When Terry Schudel, 52, picked an unassuming little white envelope out of his mailbox with only the name Kim on the back, he had no doubt which Kim the letter came from.
Schudel, who lives alone in a tiny house north of the Garland District, was disabled by a stroke when he was 35. As a result, he has difficulty speaking. A conversation with him is a combination of homemade sign language, texting and notes he jots carefully on paper, still struggling to write with his left hand – he can’t use his dominant right hand anymore.
What did he do when he saw the letter on that warm July day?
“Whoa,” he exclaimed, widening his eyes and leaning over backward mimicking surprise, “whoa.”
Kim Holten is the mother of Schudel’s only child, a son named Nicholas. Schudel last saw Holten and Nick in 1979. Inside the envelope was a neatly written, one-page letter on lined notebook paper and a picture of a handsome young man squinting at the camera with gray blue eyes that look exactly like Schudel’s.
Schudel held the picture up next to his own face and looked in the mirror. He was blown away by the resemblance.
On the back of the picture he wrote: Nick, son, as if writing it down made it real.
The letter begins: “Hi, my name is Kim and I am the mother of Nicholas.” “I am writing because I do believe Nick needs to know of your medical history, but also maybe of you.”
Still in shock – he holds a fluttering hand over his heart showing how fast it was beating – Schudel picked up his cellphone and dialed the number Holten had included.
She picked up and they talked as best they could.
She lives in Portland and agreed to come visit him. But how on Earth had she found him?
Holten said relatives in Spokane sent her links to stories in The Spokesman-Review.
“I was looking through those and I came across the story about Terry,” Holten said on the phone last week “I knew it was him. I thought about it for a while and then I sent him the letter.”
The December 2011 story was about Schudel’s Christmas lights display and included his address.
The story also mentioned his stroke and how he’d lost touch with Nick.
Holten said she wanted to “check out Schudel” before telling Nick about his biological dad.
That’s why she came alone to Spokane.
What was it like seeing her after all these years?
Schudel smiled and mimicked a big hug. A beaming smile spread across his face. Yes, it was really good to see her.
Holten said a personal decision lead her to not tell Nick about his biological father.
“A lot of years go by,” Holten said, “you don’t even know how many it’s been.”
She is remarried and Nick, who’s now 34, is in the military, married and has three children. When Holten returned from Spokane she waited until Nick was visiting her, then sat everyone down to tell them.
“We are all OK with it now,” she said.
Schudel has Nick’s phone number programmed into his cellphone.
They’ve talked a few times.
Schudel hopes Nick will come to Spokane around Christmas.
“Dec. 25,” he wrote on a piece of paper, underlining it.
He held the photo of Nick carefully, looking at it and smiling.
Schudel points to his own Navy tattoo and nods yes, Nick is in the military.
He has been deployed overseas.
“Twice,” Schudel indicated, holding up two fingers and beaming with pride, “twice.”
Holten said they’ve left Nick in charge of how much contact he wants and when.
Is Schudel nervous about meeting his son?
“Yes,” he said, indicating that he lies wide-eyed in bed at night, staring at the ceiling, unable to sleep.
He pulled up a shirtsleeve, displaying the tattoos he got when his mom and dad passed away years ago.
He shakes his head, looking sad; no he doesn’t have any other family.
But now he has a son – and three grandchildren.
The short newspaper story that connected him to his son again is in a gold frame on the wall in the tiny living room. On the other wall are baby pictures of Nick.
“Hey,” he said, pointing to the framed story, nodding yes, that’s what did it.
In all those years did he ever doubt he’d see Nick again?
“No,” he said with emphasis, crossing his arms over his chest, “No. Never.”