Mom, Am I Adopted?

Ron Karpinski 1995


Few strangers ever confused my younger brother and me for kin.  Not only did we differ in habit and character, we didn't look alike either.  None of us did.

Dad stood a husky six-feet one inch tall, with dark brown eyes and wavy jet-black hair. Mom, at five-foot-four, had blonde hair and blue eyes.  None of those features found their way down to the four kids.

All of us must have assumed, at one time or other, that we were adopted.  My big ears looked a lot like Clark Gable's, so I figured he must have been my real father.  When I asked Mom about it, she got mad.

In the fall of 1959, certain facts come to light.  In June of that year, we all piled into the family station wagon for a trip back east.  The journey took us over two thousand miles, along the length of the famous Route 66.

Before high-speed interstates came upon the scene, Route 66 served as a major cross-country thoroughfare.  Small gas stations, diners, and motels lined both sides of the two-lane highway.  When Dad felt the need for a break, he simply steered the car onto a wide dirt apron that ran along the roadside.

With six of us packed in the car like sardines, Dad stopped often.  Scenic views and Indian curio shops served as good excuses for a few minutes out in the fresh air.  For six long days, we motored across the Mojave Desert and parts of Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, Missouri, and Illinois.

Along the route, Burma-Shave signs sat atop fence posts fifty yards apart.  As one ad came into view, four sets of lungs belted out this jingle: "If daisies . . . are your . . . favorite flower . . . keep pushin' up those . . . miles-per-hour . . . Burma-Shave."  A few miles down the road came: "We know . . . how much . . . you love that gal . . . but use both hands . . . for driving, pal . . . Burma-Shave."

After a thousand miles, our singing got on Dad's nerves.  He suggested we come up with a new game.  None of us could think of one, so we fell silent, four abreast in the back seat.  Miles of corn and wheat fields streamed past.

On the sixth day, we reached Chicago and slowed to a stop in front of the house where Dad grew up.  A tall man in his sixties waved from the porch.  Slim and trim, he had a full head of thick brown hair.  Hey, he looked a lot like me!

Jan Karpinski, my grandfather, locked me in a firm handshake and sized me up for the first time in his life.  I gave him the once over as well.

At last, I had found a clear link to my past.  The old man staring down at me left no doubt whence my genes had come.  The great mystery was solved.


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