Finding Bette and Brothers

Finding Bette and Brothers

A bit more difficult…

My newly discovered Aunt Nona (Kuhn) lived on Kingston a few houses up the street from her brother-in-law Lloyd Kuhn and his family. Lloyd was another of Harold Kuhn “the Dad’s” older brothers. That was near Outer Drive and Carlyle in Dearborn. The neighborhood was in my growing up wheelhouse where I had Hart cousins living nearby. When we first talked Nona said she might know where to look for my Bette Mom even though she had lost touch over recent years.

Nona, Bette and Al, c1959The picture here shows Aunt Nona with my birth mother in 1959, the year I graduated from High School. Bette would have been 38 when this picture was taken.

Sure enough several weeks later, another surprising call from Nona. She called to tell me she had located Bette my birth mother. She was living with her Husband Al in Farmington Hills which would be near where my cousin Danny had lived. It is no telling how many times, during the intervening years, our paths may have crossed. Even my newly found Uncle Lloyd I learned, worked all of his life at Kelsey Hayes Wheel where my Dad had been a lifetime employee as well.

There was a problem. Nona relayed that although Bette was excited that I had surfaced none of her family knew I existed… at least not yet. She now planned to tell them, but she knew regarding her husband, it would be difficult. And, as it turned out, it was harder than she thought it would be. I told Nona to let her know I didn’t want to cause her any problems and was just satisfied that she knew I was OK.

So, in the summer of 1986, left to the devices that curiosity is capable of generating, Nona and Bette Mom planned a secret meeting for us at Nona’s house in Dearborn, on Kingston Street, between Dartmouth and Colgate. We agreed to meet just as soon as I could arrange a trip to Detroit from my home in California. I don’t recall the exact date but it had to be between mid-July and late August.

I was excited and nervous of course when I arrived at Nona’s on the appointed day. Bette Mom hadn’t yet arrived and we waited. Aunt Nona filled me in with a little background on Bette’s life. There was a brief marriage to Harold in July of 1940 (Bette was then eighteen), I was born in December of the same year. Their divorce was final on December 2nd of 1941, just 5 days before Pearl Harbor and two weeks before my first Birthday. I don’t think they ever lived together.

Bette remarried a few years later and had two sons, David and Greg, in 1945 and 1947 respectively. Her married name was Scherer. Her husband, a law enforcement officer I was told, died of a heart attack when in his late thirties and she was then left to raise the boys on her own. Some years later she remarried again to Al Campbell, it was he she was worried about telling of my existence, and together they added another son Skip. So, I had three brothers in all… or so I thought? Nona then told me that Bette’s oldest son David had recently died, in the same manner as his father of a heart attack, and at about the same age… both very young. In Nona’s words, “She lost one son and now has gained one back.” It was then Nona mentioned that Bette would bring me a real surprise.

The Eyes have it

I was standing by the door when Bette walked in, feeling uncomfortable to some degree, how could you not when for the first time meeting up with the person that was responsible for your being. I guess it wasn’t officially the first time, but for sure I wasn’t conscious of any of our previous engagements. It was a while ago after all.

I recall when first looking into her eyes immediately feeling this disarming warmth about them. I was, I soon realized, looking into my own eyes. I had inherited all of the physical characteristics of her brown eyes and I’m sure she became immediately aware as well. It would be hard not to notice. We stared at each other awkwardly for what seemed like an uncomfortable length of time and then sat down at Nona’s kitchen table and exchanged some of our life stories. There were indeed some parallels, which included periods in my own life that I am not proud of. I believe we arrived at a mutual understanding, and a certain respect, that all would be well between us. We agreed to stay in touch in the hope that her family would soon be welcoming of my existence.

Before leaving she said to me, “I have brought you something Ronnie.” She then went out to her car and retrieved a little ball of tissue paper tied loosely with a gold ribbon and handed it to me saying, “These belong to you.” I unwrapped the little package and in it found a little pair of bronzed baby shoes. Bette then told me the story of her having placed them on a pedestal that sat above her fireplace in every house she lived in, and how her son David always thought they were his. And, when asked, she always told the boys that one day she would tell them who they belonged to.

My birth mother was born Elizabeth Anderson on April 1st 1921 and grew up in Garden City, Michigan. She died on February 18, 1989. It was only a couple of years that I knew her. We did in the end enjoy our families getting together with her husband Al and his extended family. He turned out to be very welcoming to my barging in on his world and I enjoyed his company. My brothers, all three of them, have since passed away as well. During one of our family meetings, Bette pulled me aside to tell me that Harold had been the love of her life, which must have been a hard thing for her to confess. Especially so, since it was obvious to me, she loved her then family greatly. Having learned that little tidbit about her as a young girl, helped me understand what pain she must have felt during 1940 and 1941, when she had no moral or financial support for the situation she found herself in.

