- Associated Press - Sunday, May 15, 2016

ASTORIA, Ore. (AP) - Tears of love and elation filled Marti Johnston’s eyes when she saw her big sister, Patricia Kibby, among the passengers disembarking from the cruise ship Norwegian Jewel as it unloaded on a recent morning in Astoria.

It was the first time the women, now 70 and 85, had met in person, the Daily Astorian reported (https://bit.ly/21X49na).

Born of the same mother but different fathers, Johnston, of Longview, Washington, spent most of her life completely unaware of her sister, and then many more years not knowing how to connect with her.

All of that changed earlier this year when Johnston’s niece - the daughter-in-law of a third half-sister, Dolly Musante - tracked her down. In March, Johnston had her very first phone conversations with her two older sisters.

When she and Kibby sat down to begin catching up on two lifetimes’ worth of stories, “I cried the first time,” she said. “It went really well.”

As the cruise ship approached in the Columbia River, Johnston found herself pacing the pier with her husband, Bill - more excited, she said, than a child on Christmas Eve. When the tenders docked, she studied the passengers’ faces and held up a sign reading, “Hi sis.”

Then the sisters saw each other, and seconds later they were holding each other - momentarily frozen in an embrace that made up for all the hugs they couldn’t share during the decades of confusion and separation.

Asked how she felt, Kibby’s voice caught on the emotion of the moment: “I’m just excited - nervous, excited, thrilled.”

And off they went to spend the day together.

Split-up siblings

Johnston, Kibby and Musante are the last-known living offspring of a woman named Thelma Faye Darling, whose habit of having children, sending them away, then having more children and sending them away kept many of the siblings from knowing one another while growing up in California.

“Our mother tossed us all out with the bathwater when we were babies, and that was kind of our story,” Musante said. “There were six of us, and we were all tossed out.”

Kibby - who has worked in many professions, including commercial pilot and CEO of a machine shop - was raised by her grandparents, and Musante by an aunt. Two boys were placed in foster homes. A third brother died in infancy.

“Mother had a way of getting rid of the kids,” said Johnston, an insurance broker and former paralegal.

When Johnston was adopted, her new parents changed her birth name to prevent her biological family from finding her.

Family accounts paint Darling as an abusive and unstable mother. Kibby declined to talk about her.

An article in The Anniston Star in Alabama from April 1948 describes Darling dropping off the boys at a San Francisco bus station with a sack of clothes and a quarter and telling them to find the adoption agency.

After the brothers died later in life, Johnston thought she’d seen the last of her siblings. But rumors of two older sisters remained with her until she dug through court records several years ago and confirmed their existence.

“That’s how I found out,” she said. “Then I didn’t know what to do about it.”

Johnston put it out of her mind - until Musante’s resourceful daughter-in-law brought them all together.

“This is something that should have happened a long time ago, for her to get acquainted with her sisters,” Bill Johnston said. “They bonded immediately.”

Together at last

Sitting side by side on a bench inside the Columbia River Maritime Museum, the sisters - who didn’t even know each other until two months ago - reflected on their day, one of the most important in their long, eventful lives.

How did it go?

“Amazing,” Kibby said.

“Yes - I finally have a big sister I can pick on,” Johnston added, putting her arm around Kibby. “And I do, too - it’s all I did, all day.”

The Johnstons had taken Kibby out for breakfast at Pig ‘N Pancake in Astoria. Down in Cannon Beach, they took pictures in front of Haystack Rock - the first time Kibby had seen the iconic sea stack in real life.

At the Seaside Carousel Mall, they bought each other gifts: Kibby got Johnston a sign that reads, “I smile because you’re my sister. I laugh because there’s nothing you can do about it.” And Johnston found Kibby a wooden carving of two sisters hugging with the inscription, “Sisters are forever.”

“We tried not to tell everybody that we were sisters,” Johnston said. “Every store we went in . “

” . We told them, over and over,” said Kibby, who lives in Pomona and Colfax, California.

The Norwegian Jewel set sail at 5 p.m., but the women said they would meet up again in July in Idaho, where Musante lives, for a family reunion. Some of their own children may be present, giving the family’s younger generations a chance to know each other in a way their parents couldn’t until fairly late in life.

“The whole family is very, very excited,” Johnston said. “You never know when you’re going to find out something more about your family.”


Information from: The Daily Astorian, https://www.dailyastorian.com

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