A Tale of Mothers and Pinot Noir

For quite some time I’ve wanted to sample the Pinot Noirs of Oregon’s Evening Lands. I’ve read about these wines and received positive feedback on them from people with tastes similar to mine. I just hadn’t gotten around to buying any. A few weeks back I shared two bottles of 2012 Evening Lands Seven Springs Pinot Noir under some of the most remarkable circumstances of my life. Here’s the story. It’s a good one.

It started a few years ago when my ex-wife insisted I do the DNA analysis offered by 23 & Me. I was adopted so I didn’t know much about my ethnic background and the Ex had always been fascinated. She had done the test and found her own results fascinating. I did the test and it proved interesting.

My wife, Kathy, is Jewish. She always insisted I too was Jewish despite the only evidence being her instincts. She “just knew”. So, I took the test. The results came back showing that in fact, I WAS 50% Ashkenazi Jew with the rest of my ethnic heritage being a collection of northern European, the British Isles and a sprinkling of DNA from southern Europe. I got a “told ya so” from Kathy.

Along the way, weekly in fact, I receive emails from 23 & Me announcing they’d found DNA relatives. They turned out to be 2nd, 3rd and 5th cousins. I can’t even calculate what a 5th cousin is, don’t really care what it is, plus I never had much interest in my biological family. My adopted family, Geroge, Alverna and sister Karen, was a gift, a group I’d been with from birth, and my people.

In January I got another of those weekly emails telling me another DNA relative had been discovered. The message read:

“48.7% shared DNA suggests the following estimated relationship: Mother.”

Veronica “Ronni” Bennett is my mother. She gave birth to me in Marin County, California in 1963 when she was 21. At the time, being unwed and pregnant didn’t endear you to the community and she took the brunt of that standard. Her choice to give me up for adoption was not easy. But she chose George and Alverna for me, handed me off a day after birth, and it was one of the best decisions anyone has ever made on my behalf.

Ronnie spent her career in the media, first as a producer for her future husband. Together they created one of the most important radio shows in New York City in the late 60s and early 70s; one that every important rock star and politician coming through town had to be a guest on. After her divorce, Ronni went on to be a producer for The Dick Cavett Show, for the Barbara Walters Special, for John Tesh, Whoopi Goldberg and Matt Lauer. Today, Ronni lives outside Portland, Oregon. She never had any other children. She is also currently dying of cancer.

For the next 10 months or so after I first received the email announcing Ronni, we have corresponded by email, then moved on to talking on the phone, and finally, a couple of weeks ago, meeting in person at her home in Lake Oswego, Oregon.

Genetics is remarkable and somewhat opaque science. I have always understood my height, hair, ears, skin pigment, and other outward appearances are a direct result of genes I’d inherited from my birth parents. It was never a mystery to me why I didn’t look much like George or Alverna. What I’ve learned since meeting Ronni is that what we inherit goes beyond appearance.

Both Ronni and I began blogging in 2004 and still do. She is perhaps the foremost “Elder Blogger” in America at TimeGoesBy.Net. I am the foremost nothing. However, I do have a certain standing in the realm of wine industry blogs.

Ronni and I have both made careers primarily working in the realm of media and in doing lots of writing.

Ronni and I both share a remarkable similarity in our tastes in literature, all the way down to adoring the same writers.

Ronni and I both have a lifelong fascination with Time Travel stories.

Ronni and I both access our emotions and empathy by taking an analytical path.

Ronni and I both have an interest in religion and spirituality, but very little interest in faith or practising any particular religion.

Ronni and I both tend to be introverted.

The similarities go on. These are behavioral similarities that appear to be somehow related to our shared set of DNA.

Of course, there are many things that she and I don’t have in common. She is a beautiful woman. I would have appreciated her passing a little of that on to me.

As I mentioned, I’d never had much interest at all in my biological parents. I was adopted at birth because Alverna could not have children. I was told at a relatively young age that I was adopted. This fact interested me insofar as it made me stand out from the crowd just a little and made me just a little unique while not making me alien to my peers. As a teen, I, like most, wanted to fit in while also possessing a uniqueness. That I was adopted was one way I accomplished this.

The events of the past year, my introduction to Ronni and getting to know her has changed this view. It’s not that I’m terribly interested in my biological parents. But I’m very interested in Ronni Bennett. She is as likeable and lovable as they come. We have an intimate connection that goes beyond her having birthed me and more toward a similarity of person and spirit that I’ve experienced only with Kathy, Henry and a few others.

I’ve often reminded people that you can’t pick your family. But it turns out that Ronni could pick mine. How she did such a wonderful job at choosing George and Alverna to be my mother and father I can’t fathom, but I know it is probably the most important gift I’ve ever received. For this, I’ll always be grateful.

