Carolyn Goates Campbell

Profile Updated: May 16, 2016
Carolyn Goates
Where do you live now? Salt Lake City, UT USA
Spouse/Partner: Griff Campbell EHS '70
What do you do now and how did you get into that? Freelance Writer
Yes! Attending Reunion

"Secretly Southern"

I always knew that I could be someone else. I was adopted at birth. Most days, I didn’t think about it. Then, after months or years, something would remind me. I was sitting in my third grade class when my teacher said the Constitution was “adopted.” Chills prickled my body and I wondered if someone could tell the difference about me. There were registration forms at school that asked if “child or other blood relation” had cancer, fainting spells, or epilepsy. When my Mom filled those out, I held my breath until she just checked “none.”

My parents rarely mentioned my adoption. It didn’t interfere with our life together. They introduced me as “our daughter,” and never as “our adopted daughter.” I’m 60 now. I was adopted back in the days when agencies screened the genealogy of birth and adoptive families and chose people with similar characteristics such as height and coloring. My Dad and I were both tall with medium brown hair and blue-green eyes. I looked like I belonged. It was easy to keep my secret. I only told a handful of people.

In high school, I had a rocky relationship with a boyfriend. We both knew we’d never get married. Still, we couldn’t seem to let go of each other and risk being alone. One night, during an argument, he told me about a movie: Raintree County, with Elizabeth Taylor. In it, she discovers she is half black. “That could be you!” he taunted. I wondered inwardly. My relationship with my boyfriend ended shortly after that. My parents reassured me that “the right person” wouldn’t consider my adoption a serious issue. But now I was newly curious. By what mysterious path did I get here? I’d seen enough families welcome babies to realize that giving up a child would be heart- wrenching. What happened–way back in the fifties–before I was born?

Sensing my newfound urgency, my Dad confided that there was a paper he would give me when I turned 21. I tried to shrug this idea off, like it didn’t really matter. On my twenty-first birthday, there were tissue-wrapped presents that included new clothes and dish towels for my wedding six days later. Later that night, my Dad went to a locked file in his study and drew out a manila envelope. He told me that during my adoption hearing the attorney stood next to him, holding this document like a poker hand that he flashed in front of my Dad. Something was unusual. Someone made a mistake. Despite all efforts to keep everything secret, somehow, my birth mother’s last name was left on the document. My Dad teased, “Do you think you’re tough? Do you think you can take this?” I sensed the questions were directed more toward himself than to me.

After what seemed like hours, he handed me the envelope. I drew the paper out. There it was. A long name that started with S. There was no spark of recognition. I read the document again and again. Seeing the uncharacteristic emotion on my Dad’s face that night vanquished my curiosity. I felt guilt from wanting to know more.

Then something strange happened. After I married, my first job was as a telephone operator. One day, someone called from Chicago, Illinois. Though I’d never heard it pronounced, the customer’s name struck instant recognition with me. It was that name again–the name from my adoption paper. In the room with hundreds of other operators around me, I shook, just like the day my teacher said the Constitution was adopted. Could I be from Chicago? Was it this simple? I felt like something had been handed to me. The next week, I went to the library and looked up cities in Illinois. Then I called Directory Assistance in each one. Back then, directory assistance was free. But there was no Internet. I had to call, again and again. When they asked for a first name, I told them to look for Mary. My mom’s name is Mary, and somehow, from a social worker’s chance remark, she thought my birth mother’s name might be Mary, too. All the directory assistance operators reassured me that there was no Mary with the S. last name. I needed her first name.

Heart pounding, I called the hospital where I was born, trying to make my phone voice sound expectant and naive. A woman answered “Records.”

“I’m just in town for the day,” I said, clearing my throat and hoping that the inside of my house sounded like an airport or train station. “I’m working on my genealogy and need to determine my mother’s birthplace.” A quick breath. “Could you please look on my birth certificate?”

Long pause. This is 1974. Confidentiality isn’t spelled out as clearly as today. My heart pounded as seconds passed. Unprompted, my voice rushed. “I have my birth date and know the time I was born...”

“Your mother’s name?”

I spelled her last name. Could there be more than one? I hoped against hope.
“Her first name?”

Chills rushed. “Uh–I don’t know which one she used. She sometimes went by her middle name or a nickname.”

For reasons I’ll never fathom, the woman didn’t ask for possible names.

I sensed that she might be new at her job, or confused by my request, or that my half-expectant, half-naive tone caused her to question the usual procedure. A long wait. Then she abruptly asked, “Were you raised by someone else?”

“Does it say that?” I pretended to sound aghast.

