Tuesday, October 09, 2018

Finding a mother: Adopted sisters discover their heritage ~ my story in today's paper

SIPSEY - This story would have been told years ago, but it got tangled up in excitement, joy, and grief. The fact that things happened the way they did is extraordinary. Some would say it was a lucky coincidence. 
Three sisters, Linda Vandiver of Empire, Brenda Willingham of Argo, and Regina Richardson of Jasper believe it was divine intervention.
Brenda and Linda Holt were born at a clinic in Sipsey in 1960. Their mother, Fay Holt, was a single mom who was living at home with her father. After the infants were born, Holt’s father left, and the young mother had no food or no place to turn. She did the only thing she knew that would give the young twins a chance to survive – she gave them up for adoption. 
Mary Watson and her husband Albert lived on the Hull Road between Sumiton and Sipsey. Mrs. Watson decided to adopt the twins without discussing the matter with her husband. There is a black-and-white photograph of Watson in an old rocking chair with the twins in his lap. It’s hard to tell if the look on his face was one of surprise or happiness. 
It didn’t take long for the twins to steal his heart. “We were daddy’s girls,” said Brenda Watson Willingham, who is one of the twins.
“Mom and dad always introduced us as their adopted daughter,” Willingham said. “But we were not sure what being adopted meant until we were older.
In the late 1970s, when the twins were 18, they went on a quest to find their birth mother. All they had to go on was that their mother’s name was Fay Holt. They weren’t able to locate their mother. The adoption records were no help, but the girls never gave up on their quest to find their mother.
In 2001, the twins had just turned 40. They renewed their efforts to find their parent.  Linda Watson Vandiver of Empire was the second twin. She was at Randy’s Store in Sipsey, and a man overheard her conversation about trying to locate her mother, Fay Holt. The man told her he thought he knew who she was talking about. This was a glimmer of hope that Vandiver and her sister had longed for.
The man gave Vandiver the name of a man that he thought was the younger brother of Fay Holt. He was dead, but his name was Dennis Holt.
When Vandiver gave her sister this tidbit of information, Willingham got on the internet and searched for the death certificate of Dennis Holt. With the death certificate in hand, the twins were able to find Dennis’ children. His son David lived in Haleyville.
The twins called David. “We’re trying to find our birth mother,” Willingham said. She gave David her name. David said he had an aunt named Margaret Fay Holt. Willingham asked for the number.  David gave her the number of Regina Holt Richardson, who was Fay’s daughter.
The twins called Richardson and told her they were looking for their birth mother. Richardson asked, “Is this Linda or Brenda?” 
“This was a crazy time. I had just adopted a daughter who was premature and was on a heart monitor. I’d also just learned that my mother was dying of brain cancer,” Richardson said.
A few weeks earlier, when her mother had fallen ill, an aunt had told Richardson that she had two older sisters who’d been adopted as infants. Their names were Brenda and Linda. With Margaret Fay dying, the aunt felt that she should share the information with Richardson.
“When I got the call from Brenda that day, I thought it was someone else,” Richardson remembers. But then she realized the voices on the other end of the line were her sisters. “It had been hidden from me my whole life,” Richardson said.
The twins were anxious to meet their mother, but they wanted to make sure their adopted mother didn’t mind. Mrs. Watson was happy the twins had found their birth mother and gave them her blessing.
Regina was in the process of transferring her mother to an assisted living facility in Jasper.  At this point, Holt could barely talk and only had days to live. Regina asked her mom if she wanted to see the twins. She did.
“When the twins went into the room to see mother for the first time, she had a look on her face that was incredible. It was the first time I ever saw her peaceful,” Richardson said.
“God put us all together at the perfect time,” Willingham said.
The tumor had attacked the part of their mother’s brain that controls emotions. “But she mustered up the strength to say, “I love y’all,” Vandiver said.
During the following days, Willingham took her children to the Terrace to meet their birth grandmother. The three sisters spent the next four days with their mother and were by her side when she died.
Those last hours with their mother were emotional. “It was a thrill just to find her and know that all of their lives, they only lived 12 miles apart,” Vandiver said. “We were happy we found her and got to spend time with her.”
When Willingham and Richardson’s sons met, they looked as if they could be twins, according to Willingham. “There is no denying that Regina is our sister,” she said.
Through the years, Holt knew where her twin daughters lived and followed them from a distance throughout their lives. Richardson said that her mother would often disappear for hours at a time and no one knew where she was.  She now believes she was going to watch over her twins. 
“I often had a feeling that someone was watching me,” Vandiver said. She understands now that it was her mother.
Growing up, whenever Regina needed a birth certificate her mother would run by the health department and get an abbreviated card.
After her mother died, Richardson got her full birth certificate and learned something that neither she nor the twins realized – they have another sister.
Their unknown sister’s birthday is January 15, 1963, and all they know is that she was adopted by an attorney who lived in Mobile. They’ve learned that the missing sister was taken from their mother by the Department of Human Resources because Fay had given up the twins for adoption.
Vandiver met her mother by accident the year before she died. “Mother worked at a kiosk at the mall, and I went there to buy something,” she remembered. “I didn’t know who she was, but she knew who I was."
People ask Brenda, why she wanted to find a mother who gave her up? She answers, “There was a reason she did that. She couldn’t care for us, but she gave us to wonderful parents that she knew could care for the young children,” Willingham said.
Since the sisters learned of each other, they’ve grown close, and their families vacationed together at the beach.
The three sisters hope the renewed interest in their story might help them find their other sister. 


  1. Now that is a nice story well told. I hope there is a part and a final happy ending soon.

  2. Wow!!! What a heart rendering story. I hope they find their other sister.
    Hugs, Julia

  3. That is one bittersweet story. I do hope they are able to locate their other sister. Bitter, losing their mother so soon after finding her and sweet that they found the sister.

  4. I love a story with a good ending. Good article. Thanks.

  5. Sweet story! I hope and pray there comes an epilogue when (if) they find their missing sister.

  6. This is such a sweet story. I had to grab a tissue at one point.

  7. Anonymous1:43 PM

    WOW!! You made me cry!!

  8. A lovely and loving story. I hope they will find sister number four.

  9. Such an incredible journey. It will definitely lead them to sister #4.

  10. What a great story and one that is still in the making. I hope they find their sister...perhaps living closer to them than they realize.

  11. Oh what a lovely story, my aunt & uncle adopted both their children as they couldn't have children, their son died when he was only 18 in an accident, their daughter has never been interested in finding her birth parents. My sister in-law is also adopted and found her birth mother a few years back but has no contact with her as her birth mother really wants nothing to do with her.


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