandy said. ?Off and on I looked on the Internet to find different resources for how to connect.?

Eventually, Sandy found a link to ISRR and put in as much information as she and Betty knew about the infant.

The response from ISRR came two months ago.

?In July I got a call on a Sunday afternoon from the registry, saying, ?I think we found a match,? Sandy said. ?I?just said, ?Oh, my gosh.?

Once the proper releases were signed, Sandy was given Kathy?s e-mail address.

?I e-mailed her, we connected on Facebook and then we called each other and talked for two hours,? Sandy said.

?To hear her voice for the first time?it was like I had always known her,? Kathy said.

Sandy felt the same way.

?There was no pretense,? she said. ?Kathy?s very genuine. Even in the inflections of her voice, I could hear family.?

When Sandy asked Kathy if she wanted to connect with Betty, Kathy paused.

?I said, ?It?s not my decision, it?s your mom?s decision. As far as I?m concerned, you and me and Gregg will always be in contact. But I?m not going to do anything at all to bring embarrass?ment, or anxiety or anything else to her, because it just wouldn?t be fair.??

When Sandy called Betty and told her about connecting with Kathy, the news scrambled her emotions.

?You?re excited, you?re scared?there?s all of these feelings combined,? Betty recalled about the moment. ?You don?t know what to do or what to say, whether to run and hide or shout or cry because there?s so much dirty water under the bridge.?

Shortly after, Betty initiated the first contact with Kathy by e-mail. Here message to the point: ?Please call me.?

?We talked for about an hour and a half,? Kathy said.

*?*?*

The decision to get together face to face was almost assumed. Betty and Leon bought Kathy?s airline ticket. Sandy joined them last Tuesday evening to pick Kathy up at the Wichita airport.

Thirty minutes after her plane landed, Greg?s flight arrived from California.

Given the phone calls, e-mails and the back-and-forth of messages and photos on Facebook, the first physical contact with Kathy was almost casual.

?It wasn?t like it was the first time we met,? Sandy said. ?We knew each other already.?

The three siblings have been talking and laughing ever since, Betty said.?They?re like magpies every time they get together.?

And how is Mom processing this renewed connection after so many years?

?It?s just been natural,? Betty said. ?There?s nothing superficial in it. It?s just like she belongs here. The Lord has blessed me with some beautiful children.?

Kathy was scheduled to fly home to Panama City this Tuesday.

?I know God?s hand has been in this from the beginning,? Kathy said. ?Every time I tried to look, or even wrestled within myself about looking for her, there was a struggle.

?But now it?s like God said it?s time. And God put all the pieces together. It?s just been so amazing.?

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