BY ANDY TAYLOR
COFFEYVILLE — A Christmas tree has not adorned Mary Boyd’s house in 47 years.
Even if she had one, she did not have a family to celebrate it with her.
The thought of having a colorful, lively Christmas tree that beams with happiness, serves as a backdrop for photos that are shared with others, and echoes with the laughter and shrieks of delight from grandchildren . . . those are the cherished memories Mary Boyd has desired and prayed for.
But because of a series of painful situations that confronted Boyd when she was a young and abused mother in the late 1960s, Christmas has had no meaning.
“I would intentionally not decorate my house because I knew it would just be lonely and sad,” she said from her home in Coffeyville.
However, such sadness will not befall Mary Boyd’s house any further . . . especially in the weeks following the Christmas season. That’s because the great gift called Family reached her front door on Saturday in the form of a reunion of a child she gave up for adoption in 1969.
When Mary Boyd looked in the eyes of her daughter, Jodi Sykes, for the first time on Saturday afternoon, all the years of missed birthdays, the pain of quiet and cold Christmases, and her inability of spoiling grandkids vanished.
“I’m here,” said Jodi Sykes with open arms as she walked across the threshold of her mother’s house on Dakota Street.
And, with that, Mary Boyd and Jodi Sykes embraced tightly and sobbed . . . for three very long minutes.
* * * *
Mary Boyd’s journey as a young mother in the 1960s was filled with mountaintops and valleys.
But mostly valleys.
A resident in East St. Louis, Mo., Mary was pregnant and married by age 17. Teenage pregnancy in the early 1960s was a different time, when community norms relegated young mothers to near obscurity.
Her marriage to Forrest Robert Powell Sr., was a blur of constant abuse and strife. When they were first married, Forrest drove an ice cream truck. By 1968, Forrest and Mary (Boyd) Powell would be the parents of four children: three boys and one girl. They lived in Washington Park, Ill., during those years as the marriage crumbled. He lost his job as an ice cream truck driver and found himself hauling wrecked cars as a tow truck driver. She stayed at home to raise the family.
In 1968, Mary, who was pregnant with their fifth child, found herself as a single mother. Forrest had divorced Mary and, in the process, convinced state officials that she was an unfit mother. So, in the divorce process, the court awarded sole custody of the four Powell children to Forrest Powell.
That left Mary with the choice of raising her unborn child herself . . . or allowing the child to be adopted to another family. Mary chose the latter.
On a day that has literally been wiped away from Mary’s memory (“I can’t even tell you what day it was”), Mary gave birth to a baby girl in the St. Mary’s Hospital in St. Louis, Mo. Those were the days when a birth mother who chose to give up a newborn infant to adoption had no ability to see or touch that child. When the umbilical cord was severed, the act literally severed any connection between Mary Boyd and her daughter.
“I never even saw her . . . or got to hold her,” said Mary. “The nurses and doctor cut the cord, cleaned her up, and walked out the room with the baby in their arms.”
And, with that act of coldness, Mary Boyd was thrust into an incredibly painful period.
She was alone.
She reeled from a marriage that probably should not have happened. She no longer had any contact with her four children who, by the time she gave birth to her fifth child, were ages 2 through 6.
The fifth child simply vanished into an adoption system.
So, Mary Boyd tried to rebuild her life. She never remarried. And, she purposely shunned the Christmas season.
By 2004, after spending much of her adult years in Illinois and Missouri, she moved to Montgomery County to be close to her sister, Loretta Glasgow of Caney. Mary would live in Caney, Tyro and Coffeyville — working jobs in nursing homes and as an elder caregiver.
And, no day went by without Mary Boyd wondering what happened to her five children.
* * * *
While Mary Boyd spent many years wondering to the whereabouts of her children, a young Jodi Wells, who was living in southwestern Illinois, began a quest for her biological roots. While as a nosey teenager in the early 1980s, Jodi thumbed through some of her parents’ private belongings when she discovered a sealed bag containing an adoption certificate.
She read it.
And, after getting over the initial shock, she began to ask questions.
“I asked my mom and dad about the certificate, and that’s when they confirmed that I was adopted at birth,” said Jodi, recalling her adoption discovery when she was age 12. “All I knew of my birth parents was their names, when I was born (Jan. 20, 1969) and where I was born.”
That began Jodi’s quest to discover her biological roots. Just who were Forrest Robert Powell Jr. and Mary (Boyd) Powell? Did she have any brothers and sisters?
