As the car bearing the mother he never knew pulled up to his house, Ron Stewart knew for sure — after 43 years — that he wasn’t an orphan any more.
No sooner had the 70-year-old woman gotten out of the car than Ron had her in his arms.
“It’s a miracle,” she whispered, her head pressed against his chest.
For 43 years, Ron believed his mother had died in a car wreck. It turned out she had been told the same about him.
Now, they’re making up for a lot of lost time.
“This whole thing has been a trip,” Ron told Matt Lauer on TODAY as he sat between his mom and wife, holding hands with both.
Both women were crying, with Ron’s mom clutching at tissues as they retold the story. “It may look really sad,” a stoic Ron said, “but everybody was really happy.”
Without a trace
The saga began in 1963, when Carl Stewart and Rose Hinckley (then Rose Kientz) had Ron following a five-year relationship. Three years later, Stewart took Ron — and all of the couple’s belongings.
Hinckley had no idea where they went or why Stewart took the boy. Family services couldn't help her. Same for the cops.
“You keep wondering, well, is he all right? What did they do with him?” Rose said. “Then I got told he got hit by a car and he was dead, and it hurt. It hurt more.”
Meantime, father and son moved from place to place.
If the same thing happened today, with such focus on missing children, “there would have been an AMBER Alert,” Ron said.
The young boy wondered whatever happened to his mom, but Stewart told him she was killed by a drunk driver, period, and he stopped questioning it.
“I didn't think my dad would tell me she was dead if she wasn’t,” Ron said.
Ron said Stewart married a woman he didn’t like much: “We were like fire and ice,” he told Lauer. And while he always felt loved by his dad, he missed his mom terribly.
It’s only now that he can joke about himself as “the kid on the milk carton” — for 43 years.
Carl Stewart died of cancer 18 years ago, taking his secret with him. By then, Ron had served in the Army and, later, gotten into trouble and spent time in prison. Then he moved to Moses Lake, Wash.
That’s where he met April, the woman who would become his wife.
After going back to school, Ron became a truck driver and even fathered his own children with April. One of them is named Rose.
April, meanwhile, decided to do some sleuthing. At the very least, she said, she would find where Rose was buried, and hopefully turn up a photo — a picture her husband had hoped to find for his entire life.
April bought a computer on Valentine’s Day 2003. For more than six years, she poked away, looking for clues.
Last month, she got a packet with Ron’s original birth certificate. It bore Rose’s signature, but with a maiden name that he didn’t recognize.
But by now, April was on a roll. “My name is April Stewart I am the wife of Ronald Stewart, 46, born to Rose Marie Kientz Stewart in 1963 Houston Texas,” she wrote in a Web posting. “We are trying to locate anyone knowing or related to Rose in 1963 when my husband was born she was 23 years old and she was born in Illinois. Ron has a sibling — unsure if this sibling is a half sister/brother — he believes sister.
“Ron has no memories of his life before age 7,” April’s posting continued. “We just received his birth certificate and the name appears as maiden: Rose Marie Kientz, but was signed as Rose Marie Stewart and the father, Carl Bruce Stewart. Ron was raised by his dad and all his dad ever told him was that his mother passed away in a car crash. He has never seen a picture and knows no more than this.”
April’s Web post concluded: “If anyone out there knows of this family or members, please help my husband find his past.”
Finally, an answer
Days later, April got a response. “Rose Marie Kientz is probably my first cousin, her father was the brother of my mother and if so I knew her well,” wrote a man named Dave Mather. “But I think Rose Marie is still alive? Do you have any estimate of her date of birth? If my cousin is the same as yours, I have much information.”
He certainly did.
April and cousin Dave exchanged e-mails. Meanwhile, April contacted a missing children’s organization to make sure she wasn’t being scammed.
On May 26, the phone rang at Ron and April’s house.
When she told her husband she’d just spoken with his mother, April said, “He said, ‘What is this? This is a joke.’ ”
“I said ‘No, it’s not a joke. I talked to your mom,’ ” April told Lauer, sobbing.
Ron slid against a wall, crying, she said. He was an orphan no more.
“I think the second time I called her, I said, ‘Hi, Mom. It’s a boy,’ ” the reserved trucker said in an earlier interview. “April wanted me to get one of the ‘It’s a boy’ balloons to put in the front room when she came home.’
April sent Rose a picture of Ron. Rose’s sister opened it and knew right away — it was definitely her sister’s son.
Mother and child reunion
Rose lives in Illinois, near her family outside Chicago. But she flew to Moses Lake this weekend.
Ron was so nervous that April picked up his mom at the airport. As they approached the house, Ron walked toward the car.
“I didn't know how he was going to react,” Rose said. “But I thought, ‘Whatever happens happens ... ’ When I seen him walking toward me, I couldn’t get out of the car fast enough,” Rose said.
Rose plans on staying at least a month, getting to know her son and his wife, children and grandchildren.
She isn’t angry about what happened, and neither is her son. There’s no point, he said.
“He had a secret, y’ know,” Ron told Lauer of his father. “As years passed, sometimes it’s impossible to tell that secret. Me and my dad were close. I just think he couldn’t [tell].”
Beyond that, Ron isn’t too intent on discussing the past.
Same for Rose. “Lost time you never make up for, ever,” she said. “You just have to start anew.”
“Baby steps,” her son said.
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