Finally Hear His
Mother's Greatest Valentine's Day Gift
Laura Hickey, Associate Editor
Seila Spence knew.
She knew, in her heart, that he would find her —
that he would seek her out.
She had played the moment out in her mind over and
Seila could only imagine what his voice would sound
like, what he would look like, what words would flow from his lips, what
things he would like, how she would feel, how he would react. She was
anxious, curious, scared, confident — all at the same time.
And then it happened — on Valentine’s Day 1988.
The phone rang, shattering the silence in her
Blackstone home that evening. Her heart skipped a beat.
She’d been advised that he might call at some
point. “My old friend called and told me that the son I had given up for
adoption 19 years earlier was looking for me. She wanted to know if she
could give him my number to contact me,” explains Seila. “I laughed,
and then I cried.”
Year after year, she had celebrated her son’s
birthday — without him. “I would dream about driving by a house and
seeing him out in the yard, laughing and playing,” she says.
And now she would get a chance to talk to him, to
finally hear his voice.
The Phone Call
That Valentine’s Day evening, Seila answered the
phone. A young man’s voice greeted, “Happy Valentine’s Day!” She
immediately knew it was her son, her baby boy — though, no longer a
child; he was now a young man. She’d not heard his voice before, but it
came as a familiar sound to her heart, soothing her to the soul. “I was
elated when I heard his voice,” Seila says, tears welling up in her
eyes. “I knew he would find me,” she says.
Seila remembers parts of the conversation word for
“Hi, this is James,” he had said. James — what
a nice name, Seila thought, then responded: “Hi, I’m Seila.” Though
miles apart, she felt so close to him, as she clutched the telephone and
waited to hear what he would say next. He said that she had a nice voice.
“We got to talking, and the conversation went so well,” she remembers.
Then it came time to say goodbye. Before she would
let him hang up, she asked, “Would you call me mom, just once?” Then,
when they were finished talking, he said the words she had been longing to
hear; they sent her heart fluttering for a moment. “Goodbye, Mom. I love
you,” James said before he hung up.
When the phone call came, her son was 19 years old
— the same age Seila had been when she gave birth to him. James Martin,
a history teacher, is now 34 years old and is married with two young
daughters, Kadie and Elizabeth Morgan — ages six and 10.
She had been barely an adult herself when she
conceived her child, and was 1,500 miles from home. “I left North
Carolina when I was 18 to go to California with another girl, but we never
made it there. The car broke down in Kansas and we ran out of money, so we
ended up living with my friend’s aunt and uncle,” Seila explains.
When she found out she was pregnant, Seila was
scared. She knew she was not prepared to raise a child at that point in
her life. “It was a difficult decision, but I had to do what was right
for me at the time,” she says.
Seila, now in her fifties, was born in Spring Hope,
NC, and grew up in a single-parent home with two brothers and one sister.
“Because my own father was not a part of my childhood, I was well aware
of what I had missed growing up. When faced with the decision of raising a
child without a father or placing my baby up for adoption, I chose
adoption,” she explains. “I wanted my baby to have a daddy.”
When her son finally found her, the hole in Seila’s
heart was filled. “Not a day went by that I didn’t think about him,”
she says. She would peer at every group of young children, searching for a
face that matched her own.
It had been a closed adoption, so despite her dream
to one day reunite with him, there was nothing she could do to facilitate
it. “I had to sit and wait and hope and pray that he would find me —
if he was even alive,” she says.
Seila always kept him in mind when she moved from
place to place. “Every time I moved, the only thing I could think is,
‘Is he going to be able to find me here?’ ”
James, spurred on by his desire to trace his roots,
tracked her down. He followed her trail, through contacting various
relatives and friends, from Kansas to North Carolina, and finally to
She says, “My son said it didn’t matter; if he
had to ride his motorbike out to Virginia, he was determined to see me. He
told me that he’d gone through it in his mind; that if I’d not wanted
to see him, he was going to sit across the street and wait until I came
out.” Seila knew it was a miracle that he had found her, since nobody in
her family knew she had once given birth to a baby boy.
A stream of tears washed the mascara from Seila’s
eyes at the life-altering moment a young man stepped toward her, extending
his arms. She smiled, he smiled; they embraced — a hug that could have
lasted 19 years. Blonde hair, hazel eyes — he had an uncanny resemblance
to his mother. There was so much she wanted to tell him.
When the moment came to meet her son, who lived in
Kansas, Seila had been overwhelmed with both excitement and nervousness.
“We talked for about six weeks and then we planned to meet in Kansas on
the Monday after Easter 1989,” Seila says. Seeing him for the first
time, a grown young man, she admits, “I felt like a shy little girl.”
The mother and son had a meal together, holding hands
at the table. “I think he saw I was a little nervous because he hugged
me and said, gently, ‘It’s all right. I’ve been happy. I’ve been
very happy.’ ”
And that’s all Seila could have asked for. “I
just wanted him to have loving parents and a good education; those are the
things I wanted most for my son,” she says.
Seila felt the reunion went well; she felt comforted
knowing he was at peace with what had happened, and why she had made that
difficult decision 19 years ago.
“It’s all right. I’ve been happy. I’ve been
very happy.” The words he’d spoken so softly, so convincingly to her
— they reverberated in her head after her reluctant return to Virginia.
“I was happy to hear that his adoptive parents had loved him dearly and
given him all the things he so deserved,” she
His adoption was no secret; James always knew he was
adopted. “My [adoptive] parents made my being adopted into a good thing.