“Well....I wonder if it could be this one....”

“Which one?” My voice jumped in.


Susan? Did that sound right?

I grew bold. “What name does it have for her husband?”

“Her husband’s name isn’t listed on the chart.”

“And I was born on Thursday, August 31, 1953....”

“She entered the hospital the night of the 30th....and gave birth at 12:20 a.m. on the 31st.”

The exact time on my birth certificate. It seemed fitting that I was born right after midnight. A hidden, mysterious time. The time of secret deeds.

“That’s probably the one,” I agree. “Do you have her birthplace?”

“I can’t give out that information. It’s on the confidential part of the chart.”

What? After what you just told me? “Thank you,” I said. Drops of sweat inched down my side.

I called the cities in Illinois again. Chicago. Springfield. There was a Matthew in Springfield with the right last name. I asked an operator to call person to person.

A woman answered.

The operator asked for Susan S.

A long, potent pause. I sensed that the woman in Chicago knew what I was up to and was about to say no.

Measured tones. “She’s not here.....but I’ll take the call.’

Amazingly, my voice started. “This is a friend of Susan’s ...from school. I was going to be in town soon, and thought I’d look her up.”

“She doesn’t live here.”

“Oh...” A sinking feeling. “Where does she live?”

“In Florida.”

“And her it still S.?”

“’s Anderson now. Mrs. Edward Anderson.”

I go for broke. “Do you happen to have her phone number?”

She read me the number. There it is. My birth mother. I think of the people who spend years, hire private detectives, travel to other cities. I’m twenty-one. I’ve been married one month and I’m as naive as anyone at that age. And I have to make this call.

At work, I decided to write a letter instead, thinking I might stumble less over what I wanted to say. Looking back, I don’t remember a word I wrote, only the feeling that I tried to approach the topic subtly, rather than accusing her of giving birth to me and then giving me up.

Two days later, she called the instant she got the letter. My husband, who I didn’t tell about my secret search, answered the phone. He had no idea who she was. When he questioned her, she hung up quickly. I called later that night. Her voice, miles away. That night, all I could tell was that the time wasn’t comfortable for her. It was a while before I understood that while my adoption was the ace in the hand I was dealt, for her, it was worse than any other card. It was being thrown out of the game at the age of twenty. It took time for me to understand that talking to me only brought back memories of the pain she felt when giving me up. We could only talk so long–then she suddenly began to act as though she were in terrible pain. I’m not that difficult a person to talk to. I make my living talking to people. I couldn’t deny the ache that this bleakness brought me. “You have to understand–this was a very bad thing that happened to her,” one friend reminded me.

I also realized that she tells the truth the way it feels to her that day. Her stories changed. There were several versions of her relationship with my birth father. Shuffling through them, a few things rang true for me. I think they dated only for a short time, that he was “wilder” than boys she usually dated, and that he was from out of town–a medic stationed on a nearby Air Force base. I found odd comfort in the fact that I was conceived in a bed in the late afternoon rather than in a back seat after dark. She was the tenth of twelve children and grew up in a house where the word “pregnant” was whispered rather than said out loud. I felt that echoes of her childhood taboos were partly what carried over when we tried to interact.

She called me when she turned 47 to tell me she was now menopausal, and I could expect the same experience near that age. She told me my grandfather was also a writer, who published more than once in The Saturday Evening Post. She said that writing was one of many ways he tried to help support his twelve children.

Often people tell me my memory is amazing–a file repository for trivia, like John Lennon’s birthday and chance remarks friends made long ago. When my birth grandfather had diphtheria, he “memorized” the encyclopedia. For fun, school teachers came over to test his knowledge. “He was never wrong,” Susan, the name I call my birth mother, told me. Susan and I both love to read. We both hold grudges and painful memories a long time. Both socially shy, we secretly love to be the center of attention.

Though interacting with me was difficult, I could tell she wanted to be the center of my attention. She didn’t want me to know about--or even be too curious about-- my birth father. She thought if she threw me a few crumbs, I would be satisfied. Instead, each fact whetted my journalist’s curiosity. One fact in particular. “I told you his last name, didn’t I?” she asked once, in an unusually jovial mood. “Oh–yeah, you did,” I said, not wanting to spoil the moment. She’d never told me, and I’d sensed she’d be offended if I asked. Another time she claimed she’d sent me a photo of him. There’s no way I’d forget if I caught a once- in- a lifetime glimpse of the man who fathered me. But she kept insisting she sent it a long time ago, then asked me to send it back because it was all she had. Sometimes she’d say she wrote to him about expecting me and he never wrote back. Or he wrote and said he was already married and could not help her. Or he wrote and said he’d send money, but he never did. The story keeps changing.

