It seems almost impossible that you could be separated from someone for 77 years, and then all of a sudden, with a single lucky phone call, they could be back in your life. But that’s exactly what happened to Minka Disbrow
SAN CLEMENTE, California For most of her 100 years, Minka Disbrow tried to find out what became of the precious baby girl she gave up for adoption after being raped as a teen. She hoped, but never imagined, that she would see her daughter Betty Jane again.
Disbrow, the daughter of Dutch immigrants, weathered a harsh childhood milking cows on South Dakota dairy farms. Her stepfather believed high school was only for city kids who had nothing else to do, hence after finished eighth grade in a country schoolhouse, she began working long hours at the dairy.
It all started in 1928, when Disbrow, 16, was still a teen. One day, while Disbrow and a friend were walking home from a picnic, they were attacked and raped by three men. The girls didn’t know what to do about the incident, so Disbrow says, they went back home and said nothing.
As time wore on, she noticed her body was changing, but she didn’t understand what was happening, because as an uneducated farm-girl, she had been told that babies were delivered by storks. Her parents sent her away to a Lutheran home for pregnant girls, and when she was 17, she gave birth to a blond-haired baby girl with a deep dimple in her chin, and named her Betty Jane.
100 year old Disbrow in her apartment
In her heart, Disbrow longed to keep her. But her stepfather and her mother told her she couldn’t bring an infant back to the farm, and asked her to give the girl up for adoption.
A pastor and his wife were looking to adopt a child. She hoped they could give Betty Jane the home she couldn’t. “I loved that baby so much. I wanted what was best for her,” Disbrow said. That was the last Disbrow saw of the baby, her only connection to the child was a black and white photograph of the baby bundled up in blankets shortly after she was born.
Over the years, Disbrow wrote dozens of letters to the Lutheran home to find out how her daughter was faring. The agency replied faithfully with updates until there was a change in management, and they eventually lost touch.
Disbrow’s life went on. She married a fruit salesman and had two children. She worked as a dressmaker, silk saleswoman and school cafeteria manager in cities spanning from Rhode Island to Minnesota and Northern California before settling in her current residence.
Disbrow holding her hands while interviewed by AP in her apartment. After 77 years, she finally found her daughter and 6 grandchildren she didn’t know she had.
Every year, she thought about Betty Jane on her May 22 birthday, silently wishing her baby a happy birthday. Then one day in 2006, out of the blue, the phone rang. It was a man from Alabama, whom, after confirming her identity, asked if she’d like to speak with Betty Jane.
It turned out the man, Brian Lee, 54, was her grandson, who’d tracked down Disbrow after his mother, who was 77 at that time (now 82), started having health problems and wanted to know more about her family health history. Brian got Disbrow’s identity from adoption records obtained through a South Dakota court petition while he was researching on the family’s medical history. He then searched for his grandmother’s numbers online. When he found it, he made the fateful July phone call.
“I was looking for somebody I thought was probably not living,” said Brian. He typed Disbrow’s name into a web directory and was shocked when a phone listing popped up. “I kind of stopped breathing for a second.”
Disbrow carrying a photo album as she walks up a step in her apartment
Her daughter Betty Jane was now known as Ruth Lee. She had been raised by a Norwegian pastor and his wife and had gone on to marry and have six children. She worked for nearly 20 years at Walmart and especially enjoyed tending to the garden area. Ruth knew she was adopted her whole life, and grew up a happy child.
On the phone with her biological daughter, Disbrow was in disbelief. Her legs began to tremble. She couldn’t believe she would ever be reunited again with her daughter. A month later, Ruth Lee and Brian Lee flew to California. They arrived at Disbrow’s meticulous apartment on a palm tree-lined street armed with a gigantic bouquet of flowers.
During their reunion, the mother and daughter discovered their hands looked alike and that they had similar taste in clothes - and even picked out similar spangled V-necked tunics to wear. They caught up on everything they’d missed, and Disbrow said, “It was just like we had never parted, like you were with the family all your life.” Ruth, who is now 82, said this about finally getting to know her birth mother: “It has been such a surreal, amazing experience that I still think sometimes that I will wake up and it will just be a beautiful dream.”
Disbrow put the 100th birthday card her daughter sent her in a prominent place of her apartment.
Since then, the families have met numerous times. Mrs Disbrow has gone to visit grandchildren and great-grandchildren in Wisconsin and Texas. She is planning to travel to Alabama in the spring, where they will celebrate her recent 100th birthday.
Disbrow’s daughter from her marriage, Dianna Huhn, 65, of Portland, Ore., said the reunion has filled a void for her mother - one that for many years, the sharp, stylish woman with sparkling blue eyes kept a deep, dark secret.
I never heard her so excited, Huhn said. From that day on, I have never seen my mom so happy.