65 Long Years Later: Five Former Foster Kids Meet Their Uncle William, Aunt Lillian, Cousin Diane,Cousin Ginny, and Cousin Cheryl.
It is especially so when that's how long it has been since you were handed over to the Massachusetts Department of Social Services, shipped out to ever-changing foster homes, your family disappeared -- and you've been wondering why ever since.
For the five of us – Reggie, Victor, Marion, Ruby, and me – wondering recently gave way to answers. We suddenly learned that we have had family all those years. And, miracle of miracles, after all those years of longing, we got to talk with, hug, and laugh with members of our long-lost family.
And here are photos of them, live and kicking, proof that they are absolutely for real. Vic and Reggie sit on a couch swapping war stories with Uncle William. Ruby hugs Aunt Lillian with all her might. My niece Linda Halloran chats with Cousin Ginny.
These joyful scenes didn't just happen. They happened because Vic decided to put flowers on our father's grave, and made a startling discovery in the cemetery: there were two George Pollocks buried there, a short distance from each other. Curiosity picqued, Vic embarked on a geneological investigation – and it led to our lost family.
The initial prod came from Vic's soulmate, Marianne. She bought flowers to put on her parents' graves for Memorial Day, which she does every year. But this year, because she knew Vic's family background, or lack of it, she bought extra flowers in case he wanted to put them on his father's grave. Since she had the flowers, Vic thought it would be a nice thing to do.
On Memorial Day, after placing flowers on the graves of Marianne's parents, the two of them went to Mount Hope Cemetery in Boston to do the same for Vic's father. When they asked a cemetery caretaker where the grave of George Pollock was, the caretaker came up with two George Pollocks.
Two? Yes, the caretaker said, he had internment cards for two George Pollocks. He led them to the first gravesite, that of our father, George Pollock. He is shown in the photo. Vic is a spitting image of him. Vic placed the flowers at the foot of the headstone. Then the caretaker carefully led them to where the second George Pollock was buried, some 50 yards away.
The caretaker stood on the spot, which was unmarked, and said, "here, along with two infants." Vic looked at Marianne. Marianne looked at Vic. Vic decided then and there to find out who this second George Pollock was, who the infants were, why the grave was unmarked, and what happened 65 years ago.
Vic and Marianne went to the Massachusetts Office of Vital Records. There they found that the unmarked grave was that of our grandfather, George Francis Pollock I. His death certificate said that his death in 1937 at 47 was a suicide, by "luminal poisoning." The certificate said that he had swallowed a fatal dose of some 100 tablets. His occupation was listed as "limousine driver."
The two infants with him were Clarence R. Pollock, one year, 11 months, buried November 8, 1924, and William H. Wilkins, one year, five months, buried on July 8, 1925. Clarence's parents, at least as of now, are unknown and William's parents were Aunt Pearl Pollock and Gerald Wilkins.
Our grandmother, Evelyn, who died in 1956 at the age of 64, was in the habit of having a child almost every year. Altogether, she had 17. Vic suspects, but cannot yet confirm, that she had one child before her marriage to George Francis Pollock I. Family rumor has it that the child was put up for adoption.
In 1916, after three girls, she had her first son, George Francis Pollock II, our father. Also according to family rumor, our dad had a twin named Patrick but Vic has not found documentation for this. He has documented that I am officially George Francis Pollock III.
As an official "the third," I felt like I got a big social promotion. I was no longer some common former ward of the state. I had three roman numerals after my name. I had pedigree. My body language said, a little respect, please.
However, this noblesse has a somber side. Of my two previous namesakes, one killed himself at 47. Why? The other, our father, died at 27 of a cerebral embolism brought on by rheumatic heart disease with mitral and aortic stenosis. At 71, I've lived almost as long as the two of them combined.
Here's the bottom line of Vic's research. Of all those children our grandmother Evelyn had, four are still alive. We have three aunts: Lucy, Lillian, and Barbara and one uncle, William. We have 51 first cousins. These are not distant relatives. They are close blood relatives.