Now she says. “Yeah–just like Elvis Presley.”

“Presley–“ I said, fighting the surprise this revelation gave me.

“Yeah–Presley,” she said, laughing. “And his first name was Harold. He was from Tennessee.” This seemed like an amazing chunk of information. Then I reminded myself. Susan was flexible with the truth. But couldn’t she think of a more convincing lie than this? If she said his name was Anderson or Smith, I could spend the rest of my life sifting and searching. Presley?

I know now that most adoptees look for their birth fathers as an afterthought, if they look for them at all. There’s an undercurrent of feeling that birth fathers are responsible for both the pain and urgency of the adoption. There’s a sense that if birth mothers never met birth fathers, there would be no trauma. Stereotypically, they’re thought of as men who ruin women’s lives and abandon their children.

It was hard not to think of such a man abandoning me again, if I ever tried to talk to him. I sort of visualized myself traveling a long distance, then going to his office so his wife wouldn’t know. I imagined him taking one look and saying, “Get 'outta here kid, 'ya bother me.” I didn’t know if I could face that.

As time passed, I wondered if there was a way I could find out about my birth father, but not face his rejection personally. Knowing he’d been a medic, I called medical associations. I also discovered that while there was only Presley in the Salt Lake City phone book, there were lots of them in the South–spelled both Presley and Pressley. And I realized he could be anywhere now–from Africa to Florida to two blocks away. There was no way to guess.

As maybe ten years passed, I’d furtively look up the name Presley every once in a while. Besides being a writer, I’m a researcher for a national magazine. Names, places and dates cross my desk regularly. I’d look every now and then. Once I was interviewing a woman about her own adoption reunion. She gave me a number to call to find men who served in the military. The man who answered found two Harold Presley's. “This one died in 1962–can’t be him. But there is another one out there.” He wouldn’t tell me where, without a military service or Social Security number. In The Adoption Connection support group, people advised me to send for my non-identifying information.

My non-identifying information echoed thoughts my birth mother shared–that she was from 12 children, did well in school and planned to return to school after I was born. She described my birth father as good looking and athletic. A tall man with curly blond hair and blue eyes. Then the shock. It said that at the time I was born my birth father was a professional baseball player. I know of no one less athletic than I am. I’m really uncoordinated. My knee was freshly skinned every week when I was little. There had to be some mistake. I think I laughed out loud.

It’s been a strange sensation to search for my birth family. While it’s probably the most personal search I could make, it also felt very similar to researching other stories journalistically. The information came in slivers and chunks, all of which I had to sift to decide which move to make next. And unlike writing a story with a definite deadline, this was something I thought of mostly in odd moments. Often when I was writing another reunion story myself. I remember deciding to put off researching the Presley's until after Christmas. There were gifts to buy, Christmas cards to address. But then I felt an odd, unmistakable shove. I had to move ahead right then.

That same week, I happened on an unusual book. The title was just “Presley Pressley.” It was a genealogist’s book about the Presley family. The author was Marlene Webb, from Adrian, Texas. I called her, and she suggested I write. I did–and she sent back a genealogical chart listing the Harold Presley who died in 1962. I thought to myself, “No. He can’t be dead. My birth father is alive. He can’t die before I meet him.” Then I sent her my non-identifying information, thinking maybe she could look further, and find the other Harold Presley who was alive. She called and said, “This sounds just like–“ and broke off in mid-sentence. Seconds later, she said, “I’ll call you back.”

Weeks passed. I didn’t let myself think about whether I’d hear from her again. During the 10:00 news two months later, my phone rang. Not knowing what she’d find, I told Marlene to pretend she was calling me about a writing project. But now her voice quavered with emotion. “About the article you are writing–we think that the Harold Presley on the chart is the right source. I talked to his sister.”

“What did you say?” I asked, incredulous that this bridge was already crossed for me. I was instantly grateful that I wasn’t going to have to visit some man’s office to confront him.

“I told her I talked to this really nice lady who was looking for her daddy and had reason to believe–“
”What did she say?” Soothed as I was by Marlene’s relaxed Texas drawl, I couldn’t wait another second.

“She said as soon as I told her, she just knew it was her brother you were looking for. She called her other sister. They both said you can call them any time.”

I wrote down the name Marlene gave me. Rhoda Dutton, in Memphis, Tennessee. Available for phone calls any time but 12:30 to 2:30 when she worked the lunch shift in her son’s optometry office. Hmm. Not a man who would brush me aside, but a woman who said I could call.

