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The Story of a Woman Who Found Her Long Lost (And Presumed Dead) Father Just Blocks From Her Home

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb
The Truth Network Radio
April 26, 2024 3:02 am

The Story of a Woman Who Found Her Long Lost (And Presumed Dead) Father Just Blocks From Her Home

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb

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April 26, 2024 3:02 am

On this episode of Our American Stories, it wasn't until Karen Olson's school was holding a father-daughter dance that the question entered her mind: "Wait, who is my dad?" After asking her mother, she told her he had died before she could meet him. But years later, after a chance encounter, she found that was not true.

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What's up? This is your boy Lil Duval and check out my podcast, Conversations with Unk, on the Black Effect Podcast Network. Each and every Tuesday, Conversations with Unk Podcasts feature casuals and in-depth talk about ebbs and flows of life and the pursuit of happiness. Unlike my work on stage, I tap into a more serious and sensitive side to give life advice and simply offer words of encouragement, yet remind folks to never forget to laugh. Every Tuesday, listen to Conversations with Unk hosted by Lil Duval on the Black Effect Podcast Network, iHeartRadio app, or wherever you get your podcast. Presented by AT&T.

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Visit to get started. This is Lee Habib, and this is Our American Stories, the show where America is the star and the American people. And to search for the Our American Stories podcast, go to the iHeartRadio app, Apple Podcasts, or wherever you get your podcasts. Anyone who's lost a parent knows the sense of loss it engenders. But for people who never knew their parents or one of their parents, the feeling is quite different. Karen Olson grew up never knowing her father, but her mom was reluctant to share any information about him. This developed a deep curiosity, and she had a drive to know who was her dad. Karen tried to fill in the blanks that her mother wouldn't.

Despite her efforts, she came up empty until a chance encounter with a stranger. Here's Karen to tell us the story. When I was growing up in Chicago in the 50s, I lived with my mother, her two sisters, and my grandfather. We lived in a six-flat apartment building. We weren't very wealthy. In fact, we were pretty darn poor. When I went to high school, I realized that my life wasn't like everybody else's.

It was an all-girls school run by the same nuns that I'd had for however many years in grade school. It was a familiar situation. What wasn't familiar were things like the father-daughter dance.

What does this mean? I didn't even have an idea. But when I found out that you had to have your father bring you to this dance, I was just lost.

I had no idea what that meant. So I asked my mother. Everybody at my school had a father. And for this dance, I was expected to bring my father.

Well, that was kind of a foreign concept to me. I had cousins with fathers, but they were never around. They were always at work. There was my grandfather, but he wasn't my father. So where was mine? So I asked my mother, Mom, where is my father? Who is my father?

Why isn't he living here with us? And she got on what I used to call her mad face. And it was pursed her lips and kind of looked very angry. It took her well to speak, but she said that my father had been in the war. He was a soldier. He was French and he was killed in the war.

End of discussion. She wouldn't tell me anything else. So I had the opportunity at least to tell people where my father was. He was dead.

Time went on and that just didn't sit well with me. So I needed to find out more. I had a name for my father. I knew that my father had been a soldier.

I knew he was dead. End of story. But something just didn't sit right with that story.

There weren't enough details. So when everybody was gone at work, I made it my business to become a Nancy Drew detective. She was my heroine.

She was a person who would find the tiniest little detail and was able to solve mysteries with it and talking about the mystery. So in my own house, I looked in every drawer, in every corner, under the rugs, under the padding of the rugs. And finally, I got to this old cedar chest where my mom kept some pretty interesting things.

One of them was one of these fox boas where the boxes and mouths were made into little clips and they clipped together and went around their necks. And she knew that I didn't like that. So she put it on top of everything, knowing that I wouldn't go near it.

So that made it even more alluring. I just kind of tossed it aside and just rummaged through this cedar chest full of old clothes and things. And then I found them. I found a little packet of a few letters. One of them had a picture of my father in it, and it was the first time I saw the face of my father. And of course, I had to read those letters.

I know they weren't meant for me, and I know she was hiding them for a reason. But in reading them, I found out that, yes, he was in the war. Yes, he did suffer some injuries in battle. And yes, he never married my mother. He was my father, but she told him that unless he did, that he needed to stay away from all of us and that he'd never see me or have anything to do with me again. Okay, but what about the dead part? I kept looking and kept looking and kept trying to find some evidence that he had actually been killed in the war, as she said.