Ron, Bette Mom and Brother Greg, c1987
Ron, Bette Mom and brother Greg Scherer, c1987

Brothers and Sisters

Brothers and Sisters

a two part series:

Let’s start with Sisters, it is the gentleman’s way and in 1986 they were the first discovery in my quest for finding my birth parents nearly thirty years ago. What is interesting here is, on my paternal side, the children were all girls and on the maternal they were all boys. This unusual coincidence makes the story much easier to explain without confusing the families involved. Bette Mom had all boys and “the Dad” had all the girls… the exception was me.

Suddenly having sisters, having survived without them for forty-five years, was both a blessing and a curse. It didn’t take long for my wardrobe to suddenly come under scrutiny. I think my wife Chris engineered the whole thing. They started with my lack of jeans in place of my khaki pants, which I was very fond of wearing, and ended with my choice of tennis shoes which weren’t exactly in fashion. The blessing was, they were the most beautiful sisters one could hope for so, their opinions on my fashion faux pas were valued to some extent.

Discovering their existence:

It all began when my Cousin Danny (my partner in crime when growing up) and his wife Carolyn paying us a visit in 1986 at our home in southern California. My wife Christine and I had just adopted our son Patrick and over dinner one night, when I was away flying, Dan says to Chris… “Patrick must be very special to Ron being as he was adopted and all?” “Whoa,” Chris says… “You’re kidding right?” Well, Dan wasn’t kidding, it was well known in the family that I had been adopted and I was the only one that didn’t know.

Chris couldn’t wait to spill the beans and when I got home from my trip she did. I didn’t sleep much that night but after some thought I rationalized, that finally, it all made sense. It could have been the reason I didn’t bond well with my adoptive mother. I recalled asking her a decade or so earlier that why, when younger, I couldn’t recall ever kissing her good night. She replied that I was never a very affectionate child. So apparently, I thought, I may have bonded with someone that took care of me during my first eighteen months. In my quest to find my birth parents I discovered who that person was.

I suspected my mother would have difficulty with my new found knowledge and she did. I had to ask what she knew of my birth parents and was very careful how I worded the question. Her reply was that my Dad, as a marine, was killed in the war somewhere in the pacific. My mother on the other hand had married a china man and left the country. Both of these answers were obviously questionable to me and I merely replied… “Oh.”

A few weeks later I was visiting with Mom, and while shuffling through boxes of old family photos, she pulled from the bottom of the pile a postcard, and a photo of a soldier standing arm in arm, with his mother and brother(who was also in uniform). She threw them on the floor at my feet… saying “here they are!” On the back it said Harold, Mom and Donald (1941), and at the bottom, in big letters, it read… “Kuhn.” Well, it was a start, “Harold Kuhn.” You can read about “the postcard” in an earlier blog.

I was able to have someone pull pages of phone numbers and addresses from a Detroit area phone book under the name Kuhn, there were about two hundred. I then made a form letter that included the picture of Harold, the marine, asking if anyone had knowledge of his whereabouts and explained who I thought I was. And, they could then choose to answer or not. I considered then that some people might not enjoy having skeletons pop out of their closets. I mailed them, all two-hundred, on a Friday afternoon.

Mid-morning, the following Monday, I received a phone call. On the line, and I could hear her crying, was Nona Kuhn. “Ronnie, where are you?” She went on to explain that she was the widow of Arthur Kuhn, Harold’s older brother, and that she and Art had taken care of me and my birth mother Bette during my early life. I was named after Art, my middle name is Arthur, and my birth parents had chosen my given name Ronald. I told her I was living in southern California and asked about Harold, was he still alive? Nona told me Harold was still alive and that he too lived in southern California. “Do you think he would mind if I contacted him?” I asked. Nona replied that she thought he would love to hear from me and gave me his phone number, which I learned was in Long Beach, just a short drive up the 405 Freeway from where we lived.

Finding Nona, was a bit of luck (A twofer as they call it), because not only did she know where Harold was, but she and my birth mother Bette had remained friends for a long time after. She confided that she would try and find her, which after a while she managed to do (That is yet another story “coming next” about my finding me some brothers).

So, on Nona’s judgment, I cold call Harold Kuhn in Long Beach. Harold answers the phone and I begin to explain who I think I am, in relation to him of course. He says, “Uh huh,” and I tell him about my conversation with Nona, his sister-in-law in Michigan. Harold again says, “Uh huh, let me call you back.” Harold “the Dad” after about ten minutes, called me back. He suggested why don’t I come visit him in Long Beach? Now, I asked? He explained after hanging up from my call, he turned to his wife Billie saying, “Do you know who that was?” Billie had replied, “Uh huh.” So at some point in their lives, I concluded, I was a known entity that might one day appear at their front door. And, I did just that the very same day.

