Tell you what…
Go get yourself a beverage of choice, maybe two. I am going to share some things about me that you do not know. Some of them are deeply personal, but they are shared so that the whole story is understood.
I want to tell you a story…a story that has several on and off ramps throughout the coming paragraphs. There are some tight lean-in curves, along with open throttle straightaways. But in the end, this will conjoin nicely. We should all arrive at our destination at the same time. This is a story about family, love and the most amazing twist-of-fate reunions you will never see on Oprah. How does this tie into Linux? Stay with me and you will see.
My oldest daughter is my child from the most intense relationship I could ever imagine. While many would construe that as a good thing, I will remind you that there are two poles to every magnet. Should one be of greater strength or impact than the other, theoretically anyway, havoc will reign. Trust me…we proved that theory without doubt. Unfortunately, and by my own hand and taking full responsibility; that relationship imploded, which in itself is ironic, since my military occupational specialty was precision-drop demolitions. We separated and she did the smart thing by returning to Germany. My life had become emotionally unstable, to the point of being chaotic, so she took our baby home and I lost contact with her. Along with that, I lost contact with my oldest daughter. She was less than two years old the last time I saw her.
I cannot remember when it all reached crescendo. I know the year date had two zeros in the middle of it. If I remember correctly, it was spring of 2004. The guilt had been years in building. I was remarried with a daughter of our own, but the nagging guilt and worry… I had another daughter out there somewhere; that was the guilt and worry that bubbled to the surface. A short but half-hearted search five years prior had been a waste of time and money, but now it was time to begin again…this time, without hesitation or failure.
Part of my previous hesitancy had been based on how she would react to me contacting her. I had failed her as a father. But through it all, I’d rather find her and allow her the right to tell me to get fracked and go straight to hell. That was better than not knowing.
But how to start? I didn’t know, and the few impotent methods I tried in the past could be summarily discounted. As I struggled with the question, the answer was right in front of me. It was in the form of a blinking cursor.
In a moment that struck me with brilliant awareness, I had an idea. I would search for German/American social clubs in Bamberg Germany. Bamberg was the last place I knew my daughter’s mom to be. Germans participating in these clubs spoke English. Every major city with a US military post had organizations to bring German and Americans together.
It didn’t take long to find what I was looking for. Fact is, I wasn’t exactly looking for the thing I found. I smiled, as I knew that Fate could be a wicked bitch. Her smile is often deceiving, but what the hell. She wanted to play? Great. Let’s play. I clicked “contact us” at the bottom of the website for a German and American Linux Enthusiasts club in Bamberg.
I don’t know what I expected. It was going on four weeks when my email was answered and it wasn’t exactly promising. The lady who returned my email empathized and said that she would do what she could, but that I should not get my hopes up. If she did find her, the most she would do is give her my email address and that was to protect her privacy. That was fine by me.
Bamberg is a city of 75 thousand people and my daughter’s mom had an extremely common name, a name that would be the same as “Mary Smith” here in the US. I thanked her and resigned myself to the fact that this effort would not turn out any better than the last. Finding my daughter this way would be akin to a full court over the shoulder shot, with the ball swishing nothing but net.
Nine days later, my newly found German friend’s name shown brightly in the new email alerts. She told me that I should be sitting down to read her email. She said that what she was going to tell me was nothing short of miraculous and she wondered aloud what angel I had sitting on my shoulder.
She was in the post office, waiting in line to take care of her business. The line was extremely long and it seems as if the US isn’t the only place where a post office or Department of Motor Vehicles will have twelve service windows with one clerk working at a time. Part of her business was to inquire to see if anyone by the name of my daughter’s mom picked up their mail there. She said she was daydreaming and watching workmen outside on a scaffold across the street while they worked. It took a minute or two for the voice to filter through her daydream.
“Haben sie mail für Gaby Müller?”
“Gaby Mueller?” she thought. “Wasn’t that the name of the woman that guy from the US was looking for?” Did the woman at the window just ask for mail for Gaby Mueller?
Looking at her place in the line and then looking back to where she would have to start again if she stepped out, she intercepted Frau Mueller before she stepped out the door and onto the street. She politely excused herself and asked her if she had a daughter by the name of Yvonne.
“Why, yes,” she said. “Was there a problem”?
The lady took her time in telling Gaby about the email she had received and that the man was looking to contact his daughter. Gaby wanted to know how she came to be in the post office when she was there at the same time. It was then they stepped onto the street and she told Gaby the whole story. It was blind luck that she was at the post office when Gaby was also there.
Do you believe in luck? Or fate? No…the above dialog is over. It’s just you and me now. About that whole luck and fate thing. Fate? Let’s talk about that…
In 2003, I became a part time Linux user and became active in the community through the now retired lobby4linux website. If you manipulate Wayback, you can see a lot of what we did back in the first decade of the new century. It was just a couple of years later that I decided that come hell or high water, I was going to find my now-adult daughter.
The fact that I used Linux and contacted an organization for German and American Linux users was in itself…well, I’ll let you assign any adjectives that you see fit. Now let’s tie in to the only person in Germany I solicited to help me find my baby girl. Let’s place her at the same post office at the exact same moment in time, in the same city of 75 thousand people. Let’s talk about the fact that a woman 30 feet away from the window heard the woman at that window ask for her mail.
Take a long pull of whatever you are drinking and let that sink in for a moment.
Do you believe in fate? I didn’t. Not before this. And I’m not sure I fully do now…but at least I am open to hear your argument. But this isn’t the end of the story. Yes, this did end in my being reunited with my daughter. It did result in my baby girl coming to the US, with a baby girl of her own…my first granddaughter, Karen.
She came for six weeks over the holidays and we spent every moment catching up. And I got a chance to hold my first granddaughter. Did I mention her name is Karen? Oh, I did…goofy me. I’ve got my Grandpa goggles on.
She has just entered 7th grade and is already an advanced placement student. This isn’t Grandpa bragging…well maybe just as little, but Karen is an exceptional young lady. She is smart and savvy way beyond her years, and it can be unsettling at times, working with her. It’s difficult to remember at times that she is just a child.
A child that will blaze her way into and among the stars.
And I know this because her grandpa decided to use Linux at just the right time.
Ken Starks is the founder of the Helios Project and Reglue, which for 20 years provided refurbished older computers running Linux to disadvantaged school kids, as well as providing digital help for senior citizens, in the Austin, Texas area. He was a columnist for FOSS Force from 2013-2016, and remains part of our family. Follow him on Twitter: @Reglue