Tree of Strangers e book: Barbara Sumner’s seek for mom ends in tragedy


In December 1983, 93 folks died after two planes collided in heavy fog on the runway in Madrid.

One of many victims was Kiwi Pamela Sumner, 42. She had been dwelling in Spain together with her younger household however was on her means again to New Zealand to satisfy the daughter she’d given up for adoption 23 years earlier.

A mom of three in Runanga, a small city on the West Coast, Barbara Sumner had discovered her mom with solely a imprecise reminiscence to go on.

However their longed-for reunion led to tragedy. Her connections together with her half-siblings and seek for her delivery father then took her down a outstanding path.

On this extract beneath from her new e book, Tree of Strangers, Sumner particulars the start of her journey, lengthy earlier than she turned a author and award-winning movie producer in Auckland.

The library e book on discovering organic household misplaced to adoption had suggested digging deep to discover a dropped clue, a misplaced reminiscence.

Even opening the e book had infused me with a way of disloyalty as indelible as a birthmark.

The title is gone. However the tales of lives accomplished in reunion, the secrets and techniques of their stranger adoptions stripped away, introduced me to tears.

A reminiscence rose up, exact and complete from 9 years’ earlier than. Mavis’ sister had been a nurse for the physician who delivered me. She was consoling Mavis on the Formica desk in our kitchen. I used to be fourteen on the time and surly.

Sumner as a child. Photo / Supplied
Sumner as a toddler. Picture / Provided

“What do you anticipate?” the aunt stated, her voice hushed over teacups as I lurked within the hallway. “Her mom was a mannequin. You have heard the tales . . .” She sucked on her
cigarette when she noticed me.

It was not more than a crumb.

Years later on the Greymouth Library, I took down the Auckland telephone e book and appeared beneath M for Mannequin. Nothing. However there was a Modelling Society in Wellington.

An extravagant toll name within the calm of early afternoon when the women have been napping and enjoying.

“Are you aware anybody concerned in modelling within the late 1950s?” I requested the blithe younger girl who answered.

“You higher name Maysie,” she stated. “Maysie Bestall-Cohen. You understand.”

I did not know, however Maysie turned out to have been the doyenne of the rising trend business. She sounded sort. The Modelling Society didn’t get going till the early 1960s, she stated. “Write to Jeannie Gandar, she began all the pieces on the Trend Fiesta in Higher Hutt in 1961. She knew a variety of ladies.”

I wrote to Jeannie on the Wellington Polytechnic, the place she taught clothes design. I included a household studio portrait Bruce had received in a raffle. We have been standing collectively in entrance of a mottled background, new child Ruth in my arms. Rachel, the center one, smiling whimsically, whereas Bonnie gazed down the lens. With nail scissors I trimmed away Bruce and the women, till I used to be alone towards the painted backdrop.

Months handed, and I gave up any hope of a reply. In spite of everything it was an inconceivable activity. I possessed simply two information about myself: my date of delivery and “Her mom was a mannequin”.

“I am replying to your letter,” Jeannie stated in her deep voice. “At first I believed, how ridiculous. It occurred to so many women I knew.”

She drew breath and I used to be positive she was smoking.

“To be trustworthy, I threw your letter away.

Sumner as a teenager. Photo / Supplied
Sumner as a teen. Picture / Provided

“However one thing woke me within the evening and I believed: That is Pamela’s lady. Must be. The likeness is uncanny.”

My chest tightened. Pamela. Her identify is Pamela.

“I bought up and drove to my workplace and saved it from the bin because the cleaners got here via.”

I had the impression Jeannie was tall, imposing. The form of girl everybody observed. She defined she’d taken months to name as a result of she’d been researching. She’d misplaced contact with Pamela however discovered Fred, Pamela’s father, dwelling in Waikanae. He remembered the identify of the physician in Napier.

When Jeannie was positive, she’d known as Pam in Madrid.

Simply the phrase conjured one thing in me. Madrid. Spain.

The other of coal-town Runanga with its shuttered mine, roaming canines and born-again Christians.

“It is outstanding, spooky even,” Jeannie laughed. “You writing to me, and me realizing your mom.”

“You understand my mom.” Extra surprise than query. My mouth was dry.

