Half-sisters bond after a lifetime apart
Schenectady, Scotia residents share their stories in a memoir
SCHENECTADY Patricia Walsh’s journey of adoption and reconciliation that spanned nearly 70 years had a “wonder-full” ending, in its most basic definition, according to the Scotia resident.
“It added a whole new dimension to my life, and she feels the same way,” said Walsh.
The “she” is Walsh’s half-sister, Schenectady resident Arlene Loucks. The two spent their entire lives apart, never knowing the other existed until recently.
The two sisters quickly became best friends, compensating for the years spent apart. “We’re working on making up for some of the lost time; it’s becoming normal, whatever normal is,” Walsh said. “We’re trying to put together pieces of what we were before, when we were separate people.”
The two were inspired to share their story in their memoir, “The Pieces Come Together ... At Last,” that chronicles their lifetimes spent apart and the magic of coming together. It took over two years to write. “I wanted to write it for other people who were thinking about doing this kind of search,” Walsh said.
NEED TO SHARE
Neither are writers by profession, but they both knew they needed to share their story.
“A lot of adoptees have a lot of anger toward their birth parents. They think that they weren’t wanted, which is hardly ever the case. All of that anger has to be dispelled before you start looking into it,” said Walsh.
Loucks thought her potential sister would feel that way, but she says Walsh is hardly ever angry. “She just wanted to know more, it was a huge leap of faith.”
Walsh knew about her adoption from a young age, but she didn’t know much more than a name and location to work with. “I don’t know how my mother who raised me had that info, but she always knew.”
With the help of Ancestry.com, a website that helps to trace family connections through historical records and censuses, Walsh was able to find ties to her birth mother through the 1930 census.
That information led her to a second cousin, who had also started trying to piece together his family history on the site. Through correspondence with him, she learned about the rest of her birth family, including the sister she never knew existed.
“I never knew what it was like to have a sister, so I didn’t know how a sister should feel, but it was wonderful,” said Walsh. “I was looking for my mother; I never even thought about the possibility of siblings.”
It took Walsh two and a half years to send the letter. Loucks’ response was overwhelmingly positive. “I was surprised, because I don’t know if I would have done the same,” said Walsh. “It worked out, she was willing.”
Loucks, who was raised by Walsh’s birth-mother, Elizabeth, never knew about her mother’s first child or the adoption. “I had no words,” said Loucks. “I was shocked, but I told my husband that I needed to meet even if Pat turned out not to be my sister. I wanted her to know either way.”
Since then, their families have meshed together. Both sisters were raised as only children but their new relationship is stronger than something sibling. “My daughter jokes that Pat came over one day and never left,” said Loucks.
“It’s an entirely new experience, I’ve never had nieces or grandnephews or anything like that before. I remember the fi rst time I was called ‘Aunt Pat,’ everything changed,” said Walsh, “but it has gone beautifully. It’s almost impossible to imagine not having her in my life.”
While they have come miles in the past few years, there are still a lot of unanswered questions.
Loucks wonders what it would have been like if their mother was still alive and had gotten Walsh’s letter instead: “I like to think she would have said something like: ‘Oh! I was wondering how long it would take you!’ ”
But it was as if she was hiding in plain sight. The sisters lived only 10 minutes apart at the time of their fi rst meeting. Walsh grew up in Scotia and Loucks lived in Schenectady for most of her life, and at one point they lived only five blocks from each other. “Our mother used to work at the Carl Company in Schenectady, and I used to go there after school,” said Walsh. “It makes you wonder if our mother was ever your waitress,” said Loucks.
Walsh says their lives are full of similarities and overlapping stories like this: “When we’re sitting around telling stories, our pasts just seem to come together.”