Connected: It’s what we all should be.
I was adopted at birth into the family of Dr. Douglas Gordon Campbell, MD, a prominent member of the early Psychoanalytic Society of San Francisco, and his wife, Marian Van Tuyl, a Graham dancer, dance educator, publisher on dance, and a lesser luminary in the constellation of early modern dancers in this country. My father, I was told, was there when I was born. How that happened I never was sure until much later in life. My mother was very averse to discussing my origins, yet my father every so often dropped hints at my parentage. I wanted to know more about whom I came from but this seemed to so upset my mother that I was scared of bringing up the subject, so I didn’t.
Once, as I was watching “Have Gun, Will Travel,” my father happened to pass by and said, “Your father’s in that.” What a stunner!! He didn’t offer anything more and I was stupified. When I was 18, he offered to contact my birth father if I wanted on a family trip east. I was very interested and said, “Yes!” Reaching Connecticut, he said he had checked and my birth father had died. Nothing more was said of this, no explanation, just silence.
in the ’60′s while living in San Francisco, my godsister, Cindy Lion, and I were talking about our mutual adoptions and she remembered she had something to tell me: her mother who’d recently died, disclosed something about my adoption. Cindy’s father, Dr. Lyon, had delivered us all- Cindy, her brother, myself and my other adopted sibling. However, he was totally tight-lipped about where we came from. But, it turned out, he’d confided in his wife who, in her cups once, divulged to Cindy that my birth mother’s brother, my uncle, was a doctor at UCSF named Jim Hopper. UCSF was the hospital where we had all been delivered
Fast forward from the 1960′s to 1987 to after my mother had died and I was clearing out the house our family had inhabited on the top of Twin Peaks for 40+ years. Going through my mother’s files, I came across some files on each of us siblings, containing sentimental, aged valentines, grade school report cards, letters from us to them, and such. In mine however, were two very old envelopes. I just knew instantly they were from my adoption. And they were. They were gems, one from “Jane Vial nee Helene Victoire Hopper”, and one from “Richard Stiegler I”I, and full of love and regret, wonderful wishes for my future and hopes for my happiness. His said, “It is with my head and not my heart that lets this adoption go through” from a faraway address in Connecticut.
I was ecstatic and threw myself into a whirlwind of speculation about them and their origins. I called Cindy immediately. She was as excited as I was that I’d found a connection to my past. When I read them to her, she said, “Gail, don’t you remember, I told you that Mom once said your real mom had a brother, a doctor in San Francisco named Jimmy Hopper?” NO!! I hadn’t remembered that she’d told me so years ago.
The afternoon sun, streaming its way across my mother’s desk in the lania where I was sitting seemed surreal, I was reeling so. I simply opened the San Francisco White Pages telephone book. There, under “H”, was Dr. James Hopper Urology Clinic, UCSF.
I was 43. I thought, That was so many years ago, he can’t possibly still be alive. It must be a clinic named after him. I didn’t want to call the number and be told that so I called the general number for the hospital. A switchboard operator answered. “Is there a Dr. Hopper there, Dr. James Hopper?” I asked. She said in an officious voice, “One moment, please,” and the phone went silent for what seemed like a very long time. Then, simply, an old man’s tired and soft voice came on the line, “Thizz Jim Hopper.” I was disbelieving. “Is this, uh, Dr. James Hopper?” I asked hesitantly. He paused, then said, “Yes”. I asked slowly, “Do you have a sister named Jane?” There was a pause, a chasm of time, and he said, “I did”. My heart sank for an instant, for having lost one mother, (to my surprise) I’d hoped that my real mother was still alive. Then I panicked. I thought he’d think I was a crazy woman calling and blurted out, “Well I’m Gail Campbell, the adopted daughter of Dr. Douglas and Marian Campbell -” “Oh, yes,” he said. ” -and my mother just passed away and- ” at which he injected , “Yes, I think I read about that in the paper” and I continued “- I just found letters from my birth parents and, it would seem that your sister was my real mother.” There, I’d said it. And he hadn’t hung up! A giant pause ensued. Then he said, quietly,”Yes, that’s right.” You could have picked me off the moon I was so elated!! And we went on from there. He said, “This is really something. The children will be delighted”. WHAT children? Did I have brothers and sisters? Who were they? Where were they? We talked a while more and then he said, “It would be good to have you over for dinner. My wife will get in touch with you and set that up. Well, goodbye.” And he was gone. I wasn’t speechless: I felt like howling! I could have talked an excited stream for days at that point! I telephoned neighbors with the news. Two great grand dames, Mrs. Bernstein and Mrs.Dinklespiel, both doyens of the neighborhood, were thrilled at the news, exclaiming, “We KNEW you were Jewish all along!” when apprised of this new-found information, believing Stiegler to be a Jewish name.