But it never, ever came up. I took my search to the telephone book. In Chicago, we had these giant volumes, six inches thick, with a tissue paper page of names, addresses, and phone numbers of just about everybody who lived in Chicago. Now, my mother had somehow, through my uncle, who was a lawyer, taken my father's name, although they never married. And so my name was his name, Torme. And I looked it up in the phone book, and there was my mother's name. Torme wasn't a very common name. At the time, there was a famous singer out there whose name was Mel Torme. It was very popular, but he had nothing to do with me.

I was just looking for a soldier. I looked in these phone books, and there in teeny tiny print was my mother's name, Loretta G. Torme, with our phone number and address. Right above it was Arthur Torme, lawyer, and his address, the address of his business, and his phone number. And I asked my mother about him, and she said, he was your uncle.

That's all she would say. I knew my father's name was Al, because that's how he signed his letters to my mother. His name wasn't in the phone book.

So who is this Arthur person? I found out later that he was my uncle, but apparently he wanted nothing to do with us. Now, there was no internet in those days. I couldn't look up death records. I couldn't look up any records.

The only thing I could do was look at that phone book, maybe go to the public library, which still didn't have any records, or contact Art Torme, which I wasn't about to do, because I knew that the wrath of my mother wouldn't fall down upon me. So I just forgot about it and went on with my life. Fast forward to college. I ended up going to Loyola downtown, an easy commute. Nonetheless, I came home every night from college. I joined a sorority when I was at Loyola, but toward the end of my school years at Loyola, the sorority decided to go national. When the sorority decided to go national, the sorority Alpha Sigma Alpha scheduled a great big gala to welcome us into the national group. It was to be a group of about 200 people, all women coming from various chapters of the sorority, to see us get pinned.

The night of the big event came and I was assigned to take care of one of the illustrious guests who was to be the keynote speaker. So I had to sit with her and I had to not just sit with her, but talk to her to keep her amused. It turns out her name was Adeline Geocaris Lambros. I had never heard of her before, but she was pretty big deal in Illinois. She was at first just someone on the Supreme Court of Illinois and then later a state senator. So what was I going to talk about with this woman who knew all about law?

And I was just an English major from Loyola. Well, we all were name tags and we had some small talk when we sat down to dinner and all of a sudden she stopped and she stared at me and she looked at my name tag and she said, oh, Torme, is Art your dad? Your dad? And I, with all my knowledge about my father and my uncle said, no, Art's not my dad. He's my uncle. My father's name was Al, but he was killed in the war. And the whole conversation stopped and she stared and I stared.

Did I say something wrong? All of a sudden she said, Art and Al live on the north side of Chicago. My life was about to change for good or for bad, for better or for worse, I had no idea. And you've been listening to Karen Olson, her maiden name is Karen Torme. And what a story you're hearing and what a discovery.

It had been haunting her. She'd been curious about it and wanting to know what any kid would want to know. Who's my dad?

Where is he? Well, she was about to find out something she'd not been told. More of the story of Karen Olson's search for her father here on Our American Stories. Finding the right news podcast can feel like dating.

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It'll be a match, I promise. Or wherever you get your podcasts as IndieWire shares what we've learned from the movie week that was. Asking the right questions can greatly impact your future, especially when it comes to your finances. So if you're looking for a financial advisor you can trust, certified financial planner professionals are committed to acting in your best interest. That's why it's gotta be a CFP.

Find your CFP professional at And we continue with Our American Stories and with Karen Olson's story. We just discovered that Karen had learned her father was still alive from a chance encounter with a stranger.

Let's pick up where we last left off. All of a sudden she said Art and Al live on the north side of Chicago. She didn't have to say any more than that. I knew what she was telling me and she stopped talking because she was trying to figure out how to tell me and how we would both process this. Well we processed it by not saying anything more about it the entire evening. I'm thinking geez I was put next to this woman not only did I have to sit there I had to talk to her and she was probably the only person in the room maybe the only person in the city of Chicago besides my mother and my uncle who could connect me to my father.

