On the morning of Dec. 16, Margie Warner of Soldotna stood by the arrival gate at Kenai Municipal Airport clutching a teddy bear and a bouquet of roses waiting for the most important stranger in her life: her daughter.
Kelly Drennan walked off the plane and into the arms of the woman who had only seen her once, 20 years before, on the day she was born and turned over to the Catholic Family Service adoption agency.
"In the delivery room, that was the only time I saw her. I knew if I saw her and held her, I wouldn't be able to give her up," Warner said.
She was young, single and pregnant, living in Amarillo, Texas. Giving up the baby was a hard choice, but her family was supportive, and she felt it was the right thing to do.
"I would have been a single mom. I wanted her to have a mom and a dad," she said. "I wanted her to have more than I could offer."
However, Warner always yearned for that child and four years ago began seeking a reunion.
"There is that big hole that needs to be filled," she said.
"Every year on her birthday, I'd be depressed."
In the intervening years she had two more children, married and moved to Alaska.
The day that Kelly Drennan turned 16, Warner called Catholic Family Service to ask about contacting the child. The agency offered to write a letter based on their records. It was returned to the agency as undeliverable.
The girl had been adopted by Paul and Kathryn Drennan of San Angelo, Texas. For as far back as she could remember, Kelly Drennan had known she was adopted. It made her feel special, she said.
"Someone out there wanted to give me a chance at life. Then this other couple came and wanted to do that, too," she said.
Drennan's adoptive parents split up before she turned 2, and she grew up with a complicated array of step relations. She wondered about her birth parents.
"You can never shut that door," she said. "No matter how hard you try."
After hitting the dead end four years ago, Warner put her quest on the back burner. Periodically she would get on the Internet and do a half-hearted search.
Online she met a girl named Taysha who had been adopted at the right time and place. They became close, but something did not quite add up right and soon they realized Taysha was not Warner's daughter. They remained friends, and Taysha urged her to go back to the agency again.
On the second go-round, the agency found a note from Paul Drennan notifying them of an address change and contacted him.
It was June. He told Drennan he had something important to discuss.
"Dad sat me down, so I knew it was something big," she said.
He began to cry and told her the agency had called and asked for permission to tell Warner that the child was alive. They told him he had the choice of telling her or not, and if he did tell her, she would then have the choice of deciding what to do.
Drennan was stunned. Finding her birth mother was something she always had wanted to do, but did not know how to start. She needed a few days to get used to the idea first. Then she called the agency and said she was willing to establish contact.
"I didn't know what to say," she said.
Warner was at her job in the office at Pacific Star Seafoods when she got the call back from the agency. The representative said the girl was fine, willing to communicate and preferred for Warner to write the first letter. Warner described her reaction as "bawling."
"I came home and tried to write one that night. I was just too emotional," she said.
"It took me two weeks to write it. I didn't know what she'd been told. I didn't know if she hated me.
"I tried to get across that regardless of her feelings I loved her unconditionally."
Warner also had to deal with the rest of her family. Her 19-year-old son, Jerrod, knew about the sister, but 15-year-old Jozlyn did not.
Drennan got the letter at the beginning of July, wept over it, shared it with everyone and immediately wrote a response.
The agency managed all the initial contacts, even censoring letters to avoid last names and locations. The two women sent a flurry of letters back and forth. On Aug. 29, Drennan's birthday, Warner was able to celebrate having sent her a present instead of mourning her absence.
On Sept. 20, the agency contact called Warner to report that Drennan wanted to make "the phone call" and asked Warner if she was ready.
"You each have to have an hour of post-adoptive counseling before they will release phone numbers and all that stuff," Warner said.
Sept. 22, they spoke for the first time. They were on the phone for an hour and a half, and two hours more two days later. Ever since, they have spoken nearly every week and exchanged a flurry of e-mails.
"Sunday afternoons is our reserved time," Warner said. "Thank God for ACS infinite minutes."
They wanted to meet face to face.
"About that second phone call, we started planning," Drennan said.
She had to arrange time off from her two jobs, coordinating banquets at a country club and managing a sports bar. The date that worked was in December. Warner sent her a ticket.
"We've been counting the days since then," Warner said.
Drennan described the reunion with her birth mother, brother and sister as the best Christmas present she could ever ask for. She called it "the best little miracle God could give."
The flight was the final obstacle. Drennan's flight was delayed; she missed her connection to Kenai and spent the night in the Anchorage airport. Warner was at the airport at 1 a.m. to pick her up but was forced to return at 6 a.m. Despite exhaustion, the two women were so excited they scarcely slept during their precious days together.
Sitting in Warner's Soldotna kitchen, they already were finishing each other's sentences.
"I guess God had this one planned ..." Drennan began.
"... from the get-go," Warner finished. "He knew we were meant to be together in the end."
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