We had a lot in common, Harold and I, that I will be sharing later.

Baby Shoes

Baby Shoes

Seashore Pools and Frozen Custard

There was a house at 911 Mayburn in Dearborn that was just a few houses off my beaten path to a huge gigantic public swimming pool that many kids ventured to from our neighborhood in the Township. We didn’t live within Dearborn City limits so we had to pay for the privilege to swim there, which we were happy to do. On the living room wall of the house on Mayburn, just above the fireplace, sitting on a pedestal were a pair of bronzed baby shoes.

The “how and why” of the shoes on the wall is the heart of the story. But first, Bobby Molson, a neighborhood friend, knew how to swim and I didn’t. The swimming pool at Levagood Park at the time, in the early 1950’s, was called Seashore Pools. Bobby and I would ride our bikes from our neighborhood, which was on Stanford and Banner(Bobby lived on the corner), all the way up Telegraph, crossing Michigan Ave under the overpass and passing over the lower Rouge River and the Dearborn Hills golf course. We took a left on Claremont and made our way to Denwood Street which would take us up to the entrance of the swimming pool. It was a long trek for kids at our young age to travel when you compare it to today’s standards. This wasn’t yet the age of soccer Mom’s being available to deliver us via cute little mini vans. A mother today wouldn’t let her son, who couldn’t yet swim, travel miles away from home to jump in a swimming pool. Fortunately, I survived, because Bobby helped me learn to swim.

The pool itself was in the form of a huge round circle with an island in the middle that accommodated both diving boards and Life Guards. There was a fence that separated the shallow water from the deeper. There were gates that allowed the transition to the deep water which the life guards watched very carefully, but at times not carefully enough. Bobby could swim and was a year older and a little larger physically, so when the guards were distracted I would hook my arms around his neck and ride on his back while he dog paddled all the way out to the island. We would climb aboard and there I could pretend that I was a big kid too. Bobby would do a few dives and then come back to retrieve me and we would paddle back. After a few weeks of doing that, with a little help from Bobby, I finally branched out on my own and learned to dog paddle out to the island myself.

Once finished with our day of swimming we always made our way to a frozen custard stand on the corner of Sheridan and Telegraph Road. The route to the custard stand took us past Mayburn Street which was the first street off of Telegraph and just a few houses down was the house at 911. It was there the Bronzed Baby Shoes were displayed, on a pedestal, on the living room wall above the fireplace. Unknown to anyone in the family, except for the mother Bette, the shoes once belonged to me. It would take another thirty-five years for me to reclaim what was once mine when the Bronzed Baby Shoes in question were presented to me by my birth mother Bette. This occurred when I was forty-five years old, only a short while after learning I had been an adopted child.

I have no idea how many times I may have crossed paths with my birth mother and siblings, either at the custard stand or the swimming pool, but it had to have been many. We, my neighborhood friends and I, lived at Seashore pools during the summers of the early 1950’s and seemingly always made it to the custard stand on the corner of Telegraph, where, just a few houses away, my former baby shoes lived on a wall.

The discovery of my being an adopted child and my finding my birth parents, along with two separate families of siblings, will take much longer to tell and will be a follow on story. I even have great pictures so stay tuned.

The Curve Ball

The Curve Ball

And, my curve bike…

The following spring after turning twelve a new neighbor moved in next door to my Uncle Louis’s house, where we lived, and his name was Harold… Harold Lau (just another one of them Harold’s in my life). He had a young wife and daughter and worked on the Detroit Police Force. He was a rookie cop, meaning he was still in his first year on the job, and they owned a 1951 Ford four door sedan. It was black and Harold washed it almost every day he was home from work, and treated it like it was his second child. My very first encounter with Harold was not a pleasant one.

I had acquired a habit of riding my bike to the top of our driveway and once alongside our backdoor I would step off of the bike, much like Roy Rogers used to occasionally do, when he stepped off his horse Trigger while pulling up outside a saloon. Depending on how fast I could get it going, before leaping off, determined how deep in the yard the bike would continue until it fell over into a heap. Sometimes I could get it going fast enough that it would travel all the way to the back fence. I had been doing this act way before Harold decided to become our neighbor.

It so happened that our driveways were side by side. This was unusual because our house was the first one built on the street and was done so by a private builder. Every other house on the block had driveways on their right side, which were built as part of a housing development during post war construction. Just think, if the developers had seen far enough ahead and put the driveways on the left side of their houses, I wouldn’t have had the problem I was about to have.

