As all of us have come to know, genealogy is about research, and lots of it. There’s also persistence, the passion for making a connection, and then more research. Throughout that process, a name can often be the brick wall that leads us astray, preventing us from fitting together the crucial pieces of our research. This story is about all of those circumstances, but more than that, it’s a love story about never giving up.
They met on the first day of high school in Phoenix, Arizona in 1958. Pat (Patricia) was 14 years old and Jerry, 15. She remembers having the ‘first day jitters’, and struggling to open her locker, when Jerry appeared out of nowhere to rescue her. They began dating a short while later, and for the next 2 years went to movies, school dances, and enjoyed all the normal things teenagers did. Then cautious they were perhaps getting too serious for their ages, Pat’s parents ended the teenagers’ relationship. Pat and Jerry were both heartbroken, but Jerry was devastated – so much so that he transferred to another high school despite being in his senior year, class VP, and a popular student with many friends. Within a few months at a new school and still heartbroken, he convinced himself the army would be his only salvation. With his mother’s permission, he enlisted. It was 1961.
“At the time, it was the best thing I could ever do.” – Jerry
Pat graduated from that high school in Phoenix, went on to college at Arizona State University and became a schoolteacher in Missouri, Illinois, Oklahoma and California, for 43 years in all. During that time, she married and raised a daughter. She doesn’t admit to thinking of Jerry during those years, since they never spoke again after their high school breakup. Instead, she assumed ‘I really didn’t mean that much to him after all’.
The army sent Jerry to San Antonio, Texas for training as a medic, then to Walter Reed Army Hospital in Washington, DC. In 1962 he was stationed in Alaska then served in the Vietnam War as a combat medic (101st Airborne, Screaming Eagles). He re-enlisted, and in 1970 left the army for 1½ years, but subsequently re-enlisted and ultimately retired from the army in 1985. During those years in the military, he married and had 2 children, yet in his heart of hearts, he was never able to dismiss the heartbreak of his youth. On return visits to see his mother in Phoenix he would ask friends if anyone knew what became of Pat. He learned she had married, became a teacher, relocated to Missouri and had a daughter.
In 1971 during one of his visits to Phoenix, a friend learned Pat was also in town visiting her family. Without warning, and in the company of Jerry’s family, the friend dialed Pat’s number and handed Jerry the phone. At her mother’s house and with her family present in the room, Pat came on the phone line. Given the circumstances, their conversation was brief, and more awkward than heartfelt.
Quite a few years later (prior to the internet) and thinking back to that phone call, Jerry found himself genuinely curious to know how Pat was getting along and mostly, if she was happy. Without a clue as to her married name, he began the arduous task of obtaining all the phone books for the state of Missouri to locate her. In the course of 1½ to 2 years, he methodically phoned every Patricia listed. Despite his efforts, this research method proved unsuccessful.
As the years passed and with the internet available, Jerry periodically attempted to locate Pat accessing classmates.com and other websites. But the search results using her maiden name were fruitless. In time, his marriage began to fail.
His internet searches for Pat continued, but left him frustrated, and more than once, Jerry almost gave up. By 2010 he concluded the reason he couldn’t locate Pat was that she was deceased . . . at least that’s what he kept telling himself. Yet he sensed something was out there that could help him end the uncertainty once and for all. However, with not much to go on, he finally abandoned his search for Pat.
“I didn’t know any of this was going on. I had my daughter, rode horses, and that was my life, . . . yet something was missing.” – Pat
Click below to hear Pat’s story.
In June of 2012 Jerry suffered a heart attack. Living in Florida and recuperating, he stumbled upon the classmates.com website after a two year absence. By chance, the year happened to be Pat’s 50th year high school class reunion, and this time, the site listed her maiden name followed by her married name. A few more internet clicks and Jerry discovered Pat’s address, phone number, and age to verify it was indeed the Pat he had been searching for. To his surprise the address listed her in California – he had been searching in the wrong state all these years!
Now the question became ‘How does one contact someone after 52 years?’ Jerry stared at the computer screen, elated, yet he couldn’t quite bring himself to dial the phone number, particularly not knowing what her current marital status was.
The Letter, 2012
He decided to write a short, 1 paragraph letter and send it the old fashioned way – through the postal service. As it turned out, Pat had been divorced since 1978 and never remarried. They began communicating by email for several months, becoming reacquainted with each other. Then, a phone call was scheduled.
Click below to hear Jerry and Pat describe what happened.
On January 8, 2013 Jerry flew to California to reunite with Pat and finally end his 52-year search. They now reside in Florence where they were married last November.
Some of us have a weakness for the romance angle in a story, and I’m no exception, but there are parallels of genealogical research in this one. Besides, who can refuse an honest to goodness love story where the guy discovers what he’d known all along – that she was his choice, from the very beginning.
Pat and Jerry May