reunited after being apart since 1950s
Taken from LEWISTON
SUN JOURNAL, May 23, 2000
By Charlie Pomerleau, Staff Writer
Sue Parent peered across
the checkout counter at Caswell's Liquidation Center and saw a woman who
looked like her oldest sister, Stella. She decided to take a chance when
she saw the woman's credit card. It said "Joyce Lane."
"Did you used to be Joyce Provencher?" she asked. When Joyce hesitated, then answered "yes," Sue knew she had found the sister she had lost 44 years ago when their mother abandoned them and their three sisters in a cold apartment, just before Christmas 1955. Their father, Joseph Provencher, had already gone.
"Mom liked her men, and five children were just in the way," Sue said last week when Joyce came to her Bradley Street apartment for the first time. The girls' father was the first of five husbands for their mother, Ruth Provencher, who later had two other daughters by another man. Joyce, who lives in Litchfield, would meet her half-sisters, Tina Jalbert and Nellie Fillmore, both of Lewiston, on her visit.
"I was told the older girls tried to keep us all together and they would visit neighbors to borrow food for us to eat," Joyce said. Police were soon alerted to the plight of the five girls, who were taken into state custody. Sue and Stella were temporarily reunited with their mother, who signed papers allowing the other three girls to be adopted.
"How does a mother do that, choose between her daughters to say these two can stay but those three must go?" Lane wondered. "I guess she thought the younger girls would be more adoptable, since we were just babies."
Joyce and her sister, Caroline, stayed together through an orphanage and three foster families, then were split up when a family wanted to adopt only Joyce. It was the last time she would see a sibling until the chance encounter with Parent a month ago. Joyce never saw her parents again. Both died before the reunion.
"I was raised as an only child, but I always wanted to have a sister," Joyce said. "When I was growing up, I had a big doll that I told my friends was my sister but she was very shy." Coincidentally, Lane called her doll Susie, not knowing she already had an older sister named Sue.
Sue, Stella and Joan were kept in the family, with a grandmother assuming custody. They would sometimes spend weekends with their mother, but their lives were made miserable by her neglect and her strict discipline. Joyce was adopted by a family she calls loving and supportive, but still she knew things were not right in her life.
"I always knew I was adopted. I felt like my life began when I was 2* because my friends all had baby pictures that started when they were born but my pictures started two years later," she said. "When I was a teen-ager, I started questioning where I had really come from. I'd look at people on the street and wonder if I was somehow related to them."
After she was married, Joyce's adoptive mother told her she was born a Provencher and that her real mother had given her up "for a shot at a better life."
She searched for 10 years or more until she finally was referred to a probate court, where a sympathetic judge unsealed the family records and gave her the first clues about her real identity.
"I learned a couple of years ago that Sue was living in Lewiston and was associated with the Salvation Army, but our aunt told me Sue wasn't interested in meeting me, so I gave up the idea because I wanted to respect her privacy," Joyce said. "If I hadn't accidentally run into her, we may never have met."
Sue, however, was trying to reunite with her sister. She said she called television shows such as Unsolved Mysteries to try to interest them in the story, but had no luck. She asked inside the family, but no one had the information to give.
They are learning in middle age just how to be a family. Being abandoned has affected their lives, they said.
All have problems in relationships and with substance abuse. They are still struggling with the physical and emotional abuse that shaped them.
"I've never been able to bond with a caregiver and I think that stems from being bounced around so much at such an early age," Joyce said. "I've had hard times in my relationships but I stayed with them even when they were bad, because I'm so afraid of being alone. The one thing this all has taught me is that family is so incredibly important. I've always drilled it into my kids that they need to maintain that precious feeling, to keep their family as their closest and dearest friends."
There is yet another reunion that could take place, but the women aren't sure if it ever will. Sister Joan was adopted into a family that doesn't want her to meet with her sisters, Sue said, so she hasn't been in touch. The women hope that will change so they may have closure for that part of their lives, too. Joyce will never meet Stella, who died a few years ago.
"I'm still adjusting to the idea of having sisters," Joyce said. "I want for us all to stay close, to be able to call up and say, ‘Hey, let's go out for cheeseburgers and french fries.'"
"There goes my diet," Sue replied.