Bingo! We have family!
Vic was blown away. Questions flew inside his head. What were these relatives like? What could they tell us about our father? What kind of person was he? What really happened way back in 1944 when the five of us were dropped into a black hole for 65 years?
His inner genealogical sleuth now fully engaged, Vic went online. He researched ancestry.com. He came across the name of Diane Bowden and noticed that her family tree intersected with ours. She is the granddaughter of Mildred Esther Pollock, our father's sister. She passed away in 1997. Vic got in touch with Diane Bowen through Facebook. She is shown in the photo with Aunt Lillian.
She was surprised, to say the least, to learn from Vic that he was one of the five kids of her mother's long-deceased brother, George. An avid genealogist (talk about timely!), she quickly appreciated the enormity of the moment.
Recalling the initial E-mail from Vic, Diane wrote:
"I was so excited to get that email! I still have all of Victor’s early e-mails and I can remember reading them and at times having tears roll down my face when I learned of your early lives. YOUR email when you said something like – “for the first time in our lives we have what everyone else has – a family” – had me bawling like a baby. Family is so important to me and over the last two years, finding out all about my extended family has made it even more precious.
"The kinds of things that went through my head re: you 5 Pollocks? I just could not imagine not knowing where I came from; if I had family out there, etc. I wondered how you felt on occasions such as weddings, births, etc., - what went through your mind i.e., wishing that your parents were there to share it with you. I thought about you guys constantly and just wanted to do whatever I could to help you all find as much info as possible.... So, that, in a nutshell is what spurred me to help and do whatever I could. And besides – you’re family!!! Family helps family, right??"
When Vic asked Diane if she could set up a meeting with Aunt Lillian, she excitedly agreed – and promptly did so. And so Vic and Marianne trooped down to Whitman, Mass. to meet Aunt Lillian and Cousin Diane Bowen. Vic brought along a copy of my book, "State Kid," which has a photo of the five of us, and he flipped through it with her as they talked. Diane, now a full partner with Vic in geneological detective work, took pictures and videotaped their meeting.
In the video, Vic told his Aunt Lillian that she is "the first person I have ever met who was close enough to my father to touch him." He asked what kind of person her mother Evelyn, our grandmother, was. She said she was "great." It was clear, however, that the family lived in grinding poverty, with all those kids growing up on AFDC (Aid for Dependent Children). Yet somehow our grandmother "aways managed to put food on the table," Aunt Lillian said.
She said that sometimes neighbors would complain about the kids, "noise, smoking and drinking, nothing serious," and AFDC would hold up Evelyn's check. She would have to go down to the agency's office and stay there for hours begging for her check and being criticized, Aunt Lillian said.
The answer to why the grave of George Francis Pollock I was unmarked could not be more mundane. If Evelyn, left with a houseful of kids and no means of support, could barely put food on the table, she certainly could not afford a headstone on her departed husband's grave. She was as poor as a church mouse.
Vic is troubled that our grandfather's grave remains unmarked. Characteristically, he has volunteered to do something about it. He says he is going to "get it done soon" and keep the rest of us informed. We'll all chip in for a marker.
Vic asked Aunt Lillian what our father, George Francis Pollock II, was like. She lit up. She said he didn't drink, smoke, swear, or get in trouble and was just a "good guy." His death certificate listed his usual occupation as "none." He was apparently not healthy enough to hold a regular job, though he had mechanical ability and fixed radios at home. He was also "good-looking," Aunt Lillian said.
You can watch this video on my Facebook profile.
Vic asked Aunt Lillian if she would like to come to a family reunion to meet his four siblings. She was thrilled at the idea. Of Aunt Lillian, Vic said, "she was so warm I could hardly believe it. She just about hugged me to pieces."
When it was time to go, there were warm hugs all around. Vic, Aunt Lillian, Marianne, and Diane all agreed the visit had been all that they could have hoped for. Ruby was crying. Vic and Diane were on a roll.
Next, Uncle William.
