Climbing Family Trees: My Aloha Experience by Terrance Rossi

Climbing Family Trees

More great stories, poems, and helpful hints about genealogy and searching for your family's roots from the twin authors of "Climbing Family Trees: Whispers In The Leaves"

Sunday, October 02, 2005

My Aloha Experience by Terrance Rossi

“My Aloha Experience”
Terrance Rossi
I was raised a middle son in an Italian family of three boys. When I was about six years old my parents began to share with me the story of my adoption at birth. George and Gail Rossi took great care in informing me that I was a chosen child. Throughout my youth, their loving attitude made me feel secure and a natural part of the Rossi clan. My brothers, Michael and Jeff, helped me enjoy the special camaraderie that only brothers can know. I had always felt that my childhood was exceptional. We were always into everything, having too much fun!

My mother, Gail, passed away in the fall of 1982, and my brothers and I were still reeling from the loss. It was a dark and confusing time for all of us, with much soul-searching and self-defining episodes. It was then, just two years later, at the age of twenty, my father, George, opened the door to the rest of my life. I was inspired by the adoption documents he shared with me. My father, being the gracious man that he is, presented me with original documents which gave descriptive clarity to who my biological family was and how they might physically look. This was illuminating! What a wonderful gift my dad was sharing with me! I had always felt I “looked” different. As these windows of light began to explain and expand my self-discovery, soon I began to delve into further research of my hereditary roots. Having been raised by an Italian family from a small town in upstate New York, being born in California, and growing up in Florida, imagine my fascination to learn my birth parents were from Hawaii, and I was actually of Hawaiian ancestry! Wow! How intriguing! Black hair, green eyes, fair complexion - that’s me - but is that what a Hawaiian looks like?

The documents revealed, in the spring of 1964, a young woman from the islands (names were obscured by law) came to California, gave birth to a healthy baby boy, and left the child in the loving arms of a devout and practicing Catholic family - her only term of requirement for the adoptive parents. The child was the answer to the prayers of a young adoptive mother, Gail Rossi, who had been diagnosed by her doctor that she would be unable to have any more children, after only having one son, Jeff, then 5 years old. The story and prayer of the child’s birth mother, Margaret, would then become a secret of the heart for 38 years to follow.

George and Gail Rossi, after only a year in California - as though God’s plan destined them to stop there to receive this special child - moved to Florida after the adoption. That was Gail’s wish and the place her next dream would come true - the birth of her third son, Michael - the child doctor’s told her she could never have…!As years passed, after mom’s death, I went on to college, and went about living my life and learning from it. I began to think more and more about researching my roots. I began to study the documents that my father had given me earlier. My interest peaked as questions about my birth parents’ existence and other possible family members entered my mind. Who and where did I come from? I was intrigued by the fact that my biological mother was Hawaiian and my bio-father was of Portuguese decent.

I satisfied my interest by making a series of phone calls to the county of San Mateo Adoption Services to inquire on my personal birth records and file. Unbeknownst to me, the state of California has very strict adoption privacy laws and it was very difficult to acquire any information. With my dad’s help, we petitioned the court for the file to be opened. Our efforts, however, were only two-thirds of what was necessary to acquire the full information that the file possessed. Most importantly, I still could not uncover the name of my birth mother and father. A third waiver was needed, by a biological parent, in order for the complete file to be opened to me. Through other nongovernmental sources and some “luck,” I did learn my birth father’s name, which was connected to a family of musical renown in the Hawaiian Islands. My birth mother’s name was still a mystery. I was intent on finding her first, out of respect for her privacy and the “secret” she had keep for so long. After all, I was simply researching my genealogy not looking to make contact with anyone This was getting serious - and close - and I was getting nervous about finding answers about my beginnings that I might not like. So, I backed off and at this point, I was satisfied with my researching effort.

On my 38th birthday I found myself on a business trip to Oahu, Hawaii. Prior to the trip my fiancée, Jill-Ann, had suggested that I make a phone call, using the information I had researched years before. I was petrified about making that call and introducing myself as “the son you gave up for adoption!?” Before leaving, I finally got up the gumption to phone a woman who my research had lead me to believe to be my birth mother. Despite my nervousness, I knew I would be discreet. As it turned out, this wonderful Hawaiian woman was not my birth mother, but after hearing my story of research that had now spanned nearly twenty years, she was warm and open in extending her own family and aloha to me in the event I failed to find my real birth mother. It was my first introduction to the “Hawaiian way” and what I was about to discover I was a product of in a BIG way.

In further discussion with this new auntie of mine, she recognized my birth father’s name as an acquaintance of the past and family friend. She then offered to personally meet with my birth father, Jesse, to privately and carefully broach the subject with him. We agreed she should proceed, perhaps my last chance at finding a connection to my Hawaiian family and my birth mother. The meeting was an emotional one! After ten minutes of quiet listening, Jesse gently nodded in acknowledgment - yes this is HIS son…and the boy’s mother is now married to... HIM! They have been happily married for 39 years, and have been waiting, praying and believing that one day he would find his way back to them. They had felt they owed his adoptive parents and him the happiness and home together that they couldn’t provide many years ago.