“I do. Or at the very least, I did. You look so like her.”

I would by no means felt so drained. “What ought to I do now?’

“No want for nerves. Write a letter and ship a photograph.”

“To Spain?” The concept of mailing a letter from Runanga to Madrid felt inconceivable. I took down Pamela’s tackle.

Sumner's mother Pamela. Photo / Supplied
Sumner’s mom Pamela. Picture / Provided

“I will give your letter time to get there, and name Pam again, see if we will organize a gathering.”

I pressed my brow to the chilly window. Bruce’s studying gentle mirrored a brilliant spot towards the native bush that enclosed us. I put down the telephone and stated nothing.

The bathwater was nonetheless scorching. I caught my breath as if I used to be heat and the water chilly. My hair floated over the floor and an image of my mom fashioned. She could be tall with pale eyes and straight hair that hung thick and shiny, the other of my skinny plait. I sat up in a rush. I by no means meant to remain beneath the water for thus lengthy. The stillness induced an amniotic slumber, till a frantic sign from my mind propelled me up, lastly determined for air.

The subsequent morning, with the women enjoying, I returned to a model of the letter that started with the wind and the bush.

Exterior, in a patch of sudden solar, I examine our lives.

Desperation soaked into each phrase. I tore the paper into tiny items. The chickens consumed the flakes earlier than they realised it was not an early meal.

The subsequent model was extra pure.

Pamela Sumner during her modelling days. Photo / Supplied
Pamela Sumner throughout her modelling days. Picture / Provided

My identify is Barbara. I could also be your daughter. I’ve three ladies. I married younger and had a household to maintain from killing myself.

I began once more.

We reside on the West Coast of New Zealand, in a small cottage. I am undecided how we ended up right here, however it appears to go well with us. Bruce, my husband, drives the native bus and makes issues from wooden, for the vacationers who discover their means right here. He’s sort to us. Eking out our lives in the course of nowhere and he’s sort to us. We might love to satisfy you.

I rewrote the letter in my finest handwriting, folded it over one other picture and went out to mow the garden.

What if it was a sensible joke? What if Jeannie didn’t name again? The ladies watched from the large window as I compelled the push mower via the lengthy moist grass.

It was Jeannie who phoned just a few weeks after I would despatched the letter. “She’s coming,” Jeannie stated, her voice filled with cigarettes. “Your mom is coming. She’s leaving quickly. I will name in just a few days with the main points.”

The subsequent morning I went to the library. I wanted to know concerning the climate in Spain. To image her there would make it actual. In an infinite moist summer season in Runanga, I needed to imagine within the anointing of solar.

The British newspaper made it clear. Unseasonal fog over Madrid. A kata chilly entrance favouring the event of low stratus clouds. Persisting till daybreak.

Sumner as a young mum. Photo / Supplied
Sumner as a younger mum. Picture / Provided

I lingered over these phrases. Our shared climate. I knew fog. Earlier than Runanga, we lived on a facet highway beside the Gray River. We might been there per week when the primary fog rolled in.
Worst in New Zealand, a neighbour stated with satisfaction.

The owner had failed to say “the barber”. A katabatic wind, chilly sufficient to “lower your hair”, that invades the Gray Valley most winter mornings.

Tragedy strikes

I might hear the telephone as we walked previous the pool. The ladies needed to swim once more. Anger at Bruce’s persistence welled up.

Nevertheless it was Jeannie. “I discovered you. Bruce gave me the identify of the motel.” She sounded as if she had been working.

I laughed. “We determined to return a few days early, to be on the secure facet, in case the automotive broke down.”

I might hear an echo in my voice. One thing was flawed. I needed to maintain speaking, to replenish all of the gaps so she couldn’t converse. The ladies have been within the subsequent room, combating over the towels, and I might hardly hear over their screams.

“Maintain on.” I closed the door to the bed room and lay down on the sofa and cradled the telephone towards my ear.

“Let’s begin once more. Hello, Jeannie.”

“Dangerous information.”

I bear in mind my fingers unfold over my chest. The yelling from the bed room intensified after which fell silent. My mom had modified her thoughts. She didn’t need me in any case. I had
no proper to anticipate anything.