There is another interesting note to this story. For quite some time now Kathy and I have been looking to move in order to purchase a home for ourselves and Henry. We love Napa immensely. But the down payment on the kind of home we desire is simply out of our range here. What are the odds and what does it mean that the place we have decided to find a new home and where we have been searching for many months is no more than a half hour from Ronni’s home?

Kathy and others chalk up this coincidence to some sort of cosmic meaning? And it might be. I don’t know. I do know that it’s the most remarkable and happy coincidence of my life.

This whole episode is, of course, bittersweet. I’ve discovered my birth mother, she is smart, wonderful and loving, and she possesses a terminal illness that will take her from us. It’s hard for me to express the kind of anger that boils up in me when I am reminded of what Ronni calls her “predicament”. It is cosmically unfair. My response has been to embrace this predicament while focusing on the delight of the moment and the wonderful happenstance that brought it on.

The 2012 Evening Lands Seven Springs Pinot Noir is a profound wine. Its rich depth and elegant structure commands attention and makes it easy to drink. Together, Kathy, Ronni and I drank two bottles when we finally met and came together earlier this month. Ronni had the wines and offered them up. We drank the wine as we told stories of our lives, compared ourselves, became more deeply connected and as Ronni got to know her grandson. This wine and this winery will always remind me of one of the most extraordinary days of my life.

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45 Responses

  1. George - December 21, 2018

    Tom: Despite the sad news about your mother’s health, this is truly a wonderful story for the Holidays – whether Hanukkah or Christmas! May you cherish every moment you still get to share together.

  2. Tom Wark - December 21, 2018

    George,

    I hadn’t thought about this post and this story in terms of the Holidays. But you are right. Thank you.

  3. Cindy Rynning - December 21, 2018

    What a beautiful story, Tom. Thank you so much for sharing this.

  4. Stephen Hendricks - December 21, 2018

    Tom: As you say, bittersweet, but the joy of wine is how that special bottle can be linked to a significant memory. Here’s to you enjoying many other significant, joyful memories linked to Oregon Pinot Noirs.

  5. Tom Wark - December 21, 2018

    Stephen, sooner than I would have expected.

  6. Marcia Morriset - December 21, 2018

    I knew this story from Ronni’s point of view; thank you for sharing it from yours. I, too, have had wonderful surprises from DNA matches, though none as life altering as yours. How profoundly grateful you must be that this happened “just in time.”

  7. Bill McIver - December 21, 2018

    Tom, you gladden my heart. Thanks for your wonderful Christmas love story. Wishing you Kathy, George, and Ronni a happy, loving Merry Christmas.

  8. Jeff Swanson - December 21, 2018

    As a parent, who with my wife, has adopted two girls–it is heartwarming to hear of your meeting with your birth mother. To seal the relationship with Oregon Pinot Noir is sublime.
    Happy Holidays to all!

  9. Alan Goldfarb - December 21, 2018

    Tom: It’s beshert.

    Good for you.

  10. Matt Wieland - December 22, 2018

    Thanks for sharing this. What a story. I’m glad you were able to meet.

  11. Tom Wark - December 22, 2018

    Alan,

    And again, you send me to the dictionary. And again, you are right. It is Beshert.

  12. Jeff L Lefevere - December 22, 2018

    Tom,

    Brilliant. In the thematic vein of The Alchemist, you have been following your Personal Legend and accepting gifts and omens on your journey – this being one of the most profound gifts one can receive.

    Best wishes for the new year to you, Kathy, Henry and Ronni!

    Jee

  13. Gwendolyn Alley - December 23, 2018

    Beautiful story. Thank you for sharing it with us. Enjoy your move to Oregon and I hope you’
    ll be able to spend more time with your bio-mom.

  14. Jim Caudill - December 26, 2018

    Wonderful tale. I have a family member who was adopted and, like you, has found her birth mother through 23andMe. I hope she will be Able to share a similarly positive story

  15. Sara Rowan - December 27, 2018

    Tom, Thank you for sharing this tender and loving story. What a gift you have all received in this connection with your biological mother. We will miss you greatly in Napa, but I’m grateful for your blog and how sweet to now know that writing comes to you naturally (not that your talent wasn’t obvious of course). Hope to visit you in OR and share bottles of Pinot Noir!

  16. Joel Goldberg - December 27, 2018

    Tom, welcome to the tribe.

  17. Jim Bernau - December 27, 2018

    Absolutely love this story. So powerful. Am guessing Kathy make a lot of great calls! Am sorry to learn you will lose your birth mother to illness but now have her love which greater than any loss.

