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Reunion is 43 years in the making

Tualatin woman meets mother and brother Friday and is set to meet father, sister next
by: Jaime Valdez Rita Peck meets her daughter, Emily Watson, at the Portland International Airport Friday afternoon.

When Emily Watson filled out a consent for contact form about two years ago to get some background on her family of origin, she unknowingly set in motion a chain of events that culminated in meeting her birth mother and brother for the first time on Friday. She'll follow up that life-changing event in about three weeks by meeting her birth father and one of her two sisters.

'I wasn't searching for them exactly, but more wanting medical information,' Watson explained. 'I figured if (my birth mother) was searching for me, she would have done it a lot earlier.'

What Watson didn't know was that not long after she sent off the form, her birth mother, Rita Peck of Denver, had started looking for her through the Wish of a Lifetime Foundation, which specializes in reconnecting families.

Watson, 43, lives in Tualatin a few blocks away from her adoptive parents, Lee and Ramona Woodward. She works as a nail technician in King City, is married, and has three sons.

Family barbeque

In 1966, Peck was 17, unmarried, and living in California when she released her baby daughter for adoption. Soon afterward, she married Emily's birth father, Tom Peck, and had three more children: Donna, who lives in Virginia; Jeanna, of Battle Ground, Wash.; and Tommy, who resides in Denver. The couple divorced after 32 years of marriage, and Tom Peck is now retired and living in Nevada.

'What are the odds of your birth parents getting married and then having other children?' Watson rhetorically asked.

After meeting her birth mother and brother Friday afternoon at the Portland airport, Watson spent Memorial Day weekend in a daze of activity sharing stories, comparing notes and marveling about how their behavior and appearance reflected their common DNA.

'It's so weird because my brother is an identical twin to my oldest son,' Watson said, adding, 'We had this big whirlwind of a weekend, and now in three weeks, we'll do it again.'

Although she wasn't sure her adoptive parents would be comfortable with the situation, they called and wanted to come over as well, she said. The adoptive and birth family members then met for a barbecue at Watson's house on Saturday.

'I actually introduced (Rita) to my parents, and so she got to meet my mom and dad,' Watson related. 'They looked at photographs that Rita had and told her about me growing up and how they put me in dance classes and stuff like that.'

Though she was both nervous and excited, Watson said it was a pleasant time. 'When my parents were ready to go home, Rita gave my mom a hug and my mom hugged her back. It's indescribable,' she said.

On Sunday, Watson drove with her mother to Battle Ground to visit her birth sister, Jeanna, whom she had first met back in April after initial contact through emails and phone calls.

'We met at a restaurant and hit it off immediately,' she recalled. 'I felt like I already knew her even though this was the first time I'd ever met her.'

Watson said that her brother Tommy is 'kind of a smart (alec)' like she is and that both have dark hair and eyes like their mother.

'Apparently, I'm a dead ringer for my sister Donna,' she added.

Watson has known since age 10 that she was adopted and said she would always wonder when her birthday came around whether her birth mother was aware of the special day.

'I asked Rita, and she said she always knew when it was my birthday,' she said.

Though Watson's life has changed in ways she never anticipated and she knows it's about to change even more, she seemed philosophical about everything.

'You think about all you've missed,' she said. 'Most of 44 years have passed, and I think what would it have been like growing up? Maybe we wouldn't have been this close, with sibling rivalry and everything. But maybe we were meant to meet now at this age and get to know each other on an adult level. I think it was better this way.

'Everything happens for a reason.'