William Henry Pollock is 78, a year older than Aunt Lillian, and our uncle. Yet he is only seven years older than I am. He was born in 1931. I was born in 1938. We are contemporaries. Aunt Lillian has a nephew older than she is. This is what can happen when there are a lot of children over a long period of time, which was the case with our family.
As our point man, Vic made the call to Uncle William. He quickly connected with "Uncle Willy." They have a lot in common. Vic spent 24 years in the U.S. Marine Corps. He is shown below as a young marine. Uncle Willy served 22 years in the U.S. Navy. As they talked, ice melted away. Uncle Willy and Aunt Betty, his wife of nearly 50 years, agreed to receive Vic, Reggie, and me into their home in Dighton, Mass.
Determined to make the best possible impression, I wore an ultra patriotic hat which I felt sure would warm the heart of a military man. It had an American flag, an eagle, a big USA, and braid on the visor suggesting a high-ranking officer.
Walking down the driveway to Uncle Willy's home, Vic and Reggie designated me to say the first words to him. When Uncle Willy opened the door, tentatively and with the look of a man wondering what he was getting into, I said, "Uncle William, I'm your nephew George and these are my brothers Vic and Reggie."
He motioned us in and before he could say a word, I grabbed his hand and said, "I owe you an apology. I've been meaning to get in touch with you, meaning to get in touch with you, but before I knew it, it was 65 years. I'm sorry."
I got a crack of a smile. I thought it was funnier than that. Oh well, I thought, maybe it will get better. It did, much better. We sat at the kitchen table where Betty had set out homemade blueberry bread and cheeses, and we ended up staying for three hours. I did little comedy routines, getting a laugh here and there, and took pictures while Reggie and Vic swapped war stories with Uncle Willy. In this photo, Vic,Reggie, Uncle William, and Aunt Betty look over the family tree.
During the Cuban missile crisis of 1963, all three were in Caribbean waters aboard different warships. While the three of them were defending our country, I was in graduate school at the University of Massachusetts consorting with left-leaning academics.
My standing slipped even lower when Uncle Willy noticed that he, Vic, and Reggie had tatoos on their right arms, in the same place. Tatooless, I slunk in my seat. A lot of good my super patriotic military hat did me. I would have done better to have gone out and gotten a tatoo. In the picture, the three war heroes proudly display their tatoos.
Later, when I told my son Jonathan about this incident, he said, "Dad, face it. You are not military." I'm not and Uncle Willy saw right through me. It's a good thing Vic and Reggie are military, though. Their swapping war stories with Uncle Willy was just the right way to pull him into the family. How could the poor retired naval man resist?
By the time we said goodbyes, Aunt Betty was relaxed, chatting away, and laughing easily. Uncle Willy is quieter. But he, too, gradually warmed to the idea of five lost Pollocks coming into his life. We talked about an upcoming reunion. Two or three times, he volunteered that he would like to go.
By odd coincidence, it so happens that Uncle Willy and Aunt Betty live just six miles from my son Jonathan. Jon lives with his wife Laurie and two of my grandchildren in the next town over, Berkley.
It gets even odder. Practically around the corner from Jonathan lives a Matt Pollock, about the age of Jonathan (41). Vic and Diane say that there is a 99% chance that Matt Pollock is family.
Now the main event: on a gorgeous late-summer day, a reunion at Ruby's lakeside cottage in Oxford, Mass. The photo is of a lakeside scene.
With three roman numerals after my name now and a certified member of the genteel class, I arrived appropriately late. "Here's George," Vic said for everybody to hear, "late again." Reggie growled, "Where you been?"
Roman numeral-bereft commoners, I thought.
Before I could condescend, Aunt Vivian was in my arms. We wrapped ourselves around each other. I held her close and tight. She hugged me back, her head nuzzled into my shoulder.
Holding this little white-haired lady in my arms, I felt all those 65 years of pent-up emotions rushing to the surface. I took her head in my two hands, looked into her beaming face, and kissed her on the forehead. I felt complete.