  18. Tom wark - December 27, 2018

    Jim,
    Thanks for the comment, It is the very definition of “bittersweet”. In the end, I’m a lucky man due to Ronni.

  19. Chris Esset - December 27, 2018

    It is a wonderful story with the depth of empathy rarely found, and very Jewish!

  20. Michaela Rodeno - December 27, 2018

    Tom,
    Thank you for sharing your family story. I’m happy for you and Kathy and Henry that you found Ronni in time to spend time with her and learn about your heritage. She sounds like a wonderful person – what a blessing!

  21. Al Scheid - December 27, 2018

    Tom, This is a touching and well written story. I appreciated your openness of sharing it with us.. Best regards, Al Scheid

  22. Norma Hall - December 29, 2018

    Tom, thank you for writing this beautiful story. Ronni is a beloved gift to her blog family. That her gift to you has come full circle to your reunion is a testament to her positive outlook on life and death. Although your time with her will be too short, it will be cherished nonetheless.

  23. Ali - December 29, 2018

    As a longtime reader and great admirer of Ronni Bennett, I was moved to tears by her accounts of your finding her and then of the four of you meeting! I am equally moved by hearing the story from your perspective! I am so thrilled that you found each other…even as I am saddened that the time you will have to get to know each other in person will be limited. Ali

  24. Shirley Thompson - December 29, 2018

    Ronni says that your writing about the happenstance of your meeting is beautiful. She is correct. I have been following her blog for some time, and it was exciting to read about the two of you reconnecting after all these years. I am happy for you and for her that this event has been so full of love, understanding, and openness.

    DNA testing: what an exciting opportunity full of unknowns. My own testing revealed a 1st cousin I knew nothing about. Sadly, when I reached out to him, his daughter replied that he had very recently died. Though time is limited, you and Ronni have the opportunity to talk, share, laugh, and even cry together.

    Happy New Year to you, Kathy, Henry, and Ronni.

  25. Susan Penn - December 29, 2018

    Thank you, Henry; I happened upon Ronnie Bennett’s blog post several years ago, which (like you) I count as an immeasurable blessing in my life. Your post is so moving, and uplifting, and I’m so very grateful for both you and Ronnie that your meeting was so cosmically (!) arranged. Beautiful…just beautiful. Like you, my son is also in the wine business, living in Napa. So happy, as well, to hear how this has led to your homesteading in Oregon. Cheers to you all, and much love.

  26. Tom Wark - December 29, 2018

    Shirly,

    Isn’t Ronni a wonderful writer and communicator! She, Henry, Kathy and I will be spending time together and it’s a very satisfying prospect. A gift. Thank you very much for commenting and for your kind words.

    Tom…

  27. Brenda verbeck - December 29, 2018

    You have moved me to tears, but happy tears for this discovery in your lives. Ronnie has written about this as the happiest thing that has happened to her in her life. So glad for all of you.

  28. Merna Zimmerman - December 29, 2018

    I am so glad to meet you and subscribe to your blog. I have read Ronnie’s blog from its start.

  29. Mage Bailey - December 29, 2018

    I am among the thousands that read your mom’s blog everyday…and have since I had a computer. I’m flat out jazzed that you two found each other. So sorry I no longer drink, but glad you both enjoyed the wine.

  30. Darlene Costner - December 29, 2018

    I have been an avid fan and friend of your mother’s for many years and the miraculous meeting of you two has helped lessen the pain of her impending death for many of us. I am so very happy for all of you.

    You have obviously inherited her writing ability and this is, indeed, a beautiful story. Ronni is a remarkable woman in so many ways and she will be sorely missed by hundreds. You have a rich heritage to be proud of and I can tell she is proud of you. Love must be in your gene’s, too.

  31. Judy Carrino - December 29, 2018

    As an adopted woman, who met her birth mother when I was 57 and she was 71, I commend you for taking the initiative to find Ronni. I have been reading her blog for over 10 years. I am so happy for both of you! I hope somehow she will live longer than expected, so that you can get to know her better and your son will be able to form good memories. Bravo!!

  32. nancy johnson - December 29, 2018

    I have read your Mom’s blog for years. I am so glad you two have found each other.

  33. Cathy Johnson. - December 29, 2018

    You do, indeed, share the gift for writing with Ronni. It is rather mind-boggling to contemplate all the things in our lives that may be determined by our genetic pool. This story of your reunion with Ronni is heart-warming, on top of all the other heart-warming things she has shared with her readers since this discovery. What a gift you have all been given!

