Nothing could hide the joy father and son were feeling days after they met for the first time in over 55 years.
Courtenay resident Lewis Bartholomew, 58, was adopted as a toddler in Jackson, Wyo., and a couple of weeks ago, he picked up his natural father Durle (a.k.a. Bill) Morris, 79, from Vancouver International Airport and brought him to Courtenay for a visit.
“I’m just extremely thankful that I actually got a chance to meet him because every day I get more proud of him, knowing that I’m related to him, you know, I’m proud to call him my father,” Bartholomew said as he put an arm on his father’s shoulder.
Bartholomew, who is project director for The Alberni Project, noted the trip so far has involved some touring, but mostly catching up on each other’s lives while sitting on Bartholomew’s deck talking and finding out more about each other’s life stories.
When Bartholomew was a baby, Morris went into service with the Marine Corps. While Morris was away, his wife struggled on her own with an 18-month baby.
“My wife was evidently having a hard time — I didn’t realize that because I was away from her all the time and everything — and she adopted him out and also got a divorce,” explained Morris. “She wrote and told me that she was going to do this and I was in such a fix — I couldn’t help him out, I couldn’t do nothing, I was kind of stuck basically.”
After about two years of service he came back and tried to find his family.
“I didn’t know how to contact her or anything, everybody had moved,” Morris added. “I went back to Cheyenne, Wyo., for awhile, tried to find her and it turned out to be that no one knew where she went and what took place, so from there I went back into the Marine Corps and I finished up doing the seven years, and I just went ahead with my life.”
Morris remarried and had three other children, though added that he wondered about his son over the years.
Meanwhile, Bartholomew was adopted in Jackson — the same town he lived in with his natural parents — which he noted was rare at that time and led to a confused version of his story.
“There were a lot of incorrect things that were told to me growing up by different people in the town and so I had a very skewed version of my story,” he explained.
The Bartholomew family, which also adopted two other children, was very open about the adoption and supported Bartholomew in his search for his natural parents, he added.
“And so I’d always gone to the library and tried to trace things down and whatnot, but it wasn’t a continuous burning desire, it was just something that I periodically would pick up,” Bartholomew recalled.
In 1999 — around the same time he moved to Canada — he made contact with his natural mother in Oklahoma, with whom he has since developed a relationship.
And, it was through his natural mother that he found his father.
“Most of the time that I was searching for him, I was searching the wrong spelling of his name, and it was in talking to my natural mother that she gave me the correct spelling, and probably within 30 minutes, I was able to find his address online,” he explained, adding he received a letter from Morris confirming he was his father on New Year’s Eve 1999.
Since then, they chose to take time to get to know each other before organizing a face-to-face meeting because Bartholomew noted it can sometimes be difficult meeting long-lost family, and his advice is to take things slowly.
“As much as you would want to rush into everybody’s arms and Kumbaya or whatever, I really strongly urge that everything just be taken in little small baby steps, and everybody has to get used to each other, and used to the situation,” he said, adding he’s heard of situations where meetings don’t go well. “There’s a lot of emotions that come up that you don’t experience in a different kind of setting.”
Although Bartholomew noted these meetings can be hard, it was easy to see the two got along with jokes and smiles coming into the conversation throughout.
“I guarantee you, this time, I’m not going to lose him,” said Morris with a grin.