Family Ties – From the Bird’s Nest
The phone rang Wednesday in my office.
The man said he was a bit surprised to reach me so easily. (It doesn’t happen often. I’m not in the office a lot each day before my radio show.)
He identified himself as Ron Archey. “I’m calling in reference to an article you wrote entitled “A Veteran’s Day Tribute.”
I was, of course, very familiar with the article. It was a tribute to my father, who had passed away in October, 2011. I published it on Veteran’s Day of that year and, in it, also mentioned the members of my immediate family who had served in the military. (You can click on the link if you’d like to read it.)
I thought he was just calling to tell me he enjoyed reading it. Instead, the next thirty minutes had me shaking.
Ron said he was calling in reference to a man named Robert Chikosky who was mentioned in my story. Bob is my brother, 18 years my senior. We had different fathers, hence the different last name. It’s just part of my family dynamic. My mother was married and had Bob, married my dad and had two more children. Then my dad remarried and had five more. That’s a “Yours, Mine and Ours” family if there ever was one. I don’t get into that “half” brother and sister stuff. You can’t have half a sibling. I tell people I’m one of eight children.
Ron had obviously done a lot of homework. He verified our mother’s name (Juliette) and when she passed away (1969). He knew she had been married to Michael Chikosky and that they divorced in 1939. He even knew where the certificate of divorce was filed (Oklahoma), which I did not know.
By now I was more than curious. He asked if Bob was still alive. I said yes. His voice was shaking as he gave me the punch line.
“My mother is Geraldine Chikosky Bentley. Her father’s name was Michael Chikosky.
When she was 13, her dad told her he had been previously married and had a son. Your brother probably knows all of this….”
I cut him off.
“I can guarantee you he doesn’t,” I said.
I then told the story of when I was about ten or eleven years old. I remembered my mother on the phone making calls trying to find Michael Chikosky. Once they divorced, there was never another contact between them. I told Ron the attempt led to a dead end in Michigan. He told me that’s where his mother was raised.
It may seem strange today that Mike waited until Geraldine (Geri) was 13 before she found out the news. But remember, in devout Catholic families back then, divorce was a big deal. The fact Mike had been divorced caused a bit of a scandal within his new wife’s family. So, it was kept quiet.
I suggested it would be best if my brother heard all this from me. I told Ron I would speak to Bob and then call him back.
Now, as I said, Bob is quite a bit older than I. He’ll turn 83 in April. I called and asked if he had a few minutes to talk and he said yes. I also asked if he was sitting down. I then started to relay the information I had received.
After telling him about my conversation, I asked if he knew he had a sister. He said “No. I’ve always wondered and tried to find out some information but never could get anywhere with it.” I told him Ron wanted to talk with him and asked his permission to give out his contact information. He said yes.
I returned Ron’s call and confirmed Bob did not know he had a sister in his father’s family tree. I then gave him Bob’s number. I hung up the phone and got very emotional. I called my sister Sue and told her the story. Needless to say, she was stunned. And happy.
Meanwhile, Ron got his mother on the phone and made a conference call.
And on Wednesday, at about 2:30 pm, my nearly 83-year-old brother had his first conversation with the younger sister he never knew existed until that very day.
It wasn’t a long conversation, but it was a beginning. Bob admits to being “computer stupid” and told me he’ll need to get smarter in that regard. He also told me he had one picture of his father, taken when Bob was about two years old. That would be around 1936 or so. The self-proclaimed “old geezer” is going to try to learn how to Skype.
I spoke with Geri for the first time on the phone on Friday. She lives outside of Houston. She and her late husband traveled around the country as insurance adjusters. She is an interior designer and doesn’t plan to retire. She served on the city council in her city and was mayor pro-tem for a time. She also told me there was another sister, who, unfortunately, passed away in 2008.
And I saw a picture of her. There’s no DNA test necessary.
I sit here so grateful for Ron Archey, Geri and their whole family. They pursued something that was difficult to do because of so little information. They persevered.
We are all still processing all of this. And, as I continue to absorb, this came to mind.
If Bob hadn’t been in the Army back in the 50’s, he would not have been mentioned in the article I wrote and perhaps amazing discovery would not have happened And, I thought of Ragin’ Cajun baseball coach Tony Robichaux, who has repeatedly said “if you put the time into the game, the game will pay you back.”
My brother is getting repaid for his service to his country in a way no one could imagine.