The Reunion That Took 77 Years to Happen

A teenaged Minka Disbrow was forced to give her newborn daughter Betty Jane up for adoption in 1929, but she never stopped thinking about her baby. Nearly 80 years later, Betty Jane—now named Ruth—found her.

the waiting cover
Cover photograph by Stephen Vosloo

The car was pulling in.

Minka’s heart was pounding, but her legs carried her forward. Off to the side, she saw Grant already in the driveway with his video camera.

Faces flashed through the car windows. She squinted at the front passenger seat, but Betty Jane was not there. Through the tinted back window, she saw a blaze of white hair. Minka stepped forward, opened the rear door, and was met with a great spray of flowers.

From behind them, she saw her daughter’s face, the one she’d seen only in photographs, and heard the voice she’d heard only over the phone.

Everything disappeared behind one longing. To get her daughter into her arms. And then, she was.

Minka’s sight blurred. Her voice stuck in her throat. Her arms wrapped tightly around her girl, hands clenched against her back. She’d waited more than 28,000 days for this, her daughter safe in her embrace. The joy of it was boundless.

Betty Jane. Her Betty Jane, returned to her at last. The infant, the little girl, the teenager, the young mother, the grandmother. Here was Betty Jane as a chubby baby, playing dress up, losing her first tooth, putting on lipstick, wearing a wedding dress, expecting her first baby, her fourth, her sixth. Here was Betty Jane as a new grandmother, an empty nester, an elderly woman. Here was everything all at once, a lifetime in a moment.

Minka had missed every second of it but she had waited, she had waited forever and she had kept her promise, she had never ­forgotten—­and now, impossibly, her Betty Jane had been given back to her.

Finally Minka let go a little, pulling back to see that dear face ­again—­a face as lined as her own, and familiar only from recent photographs. But Minka believed she recognized those pale blue eyes. She looked into them, and then her daughter pressed in again and kissed her cheek. Minka managed to speak, her words pushing through a throat thickened by the weight of a million “I love you”s that had never been spoken.

“You’re as wonderful . . . as I thought you would be,” Minka said.

the waiting reunion
Video still by Grant Huhn

Her daughter was pressing flowers into her arms, and Teresa came forward for a hug, and then here was Brian, the grandson who had brought her girl home. The moment whirled around Minka; she tried to capture it but was swept away.

She hugged Brian, gripping so tightly that Brian’s first, laughing words were, “Not so hard, Grandma!”

Overcome, Minka began to shake and nearly stumbled. Ruth and Brian put their arms around her, steadying her. They turned toward Teresa’s camera for a picture.

“The power of God . . . ” Minka said, thinking of the decades of prayer that had led to this very moment.

“Wow,” Teresa said as she lowered the camera and took in the two women. They didn’t look like strangers meeting for the first time. There was something weaving them together, undeniably, right before their eyes.

“How about that,” Brian said.

Grant had been videotaping from the moment Minka came down the walkway. He struggled to keep the camera level as he received hugs and gave welcomes. Emotion was thick in his throat too.

Minka leaned her forehead against Ruth’s face. They held each other.

“This is something, isn’t it,” Ruth said. She beamed. “­Seventy-­seven years.”

Minka’s thoughts bounced back and forth between those perfect days with her newborn daughter at the House of Mercy to Betty Jane at this moment, back to the day of ­good-­bye and now together again.

“You finally got back into your mother’s arms,” Minka said, squeezing her daughter. “It took you long enough,” she gently teased.

Minka gripped the bouquet in one arm, Ruth in the other.

“What a glorious day,” Minka said.

“Yes, it is,” Ruth agreed. “Yes, it is.”

“Well, come in,” Minka said, sighing with contentment. “You might as well get acquainted with your home.”

Ruth went on to forge a sister-like friendship with Minka, who passed away June 16, 2014 at the age of 102. This excerpt was taken from the memoir The Waiting by Cathy LaGrow, daughter of Minka’s second child. Copyright © 2014. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved.

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