The internet can make communication efficient, but that doesn’t mean it can make it easy, especially when the news is sensitive and requires subtlety; for that, nothing compares to the human touch. So when Brenda Moorhouse of Stockport, Cheshire, England, finally found her brother after a 60 year search, a Facebook friend request or a Nigerian Prince-type email wouldn’t do. It had to be a person who delivered the news. Since Brenda lived in England and also, since she couldn’t bear the prospect of immediate rejection, she reached out to her local Rotary. They were, after all, she reasoned, International. Her rotary club put her in touch with the Berlin/Ocean Pines club and then-president Cliff Berg was charged with the mission.
Barry Wright woke up that morning knowing he was an only child. He had confirmed that with his adoptive mother as well as with his birth mother. He had made it a point to make sure his own natural and adoptive kids were not only siblings and had raised those six children with as good a sense of family as he could. So when Berg showed up at his house with the news that his sister in England wanted to get in touch with him, Barry was dumbfounded.
“She feels like she hit the lottery,” he said of Brenda, “But I was blindsided.”
Berg further was charged with delivering a negative answer to Brenda’s daughter. A positive answer would come directly from her brother. For Barry, even though it was a bizarre turn of events in the already complicated, vaguely convoluted lineage he had supposed he had reached an understanding about. There never was a question whether he would reach out. It was startling as it was exciting.
Barry was born in Bolton, just outside of Manchester, to Joan Wright, who was the youngest of five. Joan’s mother Ethel, whisked the baby away and set sail on the Queen Mary bound for New York. She had sent word ahead to her son, Edwin Wright to have his wife Mary Irene meet her. Edwin himself has been born out of wedlock and had left England to seek his fortune as a sailor. He met Mary Irene Coffee and the pair married in 1933 and settled in Baltimore. Ethel entrusted the baby to the couple and returned to England. There, she told Joan that she would not reveal where the baby had been taken until she signed the adoption papers.
The first time Barry met Joan, he was still young. It was 1955 and England still was recovering from the war. In retrospect he marveled that there were buildings reduced to rubble right in the neighborhood where he had been born. Joan was introduced as his aunt, which caused an argument that sent his grandmother packing, confusing young Barry in the process. He had no idea, then, what the trouble was about.
“She was kind of a manipulator,” Barry said of Ethel, “but my father took the secret to his grave.”
It wasn’t until his father died that 16-year-old Barry stumbled across his adoption papers. He saw that Joan was his mother and had lots of questions. When he reached out to her, they began what would be a difficult relationship. Barry felt as if Joan wanted more motherly control than she was due and wanted more of a say in his life’s decisions. Beyond that, Joan was too pushy in trying to get him to call her “mom” and less than forthcoming about the family history.
“I had to tell her a couple of times, ‘The mother who raised me is my mother,'” he said.
Joan came to visit for a month in 1978 and Barry continued to press about his family history and whether he had any brothers or sisters. She was adamant that he hadn’t so he eventually let the issue drop, until Cliff showed up with a letter from his sister.
The reunited siblings are giddy as they would have been six decades ago and speak via Facetime daily, often for an hour or more. Brenda is getting acquainted with Barry’s family as he is getting acquainted with hers. He plans to go to England to meet his sister for the first time in March, and she hopes to visit Ocean City not too long after.
For a man who spent his entire life as an only child, Barry is ready to share his life with his sister, as much as is possible. He does still have a little enmity toward the mother who prevented them from finding each other for at least 40 years.
“I feel cheated,” he said. “I mean, how many quality years do I have left?”
However many they are, he is grateful to have a sister to share them with, even if it mostly is over Facetime.