The memory of my dad’s large work-worn farm hands had remained with me for many years. I often fondly recalled the times that I would crawl up on his dirt and sweat-soaked overhauls by our kitchen table after he’d been working in the field of our rural Fergus Falls farm home.
He would smell like grease and fresh-cut hay, and he would drink coffee and roll a cigarette with tobacco out of a red tin can by the kitchen table.
My early childhood was marked as well with a volatile and unstable mother, and when I was 4 years old, I watched from the kitchen doorway as she leveled a gun at my dad. During the ensuing struggle, the gun went off, shooting out the window over the sink and littering the blue countertop with a mixture of glass shards and corn flakes. My mother was committed to a sanitarium that night.
I went to live at my dad’s parents’ farm, where I grew, ran and played with my cousins, and on occasion would go to visit my mother with my dad.
‘It will be OK, Peggy Ann’
One rainy April night just prior to my sixth birthday, my dad picked me up amid a very tearful goodbye with my beloved grandmother. With my suitcase on the front floorboard of the car, and a man and woman in the back seat (that I would soon learn to call “mom” and “dad”), the rain pounded the windshield as we drove through the inky blackness.
Unable to see over the dashboard, my tears fell silently as I watched the raindrops being pushed aside by the wipers. As we drove through the pouring rain, Dad laid his large hand on my small bony knee and said, “It will be OK, Peggy Ann.”
The next day I went home with the two strangers to the Twin Cities. It was the last time I would see my treasured grandparents.
The fire and adoption
Two years later, during my new parents’ divorce, my (new) mom and I watched in tears as our home burned to the ground, turning all photos and mementos of my original family into a pile of ashes.
Shortly after the fire, my biological mother was released from the sanitarium and began fighting for custody of me. So, I would spend one day a week for several months with her, never knowing if the abuse would return or if she would return me to my adoptive mom.
Finally at age 9, I sat with my biological and adoptive moms on either side of me, and a judge solemnly asked which mother I would choose. Pausing only briefly, I chose my adoptive mom. I’ve never regretted that moment or that choice.
The years of my youth and early adulthood passed with both good and bad times, and my teenage years were typical of life in a quiet St. Paul suburb in the mid -1970s. My mom remarried, I earned good grades, I rebelled, I laughed with my girlfriends and cried about my boyfriends. And I fell crazy in love with the awesome young man that would eventually become my husband.
Still, my graduation, my wedding day, the lustful cries of four new babies . . . all the seasons of life that come and go, would make me wonder about the father that couldn’t share those precious moments with me.
Then, at Christmas, 1996, I discovered a photo album that my mom had started for me after contacting my original grandmother. There, in front of me, was a photo of my dad, with me on his lap. Mesmerized, I even recognized that it had been taken in the living room of our sheep-farm home. Removing the photo of my dad and me, I turned it over and read “Peggy Ann – age 4 – with her Daddy, at Easter.”
Reconnecting with dad
Home in Kansas City, my husband searched the Internet. Almost exactly 30 years from that last rainy night in 1967, I placed a call to the number I thought might be the right one. Getting an answering machine, I quickly hung up.
Another name on the list seemed vaguely familiar, however, and I tried it. A man answered, and I explained the situation, asking if he knew my father. Incredibly, he remembered me! He was my cousin and fellow-playmate when I was young. He was one of the youngsters beside me in a photo from my mom’s album.
I also learned from him that my grandparents and my dad had prayed at every annual family reunion for my health and happiness, and that I would one day be returned to the family.
With renewed resolve, I hung up with my newly rediscovered cousin and took a deep breath as I dialed. Ring . . . . Ring . . . .
After all these years, I heard my dad’s voice once again.
Asking if he had ever known my biological mother, I went on to explain that I was Peggy Ann . . . did he remember me?
A thick silence ensued. I began to question my wisdom as to ever having made this call.
“Peggy Ann?” His voice cracked as he continued. “This is . . . our . . . Peggy Ann?”
Then the tears began to fall. So many tears that we were nearly too choked up to even share the basics about our families.
I traveled back a few weeks later to be reunited with my initial family. On arrival, my dad’s (new) wife presented me with a gift box, explaining that before passing away, my grandmother had given it to her with explicit instructions that it be given to me when I returned to the family. Still sealed within the wrapped box lay the brush and mirror set from her dresser that I had admired often as a young girl. Today it is a poignant reminder of someone I once dearly loved.
Back in Kansas City, my husband had serious concerns over the financial condition of the large corporation where he worked, so we began a job search, focusing our energies on Minnesota. His computer qualifications were perfectly met in an online ad, January 1998. Located near Detroit Lakes, it was only 45 minutes from my dad’s home.
April 1998 – Thirty one years after my dad had placed that large hand on my small knee in the front seat of a car, and his consolation that it would be OK, my Heavenly Father had brought me home.
On Jan. 12, 2014, almost 17 years after our phone call, my treasured dad went home to be with his Lord.
Today, my gaze rests again on the countryside surrounding my home, and I am overwhelmed with gratefulness to my God for “restoring the years the locusts have eaten.” I am home.
P.A. Isakson is a freelance content and web writer/motivational speaker for businesses. She lives in the Detroit Lakes area with her husband, Jamie, and her cavapoo puppy, Bentley.