Growing up, I never looked like anyone in my family. During the summers when I’d tag along with Dad for his work as a lingerie salesman for Hollywood Vassarette, as he’d call on the women buyers at Houston-area department stores like Foley’s, Sakowitz and Palais Royal, they’d all say how handsome I was and how much I looked like him.
But I really didn’t. That’s just what people like to say about kids. Dad had black hair and hazel eyes; I had dark-brown hair and brown eyes.
Besides, my mother Olga was from Panama, and I didn’t have a hint of Latino features or blood in me. Neither did my brother Isaac, who has hazel eyes and light-brown hair. And as he and I would learn when I was 20 and he was heading for 22, we weren’t even Mom and Dad’s flesh and blood. They’d adopted us in Huntington, West Virginia in 1959 and 1961, then decided we didn’t need to know the truth about where we came from.
But that’s not what this post is about. It’s about finally finding a person I *do* look like, and the blessing she’s been in my life the past 16 years.
Not only is she family — she’s my full-blooded sister, and I couldn’t ask for a better one. It’s also about celebrating her birthday.
Teresa (Terry) Ann Workman Zoubovitch is one of the three older full siblings I found in June 2005, and she and I are six years and two months apart. On Sunday (Dec. 19), she reached her 67th birthday. Happy birthday to my dearest Sis!
I still can’t believe we’ve been reunited as family this long, considering that when I connected with my siblings, Terry was 50 and I was 44.
The first contact I made was with our brother Crys, who was 61 at the time (the age I’ll turn on Feb. 28, the same day he’ll be 78). That same day after talking to Crys for two hours by phone before work, I emailed childhood and adult photos of myself to his wife Charlene (who passed away two months ago).
I still remember that when she showed Crys the childhood pics, she said, “Who does this remind you of?” and he immediately said, “Terry.” I was thrilled to learn that I’d finally be able to look at someone and know, without a hint of doubt, that we were related through our DNA.
They sent me photos of Crys and our mother Betty, but I don’t recall that they sent any of Terry, so I didn’t get to find out what she looked like until Kay, our two young kids and I drove to Colorado to meet Crys, Terry and their families the first week of that July. Terry and I did have several long phone visits during the almost three weeks between my first call to Crys and our trip to the Denver area where they all lived.
We didn’t arrive at Crys and Charlene’s home until about 11:30 at night, so we knew we wouldn’t be meeting Terry, her husband Rick and other members of the family until the next day. I was anxious to meet my sister, who suddenly wasn’t the baby of her sibling group anymore — her “new” brother was.
I remember us pulling into her driveway in Arvada the following day and her coming out the front door to meet us, wearing a blue print dress. She had my brown hair and brown eyes and was so pretty. Kay says we also have the same nose and mouth (I’m not good at discerning those kinds of similarities).
Like our mother, Terry’s about 5-foot-3, so we don’t know where Crys and I — at 6 feet and almost 6-2 the tallest members of our immediate family — get our height from. None of my siblings knew any of our grandparents because they died very young, but from photos we’ve seen, our grandfathers don’t seem to have been that tall.
As we’ve learned, Terry and I have similar personality traits too — we’re both perfectionists and can get a bit frustrated when things don’t go the way we’d like. Crys and I share several traits and interests as well. I didn’t get to know our brother Robin well enough before he died at age 61 in 2009 to know how much we had in common.
There’s definitely a nature vs. nurture situation at work here. My adoptive brother and I are pretty extreme opposites, so bonding with family members I’m like has been extremely gratifying.
Although Crys and Robin were teenagers when our parents conceived me in 1960 after their divorce a year earlier, Terry was just a little girl, oblivious not only to what had happened with her mother and father but also that Betty was pregnant with another child.
When Betty and the kids temporarily moved out of Huntington during the first several months of her pregnancy to escape Bob, across the Ohio River to Ironton, where she took a job singing with a small band at an upscale hotel, 5-year-old Terry spent her days playing, having no clue a baby was growing inside her mommy’s tummy.
After my birth, Betty concealed my adoption from my brothers, leading them with her words to believe I’d died in childbirth. Terry went through life knowing nothing, so when I materialized, it’s no wonder her shock was immense.
But her love for others and her faith are boundless, so she believed my story and all the evidence, welcoming me as her baby brother without doubts before we’d even had a DNA test. She, Crys and I had that test during our first Colorado meeting, and it verified me as the child of Betty and Bob Workman as they and Robin are.
Just as Terry celebrated her 67th birthday, I’ve spent 16 years basking in fate’s extraordinary decision to bring us together after all the years we’d been kept apart.
If Bob hadn’t been an alcoholic and family circumstances had been different, I probably wouldn’t even exist. If certain things hadn’t happened in my life, I might not have finally decided to search for my origins when I did.
And if not for the huge hearts of some folks in my hometown of Huntington who put all the pieces together that I was having trouble even tracking down, I might not have a wonderful sister to call my own, one who looks so much like me — and with whom I share that resemblance with our mother.
Happy birthday, Sis. I’m the luckiest little brother around. And I couldn’t love you more. ❤️