Last weekend I made the overly-anticipated journey to Yosemite with my dad and “new sister.” I had the postcard image of the granite-framed valley in my brain. The last time I visited the park was in April 2015, when all was green and deer grazed in the meadows.
Our recent family adventure was amazing because we were trapped in a car for three hours each way. Dad recited family history and we sang songs in terrible harmony. However, the Yosemite Valley itself was less awe-inspiring than the trips of my memory. I had forgotten that Yosemite Falls can actually run dry.
As we approached the place where the mist of snowmelt often makes the walkway slippery, we soon learned the walk would be pleasant but dry.
“Has somebody called the ranger to let them know the waterfall is out of order?” Dad joked to passersby.
We didn’t see deer, but there was quite a fuss over two bears that were crouching in dry grass, hiding from hundreds of tourists taking photos with long lenses. We figured the bears would wait out the crowds and wander away at dusk to raid campsites.
I mentioned that the travelers included my dad and my “new sister.”
It’s been a year since Tania joined the family, which is enough time for me to confirm that her presence in our lives is truly a gift.
This story begins in the mid 1970s, when I was about six years old. Back then, we didn’t have high-tech fertility clinics, surrogate motherhood or invitro fertilization. My mother heard about some folks who were donating to a clinic that helped women get pregnant.
She asked my Dad if he wanted to help out. Dad is handsome and smart and fulfilled whatever other criteria the clinic folks had in mind. Our pastor from our church even donated, and good intentions were shared by all.
Even as a teen, I knew about my dad’s donation of the gift of life. However, no one ever knew for certain if there was a child, or children, that resulted.
Our family has always wondered, of course. There were times when strangers would approach me in public and ask if they knew me from high school. Sometimes I would joke “No, but my father donated to a fertility clinic in the ’70s. Maybe you went to high school with my sister.”
And then it happened. Members of my family decided to spit into plastic vials and send off more genetics to companies including Ancestry.com and 23andme.
It was fun to confirm I’m a mongrel American, and of course, we wildly speculated if we might find a new family member.
A cousin saw her first: a match on my paternal side.
You can imagine the text chatter that ensued.
Dad hesitated exactly two seconds before shooting off an email to our newly-found kin.
“I was imaging trying to muster my best James Earl Jones voice and starting a conversation with “… Tania, you are my daughter … Lol.”
Yes, that’s what he wrote. Soon, she was invited for a visit with our rather loud and perhaps overly-excited family. She gets points for bravery. She showed up, alone, and was soon encircled by the Hacking clan.
I don’t think there were balloons on the driveway, but we definitely made it a party. This was a little more than a year ago, and several family weekends have followed.
Of course, when Tania mailed her saliva to the genealogy company, she also knew she might soon meet some new people.
I must admit, I did have a flash of jealousy when I heard the news. My dad is definitely “my guy,” and part of me didn’t want to share. Yet, I’m not competing for time on Daddy’s lap these days. A new sister in middle age is a gift indeed. Also, this time I get to be the “older sister.”
My little sister is amazing. She is also a teacher — at a school for the arts in the Bay Area.
She graduated from U.C. Berkeley and for years she has been a professional piano player for musical theater. The only downfall is that she can actually sing, which makes our family warbling in the car a bit of an embarrassment.
We do not look similar. I inherited my fair coloring from my mother. However, she looks a lot like my Auntie Pat.
I have only spent physical time with her half a dozen times over the past year. However, I made an effort to keep our friendship growing. We both had downtime during the pandemic. I would call and begin awkward conversations while I walked in my neighborhood. We’re both women, teachers, and have human strengths and frailties. I can honestly say that we’ve bonded.
Even if Yosemite was not what I had expected last weekend, spending a day in the car with my dad and my “new sister” was an unexpected high point of an otherwise disappointing 2020.