FORREST "SONNY" ROCKNEY
U. S. NAVY, WW II
This is going to be such a difficult post to write. I can scarcely continue. One of the reasons I started my blog 15 months ago was to write this very post.
I grew up not knowing who my natural father was. I have written previously that my mother was a Florence Crittendon girl - a young pregnant woman who went away to have her baby at a home for unwed mothers.
Mom never shared my father's name with me, and never once said anything about him. Even my blabbermouth Aunt Mary never mentioned him.
I had given up ever knowing anything about my father's side of the family. But three years ago, I learned the truth. It was a lovely April evening, and Dan and I were watching the UND Sioux hockey team play in the national Frozen Four championship (as they will be tonight).
The phone rang and I answered it. A male voice on the other end said he was looking for relatives of Myrtle Munro of Crosby, ND. That was my mother, I said. Well then, he said, I'm Mark, your second cousin.
Mark, from Missouri, is the official genealogist of my father's family. He became the caretaker of a packet of letters and cards my father left behind after his death. Knowing my mother's maiden name and hometown, Mark tracked me down via the Internet after my Uncle Dave's obituary was published in the Divide County (ND) Journal.
We talked. Or rather, Mark talked. I cried. I cried a lot. I hung up dazed. After 55 years, I finally knew the truth.
Over the next few months, Mark called, sent me DVDs, and emailed me photos, a genealogy chart and family histories. I learned that I was 1/4 Irish, from my grandmother Hazel Johanna Cody.
One precious evening, Mark phoned to read me the entire series of letters and cards that my mom sent to Forrest. They started out on such a light note - all about their dates, and how much my mom enjoyed his trips to Crosby, where he worked in construction. Then came the letter that began something like, "You know how you mentioned that I was getting fat the last time you were here..."
Obviously, the news did not go over well. And who could blame him, I think in my more rational moments. To learn that he's going to be a father would be hard on any single young man (he was 24), especially back then. I could tell that my mom was in love with Sonny, but he was distancing himself more and more over time. One of her last letters before I was born says, "You promised to pay for half of my fee here, but you haven't sent it." So it had come down to mere money.
Mom sent Sonny news of my birth, about how difficult it was. But there was no offer of marriage, perhaps even no acknowledgement. If you're a regular reader, you know that my mom, bravely, did not give me up for adoption, but brought me home to live with her, my grandma and aunt and uncles. Surprisingly, mom wrote Forrest a couple of letters over the next two years, and included a picture of herself with "little Julie".
Forrest kept that picture and letters all his life. Does that mean he cared about mom and me? Did he follow my scholastic career, which was easy enough to do. Did he ever intend to track me down, or did he close that chapter on his wayward young life forever?
Forrest never married or had any other children. Mark told me he died in Denver, Colorado, in 1982, alone and probably "from the drink," as the Irish say.
I have written before what it felt like to be "a little bastard" in the 1950s. I have not written about the anger I felt that my real father never came to rescue me from my stepfather. Yes, that's how I pictured it - being rescued by a knight in shining armor whom I could call Daddy.
After I saw my grandmother's photos I was angry all over again - angry that I was denied knowing her too. Did she even know she had another granddaughter? Apparently Forrest - called "Uncle Sonny" by his nieces and nephews - was great with kids. Why couldn't he have been great with me?
It would be terrific to end this post on a happier note, telling you that Mark and I are still in touch and that I am still learning a lot about my family. But that is not to be. I haven't heard from Mark since August 2005. He abruptly - childishly, I feel - cut off all contact after I declined to attend the Rockney family reunion. I could not afford to fly to Missouri, and I would not accept his offer to pay for the plane tickets. More to the point, I also felt that I didn't want to be thrust into the spotlight in the midst of a bunch of people who were still very much strangers to me.
I have come to accept the fact that Mark has dropped me as quickly as he found me. What I cannot accept, cannot tolerate, is the fact that Mark is still in possession of my mom's cards and letters - letters that Mark promised he would send me. I feel that these letters - sent by MY mother to MY father, belong to ME. I have emailed and written Mark; I have threatened him with legal action, to no avail.
Going back over Mark's emails today, I realize I learned quite a bit about my mom and dad's relationship. But really, I haven't learned much about Forrest's family. Yes, I can now say I'm 1/4 Irish, and I can add another 1/4 Norwegian from my Rockney grandfather, so I'm finally able to complete my genealogical "pie".
The Rockneys farmed near Jamestown, ND. My dad fought in the Pacific in WWI and my grandfather Clarence fought in France in WWI. I'm related to famous football coach Knute Rockne and may be related to Buffalo Bill Cody. Who knows, Mark might have made that connection by now. He might also have tracked the Codys all the way back to Ireland by now.
It suppose I'll have to be content with what I do know. Fortunately, I have quite a few pictures. It's more than some people have.