Composing myself, I took her hands in mine and said in all seriousness, "Aunt Lillian, for 65 years I have been waiting for you to call. I keep asking, 'Did Aunt Lillian call? Did Aunt Lillian call?" and now, finally, you are here."
Then I made a big show of leading her away. "We have a lot to talk about," I said for everybody to hear."Let's go somewhere where we can be alone."
She giggled. This is a buoyant, beautiful lady with a sense of humor.
Aunt Lillian's daughter Virginia, whose nickname is Ginny, was there, eyes filling, taking it all in with her teen daughter, Kristen. The photo shows the three of them. Aunt Ginny had driven her Mom to the reunion. She was finding it hard to believe that all she was seeing was really happening.
Cousin Ginny, seeing how her Mom hit it off with her new family members, and especially with Ruby, said that she has never seen her mother so happy. "I've never seen her like this," she said. "Since she found out about you guys, she's so happy she's like a totally different person." Cousin Ginny said she was willing to "drive my mom anywhere so she can be with her new family."
Later, on my Facebook page, Cousin Ginny wrote: "I'm still amazed that we have all found new family after all this time. I am so happy that you all have come into my mom's life and our family."
I met Vic's partner in all of this, who was so instrumental in making this reunion possible, Diane Bowen. She's an RN who loves genealogy, computers, and her young daughter Lilla who was there. She also likes her privacy. She tried to get a little with Ruby, Lillian, and Ruby's son Glen.
But a snoopy photographer (me) climbed up on a balcony and took this photo. That hand gesture she gave me means, "I love you," right? That's what I thought. Hey, that's what family is all about.
Diane: We will never forget everything you have done to make the Pollock family finally whole. You are family now. (That means you can never get rid of us.) I love you, too.
Ruby was all but overcome with what was happening. When I greeted her with a hug, she had obviously been crying. I don't think I have ever seen Ruby so happy or so emotional. She cried at the beginning of the day. She cried when the day was over.
Throughout the day, Aunt Lillian and Ruby gravitated to each other, hungrily piecing together family history, laughing, hugging, making plans. They decided to go to Aruba together on May 14 for a week at Aunt Lillian's time share, which she has had for 24 years.
Usually, Aunt Lillian goes to Aruba with a daughter (she has three daughters and a son) and the daughter's husband. She lost her own husband in 2004 and soon after the restaurant/bar they had owned and operated for many years was sold.
Since then, Lillian has often felt "like a third wheel," she said. Ruby and Aunt Lillian decided that now that they have found each other, neither one of them has to be a "third wheel" ever again.
They also talked about Aunt Lillian spending a week at Ruby's home in Oxford. They would hang out together and visit with Ruby's kids, Glen and Linda, and grandkids who live nearby. (Speaking of grandkids, as you can see in this photo, they had a ball swimming in the lake.) Ruby said that she also lives alone and that she "has plenty of room for company."
No one could have guessed that Aunt Lillian had come to the Pollock reunion under a dark shadow. Her daughter, Susan, 58, was in the hospital, a large mass having been discovered in her hip. Susan has a history of breast and liver cancer. Leaving the reunion, Aunt Lillian and Ginny went straight to the hospital.
We all expressed amazement that Aunt Lillian was able to muster up the willpower to make it to the reunion. Ginny said that her Mom "just couldn't not come. She just couldn't." Aunt Lillian, you are one courageous and determined women. Thank you, thank you, thank you. Susan is now home from the hospital but is still in pain and is undergoing cancer treatment.
Uncle William did not make it, but not because he did not want to. He was too nervous about driving so far in Labor Day traffic and getting there without getting lost. Cousin Ginny said that she would have picked him up if she had known. She said she would certainly do so for the next get-together. It is already being planned, including transportation for Uncle William.
Cheryl Chamberlain, a cousin we had met a few week's before at Vic's place in Sturbridge, Mass. could not make it. Cheryl, you were certainly missed. I'll never forget that you were the very first of our lost family that I met.
