Linda Evans of Surrey, B.C., had a lot of questions racing through her mind as she sat on a recent flight from Vancouver to Whitehorse to reunite with her long-lost mother and meet her extended family.
"Would I recognize her? What would my sister look like? How I was going to be received — I didn't want to push anything on to them," Evans said in an interview with Stephen Quinn, host of CBC Radio's On The Coast.
"I was looking forward to it but, I dunno, it was just strange, knowing all this stuff. I thought she was dead all these years, and then, she's alive. And I thought: What was going through her head as well?"
Evans was seven or eight years old when Lucy Ann Johnson, went missing in 1961. More than three years went by before police received a missing persons report. The case was treated as a homicide and the family's yard in Surrey was excavated as part of the investigation, but nothing was ever found.
When police highlighted Johnson's disappearance as a cold case this past June, Evans also took out advertisements in newspapers in northern B.C. and the Yukon, where her mother had had links. A woman in the Yukon who saw the old photo in the ad recognized the missing woman as her mother, and made contact with police and Evans, who turned out to be her half-sister.
After 52 years, recognized her 'right away'
When Evans disembarked the plane in Whitehorse last month, she saw a group of welcoming relatives — her mother, half-sister, half-brother and a couple of aunts — waiting for her outside the fenced area at the airport.
"I went downstairs, my mom grabbed me, gave me a big hug and said, 'I love you,'" Evans said.
She said her mother recognized her right away: "Oh right away, because I look quite a lot like [my half-sister] Rhonda does, like fair skin freckles. She knew it right away."
Evans gave her half-sister a big hug and the group went for coffee and a chat, though it was awkward — at first.
"I don't think we knew how to start a conversation," Evans said.
But even without too many words to share the first day, Evans had a lot to take in as she looked at her mother's face for the first time in 52 years.
"I don't know how to describe it — it was, like, surreal because I could see my face in her face, and her eyes in my eyes."
Even though Evans said she saw a lot of herself in her mother, there was one major difference she doesn't think she could look past: "I wouldn't take off on any of my kids the way she had to."
Tough questions, difficult news
On the second day of the week-long visit, the conversation opened up and Evans got right to the point: "I asked her why she had left us.
"She told me that my dad was really abusive to her, and that he was running around with other women," Evans said. "She said that he told her to get out, and she went back to get us, but my dad said, 'You're not taking the kids' and that was the end of that. She never tried again after that."
Evans said she didn't know entirely whether to believe the explanation, or whether she thought parts of her mother's story were exaggerated.
"I just let it go. I didn't want to doubt anything she was telling me, but there was still a bit of doubt in my mind," she said. "I think I believe her, just because of the way she would look at me. She wants me to believe her."
Evans also said she had to deliver the difficult news that her brother, Johnson's first son, had died.
Contact to continue, a move possible
The visit lasted just a week, but was long enough to begin some healing and establish new relationships.
"I don't know how to describe it. We kept hugging each other, we kept crying and stuff like that. Emotional is what it is," Evans said.
Johnson now calls Evans a couple of times a week just to chat, and Evans said she is planning another trip to Whitehorse to see her mother this winter.
"I'm taking one of my grandkids with me, because she doesn't even know what they look like," she said.
Evans also said she's now thinking about how much longer her mother, who is 77 years old, will be around. She said she is seriously considering moving from Surrey to Whitehorse.
"It has changed my life, I want to go up there, like, really bad," she said. "I'd like to be with her."