Meet some folks I’m darn blessed to know. They’re not exactly family … but they are.

Look at these bright, smiling faces. They’re amazing, gracious, compassionate, loving and supportive folks. You can tell that just looking at them, can’t you? And I’m lucky to know them all.

Clockwise from front center: Mary Wilson, Julie Brownhill, me, Lauryl Blossom, Karen Erickson, Connie Flusche Greene and Martha Fralia. We’re all members of the Adoption Network of Texas, The Journey Continues, an adoption reunion support group for members of the adoption triad. In my book, that makes us family.

As many of you know, I’m an adoptee, born in Huntington, West Virginia, in February 1961. I went through most of my difficult youth feeling like I was in the wrong family. My late mother Olga — who was from Panama, stood all of 4-foot-11, and drank wine and screwdrivers from mid-afternoon until bedtime — abused my adoptive brother Isaac, our dad Clark and me physically, emotionally and psychologically, leaving scars that will remain always.

In a shouting match with Isaac while I was a sophomore at Texas A&M in the spring of 1981, she dropped the bombshell that, “I don’t love you anyway — you’re adopted!” That was confirmation of the stunning possibility I’d considered but, being a kid just trying to survive one day to the next, I’d never taken the time to mentally or emotionally dig into.

Twenty-four years later, after way too much of the kind of procrastination I’m way too talented at, I found the family that I belonged to the day I came into this life. They were the Workmans, and I bonded from that moment forward with the three siblings who were fully my flesh and blood.

Yes, they’re my “real family,” but despite all the heartache of growing up with the only family I’d known before finding sister Terry and brothers Crys and Robin (rest in peace), my adoptive family will always be my “first family.” That goes a bit against the terminology many adoptees use in referring to their biological parents as “first mother” and “first father.”

But back to the ladies posing with me in the accompanying photo, taken this past Saturday morning at The Welcome Table, a Disciples of Christ church not five minutes from where we live in southwest Arlington. Only one of them — the tall friend next to me, Lauryl Blossom — is a member of the church, and she has a key that allows us to meet there, thanks to her inviting pastor, Jeremy Skaggs, and his staff.

The seven of us are part of an adoption reunion support group that’s been in existence for a number of years (I’m not sure exactly how long) called Adoption Network of Texas, The Journey Continues. It was organized by the lady in front holding my phone to take the selfie, Mary Wilson, a Mansfield resident who is a “first mother,” or birth mother as I refer to my late bio mother Betty (some bio mothers object to the term birth mother).

Mary is also a “search angel,” one of a legion of angels on earth the world over who reunite adoptees and birth parents with one another by using her search skills and knowledge of birth records, DNA and other resources. She’s been doing this for years and has brought joy to countless families, including many in this group.

The group has a private Facebook page with 210 members. I started attending occasional meetings, held monthly at different locations, about three years ago, but am a relative newcomer and have been to very few compared to many of the veterans. I’m also one of the rare men, and that’s probably because most men wouldn’t feel comfortable sharing in this type of environment — or simply haven’t considered the potential benefits of a support network like this.

When the pandemic hit last year, Karen Erickson (blue shirt) took the lead in setting up Zoom meetings, which lasted several months until Mary decided she was going to retire from leading the group. The call went out for volunteers to step into her figuratively huge shoes. Of course, everyone realized that would be impossible — and that, I’m sure, is why no one did.

After a few rudderless months of no meetings and seeing the need to get folks back together, Mary is back to offer the wisdom that only her experience and heart can bring to the group. We’ve just started meeting in person again and returned to The Welcome Table, where the group meets about every other month.

Groups like this, of which there aren’t a slew, are a godsend for those of us in the adoption triad (which includes adoptive parents). We all gather to share stories of our “reunion” journeys, what we’re experiencing in our attempts to search for, connect with and build relationships with biological family or children placed for adoption.

The support and advice are a lifeline that keeps us going as we gingerly tread on what is most often a path filled with uncertainty, fraught with emotional highs and lows and, often, rejection. What we talk about stays within the group. None of us could traverse the slippery slope of reunion with our biological relatives without the comforting and encouragement — and, sometimes, the well-meaning shove we need — of those in the group.

There are so many other regulars in this family — yes, we are family — that Mary has birthed. But the ladies in this photo are among the ones I’ve gotten to know best.

Martha at far right is a sweet adoptee who lost her husband Nat in June 2020, just months into the pandemic. I actually met her at a meeting of another adoption support group in Dallas back in 2005 when I was first searching for my family.

Karen (again, blue shirt) is a dear friend who lost her son to adoption as a teenager in the late 1960s and reunited with him a few years ago. She’s also the remarkably talented graphic artist who took two photos of my birth mother Betty and me that she found on Facebook a few years ago and Photoshopped them together to create an image I will cherish forever.

Connie Flusche Greene (big ol’ smile behind Martha) is another birth mother who reunited with her son a while back, then sadly lost him when he passed away a couple of years ago. She is incredibly upbeat, the life of every party and every meeting, and offers the best advice and support — and makes us all laugh and smile with her.

Julie Brownhill (in front of me) is a mom of two grown boys and also an adoptee like me who has been navigating the choppy waters of trying to build relationships within the families of her roots since finding them. She lives in two places — North Texas and Bend, Oregon — and somehow manages to make that work.

And Lauryl (next to me) is an adoptee who, incredibly, discovered when she found her roots that her uncle was none other than baseball legend Mickey Mantle! She and her family, which includes two school-age children, have spent the past couple of years living the RV life in God’s beautiful outdoors. After Saturday’s meeting, Lauryl and I got to talking about the church, and as a result, I attended Sunday morning’s service with her — and Kay and I plan to attend with Lauryl next Sunday.

I feel blessed to have found these fantastic friends when I learned about Mary and her group. I had met her seven years ago when I wrote a story for The Dallas Morning News about Carol Demuth, an adoptee who was retiring as a social worker and longtime leader of the DFW Triad Support Group in Dallas — which Carol started in 1987 and where I’d attended for support during my search. As Carol was retiring in 2014, I attended a meeting to interview members for my story about her and met Mary there.

I’m hoping that as our group continues to meet in person, more will feel comfortable coming out to join us. The feelings of camaraderie, respect and bonding because we share the same stories — even though they’re all infinitely unique — bring us back to the table to hearten one another and keep us pushing forward in these journeys we’ve all chosen to take.

Like I said, what we share doesn’t leave the room. But one thing Mary said Saturday is worth spreading. I can’t quote her exact words, but it boils down to this: What’s most important in life isn’t how much money we make, what we do for a living or what we own. It’s the difference we make in the lives of others and how we can have the greatest impact in helping them — anyone and everyone.

Like everything else that comes out of Mary’s mouth when we gather, genuine and priceless words.

Happy Thanksgiving to all!

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