My bike was older and the grips were completely worn off at the ends of the handlebars, probably from the bike tumbling into a heap once or twice a day into our backyard. We had no fences back then, or garages, so the bike was free to go wherever it might. And one day it did.

Our parallel driveways did not extend into our backyards, so it would be unusual to expect that someone would park a car back there. One day, not so long after Harold finished washing and waxing his black shiny 1951 Ford Sedan, I came up the driveway and executed my Roy Rogers dismount sending my bike tumbling on its way into our backyard… or so I thought. The bike began its journey as usual heading for the back fence, but along the way it encountered an impediment that turned it ever so directly towards the “Harold Car” sitting in his yard, where a car wasn’t supposed to be. It was a painful sight to witness, like it was happening in slow motion, except it wasn’t. I couldn’t stop the carnage about to take place, as I watched my bike, with its bare uncovered handlebar ends, running headlong for the unsuspecting car. On hearing the scraping sound of the handlebars, along the Fords beautiful shiny, recently waxed black paint, I thought, Holy Crappo Batman, is Robin in trouble or what? There was no one around but me as witness, so I quietly and quickly picked up the evidence and rolled the bike to the other side of our house and went inside. What else was a boy to do? I know, knock on the policeman’s door and say, “Sorry, I just put a ruin on your car out there.”

It didn’t take long for the knock at the side door to come. How does one, as a twelve year old, know how to not look guilty of the terrible crime he has just committed? The answer is… “There is no way.”

Detroit Police Officer Harold Lau, our new neighbor, stood at our side door, in uniform. But, and here is the good part, he wasn’t in his police uniform. Harold played in a Police softball league and was dressed in his team uniform as if he was headed for a game. When I opened the door he asked if I wanted to go along with him to his ballgame, and if I do, I should ask my mother if it was OK.

Holy Carbuncle, now what do I do? Apparently Harold must have witnessed my incessant bouncing of a baseball against our metal covered coal-bin on the side of our porch. I had taken an old cover less baseball and wrapped it in black tape and would bounce it continuously against our porch, fielding it from all the way back in his driveway. I would do that for hours on end. It’s a wonder it didn’t drive my mother bananas and maybe it did, but she never said a word.

My mother approved my riding to Harold’s ballgame, but now, how do I deal with what I just did to his car just a few minutes ago? Feeling pretty sheepish… I began, “Mister Lau, I need to tell you about something,” Harold then interrupted saying… “I know Ronnie, I saw what happened, let’s go to the game and we’ll deal with it later.

I had such a great time watching Harold’s game… he was really a good player. It was my first introduction to fast-pitch softball and I was amazed at how fast a pitch could be thrown underhand, I’d thought only girls threw underhand. When we arrived home I thanked him for taking me and I was sorry about the car damage. He said, “Don’t worry, we will work it out, and by the way… do you know how to throw a curve ball?” Well, I didn’t know how to throw a curve ball but I was soon to learn.

Thankfully, at Harolds suggestion, I was able to deal with the car’s damage using some of my earnings from my paper route over the course of that summer. I also made a decision to can my Roy Rogers style dismount for the best interests of the rest of the neighborhood cars and as well my bike.

Harold and I played “balls and strikes” all summer long, he would be the catcher and I would pitch and then we would switch positions. He taught me how to throw a real mean curve ball, first how to grip the ball, then… while rotating your wrist and forearm you throw it at the batters head and as soon as the batter ducked away, the ball would curve over the plate for a strike. I got really good at it, I mean, really good at it and developed a pretty good arm that summer. I was pretty small still for my age and the next summer my curve ball would be called into service with interesting results. That, is another story altogether.

It seems all of the Harolds that have had an effect on my life have all been an acquaintance of short duration. First, my biological father Harold Kuhn, my cousin Harold Hart the aeronautical engineer, my mother’s cousin Harold Colbert, who took me for my first airplane ride. And finally, during the summer of 1952, Harold Lau, becoming my “Curve Ball Maestro.”

I lost track of my curve ball teacher after the summer of 1952. During that fall season, Harold Lau,the Detroit Police Officer, was involved in a near fatal police chase accident. The pictures on the front pages of the newspapers were horrific. How anyone survived is beyond me. It was a time before seat belts and with Harold sitting in the front seat, riding shotgun as we used to say, he went through the windshield. I saw him for the last time sitting on his front porch a few months after his car accident. He had a very large bump on the front of his head about the size of half a grapefruit. It wasn’t very pretty and Harold wasn’t at all talkative. I didn’t say much and neither did he and shortly thereafter, Harold and his family moved away and just quietly disappeared, seemingly overnight. I still wonder today where they may have gone and what the rest of his life was like. He was another of the really nice men I knew as a youngster. We should all be so lucky to have so many Harolds in our lives.