I phoned Rhoda that same day. “I didn’t know anything about you, but I’m sure glad to hear from you,” were her first words to me. In our conversation, we danced around each other, wondering if we could really be connected. I remember reciting some of the sentences from my birth mother’s first letter. “Susan said she had more than her share of dates, but nothing quite like him. She said he was at least 6'2" and real well built,” I said, quoting verbatim.

“Yes–all my brothers were tall and big and good-looking,” said Rhoda.

“She described him as a free spirit,” I said.

“Yes. And he liked practical jokes.”

“She said he looked handsome in white–that he worked in the infirmary.”

“He was a medic. He said he knew enough that he could take out an appendix if he needed to.”

“She said he went home and married his old girlfriend, which was why they didn’t marry.”

Rhoda paused. “No. He never married. He was engaged once, and when they broke up, she married his brother, who played for the Chicago White Sox. That was the only part on your information that was different. He didn’t play baseball, but his brother did.”

So we still weren’t sure. After a moment, Rhoda said, “Marlene Webb asked if he was ever in Florida. I didn’t remember that he was. But Mama saved every letter he wrote. I looked in her old trunk and there were letters from there. He was in Florida in 1952.”

I was born in 1953.

We both waited.

Somehow, after the moment passed, we agreed to exchange photos. “I think if I saw pictures of you and your children, I could tell if there is a resemblance. And if I send you a picture of him, couldn’t you ask your birth mother if he is the Harold Presley she knew?”

Hmm. Ask my birth mother. “I’m really excited to see the pictures,” I said.

I had no idea what this man and his family looked like. My birth mother already told me I looked like her sister. People say my children look like me. Was there any possibility that Presley genes somehow filtered through so we could tell if there was a connection? I gathered lots of pictures. Wedding pictures. Baby pictures. Formal and casual. A video of my parents’ home movies. I mailed them and waited.

After what seemed like an eternity, a letter with a Memphis postmark arrived. Two black and white photos of a man in an Army uniform. I showed the pictures to my oldest son, Aaron. “Who do you think this is?” I asked.

He paused. I heard him inhale before he said, “Mom, you have his face.”

Then, with gentle discretion, my son pointed out my wide forehead, angular cheek lines, and the way one of my eyebrows is more arched than the other–all similar features to the man in the photo. Then he said, “Look how tall he is.” touching the photo where the man in uniform stood much taller than a large, thorny- looking bush. “I’d like to stand next to him,–to see who is the tallest,” said Aaron, who is 6 '7".

“He’s dead–“ I said, Abruptly, a cloak of grief draped over me. I realized I suddenly felt the same sensitivity about this topic that his sister Rhoda felt when she told me. My birth father’s death was termed “mysterious.” After a life of military stations in Arabia, Africa, Germany, Florida, California and other places, he died in New Orleans at the age of 31. “I was in the hospital after a miscarriage, Rhoda told me. “And everyone else in the family had some reason why they couldn’t go down there to investigate.” So a funeral home in Arkansas went to bring the body back. Rhoda’s sister, Frances, told me she probably fed him his last meal. And her daughter, Phyllis said, “A few weeks before he died, he took me shopping with him. He bought two new suits. I felt an eerie feeling at the funeral when one of his friends was wearing one of those new suits. The same friend was wearing his watch. I had a bad feeling about that friend. If your close friend died, would you feel like wearing his clothes?” Earlier, when I talked to Marlene Webb, and asked her how he died, she paused. Her voice lowered. ‘They think someone may have helped him along,” she said, in that soothing Texas drawl.

Rhoda’s niece, "Barby", said that after the time Harold died, she was driving in California. “I stopped at a red light and looked up. He was in the car next to me. He waved and smiled. I waved, too. I looked away and when I looked back, he wasn’t there any more. Another car was next to me. But the red light hadn’t changed.”

From what I can tell, Harold was the brother who lived a fast, exotic life in foreign locales and came home only to visit. He didn’t fit the pattern of his brothers and sisters who married, had families, and mostly stayed in Arkansas. His life, like his death, was mysterious. And from the way things looked, he had a secret daughter who lived hundreds of miles away who loved mystery, too.

Somehow I couldn’t wait for Rhoda’s thoughts about the pictures I sent. I probably called the day she got them. “Do you see any resemblance?” I asked. She paused. “Oh, yes. You have his eyes. And your little girl looks like Mama.” She waited. “I’d like to keep the pictures a little longer. They’re safe here, on my dining room table.” Her voice sounded gentle. “Would you like to see some of our family pictures? The family has been gathering them up...and if it is as we think, I want you to have his other things, too.”

