As a delivery driver at the Lowe’s in Grand Rapids, Mich., Steve Flaig knew that you could find a lot of things you need in the superstore, but he never dreamed that one of them would be his birth mother.
But that’s where Flaig’s four-year search for his mother ended, not in aisle seven, but in the office, where the co-worker he knew casually in passing as Chris turned out to be the woman who gave him up for adoption after his birth 22 years ago.
“Passing each other, it was just, ‘Hey,’ ” Christine Tallady, 45, told TODAY co-host Meredith Vieira on Thursday. “I didn’t really have a lot of contact with him. As a delivery person, he’d get his deliveries, leave the store, do his deliveries, come back and then pretty much leave. I was based in the store, so I stayed in the office.”
When Flaig turned 18, and with the blessing and encouragement of his adoptive parents, he began searching for his birth mother. He started at D.A. Blodgett for Children, the Grand Rapids agency that had handled his adoption. Tallady had left her records open, listing her name in the hope that the child she gave birth to as a young single woman would contact her someday.
It wasn’t an intense search, but more of an off-and-on thing on the Internet. After more than three years without success, he went back to the agency and found that the reason he couldn’t find his mother was because he was misspelling her last name. He put the proper spelling in a search engine and up popped a Christine Tallady living in Grand Rapids at an address not far from his own home and near the Lowe’s where he worked.
“I thought, wow, that’s really close to here, where I work,” he told NBC News. “I bet I’ve seen her in the store.”
‘You’ve got to be kidding me’
Two months ago, he learned that she didn’t just come in the store, she worked there. But now that he was so close to the person he'd been seeking for so many years, he didn’t know how to approach her.
“It’s a bizarre situation, and I was not 100 percent sure as to what to do about it, how to bring it to her attention and how to break the news to her,” he told Vieira. “There’s always that fear that it could potentially go wrong or something wouldn’t go right. So I had to be 100 percent sure before I went ahead with it.”
Finally, he went back to the adoption agency and asked for advice. An employee there offered to call Tallady and break the news to her for Flaig. She told Tallady only her son’s first name and that he worked in the store with her.
“I just sat down and just started crying,” she said. “I said, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me.’ ”
She started running down the list of Steves who worked in the store, eliminating them by age until she settled on the nice young man who drove a delivery truck. Once she verified his birthday, she knew for certain who he was.
That was on Wednesday, Dec. 12. Flaig called her that afternoon and they agreed to meet for lunch at a nearby restaurant for a proper introduction.
“We met at a neutral place,” Tallady said. “I walked in; I saw him sitting there. He got out of his seat, and we just hugged and hugged and hugged and cried and cried. It was very emotional, very emotional.”
The best part for Tallady was seeing how well her son’s adoptive parents had done in raising him.
“He’s a good person, just a really good person,” she said. “It just makes you proud he turned out this way.”
For Flaig, the meeting filled what had been an empty space in his life. “It’s something that’s just kind of missing in your life,” he said. “It crosses your mind every day, thinking that this person’s out there somewhere, and I would love to meet them someday. It’s worked out wonderfully.”
‘They are just ecstatic ’
His roommate, Joel Brinks, told NBC that the meeting has changed Flaig profoundly.
“He’s infinitely happier,” Brinks said. “He constantly has a smile on his face and seems a lot more excited than he has been in a long time.”
That smile was still on his face as he sat next to his birth mother in the TODAY studio in New York, looking at her frequently and smiling fondly.
Tallady, too, was glowing. She’s married now, with two children, Alexandra, 12, and Brandon, 10. Her husband has known ever since they’ve been married that she had another son who’d been given up for adoption, and had supported her decision to meet with him. When she came home last Friday after having lunch with Flaig, he told her she was radiant.
She sat down with her two children and told them that she had just met their older half brother.
“Tears — tears of joy” is how she described Alex and Brandon’s reactions. “They’re so excited they have a brother. They are just ecstatic — they haven’t met him yet. They’ve seen him on TV, but they haven’t met him.”
Flaig is looking forward to that meeting — yet another incomparable gift at this holiday season. He also can’t wait to introduce Tallady to his adoptive parents.
He has reason to be confident that they’ll become good friends. Not long ago, Flaig’s brother, who is also adopted, reunited with his birth mother and introduced her and her family to the Flaigs, whose family circle is getting bigger by the day.
“They’ve become pretty close with our family,” he told Vieira. “They were just over for dinner last week.”