‘It was the most comforting, heartwarming welcome you could ever experience’
“Never give up hope. If you’re looking for someone go and find them. If it turns out that you don’t like them or it doesn’t work out you never have to see them again, but at least give it the opportunity by trying.”
That is the message Melissa Hansen and her newly found birth family want you to take to heart. They never gave up in their search to find each other, and when they did, it was worth it a thousand fold.
In a very short time the two families bonded, and today they couldn’t be happier to have found each other.
It was a long, hard road getting there for Melissa and her adopted family. Just a week after finding them, the man that raised Melissa, the man she knew as “Dad,” Tiger Hansen, died unexpectedly. Then her aunt, Shirley Hansen, died, and a short time after that, her uncle Wes died. “It was a hell of a roller coaster ride, and I don’t like heights.”
But, she said, her dad did get to see pictures and knew she had found her birth family. “We were all there together on Easter Sunday, and he passed suddenly two days later.”
Melissa was put up for adoption through Lutheran Social Services. “My mom had just turned 15 when she had me. I was born April 4, 1975, in Rochester and adopted through LSS out of the Cities. My mom had chosen Roger and Ginger as my parents. They picked me up at 19 days old, and I was adopted by them.” She said LSS interviewed some other people, but her mom’s family wanted her to grow up in the country and not a big city. “Roger and Ginger had already adopted one child before, Richard, five years earlier and had put in an adoption for me, and here I am.”
Melissa said they always knew they wanted to find her birth parents. “Always, always, always in the back of my head and my mom Ginger’s head – and with the Internet these days things kind of rumbled together really fast, and bam, we found them.”
She said they were extremely surprised. “My half-sister found me on the Internet. A friend of mine, Jessie Holmstrom, of New London, had posted on Rochester’s website about a girl born April 4, 1975, who was looking for her birth family. My half-sister came across this because they had been looking for years too. The two of them got to talking for a couple of weeks and sending pictures back and forth thinking this has to be; it has to be; it’s got to be.” Melissa said before Jessie said anything to her she kind of confirmed all this, then came to Melissa’s house and showed her pictures. “It all went together from there. Later that afternoon we gave this Kayla a phone call, and we talked for a couple of hours, and it seemed like everything was coming through, falling into place, and it just had to be.”
They were “over the moon,” she said and scared. “I had every emotion you could possibly ever feel, from happy, to scared, sad, angry and nervous. You name it. I felt it.”
She said her mom, Ginger, was gone when all this happened. “She was on another freakin’ trip (her mom is a tour guide for R&J Tours out of Willmar).” Melissa was able to contact her with the good news, and her mom was more than a little excited. “We’d been trying for years. We contacted Lutheran Social Services, but they wanted $1,500 just to start with my name. Those on the other end had also contacted LSS and were told they wanted $800 just to start on that end,” said Melissa.
She recalled it was the Sunday before Good Friday when her friend Jessie came to her house, and they talked and talked and talked. “Monday morning I went into my doctor and asked what I could do to get a DNA test.” He told her she could buy a test kit on the Internet. She then called her half-sister again, and they decided to purchase the same kit, send it in and see what happened. They were thinking this had to be it. All the signs were there, and how many girls were born that day out of Olmstead County at this particular hospital and adopted through Lutheran Social Services in Minneapolis? “We figured it had to be. And the only thing I knew about my mom was she had just turned 15 and loved music.”
That Tuesday morning she tried calling Lutheran Social Services. “I tried a few different numbers, couldn’t get through to anybody, left voice mails – went on the Internet and found a picture of this one gal, and I’m going ‘I think she can help me.’” Her name was there, and Melissa called, and she answered. “I explained to her my last two days had just been crazy and that I thought ‘I found them. I think they found me. This has got to be it. I don’t know. It’s all crazy.’” She gave them the information she had – the date she was born, the date she was adopted, her birth mother’s name, her married name, her maiden name. The woman said she would call Melissa back, but it would probably take a good week or so.
Melissa then called her half-sister Kayla to let her know she got through to this woman. She gave Kayla the woman’s number and told her to call as well with all the information she had. “As I was on the phone with Kayla my phone beeped, but I didn’t answer it because I was on the phone with my potential sister. When I hung up I got this message, and it was the most awesome, amazing message ever.”
The message was from the woman she had just talked to saying she pulled the file, and it was just as plain as day that it was the right match. The message said she confirmed her birth mother’s name and birth date, her birth father’s name, and that she also pulled up her marriage certificate and confirmed her last name. The message also said “It seems pretty clear that it is the right match.” She left her number and told Melissa to call back if she had any questions, and wished her the best with her new adventure and getting to know her birth family.
Melissa said she screamed, called her half-sister back and played the message to her over the phone. “We both started crying, and I knew it had to be it. It had to be. It just had to be it. We had to meet each other.” This was Tuesday morning, and Melissa’s mom was still on the bus and didn’t get home until Wednesday night. “We had one hell of a snowstorm, and it was the worst possible feeling waiting for her to get home so I could tell her the news. I wanted to tell her, play this message and show her a couple of pictures that I had. I waited and waited and waited and waited, paced and waited and finally she got home.”
She showed her mom some of these pictures, had her listen to the voicemail and told her mom they had to go meet them. “My half-aunt, Barb, hosted us at her house and she lives in a little town near Rochester. We packed up early Friday morning, my mom, Tim, Ashley, Bradyn and I (her husband and children) and set out on our new adventure to meet my new family.” Melissa said she was a nervous wreck the entire trip, wondering what they would be like. “We pulled in, and it was the most comforting, heartwarming welcome you could ever experience. They came to the door, and they’re kind of looking. They’re just looking and totally staring at me and saying ‘come in, come in, come in.’” Melissa said she saw all kinds of stuff in their home that she personally loved. “I liked that, this, met everybody, we’re all hugging and crying, and they’re all staring at me. There was a whole herd of them. I said I love to be the center of attention and all, but this is a bit ridiculous.”