I think we all longed for proof. There was no DNA, no name on a birth certificate. I had to shoot for the next best thing–a statement from the one person who could tell me if this was actually my birth father. But this time, I couldn’t accept a series of changing stories. This was a one-shot deal. Yes or no. I had to think of a way to convince my birth mother to give a straightforward answer.

I started with the truth. I told her truthfully that I was now working with a search agency to write a book about adoption reunion stories. Then I veered off. I told her that the agency felt I would be more effective as a writer if I experienced my own reunion. So they set their agents to work for me and found a man they thought might be my birth father. I stopped talking. “Did you know that Harold died?” I asked her.

“Oh...” A swirl of emotion. “Did he die?” I could hear years of wondering in that single sentence. It was our greatest bonding moment. Though everyone else went to Harold’s funeral 35 years earlier, for us, he died only a week before. I could feel Susan’s grief blend with my own.

“I always pictured him living on a Tennessee farm, with a lot of kids....”

A long silence. Later, I tell her I will send the photos that “the agency” found. I say I need her to respond right away–because if he isn’t the right person, they promised to return the pictures to his family quickly.

Days pass. A week. I return late on a Saturday and ask my husband if anyone called. “Yes, there was a strange call from Florida. Susan. She said to tell you that she’s 100 per cent sure that the agency found the right person. What does that mean?”

A week later, Susan writes me a letter telling me to “rest assured that this Harold Presley is the right one.” I phone Rhoda, who I now think of as Aunt Rhoda. Somehow, I don’t need to call her my birth aunt, just my aunt. There is a sense of calm relief that the connection is made. It feels like putting the last piece of a puzzle in place. Two weeks later, a package arrives. It is taped multiple times, perfectly organized and filled with handwritten notations from Rhoda. After sifting through the belongings, my strongest sense is of a mother who lost her young son. Jessie McClendon Presley, my birth grandmother, was a woman who saved things. In the box are the remnants of my birth father’s life. A military photo album, a passport, a driver’s license, a pile of honorable discharges, the telegram she received announcing his death, and two letters from army officers expressing condolences. A handwritten list of people who brought casseroles to the home when he died. The penciled note she wrote to the newspaper thanking people for their concern. A military list of belongings at the time of death, down to the number of shirts and pairs of socks. There are yellowed report cards, signed greeting cards, and an immunization record. Military stripes and medals. A pile of letters tied with a ribbon.

Maybe it’s because I was alone in the house when I opened the box. It’s hard to describe my feelings. Though there is nothing religious about the artifacts, there is a presence among the belongings that feels somehow reverent, the way it feels to stand in a cemetery. I find it interesting that my birth grandmother saved everything so carefully, although, as far as she knew, Harold had no child to receive his possessions. “It was like she knew I was coming,” I told a psychic I know. A heavy pause before her response. “Not her–him. Your birth father. He knew you were coming,” corrected the psychic. “He wanted you to have those things. He knew they would somehow be placed in your hands.” I wondered how Harold could possibly guess that after he died, all his belongings would somehow end up hundreds of miles away in a Utah basement.

More photos arrived. Thick envelopes filled with family pictures. I felt touched that many of the photos–like the artifacts in the first box–had been carefully saved for years. From the beginning, I felt a delicate trust in the relationship between my family and the Presley's. It was like we were standing on two sides of a chasm, each tentatively extending a hand to see if we could build a connection, a bridge. After possibly a hundred photos arrived, it was like they spilled over my capacity to keep their existence secret. I gathered my husband and children together to tell them about the Presley's. My voice shook, and I didn’t hide my tears from my kids the way I usually try to. I remember their fascination, holding the photos up to the light as if they could somehow see the connection. “Cool,” was a word my sons used repeatedly.

That same week, the day before Mother’s Day, I got a phone call. “This is Susan. I’m here in Salt Lake,” my birth mother says, as casually as if she lives a block away. She’s calling me on a Saturday, at work, and this is my lunch hour. We stumblingly agree to meet at Marie Callender’s, down the street. She and her husband–who I didn’t know knew about me–are standing in the doorway of the restaurant, smiling, when I arrive. As soon as she saw me, she ran up, hugged me and wouldn’t let go. It was a primal moment–there was an electric, physical sensation that seemed to bind us together. We were the only people who sat outside at the restaurant, under an umbrella-topped table. We laughed, talked and shared pictures. At one point she picked up my hand and held it and just looked at it. Another time, when I spilled whipped cream on my chin from the strawberry pie, she wet her napkin and wiped it off, like someone who knew me well enough to do that. Her husband and I cried together, and he told me he’d surprised her by bringing her through Utah on a trip they were taking. He hid the family photos in his suitcase and didn’t tell her she would see me until the night before. “I thought of it as a Mother’s Day present for both of you,” he said. He told me that a year before, when Susan underwent chemotherapy for colon cancer, he wanted to send me a ticket to fly out to see her. She still has not told her whole family about me and wasn’t ready for that. I don’t know if she will ever tell them.

