At 6:20 p.m. Tuesday, Ginger Croft and Marlisa Bates did something that had been missing from their lives since June 25, 1971.
They looked at each other, mother to daughter.
Then they hugged.
Then looked some more through eyes wet with tears.
This took place at McGhee Tyson Airport, shortly after Marlisa's flight from Idaho-to-Denver-to-Chicago touched down. Because of snow delays in the Midwest, she reached Knoxville more than two hours behind schedule.
But what's an extra two hours when you've got 351/2 years of catching up to do?
You could say this is the happy ending to a sad story. I prefer to think of it as a happy beginning for two people who finally have found each other.
The pieces started falling into place shortly after Christmas when Ginger's cell phone rang. It was her sister, Margaret, calling from South Carolina.
"Are you driving?" Margaret asked.
"Yes," Ginger replied.
"Then pull over. Now."
"I just knew it was terrible news," Ginger related to me. "I was shaking by the time I finally got stopped."
Fortunately, the news was anything but bad.
"A private investigator just called me, trying to find you," said Margaret. "Your daughter is looking for you."
At age 15, Ginger had become pregnant. She was living in Alaska. Her dad was a colonel in the Air Force. She was not prepared to start a family; neither was the child's father, whom Ginger has not heard from since. She gave birth at a military hospital and offered the infant for adoption.
"I never got to see my baby or touch her," Ginger recalled. "The nurses said it would be easier that way. I told them, 'There's no way any of this is easy.'"
Marlisa was adopted by a loving family. She has three siblings, also adopted. From the age of 5, when her parents broke the news about her entry into this world, she had longed to find her biological mother.
Ginger, too, had always wondered whatever became of her daughter from oh-so long ago. It was forever on her mind as she grew up, married, started a family and lived in various states, including Georgia and Kentucky, before moving to Knoxville five years ago.
But she never acted on her impulse to search - even though her husband of 22 years was a narcotics detective with easy access to investigatory means.
"I never knew how my daughter would react to me," she said. "I didn't know if she would hate me or what. I always figured if she found me it would have to be her decision, not mine."
Ginger's parents are now deceased, "but I know they're happy about all this."
Marlisa is married to a physician in Idaho. They have seven children. She and her husband plan to stay in East Tennessee for a week or so, meeting their newfound relatives.
"My next mission," Marlisa said, "is to get her to come to Idaho and meet the rest of her family out there."
Oh, yes, and one more thing: To find her biological father. All she knows is his name, Michael Fredericks.
"As soon as I pay the bill to the investigation agency for finding my mom," she said with a smile, "I'm going to get them to start looking for my dad."
Sam Venable's column appears on Sundays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays. He may be reached at 865-342-6272 or email@example.com.
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