The sunlight reflecting off the bay is almost blinding as we approach the airport in Nelson, New Zealand. I am 11,000 miles from home and about to see my sister Pamela for the second time in 50 years. The beauty of the island is breathtaking. Clear azure pools of water shimmer like diamonds surrounded by majestic purple peaks that form a bowl around the bay.
But I am almost too excited to notice. As the wheels of our 30-seater commuter plane from Auckland touch down, I search the crowd gathered on the airport rooftop looking for her barely familiar face. The face I remember is of a chubby-cheeked, tow-headed girl of 5 who suddenly disappeared from my life in 1952.
Pamela is my father’s daughter from his first marriage to an Australian woman he met while fighting in the South Pacific during World War II. Her mother, Cecily, was an auburn-haired beauty who fell in love with the handsome 6-foot-2-inch airman from New Mexico and followed him back to the States. Exactly when my father met my mother and what role she played in the break-up of his first marriage is a subject not broached in the family. All I know is that Cecily was around during my early childhood, as was Pamela, whom I adored.
There are pictures of us together as little girls. We were like mirror images of each other. She was fair-skinned and blond-haired with curls that dangled into her incredibly blue eyes, while I was dark-haired and brown-eyed, but with the same smile and features. We played together at my grandparents’ home, a low adobe structure surrounded by hundreds of rose bushes and hollyhocks constantly abuzz with menacing bees.
Suddenly, Pamela was gone from my life, given up for adoption by her mother, who felt she could not raise a child alone in a strange country. Although I frequently asked what had become of my sister, I learned only that she had gone to live with a nice family in Clovis, N.M. I imagined her living on a farm with chickens and cows and lots of other brothers and sisters. When my father died in 1976, I again asked what had happened to Pamela, but my mother was evasive, and what information she provided proved unreliable. Every once in a while as an adult, I thought of seeking Pamela out; but I had so little information to go on, the task seemed impossible.
Then, one day in 2000, I was reading my e-mail when I came across a note from someone in New Zealand. “I am so sorry to be writing to you at work, but my mother, Cecily Little Chavez is ill,” the letter opened. “It would mean a lot to her to hear from you,” it said. “She moved back to Australia in 1970 and remarried in 1972. About four years ago, I moved to New Zealand from the United States with my husband—we are retired and enjoying life in New Zealand.”
I couldn’t imagine who this person was or why she was writing me, thinking only how odd it was that whoever she was, her mother had the same name as my father’s first wife. Then I read on. “I would very much like to be in contact with you. I can be reached at the address listed below. Fond regards from your sister Pamela.”
Through the miracle of the Internet I was reunited with a sister I had not seen or heard from in nearly a half century. In the intervening years, I had lost two brothers (sons from my mother’s first marriage) and another sister, both grandparents and my father, but now I had my sister back. In the weeks and months that followed, we spent hours each day writing back and forth, filling each other in on the details of our lives. Later that year, Pamela and her husband, Gil, came to visit briefly. But this is our first visit to Pamela, and I am filled with anticipation.
As my husband and I step onto the tarmac, I see Pamela. She is taller and thinner than me, with hair shades lighter than my own, but the family resemblance is still there. And I wonder what my father would think to see his two daughters united once again in his beloved South Pacific isles.