Ginger said Barb told them seeing Melissa was like having Brenda (her birth mom) back; their mannerisms and looks were so alike. Melissa said her real mom died in her sleep in 2009. “I didn’t get to meet her, but after having me, she grew up, got married and had three other children. Kayla, who is 24, Alexis, 21, and Chandler, 17. I met all of them and grandma.” Melissa was told that part of the reasoning for giving her away was grandma already had four kids at home, two girls and two boys, the youngest only 7, and she just couldn’t take on another child, plus she was working. “My mom had just turned 15 so they decided to give me away to someone who could take better care of me, where I could be out in the country and have a good home.”
Ginger said she took a picture of grandma holding Melissa again. Melissa said grandmother was the only one that had held her. “She said she wouldn’t show her to my mom because if she did she’d want to keep her so she didn’t.” Melissa said it was cool just getting together. They took a few pictures, and they all sat on the floor looking through pictures like a big old happy family, like they’d never drifted apart for 39 years.
Melissa also found out where she got her musical talent. “They said none of them could sing so I had them try and sing, and they were right, they couldn’t carry a tune. I played a song I had recorded once for Jessie’s daughter, Charly, who passed away. There wasn’t a dry eye in the place.” Then later grandma came up to Melissa and told her that her second cousin was a back-up singer to Andy Williams. “It’s in the genetics there, just skipped a couple generations.”
Ginger said they also went to a baptism on Mother’s Day for Chandler, Melissa’s half-brother and another nephew, Gannon, Kayla’s 7-month-old son. They were both baptized that day. Melissa found out she was also baptized on Mother’s Day.
Melissa said Barb knows who Melissa’s dad is and where he is. “We know now he never got married or had another child. Our intentions are to meet him, too. His name is Greg. That’s where I got my dark curly hair from.”
Tiger knew about this and saw the pictures, Ginger said, noting they’ve waited for this day for years. That’s a whole other deal, Melissa said. They went down and met this new family on Good Friday, came back on a Saturday, and got all the pictures developed. Sunday they were at Ginger’s house for Easter dinner. Melissa’s dad was sitting at the kitchen counter looking at the pictures. “He started crying and got tears in his eyes, and there was one picture of my mom walking to the ocean carrying her shoes, all carefree – he said ‘damn, that’s a good picture.’ That’s what he said.” Two days later he died.
With her dad, aunt Shirley and uncle Wes dying so close together, it’s been a lot to take in, she said. She’s falling back on her birth family and does talk to them quite a bit, especially her half-sister and aunt. “I just keep asking things about my mom.” One day Melissa was having a bad day. She called them and asked what kind of music her birth mom liked, what her favorite songs were so she could download them and listen to them because it would make her feel better. “It was raining, and I thought, ‘I’ve got this sky full of angels watching over me, and they’re all crying up there.’”
Ginger said they also went to Brenda’s grave in Wabasha. “It was raining. We wondered how we were going to take pictures out there, and then the sun came out while we were at the cemetery.” Melissa said she wanted to go where her mom was laid to rest and bring her flowers. The sun shown the entire time they were at the cemetery, and as they left and were driving down the road, the clouds came back, and it started raining again.”
When they went to Barb’s house that Friday they brought a bouquet of flowers to Barb and one for grandma. When they returned for baptism on Mother’s Day Barb told them the flowers were getting old, and she had thrown them out the back door off the deck. “They live by the woods on an embankment, and she said when they got up the next morning to get ready to go to the baptism, she looked out the window, and all the flowers were up in a tree, and they looked beautiful.” Her family was there as well, and saw the flowers in the tree. “If that isn’t Brenda talking right there, I don’t know. It’s a mystery how those dead flowers ended up in a tree looking fresh and beautiful. How did they get in the tree?” Ginger asked. Melissa said she believes there is a lot to that. “If you watch the signs you’ll know your loved ones are around you showing you the way.”
Melissa plans to keep getting together with them, and they will schedule a day or two to come up to New London. “I said ‘you’ve got to know where I was raised, where I come from and see where I grew up, see my house.’ I want them to get an understanding as much as they possibly can as to who I am.” She also plans to take them to her aunt Sylvia’s (Wes’ wife) farm because Melissa’s half-brother is big into farming. “He loves being on the tractor, out farming and fixing things – he’s 17 and still chooses to live with grandma even though his mom has passed away. He takes care of her. She’s 83.”
Melissa said grandma kept staring at her, watching everything. While there, Melissa helped in the kitchen and apparently how she stood and where she stood was how her mom Brenda would have done it. “Everything I did was completely her. They said it was like having her back. That’s crazy cool.”
Melissa also has a scrapbook with every newspaper clipping, from day one to the present. “Thanks to modern technology I was able to take a picture of the adoption paper, send it to my half-sister so she could look at it, and she would contact her aunt Barb so she could see everything. They were remembering they had me in the evening – everything kept adding up. If it wasn’t for the Internet and modern technology today there is no way I would have found them.”
Melissa’s half-aunt Barb said she couldn’t believe in her wildest dreams this was really coming true. “She thought starting on the Internet was nuts, but look where it got us, a whole family.” Another little note that’s pretty neat is that Melissa’s biological grandmother, Marlene, is a first cousin to James Garner. “I come from famous people. I just said tell me I’m related to my idol, Reba McEntire.”