by Jessica Langdon
SHAWNEE — David Hattaway calls her “Mom.”
He reaches out and holds Paula Alwin’s hand in his own.
The gesture is easy and comfortable, despite the fact the two hadn’t seen one another for 45½ years — until this spring.
Although Alwin never stopped thinking about the baby she placed for adoption in October 1966, she never expected to see him again.
But all that changed this year when Hattaway, a member of St. Joseph Parish in Shawnee, reached out to find his biological mother.
And today, both Alwin and Hattaway believe God’s hand helped bring their families together.
A letter to a stranger
Growing up in Kansas City, Kan., Hattaway often wondered about his birth mother.
He sought information about his biological parents in 2006 as his family dealt with some health issues, but he didn’t start searching in earnest until early this year.
By then, both of his adoptive parents had died.
He enlisted the help of Laura Long of Adoption Search Services to navigate the guidelines in Missouri, where the adoption took place.
In February, Hattaway wrote a letter to his birth mother.
This might be his only chance to tell her anything if they found her, so following Long’s advice, he poured his soul into four pages.
And then he waited.
Lifetime of ‘I love you’
Alwin’s first clue that someone was searching for her turned up in her mailbox in Gatesville, Texas.
Her husband Larry told her she had an “important-looking” letter from Missouri.
It was from Long, asking Alwin to call her about “an event” in 1966.
Alwin’s heart leapt.
She was 20 when she found herself pregnant. She thought she would marry the baby’s father, but that didn’t happen.
Her family sought advice from their minister, who recommended adoption.
So Alwin moved into a Florence Crittenton home in Kansas City, Mo., and soon learned that if she took a job in the nursery, she would get to be there for the first few days of the baby’s life.
For three days after the baby was born, Alwin jumped out of bed, threw on her housecoat and spent hours snuggling him.
“I whispered a lifetime of ‘I love you’ in his ear,” she said.
A short time later, the judge who handled the adoption told her sternly that the file would be sealed forever.
Many things have changed since the 1960s, and Alwin was thrilled this year at the possibility she might get to know more about the man her baby grew up to be.
She received Long’s letter in the evening and made the call early the very next morning.
From several states away, Long read Hattaway’s letter to her.
“I cried and cried,” Alwin said.
They were tears of joy: He wanted to meet her.
She felt the same way.
Hattaway’s wife Lisa will never forget the moment her family learned the news.
It was the first Friday of Lent and they had just returned home from the shrimp dinner at the Knights of Columbus Hall.
They opened their email and found Long’s message saying they had found Hattaway’s birth mother.
NASCAR and children’s songs
The two wrote back and forth for weeks.
At first, no names were allowed, and they couldn’t say where they lived.
“Mom gave good clues,” Hattaway said. It wasn’t hard to pinpoint Texas.
For her part, Alwin saved, numbered, and reread all her son’s letters.
The two discovered they shared a passion for NASCAR, and both have soft spots in their hearts for animals.
Hattaway grew up liking the song “Puff, the Magic Dragon,” and learned that Alwin sang it to him during those few days they spent together.
Finally, in the early spring, and after the requisite legal paperwork was signed, the two were freer to share more information.
The first phone call came in the middle of April.
“It was a three-hour phone call,” Lisa said.
Then, at the end of April, Alwin and Larry drove to Kansas City for their first meeting.
The Hattaways had decided that this initial visit was to include only the adults.
Their children had already lost three grandparents in just a few years, Lisa said, so they wanted to see how things would go. Alwin, in turn, wanted to ensure there would be no pain for the Hattaways.
When the moment arrived, Lisa walked into the hotel room first, followed by Hattaway.
“And then we just fell into each other’s arms and held on,” Alwin said.
“For quite a while,” added Hattaway.
‘Where we left off’
“It was like we just picked up where we left off,” Hattaway said.
And within only a couple of hours, the Hattaways’ kids joined the party.
Amanda, 24, 23-year-old Eric, 14-year-old Katie, 9-year-old Conner and 7-year-old Maureen all welcomed Alwin with open arms.
The kids call her “MeMaw,” and they dubbed Larry “MePaw.”
Amanda has two children of her own, and 4-year-old daughter Kylie calls them her “new grandma and grandpa from Texas.”
‘I’m just going to love him’
Alwin and Hattaway have seen each other a lot since their first meeting. She made a second trip to Kansas after her initial trip and he traveled to Texas as a Mother’s Day surprise — and then again with the whole family just a few weeks later.
Alwin, who, with Larry, has worked for more than 15 years in prison ministry, now shares her story with the inmates.
It has struck a chord with some of them, giving them a new perspective on their own lives.
Alwin hopes her family’s story will continue to inspire the prisoners — and others.
The outcome for Hattaway has been a new sense of peace.
“I just feel like David can tell me anything — and has — and I’m just going to love him,” Alwin said.