Living in Appalachia, one of the phrases I have both heard and uttered thousands of times is “If these old mountains could talk what a tale they could tell”.
That wise old saying holds true for this weeks story and will take us up and down the “Hillbilly Highway” from the Shelton Laurel Community of Madison County, North Carolina to the metropolis of Chicago, Illinois.
One of the darker sides of Appalachian History surrounds the treatment of women. It’s not an easy thing to talk about, but the fact remains that women were all too often treated as possessions and younger women’s sexual involvement with older men was kept hush-hush. It was overlooked or simply not known or common knowledge.
This leads me to my friend, Tina Miles whose story winds and weaves like a mountain backroad, with plenty of dead end hollows along the way.
I first met Tina in 2014 through Facebook on a genealogy page involving Shelton Laurel.
Tina was looking for her biological father and at first it seemed like it was going to be pretty simple, cut & dry.
However, as the old saying goes, nothing is ever as it seems.
Tina was born in 1962 Illinois and given up for adoption shortly thereafter. She was adopted and raised by her Dad & Mom, Jim & Betty Miles who offered her the love & opportunities her biological mother simply couldn’t.
Form the time she turned eighteen in 1980, Tina had been searching for her roots. The digital age had not yet arrived, so her search was a long and frustrating one.
With the arrival of the digital age and DNA testing, things began to speed up some.
Her search led her to a woman named Kathleen Johnson, who had grown up on Shelton Laurel.
When Tina posted on Facebook, not a lot of people had information on Kathleen, as most of us were too young to remember her and Kathleen had long been gone from the community and she passed away in 2008 without offering any information at all.
However, a lot of old-timers did remember, which led to a flood of information.
As it turns out, Kathleen had been involved with a school teacher who later wound up driving her to Illinois by court order.
It was thought that he would be Tina’s father, so it seemed pretty simple.
The teacher’s oldest daughter was kind enough to volunteer for a DNA test. However, when the test result came back it determined that the teacher was not Tina’s biological father! However, it did determine that the biological father was a cousin to the teacher.
The chase was on.
Everyone connected with Shelton Laurel ponied up information in an effort to help Tina solve her mystery.
The search led Tina to six siblings who had been given birth and placed for adoption by Kathleen! The oldest and youngest siblings had passed away, while the others were scattered about, one living in Oklahoma.
The tree of Tina’s search was beginning to bear fruit.
With all of Tina’s efforts, as well as the efforts of others, Tina’s search for her biological father seemed to be proving fruitless on every limb of the tree.
Then one day, someone walked up to Tina, whispering a name in her ear.
‘Doak Shelton’ was all they said.
Tina sought Doak out. He had lived with Kathleen for a short time up north but the relationship did not last. He spent twenty seven years doing construction work in Indiana.
After their breakup, Kathleen never uttered a word to him that she was pregnant.
Doak had tragically lost a daughter in a drowning accident, so he volunteered for a DNA test. What a way to perhaps gain a new daughter.
Waiting for a DNA test is a lengthy process, taking several months.
Tina, her fiancé Chris and her daughter Anna flew in last week from Chicago. They were renting a cabin near Wolf Laurel Ski Resort for the week.
I met them at the Little Creek Café right off of I-26 in Madison County.
The sight of Tina is always pleasant. We gave each other a hug and she whispered to me ‘I found my biological father but have not told a soul.’
I looked into her eyes and she whispered ‘Doak.’
I simply nodded and smiled, promising not to say a word. I told her how proud of her I was for seeing this thing through and sticking to it despite the pain.
She told me that they were having a dinner party at the cabin on that Friday, May 12, 2017. Doak would be there and the news would become common knowledge.
Not since I helped my friend Gordon Frasier find his biological mother 18 years ago have I been so happy for someone.
Being this closely involved with Tina’s project, it gave me a few days to reflect.
Passing judgement on Kathleen would be way too convenient.
The truth is that Kathleen was a woman who knew exactly who she was and was also in touch with her sexuality, long before the Sexual Revolution ever arrived in Madison County on a wide scale.
She had enough humanity to give both life and a chance at life and that is to be commended.
I would be remiss if I didn’t say thank you to Mrs. Betty Miles, ninety one years young, back in Chicago, Illinois. This had to be bittersweet for her so I would like to say “Thank You” to her for sharing her precious daughter with all of us; newfound siblings, cousins & friends.
On the evening of the dinner party at the cabin, I was heading up I-26 outside of Mars Hill.
Thunderstorms were providing a torrential downpour but as I was heading up the mountain I saw an incredible thing in my rear view mirror: The mountains towards Asheville were bathed in sunlight with the approaching storm providing an incredibly lit scene surrounded by the storm.
Growing up, I always heard that if the sun was shining during a downpour that it meant someone was crying tears of sorrow in Heaven. I also heard that they were crying tears of joy in Heaven.
This time, I prefer to think it was a little bit of both.
I think Kathleen was crying tears of sorrow on what she had missed while also crying tears of joy at what her daughter had found.
Bittersweet tears we all have shed at one point or another.
Y’all have a great week!
*NOTE* All photographs courtesy of Tina Miles and a book on this search will be forthcoming from Tina.