Now my story blossoms…….. You see my mother and father were smitten with one another back in 1964. They fell in love! Was it love? Just met…too young to know for sure...My father was following in the large footsteps of his father, a well known entertainer and recording artist, playing back-up bass in my grandfather’s band. They were not prepared yet for the life-time commitment of marriage and raising children. So, life-time decisions were made and Margaret left the Islands briefly to deliver George and Gail’s little boy to them. For a time, she resided outside of San Francisco in the town of Redwood City. My birth and adoption would become a secret held in Jesse and Margaret’s hearts for thirty-eight years.

My original research had given me some key pieces, although dim, to the puzzle of my infancy. First of all, the cause of the mistaken identity of my new auntie as my birth mother was that she shared the same maiden name as my birth mother, was around the same age, and was a vocalist performing professionally - like my musically-involved birth father and family. It seemed a likely connection.

In the adoption report, it had stated that my father was not present at my birth. I couldn’t help but wonder why my father wasn’t by her side. It appeared that my eighteen year-old mother gave birth to me at a home for unwed mothers in the care of Catholic nuns. Jesse sent loving and supporting letters from home, but they had agreed to do this, unbeknownst to family and friends. I was the first born son of an amazing woman. Courageous and bestowed with a deep faith that God would look after her child through the love of a young Catholic couple, George and Gail Rossi.
Over the years, my research had highlights of key pieces of information that would add to the puzzle but, would also present more questions. Though my natural curiosity as an adopted child was being stirred, my research had never compelled me to make contact with anyone. Our lives were private from one another and I respected that. Plus, I had a family that loved me and raised me as their very own. Who could ask for more than that? But now, nearly thirty-eight years to the day that my birth mother lay her loving eyes on me, I would receive a phone call from the courageous woman I had searched for. We laughed with tears of joy and just marveled at the sounds of our voices. This was a family affair of large proportions, so there was business to tend to. Margaret asked me to call the house later that evening. To my amazement, Jesse and Margaret had married seven months after my adoption and I was about to speak with my sisters and younger brother for the first time.

That evening, Jesse and Margaret sat down with their children; Minei 36, Kaui, 34, and Jesse III 32, and told them their secret. The next day I phoned my father, George, in Florida and asked for my step-mother Ann, to join us as I explained the discovery I had made. On the Hawaiian side, elders had to be told. This would be shakey ground for them. I was advised to be patient and grateful with humility, all innate Hawaiian traits that I didn’t know I had. Meanwhile, I prepared to share the news with my brothers Jeff and Mike. This was big for me. Without my brothers on board and the risk of hurting their feelings, it would sour the celebration and may collapse the relationships between us.

As it turned out, everyone was in joyful disbelief. Margaret and I got busy making arrangements to meet on common ground - Las Vegas! I quickly learned that’s where those who live in paradise go on vacation. Thirty days after our first phone call, on Independence Day weekend, I embraced my birth parents and my sister, Minei, and her husband, Shannon, who also made the trip. The fulfillment that I began to experience from that day on is indescribable. Jill-Ann and I were invited to a Luau in my honor at the home of my parents the following September. There I was draped in Hawaiian lei’s and ate food that would make me sing and dance with cousin’s, auntie’s, and uncle’s! At this point, I was either being re-born in paradise or I had died and gone to heaven. But, there would be more to this buried treasure……… Jill-Ann and I were event coordinators at the time and, after being engaged for over two years, were trying to find the time to plan the ultimate event, our wedding. It boiled down to Boston (Jill-Ann’s hometown), Florida, or now even Hawaii. We decided on Vegas. And we both agreed it would be a “family affair”. (Don’t try this at home) Our wedding in Vegas would be the backdrop to an Italian, Hawaiian, and Irish family reunion, of sorts. I attempted to prepare the Rossi family for a room full of people who looked just like me!! The Kalima’s were a mighty bunch. Here, two-dozen Rossi’s would embrace two dozen Kalima’s for the first time with joyful tears. Emotions were high throughout the evening. And as I tried to take it all in, my father George put it best, “Leave it to Terrance, not to have just one family that loves him but, to go out and find another.”


At 8:40 PM, Blogger Darin Cushing said...

Awesome Story! You gave me the abbreviated version over the phone a couple years ago, even better in print! Drop me an e-mail dude!!
Your partner in crime,

At 10:20 AM, Blogger vicki said...

T,just read about how you bacame part of your family(our family) How Blessed you were to be raised by Italians and Irish/scotchour mothers side! As I child It never crossed my mind that you were differnt then the rest us! You were my cousin T and thast was it!! I think i was about 5 or so(probably told around the sme time you were)that you were adopted. I was really curious about where you came from,how you became part of our family. Now you have met the wonderful people that shared you with us!!! Im thrilled!!!Now your Italian (on dads side) and irish and scotch(moms side) is infused with the flavor and culture of the Islands!!I look forward too one day meeting that family..Nuch aloha too them and od course you!
Cousin Vicki


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