BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
FORT DODGE – A wedding is an event celebrating the joining of two people in the creation of a family, but for one former Fort Madison resident, it may just have been the event to bring a family back together.
Kristine Darrow, of Kirksville, Mo., was raised in Fort Madison from about 2nd grade on, graduating from Fort Madison High School in 1989 and then staying in the community for another 25 years. She was raised by her mother and step-father, Janice and Elvis Shanks. As for her biological father, the story was scarred – and distant.
“I remember it wasn’t very nice, a lot of time spent sitting in the corner afraid,” Darrow remembers.
“Last time I remember seeing him I think I was five. My mom met another guy and I never heard from my dad, no child support, no cards, he basically was out of my life.”
Darrow said her mother and her biological father were married for eight years. She said she recalls some mean things that her father had done to her mom and heard some stories – slashing of tires, sand in gas tanks those kinds of things. But her mother, who she described as “not a very open person” didn’t share a lot about what was going on in her relationships other than she got remarried to Elvis.
In March 2017, Janice passed away and Darrow was reading some social media posts with condolences on her mother’s death, she found one in particular that made her stop, and potentially has changed her life forever.
“Sorry for the loss of your mom. My name is Lexi Dickes, I’m actually your half-sister. Gerald is your dad correct? Well, I’m his daughter” – the message read.
Darrow said she remembers just looking at the message and a numbness came over her. That message was sent on the April 11th and the two have been speaking regularly ever since.
Her half-sister Lexi was engaged and a wedding was set for this past weekend in Fort Dodge. The two stayed in contact and Lexi invited Darrow to the wedding and said her father, Gerald would be at the wedding. It would be the first time she had seen her biological father in over 40 years.
“I didn’t even know if I could call him Dad, because Elvis has been my dad since I was in third grade.”
Lexi had planned for Darrow and her husband, Joe, and daughter Grace to sit in the second row behind the parents. Darrow said nothing was said by either her or her father during the ceremony. Even as Gerald, and his wife Kelly, walked down the aisle with his daughter no eye-contact was made. The whole ceremony took place and everyone moved to the reception where Darrow and her family found a table and sat. After about an hour they got up to go the food table. Darrow was planning on going around the tables, but Grace took them straight through the tables to the food and Darrow decided it was time to say, hello – in person.
“This was the time to just go up and give her a hug and let her know I was there,” Darrow said. “She saw me and came around the table and just hugged me and hung onto me. I thought the hug was over and went to pull back and when I did our eyes just locked and we kind of stared at each other. Then she just kept hugging me and we couldn’t believe this was happening.”
After a few minutes of time with each other, Lexi asked Darrow if she was ready to go over to her father.
“She took my hand and right there I started shaking. I was getting nervous because it had been more than 40 years of no contact or anything. Joe was by my side and Grace was with me. We got up to his table and Lexi said, ‘Dad, you need to turn around.’ At that first glare we just looked at each other and shook his head and he stood up and grabbed me and hugged me.
“He said, ‘Kristine?’, and I said, ‘Yes, this is me.” and he just kept a hold of me and rubbed my back and he started full on crying and kept saying, ‘I’m sorry, I’m sorry’. And I said there was no reason for apologies that we were here now – together.”
With the knowledge of basically more than doubling her family in a matter of months, Darrow said quickly started getting to know this other side of her family. Lexi has a sister Libby and a younger brother. It’s all so new that she didn’t even get his name.
Her biological father, who goes by Jerry, remarried to a woman named Kelly, who Kristine said she met about 8 years ago, but didn’t develop any type of relationship or leave any contact information.
“I was always nervous going to Sioux City because I was afraid I would run in him. All the memories I had were bad. But about eight years ago mom and I were up there doing some shopping and went by one of those day old bread stores, like Burlington used to have. Mom said your step-mom works in there. I told her to turn around because I wanted to go in.”
She went into the store and meandered about like a customer until a woman came up and asked her if she could help her find anything.
“I’m actually here for something else. Are you married to Jerry Dickes? She said, ‘Yes’ and I told her I was his daughter and told her to tell him I’m doing fine and he has a granddaughter. and I left it that.”
Darrow said she never heard anything from Jerry or her step-mother and didn’t have any further contact with the family until her mother passed away and she got the message from Lexi.
Jerry told Darrow that he had kept tabs on her mother and he knew she had been put into a nursing home before she died, but that’s really all he knew.
Darrow has a brother Kelly who lives in Sioux City and a brother Kevin, who lives in Aurora, Colorado. She said Kelly told her couldn’t believe she was still going to go to the wedding.
“It was absolutely awesome. That moment. I’m still getting comments from the family that they’d never seen their dad cry before and had never seen him that happy.”
During the reception Darrow was able to share a dance with her father at his request. She said the DJ came down to the dance floor and made an announcement that not only was their a wedding to celebrate, but said Lexi had just found out after 40 years that she has a half-sister and Jerry wanted to share the dance floor with Kristine.
“There was a lot of emotion on both sides,’ Darrow said. “Since April, Lexi and I have talked quite a lot and we’ll probably remain the closest out of everyone. Last week she asked me how I was feeling about all of this and I told her I was very nervous because I didn’t know how he was going to react. But she said he was nervous too and couldn’t believe that I was still coming.”
Darrow said she shared a drink with Jerry during the reception at which point he asked if he could have her phone number.
“I gave him my phone number, but I didn’t ask him for his. Now the ball is in his court. Lexi and Libby and I will continue to talk. Maybe he’s gonna take the chance but at least, if I don’t hear from him in a month or so I can check with them.
“I’m still shocked this has all happened. It still amazes me.”