It began with a child’s curiosity:
While innocently snooping through her mother’s bedroom at age twelve, Hilary Harper discovered her parents had adopted her. Insatiably curious, she continued to pry, devouring the letters between her adoptive mother and her sister-in-law, whose younger sister was “in trouble. She is having a baby and needs help.”
Hilary learned her birth mother was this unmarried younger sister, Ann Preston, and she lost her life in a car accident when Hilary was just seven months old.
“Two Sunnyvale sisters–both natives of England–died in the head-on collision of a car and a giant milk truck on Bayshore Highway near Lawrence Road in the Sunnyvale area yesterday. There were Mrs. Margaret Rutledge, 25, of 689 Borregas Ave., Sunnyvale, and Miss Ann Preston, 24, of the same address. Both were in the car. Its third occupant, John Wales, 21, a Moffet field sailor, received critical injuries. All three victims were thrown clear from the car after its collision with the milk tanker. Highway patrolmen yesterday had not established which of the three were driving.” San Jose Mercury News, June 24, 1955
Reading of this tragedy might have stopped me in my tracks; it’s no surprise Hilary writes that she could only absorb so much of the truth.
“The desire to know the whole story emerged slowly,” yet it wasn’t until her twin sons began to ask about their grandfather that she began an earnest search for her father’s identity.
No one in her birth mother’s family knew her father, not even his name. They unintentionally told Hilary misleading things, such as, “He was a big Greek from Vegas, that’s all I know.” She found a copy of her original birth certificate, but her father’s name had been scratched out. She endured ten years of running down dead ends, including passing out flyers at a Sabre Pilots Association reunion in Las Vegas, where she hoped to meet her father. Can you imagine asking strangers “Were you at Nellis Air Force base in 1954? Did you fool around?”
Despite the kindness of strangers who tried to help, I think it would be incredibly devastating to keep hitting a brick wall. Yet Hilary’s drive to learn her identity was unquenchable, even though it understandably wavered. In fact, Hilary had written the end of her memoir believing she would most likely never know who her father is.
The most surprising discovery
Then, Part Two: DNA database and more extraordinary kindnesses lead her to a (surprising) outcome. You’ll have to read the book.
“Such an ordinary thing, to know one’s own family,” is not always ordinary, or simple, but for many of us, it’s essential to our identity. As Hilary writes, it’s what it means to look in a mirror and not see a mystery. Almost Home is a memoir that kept me quickly reading to the end, eager to learn the truth.
Linda K. Sienkiewicz is the author of the award-winning novel In the Context of Love, a story about one woman’s need to tell the truth without shame.
2016 Sarton Women’s Fiction Finalist
2016 Eric Hoffer Book Award Finalist
2016 Readers’ Favorite Finalist
2016 USA Book News Best Book Finalist
2015 Great Midwest Book Fest Honorable Mention.
“…at once a love story, a cautionary tale, and an inspirational journey.” ~ Bonnie Jo Campbell, author of National Book Award Finalist, American Salvage, and critically acclaimed Once Upon a River,and Mothers, Tell Your Daughters