I called my children and husband and we arranged to all meet that night. We chose a Chinese restaurant because it was close to the hotel where Susan and Edward were staying. But it was a crazy night. There was a Chinese wedding and the restaurant was packed. First, we had to wait for at least two hours to get a table, and then wait forever to get our food. After we ate dinner, we came back to our home and looked at pictures and talked in our family room until midnight. When she left, Susan gave me another long hug with the same electric charge as the first. They told me that I should spend the next day, Mother’s Day, with my mom, but my real wish would have been to bring my two moms together. I really think that Harold and my Dad could have had a great conversation, too. They both served in the Army and the Air Force for a long time, and are both tall, big guys. After I showed my children and husband the photos and talked to them, I called my parents and talked to them about Susan and Harold.

Still more photos arrived from the South. There were recent snapshots of smiling family gatherings. My birth father’s four sisters, standing in line like a train. I couldn’t help but think how much this family in the South reminded me of Utah families I’d known all my life. There were photos of Christmas parties, wedding pictures. Photos in sports uniforms and yearbook pictures of cousins close in age to me. One photo in particular stood out. It was a photo of Harold when he first joined the Air Force at age seventeen. I saw it and immediately thought of my senior yearbook picture, taken at the same age. In the two pictures, we are facing the same semi-profile angle, with the same smile. When I held the two pictures side by side, the resemblance was striking. One eyebrow arched and one not. Identical angular cheek lines. “Even your teeth are alike in that picture,” Harold’s sister, Lenell, told me.

Phone calls along with the photos. Gentle, welcoming Southern accents. Aunts telling me my birth father and I could have been friends. One woman said, “I’m sorry for all that you’ve been through.” I answered. ‘Thank you. But I haven’t been through anything. I’ve had a wonderful life.” A young boy called my 14 year-old son to ask. “Do you really live way out yonder?”

I would tell them again and again both how happy my life had been and how much their acceptance meant. I’ve read somewhere that no matter how perfect an adoption is, there are still abandonment issues to deal with. And acceptance from a birth family is wonderfully healing, although it doesn’t change the past. “Your parents did a great job with you, and we love them for that,” they told me again and again. “Give them a hug for us.”

They told me that six of the seven of my birth father’s brothers and sisters (except Robert, who was dying of Parkinson’s disease) gathered together to watch the video of my mom and dad’s home movies. I could picture them all together in a room. They said they all laughed and talked except for one brother–who had a mysterious look on his face. A sister said, “He’s just glad one of his kids didn’t call,” and they all laughed together.

Rhoda said they could tell–by the assortment of crisp new outfits, the spotless house and the smiles on my parent’s faces–what a wonderful childhood I had. Then she mentioned an intriguing coincidence that is still haunting to me. She said that my Mom reminded her of herself at that age–slim, and dark-haired. From the beginning, I could picture my Mom and Rhoda having lunch together and being friends. More than that, I can easily imagine them talking in heaven. I can hear Rhoda saying to my Mom, “You know, Mary, my brother Harold’s daughter is going to need a home. I’ll only be sixteen when she is born. I can’t think of anyone more like me or who would make a more perfect mom than you.” Then I picture the two of them smiling and laughing together.

Years ago, for fun, I asked an astrologist friend to read all of my family’s charts. She said something about my mom that immediately rang true for me and for my children. She said, “Your mom always has an extra of everything–if you forget your sweater, she has one you can wear and probably take home.” I can’t count the number of times my mom would say to me. “I have this pair of black pants. I bought them and now they are too big for me.” My mom is the consummate shopper and would never make the mistake of buying the wrong size for herself. I think this was her way of graciously continuing to supplement my wardrobe after I was married. The pants that were “too big” for her always happened to fit me exactly. She also always has an extra cookbook I can keep. “This is a cookie cookbook. I’ll never make cookies again,” she says, giving it to me. Shortly after Rhoda and I began corresponding, she sent me a package. In it was an extra “Best Of Arkansas” cookbook she just happened to have. And a pair of black pants, that were too big for her, but fit me, exactly.