That all happened Saturday late afternoon and as the cold evening fog of March rolled in over us and our houses on Twin Peaks, I just sat there, at her desk, stupefied. What a wonder: to find the letters; to find Jim Hopper, after a lifetime of wondering.
It was an unwritten rule that you didn’t call someone on Sunday before 9:00 in the morning. It just wasn’t thoughtful or considerate. At 9:00 on the dot, Marion Hopper called. They had four grown children and lived in Sausalito. We talked for over an hour. She, a very bright woman who was clever with puzzles (she did the NY Times crossword for breakfast) had figured out soon after it happened that her sister-in-law Jane’s baby girl had been adopted by Dr. and Mrs. Campbell. Serendipitously, both she and my mother had studied with the same piano teacher, Herb Jaffee and at house concerts, Marion Hopper always exchanged pleasantries, asking, “And how are the children, Mrs. Campbell?”, and my mother responding, “Just fine, thank you”. Did she ever ask about me for Jane? No.
The Hopper’s youngest son, Sean, had gone to Marin Country Day School where he’d known Bruce Campbell, my younger brother, also at that school. Later, they both found their way into playing music in the Marin County scene and had in fact collaborated tangentially. Sean would figure out, two weeks before I contacted Dr. Hopper, that Bruce Campbell’s sister was in truth his cousin, Jane’s adopted daughter. Douglas Campbell’s sister, Macia, lived two houses above the Hoppers in Sausalito and the Hopper kids had grown up around my cousins in that family.
I was invited to come to dinner the following Saturday night. Marion asked me to bring my baby pictures, so I assembled a bag of pictures. I was thrilled and scared, both. Sausalito. That was the land of monied professionals. What if they turned out to be Republicans? That was my worst fear. The week passed excruciatingly slowly. At last Saturday came. What to wear? I was in a dither, not wanting to be rejected as too liberal. No flowing ’60′s garb. So I selected some tailored pants and blouse, hoping this would be inoffensive or just plain non-committal. I drove over the Golden Gate, following their directions, arriving at 147 Harrison, parking out of the way on the street, and walked up the long gravel driveway protected under carefully bonsied pines overlooking Richardson Bay. Wild gardens with lemon and orange trees populated the incline. An old place. And an old, old house, something that looked as if it had lived through the ’06 earthquake, white, Victorian, but askew with remodeling here and there, a melange. I approached the broad, steep front steps and as I climbed them, eight people spilled out the front door onto the broad porch to greet me. And four of them had noses like mine. I was fascinated, agog. People who looked like me. For the first time, I felt like I really did come from people. I saw them, they saw me, and I was one of them. They welcomed me in with open arms, the long-lost relation.
The night was wondrous. We talked about Jane, who she was, how I had had a sister who’d died, who’d had a daughter herself, a niece to me somewhere up in Red Bluff. As I talked and laughed with them, they were stunned, they said, how much I was like Jane. I made gestures and they all went silent, staring at me incredulously, saying, “It’s like someone come back from the dead. You’re just like Jane! You sound like her, you look like her, you have her gestures, your mannerisms – it’s unreal!” That night, for the first time in my life, I felt completely validated, whereas I’d been a strange puppy from another kennel in the Campbell family, not quite smelling the same, of a different temperament they didn’t really recognize, at the core a stranger among them. It was like being claimed as genuine. I was just like I was supposed to be. I was Campbell nee Hopper.
And the “Have Gun, Will Travel” mystery? Jane had originally married Richard Boon, the lead character in that drama. They divorced but were still very close and he had seen her through her pregnancy with me. On my original birth certificate, I had been given the name of Melissa. Melissa Boone. The Hoppers had hilarious stories of Jane and him in art school together, and in drama mishaps when he was taking acting lessons.
They shared and shared with me and to this day I’m still close to the Hoppers. I spent time with Jim’s sister, Mary Ann, another aunt, in Mexico until she, too, passed, as have Jim and Marion and two of my Hopper cousins, Jimmy and Steve. Sean plays keyboards in The Huey Lewis Band and Margo is at home outside of Reno. Two of Steve’s sons stay in touch on Facebook and one lives not far from me in Oregon.
