ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Admittedly, the search for her siblings had slowed somewhat. Twenty-three years before, Brandie Ramey’s family had been ripped apart, the children shuffled off into foster care and then adopted into different homes.
Ramey, the eldest, had gone to live with her father, a man she had never met until the day he came to take her away.
Ten years ago, she started looking in earnest for her two brothers and a sister, calculating that by then they were adults or nearly so and free from whatever or whoever had taken them away.
Maybe, she thought, Cody, April and Tylor were looking for her.
She didn’t know what last names they went by.
But she never forgot their birthdays.
On Jan. 27, 2010, she posted a notice on a missing persons website.
“I have been looking for my two brothers and my sister,” she wrote. “We got split up in 1994. I was 8.”
She signed herself Brandie521.
No one responded.
“I just stopped looking as much,” she said from her home in Biloxi, Miss. “Every time I saw nothing, it just made me sad.”
This year, someone responded to that website. Ramey, though, had long forgotten that post.
Meanwhile, April Jeffas, from Long Island, N.Y., was also searching for her siblings. She was 3 when she and her big sister and two brothers were placed into foster care in Griffin, Ga., after the storms of substance abuse, poverty and infidelities that always swirled around their mother had finally torn them apart.
Her big sister, who was not much bigger, had been more of a mother than their mother. She bathed them, brushed their hair, cooked eggs when they were hungry, stole milk and bread from a nearby gas station to feed them when she needed to.
Her name was Brandie.
They hadn’t been in a foster home for long when someone came for Brandie and never brought her back. In 1998, Jeffas was adopted by another family. Her brothers were also adopted, together, elsewhere.
They were not allowed to stay in touch. But Jeffas said she always believed that someday they would find each other.
Late last year, she found her brothers. Earlier this year, she thought she had found Brandie, too, when she stumbled upon an old website and the post from Brandie521 written in 2010.
Jeffas wrote back, waited and hoped.
No one responded.
In September, Jeffas contacted me after reading a column I had done in July about Jennifer Martin – the daughter of Alton Martin, the father of Jeffas’ brothers – who was searching for the family of a Penitentiary of New Mexico corrections officer her father, an inmate, had protected during the bloody prison riots in 1980.
She wanted to give the officer’s family a tarnished brass badge in the shape of a star that the officer had given her father as a sign of gratitude. Because of that column, we found one of the officer’s daughters in Pecos, and the star was returned.
Maybe, Jeffas thought, I could find Brandie, too.
That column was published on Sept. 26, and although some promising leads came in, Brandie remained missing.
Until last week.
Ramey hadn’t done much searching for her siblings in a while. But now and then, she Googled each of their names, adding Ethier, the last name they had all shared before adoption.
Last Tuesday, the Google search brought up my column.
“I felt adrenaline,” Ramey said. “I started crying. I was crying and full of joy.”
The sisters connected by text message and then on Skype.
“When I saw her, I just knew immediately it was her,” Jeffas said. “We started crying. I got extremely emotional in a good way, but kind of sad. We have missed so much of our lives together. But I’m excited we get to explore that life now.”
And so they will. All four siblings have now communicated with one another, but it’s the bond between the sisters that is the strongest.
They marvel at how similar they are despite the years and miles that have separated them. Both struggled through hard childhoods that made them angry, cold and rebellious. Both were loners. Both created the families and the stable homes they never had – Ramey with her partner and five children in Biloxi; Jeffas with her fiancé and their two children in Long Island.
Both relish their roles as mothers. They love being home. They know what it’s like not to have either.
This weekend, Ramey and her family will make the 20-hour drive to Jeffas’ home in New York to spend the Thanksgiving holidays together as one big family.
Finding each other, they say, is the best birthday gift they could have hoped for. Ramey’s birthday is Dec. 1. Jeffas’ is Jan. 6.
Ramey never forgot that.
UpFront is a front-page news and opinion column. Comment directly to Joline at 823-3603, firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @jolinegkg. Go to www.abqjournal.com/letters/new to submit a letter to the editor.