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Frank Gray

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Photos by Laura J. Gardner | The Journal Gazette
Half sisters Teresa Gudgion, left, and Maureen McChessney met for the first time recently in Fort Wayne.

Half sisters finally united

The women’s father, Leslie Charles Watson, told each of them about the other, but little more.

One day in 1964, Maureen McChessney walked into a supermarket in Bedfordshire, England, and asked the whereabouts of an employee named Teresa. Once she was pointed out, McChessney glanced at her, just for a few seconds, and left.

McChessney didn’t dare talk to that girl Teresa. One just didn’t do things like that. It was liable to cause an awful upset in the family. So McChessney settled for that brief glance, noted that it was like looking at herself and, in keeping with the social norms of the time, walked away from her sister’s life.

That was one of the early chapters in a complicated and tangled relationship that left two girls – half sisters who shared the same father – wondering about each other for nearly half a century, each knowing the other existed but not knowing the other also knew about her.

It goes back to 1948 when McChessney was born. Her mother, who wasn’t married, raised her until she was 2 and then put her up for adoption. McChessney’s birth mother remained in her life, though. McChessney knew her as her aunt, an awfully devoted aunt.

McChessney, though, had suspicions, and when she was 16 she confronted her aunt, who tearfully admitted that she was actually her mother. She then learned her father’s name and contacted him.

McChessney saw her father only three times, but in one of those meetings, he told her she had a sister, and he even told her where she worked, but he instructed McChessney not to talk to her. Knowing the cat was out of the bag, McChessney’s father then told his daughter Teresa that he had another daughter, her sister, but he shared little else.

For the next four decades or so, the two sisters wondered about each other, but bringing it up was taboo, and they made no effort to contact each other.

That changed in 2007. Teresa, who is now Teresa Gudgion, started to search for her sister through adoption records, the Salvation Army, anywhere she could think to look. She even contacted a person she knew was a relative of her sister and asked her whereabouts, but she got no answer.

Oddly, that relative knew exactly where everyone was. She had long been in contact with both Gudgion and McChessney. She knew the two knew about each other, but she deliberately built a wall between the two, never letting the two parties learn how to get in touch with each other.

Then, years after she was first approached, the relative, for some reason, told Gudgion how to reach her sister.

It turns out McChessney had married an American airman and become an Air Force wife and lived all over the world. They had finally settled in her husband’s hometown, Fort Wayne, where she had worked at Burlington Air Express.

Last year, the sisters spoke to each other for the first time, over the phone.

Now, Gudgion, who is 62, has come to Fort Wayne, and she and her sister, 63, have been able to see each other face to face after 48 years of waiting. They show visitors a photo of their common father, a young kid in a heavy military uniform.

“I always wanted Maureen to be a part of my family,” Gudgion says. But once again, one didn’t talk about things such as daughters their father had by another woman. “It was swept under the carpet.”

Frank Gray reflects on his and others’ experiences in columns published Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. He can be reached by phone at 461-8376, by fax at 461-8893, or by email at fgray@jg.net. You can also follow him on Twitter @FrankGrayJG.

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