Of those doctors from UCSF? Dr. Campbell taught neurology there. Dr. Hopper conducted nephrology research there. Dr. Lyon practiced obstetrics there. Dr. Hopper had arranged for Dr. Lyon to deliver his sister, Jane’s, baby. Dr. Lyon knew that Dr. Campbell and his wife were interested in adopting another child. Among themselves, the three doctors arranged for Dr. and Mrs. Campbell to adopt me, at birth, and my father, Dr. Campbell, was in attendance when I was born.
Cindy felt so encouraged from my discoveries that she hired an investigator to track down her own birth parents. Her records were located two weeks before the institution that had them was going to incinerate them. She was able to find and contact her father and together, they surprised her mother on a trip to Hawaii, videotaping the entire reunion. Her father and mother had eventually married and had six additional children, but they had always wanted to find her. Cindy went from having one brother to having an instant family of 52 additional relatives who all live in Texas. When she first went down to see them, her siblings met them at the Dallas airport in a limo and gave her a charm bracelet with names of all the family members on it. Her siblings have had to get used to having a new oldest sibling, so the birth order has been disturbed, not to all of their likings. But she says it’s been fabulous to be claimed, and only slightly overwhelming at times.
My search for my birth father’s people was less successful. He’d died of a massive heart attack while in a sailing race at the young age of 50-something. My adoptive father, Douglas Campbell, revealed this on our family trip East. That was all I knew aside from the wierd “Have Gun, Will Travel” incident, until 1987. To my amazement, as she lay ill, my mother spoke of my birth father. It might have been her brain tumor. I was telling her of my ambitious plans for building a social program and she remarked, “You’re just like your father. He was a renowned builder and an “A” personality type”. He’d apparently been responsible for building the first 53, A & P stores in the East, thereby making his fortune. When I later found his letter in my mother’s files, the imprinted stationery led me to the town his family lived in. I also found his NY Times obituary and his name in Who’s Who in America. I learned he’d wed a younger woman in a December-May union and had had two children with her. The obituary gave me the name of the church where his funeral was held. I really wanted an intermediary if I could find one to contact his widow for me, so I contacted that church. Unfortunately, the pastor there only knew them to come during the high holidays and could not act in the capacity I sought because she said she really didn’t know them well. So I called Mrs. Stielger directly, following up on a letter I’d written to her, saying I’d like to be in touch with her and her family. She was not delighted.
His widow, Mary Lou Stiegler, instead referred me to his sister, Helen Stiegler for information about that side of the family. She lived in Florida, received me as bona fide goods, and filled me in on family history. My grandfather and grandmother were from Germany – Berlin and Munich. He worked for Goldman Sachs and because he spoke English, was transferred to the New York office in the early years of the last century. Helen Stiegler had been the long-time companion of a judge who was on the Florida Supreme Court but who would not divorce his wife. When I surfaced and contacted her, she had a very good laugh. Apparently, Richard had chided her for her relationship with the judge, while he all along was spawning quite a few children out of wedlock – myself, and apparently others. Richard and his wife had separated and before re-uniting, he’d fathered at least two more children. The mother of one had appeared after his passing, asking for money and so, his widow was not happy to hear of my existence, either. She did not want me to contact them, saying, “You have your family and I have mine.” Mary Lou Stiegler lives in a seashore compound in Connecticut. I believe my half-brother in that family is named Richard “Chip” Stiegler, III. Both he and his sister, I understand, live close to their mother. Someone took a picture of me in which, interestingly, I resemble Richard Stiegler quite closely in his portrait in The National Cyclopedia of American Biography. I sent it to Mary Lou. I’ve since attempted to persuade her that contact would be beneficial, but to no avail. With her feeling as she does, I have been hesitant to try to contact my half-siblings, but if the opportunity arose, I’d like it. In reality, however, I’m torn: I don’t know if the mother has poisoned the well or not. I don’t know what kind of reception I’d get. My experience with the Hoppers colors my view. Am I like him? I’ve come to believe that you can’t just give children away and expect that they’d bear litle resemblance to their parentage due simply to nurturence in another environment. We are tied.
As a species, we devote huge energy to researching our origins. Why then should it come as a surprise that a single person should want to discover her or his origins? To spare people shame, we hide and deny parentage, when, in my experience, to claim it is so life-affirming and validating. Certainly, we operate with a double standard. Yes, I look like both a Hopper and a Stiegler. And I have Hopper and Campbell traits and ways. What a banquet! Aren’t I lucky!