I don’t remember how my birth father’s family and I decided to meet. Considering the emotional distance of the 90's, I think we showed trust and courage in deciding to meet in person. It was easy to share long talks on the phone. What would it be like when we met? My birth family urged us to bring all four of our kids and to stay in their homes with them, rather than in a hotel. In August, 1997, my family took a long plane flight to the South to meet the Presley's. I am probably prejudiced, but I don’t think that anyone could see my Aunt Rhoda without thinking she is beautiful. A more glamorous, yet, at the same time, softer, version of Olympia Dukakis. The first night, she and her husband, Bill, played dulcimers for us after an unforgettable dinner of barbecued pork tenderloins, cheese potato casserole, and Jello, punch and brownies that could rival any made by a Utah Relief Society. My strongest memory is walking up to the family farm house, where my birth father’s sister, Lenell, lives now. There was a long expanse of grass to walk across to the red brick house. Halfway there, Phyllis, a cousin I had talked to on the phone, met me with a tight hug. More Presley's stood on the steps waiting to hug me and my family. Then there was another long line of people inside the front room–54 of them in all. Sounds from the kitchen sounded like a Utah family reunion–I sensed the Presley women had been working all day. The kitchen counters, table, and a dining room sideboard were literally piled with food that somehow smelled of home and family who cared about each other. There was ham, turkey with stuffing, chicken, three kinds of corn pudding, green beans, cobbler and homemade cakes and pies. Melt-in your mouth dinner rolls that were Lenell’s specialty.

I heard an adoption expert say once that birth parents who place children for adoption deserve the same admiration as parents who adopt. I can’t think of a more valuable gift that my birth mother could have given me than my parents. Experts say that 90% of adopted children go to good homes and are happy.

While not everyone favors adoption reunions, I think that, in many cases, nothing else demonstrates the success of adoption more. My only regret about my own reunion is that I didn’t take all of my family with me. I wish that my Dad could have tasted a piece of the chocolate pie, and that my mom and Aunt Rhoda could compare recipes. I’d like all my nieces and nephews to ride on the go-karts with the kids from Arkansas the way my three boys did. Though my sons played basketball with the Arkansas Presley's on a team they nicknamed “the cousins”, the roster was incomplete. I would have liked my sister’s son and my cousin’s boys to play, too.

A man I know has a picture of his mom and birth-mom hugging each other. He told me, “It’s probably the most important photo I have--of the woman who gave me life, and the woman who kept my life going.” Birth families and adoptive families often share love for the same people. The bridge built by reunions can often strengthen both families and create calm and soothing unity.

There are reunions ahead in all of our lives. We meet old friends, relatives we haven’t seen for months or years. We unexpectedly run into acquaintances whose paths we haven’t crossed in a long time. There are future reunions we’ve always imagined will be ahead, too. People in many religions envision seeing God and Jesus Christ. We picture ourselves meeting loved ones who died long ago, and introducing them to our children and grandchildren. We imagine a relative who has died coming to take us to heaven with him. We picture ourselves, after death, spending time with ancestors we never knew, enjoying long leisurely discussions, finding common threads. I was just lucky enough to have that happen to me now, while I’m still alive.

The Presley's and I continue to share conversations, recipes, Christmas cards and an occasional visit. I tell them repeatedly how happy my life has been and how much their acceptance means. Before I met my birth family, I was more preoccupied with searching for my identity in other ways. I had my aptitude measured, my colors analyzed, and my aura read. Each time, I expected unusual results and hoped for a defining moment. Now I’m less inclined to look inward. There was a calming peace in solving the puzzle of my roots. The results of my search are both profound and simple-that I descend from a family like any other with its share of strengths and sorrows. My life once began on Chapter Two, and the complete story makes more sense now that I know Chapter One. Meeting a long-lost birth family feels like acquiring a new sister in-law or stepparent by marriage. We’ll never share childhood memories, but there’s an undeniable bond and a sense of future closeness. In ways, we feel like we’ve always known each other. Sharlene Lightfoot, an adoption researcher explains the motivation and hope of those separated by adoption in three short sentences. “They really just want to say, ‘Hello again. I’m here and I’d love to know you. I want to tell you that things turned out okay.”

High school story and favorite high school memories (i.e. secret crush, embarrassing moment, funniest thing you did in high school, favorite high school hangout, favorite teachers)

I loved Mrs. Stevens and how she encouraged me to pursue my writing. I loved the assemblies and the games. I loved the old building with all the marble and the atmosphere that was there. The innocence of that time was priceless and I treasure those memories.

Two of my favorite movies are Charade and Family Plot — I am an Alfred Hitchcock fan.

