Steve's family tree is complicated. It’s more of a jungle or, according to one observer, a thicket than a tree, with twists and bends in the branches and odd prolific bursts of growth with little symmetry. “A wonderful mess,” one family member called it. Robert (not his real name) sits at the top of the tree, then three women on the next branch — two of them his wives (not at the same time) — and then on the branches below them there are 15 children, and then, beyond that, there are more twists and turns in the branches, but we’ll get to that later.
Robert fathered four children with his first wife. During that marriage, he fathered Nathan (Skip) and Steve with Clara; after he was divorced from his first wife, he fathered nine children with his second wife.
Clara had met Robert after she returned from an LDS Church mission in 1947. She suffered from panic attacks and fainting spells, and Robert, who owned a repair shop in Grantsville, was a source of comfort to her before he became something more.
“He was helpful to her,” says Steve. “Then unfortunate things happened.”
The relationship between Robert and Clara of course would have been scandalous in that day, especially in the small-town, Mormon culture that defined rural Utah. When Clara became pregnant with her first son, she moved to Salt Lake City to escape the embarrassment of her hometown. When the baby was born, she put him up for adoption through the LDS Church's family services. When she became pregnant again, she couldn’t bear another painful parting with a child. She kept her second son, and a year later moved to California to distance herself from the events in Utah.
She took a job at the Alameda County Health Department and worked there more than 30 years. She raised her son in the Mormon Church and was active in church service. She was considered everyone’s favorite aunt in the family, and she was a revered youth leader in her church service. The girls and boys she taught and guided in church attended her funeral and remembered her with great affection.
“Eighty percent of my childhood memories revolve around the church,” says Steve. “She made sure we went to church every Sunday and that I did good. Being an only child of a single mom, you can get into a lot of trouble, but I had no desire to do anything wrong. She was a very good mother.”
Clara proved unlucky in love again when she took a husband who proved to be abusive and manic. He died a decade later. Clara wouldn’t marry again until she was 79 years old.
Her secret grew old with her. Decades passed. Steve's oldest half-brothers knew about the existence of Clara’s first child, but no one talked about it. When another half-brother learned of it, he went straight to Steve and asked him, “Do you know all the circumstances about your family?” Steve mistakenly thought he was referring to his out-of-wedlock birth, and when he answered yes, he dropped the matter.
Steve and Skip might never have learned about one another if Clara hadn’t decided late in life that it was time to share her secret. In January 2011, at the age of 88, she told Steve, who by then was 58, “There’s something I’ve got to tell you.” She revealed the birth of Skip and his adoption.
“Why didn’t you tell me?" Steve asked.
“It’s a part of my life I am trying to forget,” she explained. “I’ve been embarrassed by it.”
“I never would have thought less of you,” Steve said. “We could’ve found him. Do you mind if I try to find him?”
Clara consented and Steve began his search immediately with what scant information his mother could provide — largely, that his brother had been born in LDS Hospital between June and September of 1948. He searched the Internet but came up empty.
It wasn’t the first time Steve had made such a quest. Steve’s first wife ran away after just seven weeks of marriage, pregnant with their first child, and never returned. Later, he married Pamela in what was a second marriage for both of them. They brought four children to the marriage and produced two of their own.
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