At work today I had a phone message from Sylvia, which said, "T-Bone, please call me. I have some wonderful news."
I returned her call and she said, "We found Jeanetta."
Three weeks ago I spoke to Sylvia for the first time, and she had a story to tell me that was filled with tragedy and regret. Her sweet little voice belied the facts.
"I'm looking for some cemetery records, and I hope you can help me. The person I'm looking for is a family member. She's my cousin, and her name is-- was-- Jeanetta." Here Sylvia paused and her voice began to quaver. "She kind of had a tough time of it. When Jeanetta was born, her parents divorced and she and her older sister stayed with her mother, which is what happened in those days. They lived Next Door. They were really bad off, because the father left town and they never heard from him again. Jeanetta's mother worked as a waitress, and you can guess that they didn't have a lot of money.
"Well," Sylvia continued, "One day the three of them were driving somewhere, and they got in an automobile accident. Jeanetta's mother and sister both died. Jeanetta was only seven years old at the time, and she had terrible head injuries from the accident. She survived, though, and my parents took her in, and raised her with me and my sister for several years. Then the state came and took her away. Jeanetta became a ward of the state."
Sylvia's voice broke. She said, "I don't know what they were thinking, but the state institutionalized her and wound up removing part of her brain, thinking it would make her better. It didn't. It certainly didn't.
"So the years went by and we still visited her, but my parents passed away, my sister and I both got married. Jeanetta's health kept getting worse and worse during this time. Eventually, my sister and I moved away from the state with our families, and," Sylvia starts sobbing now, "we lost where Jeanetta was! I don't know how it happened! They moved her, and they wouldn't tell us where she went, because we weren't immediate family!
"The closest we can track her down is about 20 years ago, and it's an address in The Hamlet." Sylvia mentioned the address. "She was so bad off the last we saw her, I'm just assuming that she's died sometime within these last 20 years, so I thought I'd check the cemetery records with The Hamlet. Can you help me?"
Oh, Sylvia. If you'd only known at that moment who you were talking to-- a person OBSESSED with vital records, geneaolgy, cemeteries, mysteries--
"Of course! Hold on just a second while I go back to get the books," I told her. I fairly skipped to the back safe, where we keep the books, listing everyone buried in the little cemetery I love.
Back at my desk and on the phone with Sylvia, I flipped through the pages. Jeanetta was not listed in there.
"Sylvia, you mentioned Jeanetta was at that address in The Hamlet. You know, I've lived here just about my entire life and frankly--"
Then a memory from long ago came to me.
Hiking beside the creek in the valley below our house, near the cabins! The CABINS!
"Oh! Oh my gosh! I just remembered! There was a facility below our house! It was a kind of compound where developmentally disabled adults lived! It was called The Lodge, but I don't think it's open anymore." I looked up The Lodge on the internet. "Nope, it merged a few years ago with some healthcare facility. But here's the name and phone number of the director of that new facility," I said, giving Sylvia the information. "Sylvia, I just know that's where Jeanetta was. I will bet you a million bucks that's where she was!"
With a promise to call me back and tell me what she'd learned, if anything, Sylvia and I hung up the phone.
Minutes later, Sylvia called again. "I spoke to the director of that facility, T-Bone. She remembers Jeanetta! You were right-- she did live there! But," she said, "She's lost track of Jeanetta too. The last time she heard of her, about 15 years ago, Jeanetta was living in Metropolis up north, so it looks like I still have some work to do." With another promise to call with any news, Sylvia hung up the phone.
For three weeks I kept the notes from our conversation on my desk, because I knew I'd hear from Sylvia again.
Sylvia was crying, I think with happiness and relief. "We found Jeanetta. She's alive and well. She lives in a mobile home park in California. Apparently, she has a social worker who comes in twice a week to check on her. She also has a kind of helper who comes in once a week to straighten things up around her house.
"The best part is, we are flying out in August to accompany her back here for a family reunion. Can you imagine? After all these years? We'll finally get to see her. I don't even know if she'll remember us, but won't it be great?"
Sylvia, it will be great. Jeanetta has her family again.