    Thank you, too,. for clearing up for me the mystery of how this information about your connection was delivered. I have never done a DNA search myself, and I could not imagine how, after submitting their DNA, someone would suddenly get a call or email from another person announcing that they may be so intimately related. I’m guessing now, that a lot went on behind the scenes and that when these kits are submitted, you agree before hand about the sharing of such information. It’s amazing, too, that this discovery was so timely and that you were already as geographically close as you were.

    Thank you again for sharing this beautiful story from your perspective,. Happy New Year!

    .

  34. WENDL KORNFELD - December 29, 2018

    Tom, this is a miraculous & moving story. How good to read your side of it. My husband & I have known Ronni since the 1970s and she is like family to us. And now you are, too. Continue to cherish each moment learning about one another.

  35. Nan Howar - December 29, 2018

    A good story. Thank you for writing it.

  36. Juliet Powell - December 29, 2018

    Such a lovely story. I have been a subscriber to Ronni’s blog for several years. So glad you got to meet her finally. And I love how you eloquently express thanks for your adoptive parents and how Ronni gave you to the best people possible. Best wIshes to all of you.

  37. Barbara Lindsey - December 29, 2018

    Popped over from AS TIME GOES BY to read your wonderful story. Many blessings to you and your family.

  38. Joared - December 29, 2018

    Appreciate your moving account of your life as adoptee, then finding your bio-Mother. Your writing does suggest some connection between the two you. Life’s serendipitous events are often beyond fathoming, but can be so rewarding.

    I unexpecredly encountered TGB in 2006, a short time before my husband’s sudden unexpected death. The words I read there that Ronni Bennett wrote with which I could identify became a focus during this unsettling time in my life. She was most generous in her responses to me, prompting my writing despite its sometimes conflicts — but ultimately resulting in my writing in ways of personal value I might not have done otherwise.

    My wish for you, your family and her is for time together, for a much longer period of time than any medical projections to date. Time to talk — time to foster a level of intimacy that can develop — time to truly know one another. Certainly the close proximity of your expected residence may provide that opportunity.

  39. Renée Koon - December 29, 2018

    Dear Tom and family,
    You may not know that I am the granddaughter of a woman who took care of 267 babies while they awaited adoption in the 60s. It was while I lived in St. Helena that I decided I wanted to be a mom. I became a foster to adopt parent and my son is now a United States Marine. He is the reason I left Napa Valley and the wine industry.
    I am so happy to read your story for two reasons: one, that you so highly value the parents who raised you and groomed you into your most important job as Henry’s dad! Secondly, that you received the gift of knowing your birth mom.
    You are truly blessed. Your story in and of itself is touching many people and inspiring to say the least. Love abounds in your life!
    I will remember you and your story every time I sip a glass of Pinot Noir. 💜

  40. Sharon - December 29, 2018

    Tom, I have followed Ronni’s blog for quite some time. She has spoken about your birth in the past but never about the possibility of meeting you. I know you two (now 4 with Kathy and Henry) don’t have a lot of time together. But, as in most things in life, it is quality that counts not quantity. Judging by both your and Ronni’s stories, you have established great quality (including the wine chosen) and will make the best of the quantity given you. I’m so happy for your family and that you managed to find each other while Ronni was still here. Believe me Tom, we will all miss your bio-mom when the time runs out.

  41. Marjorie Miller - December 29, 2018

    A beautiful story, a beautiful reunion. Thanks for sharing tom. This is a special time. Marjorie

  42. Debbie Gioquindo - December 31, 2018

    Tom,
    What a beautiful story. I am so glad you got to find and spend time with you biological mother. Thank you for sharing with us. Enjoy the time left with Ronnie. She will be in your heart forever.

  43. Jon Bjork - December 31, 2018

    Thank you, Tom. May the new year be full of more blessings for you and all your family. – Jon

  44. Andrea - January 1, 2019

    This is an amazing Story. I only recently found Ronni’s blog but was immediately taken in by her honesty and ability to express so much wisdom. What a joy you found each other now instead of time and disease closing out that possibility. Enjoy each minute.

  45. Linda - January 2, 2019

    Tom, this story took me back 30 years and yet the memories felt as if they were only yesterday. I too was adopted as an infant to wonderful loving parents and an older brother that combined with their large families were my people. 30 years ago prior to the DNA testing was available I found myself with a bit of time on my hands, a computer and 3 paragraphs of where I came from. I’ll shorten this, but I did find my birth mother and her husband, and two half brothers, Early on in our relationship my Bio Mom did not want to tell her sons about me, which was fine as I did not search her out to interrupt her life, but just to findout more about me. She shared my heritage ( Eastern European) which was very close to that of my family, so much of how I was raised and who I was, actually was quite similar.


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