On Thursday morning, the doorbell rang in the quiet east Mesa, Ariz., home that Judy Bottomley shares with her husband, Jim.
The sound signaled a moment that Mrs. Bottomley, 75, had hoped and prayed for -- she'd even dreamed about it -- for most of her life.
Standing on the other side of the door was Rita Betush, 68, of Tarentum, the sister that Mrs. Bottomley had never met. Mrs. Betush had traveled to connect Mrs. Bottomley with the family she had longed to know since she was a child.
Mrs. Bottomley had been given up for adoption when she was an infant. Thursday's meeting with Mrs. Betush was the first time she'd seen any members of her birth family since then.
"It's almost surreal, like a Monet painting," Mrs. Bottomley said, holding tight to her sister's hand. "It's so good to see her. I was telling Jim I was so afraid I was going to wake up and find out it wasn't real until I could touch her and put my arms around her and know she's flesh and blood. It was almost too much to hope for."
"We made it come true," Mrs. Betush said. "Yes we did."
Mrs. Bottomley's mother was divorced with three children when she took a job working as a housekeeper for a family in Roanoke, Va. She fell in love with the son of her employer, and Mrs. Bottomley was the product of their relationship. Though they would eventually get married and have other children, they were not married when Mrs. Bottomley, who they had named Helen, was born and they gave her up for adoption.
"My mom told me and my brother that we had a sister somewhere when I was about 10," Mrs. Betush said. "At one time they hired a private investigator to look for her. My brother looked for her too in the 1970s, but they couldn't find any clues. It felt like all the time I was looking and wondering where she was. I wondered if she was still alive and if she knew about us."
Mrs. Bottomley spent most of her childhood in the suburbs of Chicago, but also lived in Texas, Arkansas and Indiana while growing up. She knew she was adopted and wondered about her biological family.
"When I was a young girl I used to dream I was standing on a corner in Roanoke," Mrs. Bottomley said. "I was looking at people on the street and wondering if any of these people was my mother. That's how bad I wanted to know."
Mrs. Bottomley recalls one afternoon while she was in high school when her adoptive mother asked her if she was interested in trying to find her birth parents.
"I took one look at her face and I could [see] she was sad because she was afraid," Mrs. Bottomley said. "So I said no."
She waited until after her adoptive mother died in 1987 before she began searching for them in earnest. That was the start of a decadeslong quest.
They no longer have to rely on hope or coincidence to get together. The Betushs plan to spend a couple of weeks on this visit.
As the sisters sat in Mrs. Bottomley's dining room, they would spontaneously hug or touch each other or hold hands, as if they were each checking to see if the other was really there.
"I have a sister. That's something I've wanted my whole life and never had," Mrs. Bottomley said.
"Me, too," Mrs. Betush added.
First Published February 18, 2013 5:00 AM