My [adoptive] mother really built the image of my birth mother up — not
as someone who gave me up because she didn’t want me, but as someone who
gave me up because she loved me and wanted me to have a better life than
she could have given me at that time.”
After meeting his birth mother, James recognized
common characteristics. “When I was a kid, I would pull the covers up
over my head so just my face was exposed, and she would do the same thing.
Neither one of us do well around snakes; I am terrified of them.”
Get, and Give Back
As time passed, the newfound relationship with her
son slowly developed into the unbreakable bond between a birth mother and
her child. “Talking to him afterwards wasn’t awkward at all, because
it felt like we had so much in common,” she says.
However, her outlook on life and her priorities
changed. “When something like that happens to you, you want to give
something back,” she explains. “I decided that I wanted to help out
those kids who never had a chance to call someone mom.”
That’s when she started up Morgan (Seila’s maiden
name) Scholars, a non-profit organization that gives scholarships and
computers to disadvantaged youth, with a focus on helping young adults
leaving children’s homes and foster-care facilities. The program has
given out five computers and four scholarships to date. The goal, says
Seila, is to go nationwide to help kids across the country.
Two Lives Touched
Nottoway High School students Devina Woodley, 18, and
Patricia Lee, 17, know what it feels like to be a Morgan Scholars
recipient. A few months ago, both were presented with brand-new computers.
“It meant a lot to me that someone cared enough
about me to give me a computer,” Woodley says shyly. “I have a sister
who just had a baby and we can’t afford to buy a computer because
we’re going through hard times.”
Jackie Winn, special-education teacher at Nottoway,
selected and presented the two students-in-need to Seila’s organization.
Winn had been Lee’s homebound teacher while the young student battled
ovarian cancer. “There couldn’t have been two more-deserving girls
than Patricia and Devina,” she says. “Both girls really needed
computers, and they were just so thankful.”
Lee, one of seven siblings — five of them under 18
years old — says, “I want to go to Hampton University, and the new
computer helped me research scholarship information so I could afford to
go — and have a better future.”
Rest in Peace
With a huge void in her heart now filled after
finding her son, Seila recognized something else that was missing —
closure with her father, the man who had walked out on her family. She
knew her father had recently made contact with her older brother, living
in North Carolina. “I showed my brother a picture of James, my son, one
day and he said to me, ‘He looks a lot like him.’ Him, of course,
being our father.”
James had expressed an interest in meeting his
grandfather, once he found out that her father was still alive. It was a
difficult concept for Seila to grasp — that her son wanted to meet the
man who had deserted her, the man she had held a grudge against for many
“I said to myself, ‘If my son can forgive me,
then I should be able to forgive my father,’ ” she says. Seila went
ahead and made arrangements to meet her father. “A family friend told
him I wanted to meet him, and he said he’d wanted to meet me for years
but thought I’d hated him for what he did,” says Seila.
The meeting was set for a Monday. Seila took off
work, but couldn’t go through with it that particular Monday. It was
just too soon. So she cancelled. “I needed one more week,” she says.
The meeting was rescheduled to the following Monday
and, again, Seila took off from work — determined to go through with it
this time. The week passed as her anxiety mounted. And then on Sunday
evening, the day before she was to meet her father, the phone rang —
though, that night, there was an ominous tone to the ring. “It was my
sister-in-law who had some shocking news. She said, ‘Your father died
Seila pauses. “If I hadn’t put it off one week, I
could have met him. I could have met my father before he died.”
From the Back
Distancing herself from her father and his family
during his funeral, Seila sat in the back. “The man lying peacefully in
the casket was a stranger to me,” she says. “I wanted to be there, but
I didn’t want to be there.”
She listened as they talked about the man she never
knew — the man biologically connected to her, and yet a complete
stranger. “As I found out more about him, I saw that he was a lot like
me,” she says. They both enjoyed taking pictures, liked barbecue, and
loved joking around. Recognizing similarities between herself and her
father, he didn’t seem as unfamiliar to her anymore.
More on Morgan Scholars
Seila works at the fitness center for the Virginia
Army National Guard in Blackstone. Along with her husband, Michael, she
continues to spread the word about Morgan Scholars, formed in April 2000.
“My husband and I aren’t wealthy, but we do everything we can to get
money together to purchase computers and scholarships for disadvantaged
youth,” she says. Efforts include fundraisers, like bake sales and
concerts, as well as monetary and item donations from various groups,
individuals and businesses in the community.
James says of Seila’s efforts, “I’m really
proud of her and what she’s trying to do. It’s always a good thing
when people get involved.”
Reflections: The Rainbow After
Seila may have had a life interspersed with
misfortune, but in the end she’s bolstered by the strength that comes
with overcoming life’s obstacles.
“I’ve learned from my mother’s experience with
her father passing away,” says James, “the life lesson of not putting
off until tomorrow what you can do today. You shouldn’t let ill feelings
linger, because you never know how much time you have to forgive a
He pauses, “I don’t think people really think
about that — how much they could lose in a blink of an eye. Time is
fleeting and you have to make the best of it, whether it’s making amends
with people or by helping those in need.”
For more information on Morgan Scholars, please
contact Seila Morgan Spence at (434) 292-9779, write to Morgan Scholars
Inc., P.O. Box 243, Blackstone, Va. 23824, e-mail: email@example.com
or go to www.morganscholars.org.