For months, he called her every day. He would tell himself not to overdo it, but then he’d end up calling. Now he can’t stop hugging her and holding her hand.
Tod Walker had been looking for his birth mother most of his adult life and wondering about her since he was 10 years old and found out he was adopted. In March of this year, he finally found her.
On Monday night, his mother arrived at Lihue Airport just in time for Mother’s Day and Walker’s 47th birthday on Thursday.
“I just needed that hug,” he said. “I keep staring at her face. And she’s fine with it.”
Walker, who has lived on Kauai since the early 2000s, knew he had been born in Michigan and that his birth mother was from Indiana. He had looked for his birth records in both states, but was frustrated by sealed records. He posted queries on adoption search sites, hoping to connect with his mother, but nothing ever came of that.
Then his wife, Amy, suggested a DNA test through a company called 23andme.
“My wife got it for me for Christmas,” Walker said. “I waited a few weeks. I was skeptical, like, ‘Yeah, right, I’m going to take this test and it will tell me who I came from.’”
But he did eventually take the at-home test, which involves collecting a saliva sample in a tube and mailing it to the company. The first results a few weeks later weren’t promising. He was a match to possible fifth and sixth cousins, connected by people who lived in the 1800s.
Then he got a message through the site that said: “Hi, I did my DNA test and you could be my nephew. You might be the baby my sister gave up for adoption in 1970.”
Walker, a musician and luthier who handcrafts instruments for Raymond Rapozo’s Island Ukulele, was at work when he got the message.
“I had to leave work. I tried to hide in the wood shop, but it was overwhelming. I said, ‘I have to go home.’”
Three hours later, he got an email from the woman who was sure she was his aunt. She gave him his mother’s phone number and said, “She wants to talk to you.”
That was the first phone call of many.
Marguerita “Snooky” Landis Gravenor, now 63 and living in Oregon, was 15 when she had Walker, the baby she called Jason Landis Chapman.
“I guess she and my dad grew up together in South Bend, Ind.,” Walker said. Walker is mixed race — his birth mother is white and his father is black, though Gravenor said that wasn’t an issue in her hometown, which was multicultural and fairly accepting. But she was so young. Her parents didn’t want her to keep the baby and she felt she had no choice.
Gravenor went to a home for unwed mothers in Jackson, Mich., to give birth. She got to hold her baby just once on the day he was born 47 years ago.
“They tell you back then that you have no right to ever see your child again. They threaten you. But I thought, ‘When he’s an adult, there’s nothing they can do,’” Gravenor said. “I knew I’d see him again.”
Walker said, “She said she’d been looking for me all her life and she never forgot about me.”
She also told him that his father was still alive, though he didn’t know they had a baby together. Gravenor called Bill Chapman to tell him the news.
“Then I get my father’s phone number from her and she says, ‘You better give him an hour or so before you call,’” Walker said. “I thought, ‘I’ll give him a few hours to get used to the idea.’”
His birth father got used to the idea pretty quickly and was thrilled to speak to his son.
Walker was raised by a California couple who had two other adopted daughters. His adopted father is deceased, but he called his adopted mother and told her, “Guess what, I found my mom!” She was thrilled for him. His adopted mother asked his permission to contact his birth mom.
“Everybody wants to get to know everybody,” Walker said. “I have a complete family now.”
That complete family suddenly includes two half brothers from his birth mom, a half brother and half sister on his dad’s side, and cousins his children never knew they had.
Walker’s plans for the two-week visit with his mother are casual. His children, 11-year-old Avia and 6-year-old Abraham, are excited to be with their grandmother. They plan to go to the beach, hang out, listen to stories of each other’s lives.
“I always prayed that he had a good life and a good family,” Gravenor said. “When I hugged him at the airport, it was just tears of joy. It wasn’t heavy, like sadness or guilt. It was just joy. I was holding my son.”
Reach Lee Cataluna at 529-4315 or email@example.com.