"I'm trying to find Vonda Bentley," I explained to the small woman who answered when I knocked on her door in Pocatello, Idaho.
"I'm Vonda," she said, treating the large, brown stranger in her doorway to a look that contained a small measure of skepticism but not a trace of fear.
"My name is Will Grigg, and I live with my family in Payette," I quietly explained. "I was born in Burley in February 1963."
"I had a baby in Burley in February, 1963," Vonda said, a smile beginning to creep across her face.
"Then I would be your son," I replied, returning her smile.
"I've been trying to find you for a long time," she said. "I actually tried to get you back after you were born, but I was too young and I couldn't take care of you."
"I know -- my adoptive parents explained that to me," I told her, struggling to retain my composure. "I've been trying to find you for a long time, as well -- to say, thank you."
"For what?" she inquired.
"For having me," I responded with a tiny chuckle.
"That's good -- sometimes things like this don't turn out this way, sometimes the children feel as if they were abandoned --"
"I want you to know that my adoptive parents, Dick and Angie Grigg, told me when I was very young that my adoption wasn't an act of neglect, or rejection, or abandonment -- but rather one of sacrificial love," I assured Vonda. "They also told me that you did want to take me back, but that you couldn't take care of me."
"That's true -- I was too young and didn't know what to do," she explained. "Your first crib was a dresser drawer, and I knew that I had to find someone to help. So you were originally being cared for by an aunt, but she couldn't give you what you needed." Vonda eventually explained that she took me to a Dr. Sutton (she doesn't remember his first name) in Burley, who could help arrange an adoption.
"How did you find me?" Vonda asked.
"Well, when I was about four or five, I went through my Dad's files trying to find my adoption papers," I recounted. "I learned that my birth mother's name was Vonda Bentley, and for decades I tired to find you and contact you. A few months ago, a very kind friend of mine who is a private investigator, and has access to specialized databases, generously offered to help me track you down."
I told Vonda that my curiosity about my adoption was triggered by the recognition that I "didn't look anything like my parents."
"You didn't look anything like them -- well, you're Hawaiian, you know."
No. I hadn't known that.
Nonplussed, I turned to my friend Scott Watson, who had come with me to Pocatello (after a trip to report on a horrible story of police abuse in Idaho Falls -- watch for details in Pro Libertate).
"I'm not Mexican?" I said, stunned by this revelation.
"No, you're Hawaiian and Spanish -- and Cherokee -- as well as Irish on my side. You have grandparents named Watson --"
"Watson?!" Scott exclaimed. "That's MY name!"
"I was born in Alabama, and lived in Chicago and then California," Vonda continued. "My folks were from Georgia, and their grandparents owned a plantation -- but they didn't have slaves."
Pausing for a second, Vonda said: "Yes, you have Jerry's build."
"`Jerry'?" I said in puzzlement.
"Yes, your brother -- well, your half-brother. He's inside sleeping."
Vonda went into her apartment and roused a fellow who didn't seem particularly eager to come out. (I would later learn that Jerry had worked the graveyard shift, and was able to get only a few hours' sleep.) A few minutes later a very broad man came out and shook my hand. Jerry is 44 years old, Vonda's son from a marriage that ended tragically in 1972 when her husband was killed by a drunk driver. Twenty years later, my half-sister, Lee (or Lea -- I didn't get the spelling) was killed the same way in an accident in Las Vegas.
This might explain why one of the first questions Vonda asked me was: "Do you drink?"
"No -- never, not at all; alcohol makes me nauseous," I assured her.
"Good," she said, nodding her head in satisfaction.
We spoke for about a half-hour, discussing Korrin and our children, my adoptive parents and family, and Vonda's experiences growing up in a home ruled by a very intelligent man with a severe drinking problem. I discovered that my biological father was Hawaiian and, from Vonda's description, most likely Basque ("He wasn't Mexican, but he was Spanish, and he was dark-skinned with a very unusual last name that sounded French or Italian").
Antony, the biological instigator of my physical existence was also -- no other word is adequate -- a gangster.
"He was into some bad stuff," Vonda recalled. "I knew I had to get away from him. I would sleep in a room with lumps under the carpet, and when I'd lift it up I'd find rolls of money, and large numbers of checks, and a stamp with 'bonded' on it so he could cash them, and he was burying furs and other things in the yard outside our house. I knew he was going to wind up in prison, and that if I didn't leave I would have wound up there as well."
Vonda asked what I do, and I explained it to her. As I described my work in reporting on civil liberties issues and police abuse, she nodded in weary, familiar acknowledgement.
We hadn't chatted for more than fifteen minutes before she mentioned the Constitution and the right of self-defense. A few minutes later she lamented that "this country is turning Communist."
"I'm of the opinion that we've already arrived," I said, turning to Scott and commenting that this conversational turn somehow seemed appropriate, if not inevitable.
Vonda is 69 years old. She is youthful, perspicuous, well-spoken, and not intimidated by anybody. She gave birth to me exactly one week before her 19th birthday. She is also very eager to meet my wife and her grandchildren. This is going to happen, very soon.
As we left, I asked if I could give her a hug. She smiled and reached up to me, and we clung to each other for several seconds. Then she caressed my cheek, and urged us to drive carefully back to Payette.
When Vonda last saw me, I was a six-week-old infant named Kevin. She immediately accepted the 50-year-old man who is now called Will. In the intervening decades, she never gave up trying to find me.
I woke up this morning believing that I was half-Irish and half-Mexican; I drove home to inform Korrin that she had married a man who is actually Hawaiian/Cherokee/Basque/Irish -- and who had just been blessed to meet the woman who loved me enough to give birth to me under very trying circumstances, then to find others she could trust to raise me when she realized that she couldn't.