If you could build a second house anywhere, where would it be?

Oregon or Hawaii.

Do you still have family around Salt Lake?


Do you still see/hang out with/or talk to any of our classmates?

I'm lucky enough to have lunch with a group of them every once in a while.

What did you do right after high school?

I majored in journalism at BYU.

Past jobs?

I sold circus tickets and Las Vegas vacations over the phone. I was a telephone operator for Mountain Bell. ( For a shy person, I've always been quite a talker.)

I started working as a freelance writer and working for Salt Lake County Library system in 1976. I retired from the library in 2001 with 25 years of service. I was able to buy my last 5 years of service and received a 30 year retirement. I still write every day.

High points of your life since high school?

I had 4 great kids, wrote three nationally-published books, and authored 800 published magazine articles.

An article I wrote was featured as a cover story in People Magazine.

I appeared on the Sally Jessy Raphael talk show when my second book was published.

I won the League Of Utah Writers "Writer Of The Year" award in 1997 and have won several Society of Professional Journalists awards.

Married? To who? When? For how long?

Married Griff Campbell on September 6, 1974. The years have flown by and I can't believe we celebrated our 35th anniversary last year.


1 grandchild, Gabe, who is 5. Our son, Chris, and daughter-in-law, Holly are expecting a second child in December, 2010.

What do you do in your spare time?

I love to read, swim, cook, and have fun with my family and friends.

Any vices?

Chocolate and cookies...

Travel much?

Two cruises to the Mexican Riviera and Hawaii.

What's the farthest you've ever been from home?


Favorite place to go?

To visit our oldest son in Oregon

Places you want to go?


How old do you feel?

As my dear friend, Faythe Lentz Adams, once said, "I'm still seventeen at heart."

Any gray hair yet?

None that is visible.

Biggest thing you would do differently if you went back to your time at East?

I would be more outgoing.

Famous or interesting people you've met?

Interviewed Jon Huntsman, Sr., and poet Rod McKuen. I give talks for Dian Thomas at seminars on how to obtain free publicity, (she is the outdoor cooking guru who was on the Today Show for six years)

Cool things you've done?

I'm honored to work on this website. I think we grew up in a wonderful time that I appreciate increasingly as I grow older.

From the time I learned to read, I wanted to be a writer, but thought I was too shy. I wrote for the Leopard and majored in journalism at BYU. The last class I took at BYU was magazine writing. One requirement of the class was to send off your writing to an actual magazine. Because it was a class assignment, I overcame my shyness and sent an article off to Good Housekeeping. I sold my first article six months later and have published 800 of them since then. Writing brought me out of my shyness and I now also love public speaking and like to give talks. Some of my talks are about when I won the Salt Lake Tribune clutter contest. I give those talks as "The Clutter Lady"

Any words of wisdom?

Seize the moment.

Have you ever gone on a blind date? Skipped school? Watched someone die? Been lost?

I was with my Dad when he died. It was a painful and precious time. I was so sorry to see him go, and yet relieved that his suffering was over.

Have you ever cried yourself to sleep? Swam in the ocean? Played cops and robbers or cowboys and Indians?

I love to swim in the ocean.

Have you ever made prank phone calls? Laughed until some kind of beverage came out of your nose? Danced your heart out?

Prank phone calls were a way for a shy person like me to feel less inhibited...

Have you ever blown bubbles? Gone ice skating?

I love to blow bubbles and go ice skating.

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Aug 31, 2019 at 4:33 AM
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May 01, 2019 at 3:48 PM

Posted on: Apr 29, 2019 at 1:30 PM

Hi, Judy, I just wanted to send you love and hugs and my condolences on the loss of your Mom. She sounds like an amazing lady and I'm glad I got to know four of her amazing kids.

Aug 31, 2018 at 4:33 AM
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Sep 16, 2014 at 11:51 AM
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Feb 11, 2015 at 2:13 PM

Posted on: Aug 01, 2014 at 12:20 PM

Susan, how are you? I am so glad we got to see each other at the reunion. I will always cherish my memories of our friendship during elementary school. And, do I remember correctly that you dated Mickey Bromley (?) was that this name? during high school.

Aug 01, 2014 at 12:17 PM

Hi, Marguerite,
I think the story of your hospital adventure is absolutely amazing. So interesting and such a unique perspective. I wondered if it would be all right with you if I could call attention to it and possibly make the other class members more aware of it, along with inviting them to share their own adventures that took place during their six decades of life on this planet. Thank you for your consideration, Marguerite.

Jun 26, 2014 at 5:03 AM
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Jun 17, 2014 at 11:37 AM
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