The many decades of questions and endless detective work began to bear fruit only in the past several months. An “adoption angel,” a person who is able to trace records in order birth parents and their biological children who are adopted to other families, was able to connect Jodi with a half sister, Brittany (Powell) Phillips, who was one of Forrest Powell’s children from a later marriage, living in Runnells, Iowa. Upon connecting with Brittany, Jodi learned that her biological father died in the 1990s. However, Jodi and Brittany had no information about Mary (Boyd) Powell . . . or even if Mary (Boyd) Powell went by the same name as she did in 1969.
Jodi even made a list — with data collected from online telephone directories — of persons named “Mary Boyd” in the United States. She even made cold calls to some of those numbers and wrote letters to others. Ninety-seven people named Mary Boyd were contacted. Each time she made a call or wrote a letter, she would not find the Mary Boyd whom she only knew as a name on an adoption certificate.
Leave it to the world of social media, specifically Facebook, to become the vehicle that would connect Jodi Sykes with her biological mother. Using a search engine on Facebook, Jodi Sykes was able to find Teresa McVey of Tyro. Teresa McVey listed a Mary Boyd as one of her Facebook friends. However, the Mary Boyd who was listed on McVey’s Friends list had not had any activity on her page in many months.
Teresa said she received a phone call from Brittany Powell last Tuesday.
“She asked me how I knew the Mary Boyd who was listed as a Facebook friend,” McVey said. “She asked me questions that only Mary’s personal friends would know. That’s when I knew immediately that I came across a person who knew something about one of Mary’s children.”
Teresa McVey has good reason to know much about Mary Boyd. Mary serves as the caregiver to Teresa’s elderly parents living near Tyro. Mary’s closeness to McVey and her parents made her a virtual family member in McVey’s life. Teresa also has been able to hear the stories of Boyd’s past.
“She has had an incredible journey throughout her life,” said McVey. “I can’t imagine what would go through a mother’s heart when she has lost all of her five children and had no way of knowing where they went.”
* * * *
Last Thursday, Teresa McVey surprised Mary Boyd by giving her a picture of an adult woman in her late 40s holding a grandbaby. That image was of Jodi Sykes — which marked the first time that Mary Boyd had ever seen a photograph of her youngest child.
“I couldn’t believe what Teresa was telling me,” Boyd said. “I just sat in my dining room chair looking at this photo and hearing for the first time that one of my children was looking for me.”
So, since learning of the whereabouts of her youngest daughter and learning that Jodi and her husband were planning a trip to Coffeyville last weekend for a reunion, Mary Boyd’s world has been a roller-coaster.
“This is all I’ve thought about since Teresa told me,” said Boyd. “I’ll even wake up at 1 o’clock in the morning and think about it. It’s just something incredibly overwhelming.”
On Saturday, the years of frustration and anguish came to an end for both Boyd and Sykes. Jodi Sykes, who now lives in Collinsville, Ill., re-entered Mary Boyd’s life 47 years to the very week that Mary gave birth to Jodi. Their tight embrace in Boyd’s living room was matched by the volume of tears that flowed liberally from their eyes and onto each other’s tear-stained shoulders.
“You are going home with me,” joked Jodi as she hugged her mom.
As the mother and daughter were able to dry their eyes and begin the process of building a relationship that has been separated by a 47-year void, they promised to try to find the other four children in the Powell family. Jodi said she hopes to find the whereabouts of her sister Rosemary and her three brothers: Michael Casey Powell, James Preston Pope Powell and Forrest Robert Powell Jr.
For now, Mary’s life that has been a broken puzzle is slowing being pieced together, one person at a time.
“In my wildest dreams, I thought it would be one of my boys who would come looking for me, but I never thought it would be the youngest daughter who I never knew,” she said. “I’m just glad to have my baby back.”
Sykes said she plans on making numerous trips to Coffeyville — and bringing her own four children and 10 grandchildren to get to know their new grandmother and great-grandmother in the Sunflower State.
Mary has already received one note from a grandchild via Facebook, a note that indicated Mary would be widely accepted and loved in her newly-found family.
And, what about the years that time has painfully put on hold?
One of the first things that Mary Boyd told her daughter on Saturday was that she has not decorated a Christmas tree in more than 47 years.
With that painful confession that came from her mother’s lips, Jodi Sykes could only look at her mother’s teary eyes, listen to Mary’s quivering voice, and whisper a long, exasperating, “Wow,” as she shook her head in equally matched pain.
They then cried again . . . and hugged for a very long time.
Christmas may have finally arrived.