Happy Birthday, Debbie Wallingford


Columbus, Ga., May 2 – Greetings from Muscogee County, Georgia.
From here in the heart of the Chattahoochee River Valley, I’m happy to deliver the good news that you can be a redneck from Muscogee even if you’re not an Okie.
We haven’t accomplished much this week, except escaping the tenacious clutches of Florida after a month’s exile. On Tuesday we visited Weeki Wachee Spring, a decaying roadside attraction of the kind that were popular in the decades following World War II. Max enjoyed the live mermaid shows, and that was the primary purpose of our visit. There’ll be more on our visit to Weeki Wachee later.
It dawns on me we better get moving if we want to see a significant portion of the country on this expedition. We have traveled a grand total of 650 miles since April 1. We spent the first third of April stuck in St. Augustine, and most of the rest in the vicinity of St. Petersburg.
Which brings me to the present, Thursday, May 2, in the Barnes and Noble outpost in Columbus, Ga., and the main purpose of this post.
I came here to say happy birthday to my sister.
Fifty-four years ago today, Deborah Lynn Wallingford entered the world in a hospital in St. Petersburg. For the first week of life, her legal name was Baby Weidemann.
Our parents, who had experienced much frustration in the baby-making business, flew to Florida, picked up Debbie and thus started a family.
All we know is our great uncle, Dr. George Beck, was an OB/GYN in Philadelphia. He knew the birth mother’s family. He contacted my parents, who jumped on the opportunity.
“He called and said, ‘Do you want a baby?'” our mom recalled. “And I said, ‘Yes,’ without even thinking.”
The rest of the story is shrouded in mystery. In most places in this country, adoption records are state secrets. In Florida, a court order is required to unseal an adoption record.
Now a half-century has breezed past like a sunny afternoon on a Florida beach, and Debbie knows no more about her birth mother than her name.
My sister and I, we’ve had our moments. We’re different sorts of people, and we never understood each other very well when we were kids. Not that we tried all that hard. We were kids, after all.
For the better part of our lives, we’ve fought and argued and yelled and taunted and hurled insults at each other and then retreated to our neutral corners to nurse our wounds.
We’re not kids any more.
Many years ago, underscoring the pressure my sister’s adoption must have relieved on my parents, my friend Peter said, “If it weren’t for your sister, you wouldn’t be here.”
I thought about it for a couple seconds and remarked, in my usual flippant style, that it wouldn’t have made a bit of difference to me.
But he’s right on the main point. I probably would not be here had not it been for my sister.
And I’m glad to be here, struggling to make sense of this world in my brief residency on the planet. And I’m glad to have a sister.
Last year she was diagnosed with Stage 4 head-and-neck cancer, and she fought the battle of her life. Along the way, her illness forced us to endure a closeness we’d never been comfortable with before.
Not that everything was sunshine and popsicles. We still had our moments. I still managed to make her cry on Christmas Day.
But generally, things are better.
I suppose a lot of that improvement in our relationship is due to the arrival of that 5-year-old miscreant we call Max.
For the past five-plus years, she’s played the role of World’s Greatest Aunt, and she’s played it like Bette Davis took to Baby Jane Hudson.
So without further ado, and without descending further into the maudlin:
Happy Birthday, Baby Weidemann.
I love you.

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