Cheryl's grandmother (Mildred Pollock) was our father's sister. Which means her mother (Theresa June Adams) - now Chamberlain - is a first cousin and Cheryl is our second cousin. Her father's name is William Henry Chamberlain Jr. Her brother is a III and he has three sons -- one of whom is a IV!!!!!
So let me get this straight. Immediately after learning that I am a III, I find out that there is a IV in the family. My "the third" crown is barely on my head when a "the fourth" rises from the unwashed ancestral masses.
And now I hear Vic and Reggie chortling, "a contender for the pretender ... a contender for the pretender..." Very funny, little brothers. By the way, in these parts, it's pronounced "contenda" and "pretenda." My goodness, does sibling jealousy of a legitimate birthright have no bounds?
Thanks for opening up this can of worms, Cheryl. But, since you are now family, I have to forgive you, don't I? So I do. The truth is, Cheryl is a sweetie. In fact, she describes herself this way: "I am a bit like an M&M; I have a tough shell on the outside but am a softie on the inside."
Of the five Pollock siblings, one has not yet been mentioned. That is Marion. Conventionally speaking, as in being able to see her, she was not there. But just because she was not there in this sense does not mean that she was not there.
She was, very much so.
She may have chosen to spend the weekend at her beloved camp in New Hampshire with her son Jimmy -- the last weekend they could be there together – but she was also very much with us at Ruby's. We have photos of four of us each hugging Aunt Lillian. But I also see Marion hugging Aunt Lillian.
In the group photos of four of us with Aunt Lillian, I see five Pollock siblings. Marion is there with us. Look at the photo of Marion below. Now look the group photo. Do you see Marion? No? I do. Look harder. See her?
Like many of us, me for example, Marion has her own way of thinking and going about things. She will go about meeting Uncle William, Aunt Lillian, Cousin Ginny, and Cousin Diane in her own way and on her own schedule.
She does so with all our love.
The next day, Ruby and I sat at the cottage looking out at the lake and talking about the reunion. Both of us wanting to share the day's wonderful happenings with Marion, Ruby called her and put her on speaker phone so the three of us could talk. Marion was hungry to hear it all and we did our best to describe the indescribable.
Marion said that she and her son Jimmy are planning to visit Aunt Lillian at her home in Whitman, Mass. But as she talked about actually meeting Aunt Lillian after all these years, and of being reunited with her lost family, her voice began to break. She choked up. "I'm sorry, " she said, beginning to sob, "I can't talk any more."
As for the great journey into our past that Vic has been on, he said that he has "finally been able to look out the window and see the past that is MINE." He says that he feels good about clearing up "issues that we all have been carrying around for too many years." As for the future, Vic sees us maintaining contact with Aunt Lillian, Uncle Willy, and Cousins Diane, Ginny, Cheryl and other family members yet to be met.
In other words: We lost our family once. We're not going to lose it again.
So long and keep moving.
"State Kid: Hero of Literacy" is fiction based on his real-life experiences growing up in foster homes; "Last Laughs," is the true story of how five foster kids (he and four younger siblings) found their way in life and each other. "Killers: Surprises in a Maximum Security Prison," is the story of his being locked up for 23 hours with killers in a maximum security prison; "I, Cadaver" is about his postmortem adventures and mischief in the anatomy lab at UMass Medical School. “A Beautiful Story” demonstrates the art and process of creative writing as a 16-year-old boy goes all out to write a story that literally saves his life; "A Long, Happy, Healthy Life," which is about how to live the title every day; and "Unlove Story," Writing anonymously as "Elvis," a husband, dumped after 38 years of marriage, lets it all out on love, marriage, life, everything. A guy doing this? It's unheard of.
P.S. Two Puppies Steal the Show! In my mind, I was da man, the George Francis Pollock III, the family patriarch, and finally getting the attention I deserved. Then, suddenly, all eyes were on something infinitely more interesting: two puppies, Lucy and Mia. Their affection for each other and their determination to be together completely upstaged me. Me! With my three roman numerals! My niece, Linda Halloran, captured it on video. Cheryl, as an animal lover, this will resonate with you. Enjoy!
Neither puppy was hurt.