A half-century apart, Maryland mother and son are together again

September 14, 1992|By Phyllis Brill | Phyllis Brill,Staff Writer

As Thelma Semone stood by the front window of her home yesterday waiting for her son to arrive, she looked like any anxious mother with news to tell. But it wasn't any ordinary day.

When 57-year-old Roy Semone drove up to the Glen Burnie house and stepped inside, he said hello to a mother he hadn't seen in more than a half-century.

Roy Semone was just 10 months old when he was taken from his mother and placed into an orphanage. Until a month ago, he didn't even know if she was alive -- let alone that she lived in Glen Burnie, not that far from his Southwest Baltimore home.

Any effort on his part over the years to locate her was usually met with shrugs of ignorance or disinterest from family members, he said.

Now, with wife Jane at his side, he was hugging his 75-year-old mother and handing her a dozen red roses. He showed her family photo albums and gave her framed pictures of himself, his children and his grandchildren.

"Now, you know you're a great-grandmom," he said to her, as she smiled proudly to hear she had a grandson in the Air Force.

She, in turn, gave her son and daughter-in-law leather wallets engraved with their names and "Love, Mom."

"I haven't seen you since you were a baby," she said to him shyly. "I remember holding you in my arms and you looked up at me and laughed."

Mother and son were to learn that they had a lot in common. Both liked to sing and both liked sports. And, more sadly, both had spent years living in institutions.

Roy was raised in orphanages, foster homes and group homes because he was the son of an unwed, developmentally slow woman deemed unfit for motherhood. Thelma Semone, after the death of her mother, lived in institutions such as the Rosewood and Henryton state hospitals as well as in foster and nursing homes.

"This is one special day for you, isn't it, Thelma," said Debbie Keaser, who might be the hero in this long-overdue reunion. It was Ms. Keaser, house counselor in the Cape Cod that Thelma has shared with two other developmentally disabled seniors for four years, who got mother and son together.

"We had a long talk and Thelma told me she wanted to meet her son," Ms. Keaser said. "So I just started going through the phone book." When she hit a dead end on the name Semone, she tried Davis, Thelma's mother's maiden name.

She struck gold when Vernon Davis in Carroll County answered the phone and said he was a cousin of Thelma Semone and knew her son, Roy, an employee of the Baltimore City water department. A few days and a few calls later, mother and son were talking by telephone and planning yesterday's reunion.

It was so simple, but so long in coming, said Ms. Keaser, who lives in the home with the three seniors as an employee of Alternative Living, a non-profit agency that places the disabled in independent-living situations.

"I think it was after she got in this home setting that she began to open up and start talking about family," she said of the house in the Country Club Estates development of Glen Burnie. The older women attend a senior day-care center together during the week, as well as church on Sundays. And they share household chores, holidays and backyard barbecues.

"I think she always wanted to see her son, but no one had ever followed up on it and so she had suppressed it over the years," Ms. Keaser said. "But Thelma gave me all the information I needed. She had it all in her mind."

"Well, you found me and thank the good Lord for it," said Mr. Semone, grasping his mother's hand as he began to recall some of the frustrations of growing up without her.

Mr. Semone spent his early childhood in Baltimore orphanages before being sent at age 9 to a farm in Manchester, where young boys on the state dole were often housed. At 16 he ran away. By the time his uncle agreed to take him in, he says, his grandmother was dead, his mother institutionalized and the family rarely spoke of Thelma.

He eventually got a job with the city, went on to marry -- he and his wife will celebrate their 30th anniversary this year -- and became a supervisor in the city water department, where he's worked for 31 years.

While questions about his mother lingered privately, Mr. Semone said, most of the relatives who could answer them had died. He harbored little hope of answering them before getting the phone call from his cousin last month.

"All this time, we haven't been that far away," he said, referring to the Morrell Park home in which he and his wife have lived for years. "We even go to church [in Glen Burnie] and shop here, and all Jane's family live here."

As the conversation relaxed, Thelma Semone shuffled to her bedroom to get samples of the wood craft she had recently made at the senior center. That is, when she wasn't bowling, swimming, cooking, playing bingo or taking long walks.

"She puts me to shame," said Mr. Semone, shaking his head over his mother's energy.

"I'll be 76 years old on Sept. 29," She reminded them as she came back into the room.

It was hardly a reminder they needed. The couple plan to return for a birthday barbecue, along with Cousin Vernon, who helped reunite them, and their son and his family.

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