Jeannie started to cry. Breathless sobs that drenched the gravel in her voice. I couldn’t perceive why she was crying. This was my loss, not hers. My mind switched to organisation mode. The curse of resilience, of glossing over emotion to make sure survival. I used to be by no means positive if it was flight or combat. Or maybe it was freeze mode. The stagnation of all emotion.

“Okay,” I stated. “Possibly subsequent yr. Or the yr after. It was in all probability too fast for her.”

“No,” Jeannie whispered. “That is not it. Her airplane. It was on the information. On the radio. There was fog. On the runway. Her airplane was taking off.”

Firemen stand near the burned out engine of one of two Spainsh commercial jets which collided head-on in thick fog at Madrid's Barajas airport. Photo / AP
Firemen stand close to the burned out engine of one among two Spainsh industrial jets which collided head-on in thick fog at Madrid’s Barajas airport. Picture / AP

All winds are liars. “There’s been a mistake. It should be a mistake,” I stated. However the climate report I would learn on the Greymouth Library had talked about unseasonal fog over Madrid. A kata chilly entrance favouring the event of low stratus clouds. Persisting till daybreak.

“Her poor ladies,” Jeannie stated.

“What ladies?”

I might hear Jeannie’s footsteps as she walked away. She blew her nostril and got here again.

“I am right here,” she gulped. “Her daughters. I used to be going to let you know. They’re eleven and fourteen. Oh God, and her husband. That poor man. These poor ladies.”

I put down the telephone. I had two sisters. My mom’s airplane had crashed on take-off.
Individuals speak about shock as mind-numbing. However a picture of a burning plane got here to me.

The smoke that stuffed the sky was indistinguishable from the fog, as acrid as burning coal.

Sumner is now an author and filmmaker. Photo / Supplied
Sumner is now an creator and filmmaker. Picture / Provided

I consider loss like the burden of a soul. While you dissolve loss into loss, nothing adjustments. Color, texture, scent, all the pieces stays the identical. There may be nothing to really feel.

No disappointment, no grief. All the things is a mirage.

At Bethany, the maternity dwelling the place I used to be born, they took the infants from their single moms straight away. Earlier than their moms laid eyes on them. Earlier than they understood
they might see love made flesh of their kid’s eyes.

Earlier than they might make a fuss. Or scream down the ward.

Though I am informed they typically did each as they tried to search out their lacking infants.

Had my mom died on the day I used to be born they’d have swaddled me in disappointment, a toddler of sorrow and loss.

Comforted by shared grief. However stranger adoption denies you that grief. One set of arms is taken into account nearly as good as one other.

To the child, there isn’t a such distinction. To me, my mom died on the day I used to be born. She got here alive once more for 3 brief days — telephone name to telephone name. After which she died
once more. The other of Easter.

However even at that time, grief was denied me. I used to be not a kind of “poor ladies”. I would by no means met her, in any case. I had no proper to my racing coronary heart or the black-filled sky. There was no
acceptable place to take my grief. We have been strangers created out of stranger adoption.

Madrid runway catastrophe

Barbara Sumner’s mom was amongst 93 passengers and crew who died when two planes collided in thick fog on the runway on the Madrid–Barajas Airport on December 7, 1983.

A newspaper article about the plane crash.
A newspaper article concerning the airplane crash.

A departing Iberia Boeing 727 certain for Rome’s Leonardo da Vinci–Fiumicino Airport, struck an Aviaco McDonnell Douglas DC-9 certain for Spain’s Santander Airport.

The New York Occasions reported on the time that the Iberia jet had been cleared for takeoff and was transferring down the runway at 150 miles an hour (241km/h) when it crashed into the Aviaco airplane, which had taxied onto the identical runway and crossed its path.

Each plane caught fireplace and have been destroyed. All 42 folks on board the DC-9 have been killed, whereas 51 (50 passengers, one crew member) of the 93 on board the Boeing 727 have been killed.

The Boeing had about 40 Japanese on board. Amongst these killed within the DC-9 have been Mexican actress Fanny Cano and South African pianist Marc Raubenheimer.

Sumner's new book, Tree of Strangers
Sumner’s new e book, Tree of Strangers

Tree of Strangers
By Barbara Sumner
Printed by Massey Press
RRP: $35
Out now