How did this happen? I went home and I wrote a letter a letter to my uncle saying look this is what happened I don't want to hurt anybody's family I don't want to destroy anything but I can't be put in this position again I need to know the truth I need to know what happened between my mother and father and who my father is and I mailed a letter to my uncle's law office. So I waited and waited and waited thinking that he would either call me or write me back and I had instructed him to write me back or call me at school at Loyola because I knew that if something like that appeared in my house my mother would take it and tear it up and I would never see it. A month went by and there was nothing and I figured well okay he knew where I was I knew where he was but he didn't want to have anything to do with me and then one day while I was in the Loyola student union a voice came over the loudspeaker Karen Dormé come to the dean's office you have a phone call and I'm like whoa wait a phone call something's happened something's wrong so I went down to the office and by that time the person at the other end had hung up and the dean gave me a phone number to call and it turned out to be my uncle's law office. It took a while for the secretaries to find him and he got on the phone and apologized for not getting back to me sooner the next words out of his mouth were would you like to meet your father well that didn't take me long to answer but then I had to figure out how am I going to pull this off if my mother finds out it's going to be the mad face for weeks so I did make arrangements to meet them at a place called out place called the little corporal downtown Chicago a time when I could tell my mother that I was doing something with a sorority and you know I did have to lie to her about this but I did when I arrived at the little corporal there was my father and his brother Art probably as a buffer in case something was amiss they had no idea what I was going to ask for was I going to hold them up for money or was I going to scream and yell at him because they both knew the story we had a dinner and I asked all kinds of questions all kinds of things that I wanted to know but it was a it was a pretty low-key dinner all I really wanted to know was who am I who are you why did this happen and it turns out my father never married I didn't have any brothers and sisters but I did have a whole family a whole family that I didn't know anything about a whole family that I later found out had lived about six blocks away from me for the first 11 years of my life my other set of grandparents my aunt bae and her husband and their three children and even uh Mel Tarmay had lived in that area as well and we apparently were running circles around each other in the same neighborhood going to the same soda shop going to the same grocery stores for 11 years none of us knowing that the other existed I did find out about them and my uncle at that meeting said would you like to come to Thanksgiving dinner and meet all those people I said yes now when I went home after that I realized my father had given me his card I put it in my wallet so that I could contact him and the next morning it was gone my mother did have this little habit of going through all my things to see if I was doing something nefarious and she had taken the card and I knew she had taken the card because her mad face was on and she was sitting at the kitchen table and smoking cigarette after cigarette after cigarette that was something she did anyway but not to that degree and I said okay I know you've got it I know you took it out of my purse and she just told me you had no right and I said oh yeah I'm 18 now over 18 I had a right and I'm going to see him and furthermore I'm going to go to Thanksgiving dinner with them and meet all the rest of them well I thought she was just going to stamp herself into the ground like a rumble still skin but eventually she cooled down and the next words out of her mouth would what did he look like how did he look so she kind of reconciled that that this was going to happen and then I really didn't care what happened then I only cared what happened now I went to Thanksgiving dinner there were two girl cousins about my age one a little older one a little younger Barry and Susie and all of us had taken ballet lessons all of us had majored in English all of us were going to be teachers and we even looked alike but my aunt and uncle had never met me had no idea that I existed none of them knew I existed until that very moment and eventually we all became friends and I am still friends with Susie and Barry to this day after that meeting my father was a frequent visitor at my house he came and took me and my mother to dinner often he came and took us to plays to performances when Mel was in town at the London house he and I often went to dinner downtown because by that time I was working downtown at least in the summers and we became friends I can't say that he was the dad I'd always wished for because there was just too much water under the bridge for that but he was in my life for 15 years before he died at first he would take me to many different brunches with his cronies who were in their 60s and 70s he was showing me off I think but after all he had no family just me a couple years later I met someone got married at that time my father was very much in my life he paid for the wedding he walked me down the aisle and then when his grandsons were born he couldn't have been a prouder grandpa he took them everywhere he took them to restaurants to meet his friends and then it was my grandson this my grandson that so he had a family he died 15 years after that day in Chicago where I met him at that big dinner we all have really fond memories of him and my uncle art my mother had a relationship with him after that I guess they were friends they went out occasionally I always had a fantasy of them getting married finally but that wasn't to be it turned out the big reason that kept him from marrying her was that he came from an ultra jewish religious family and as long as his parents were alive he could not marry a gentile without being thrown out of the family completely I didn't know that until much much later but that was the story and that was the truth so I lived most of my life without knowing my father and then all of a sudden this string of coincidences happened they were small things that I could have responded to or not I didn't have to join a sorority but I did the sorority didn't have to go national but it did then came this big gala there I was seated next to perhaps the only woman in the city of Chicago and I was sitting next to perhaps the only woman in the city of Chicago who could connect me with my family and yet in this room of 200 people we were somehow put together this is how I found my father was this just coincidence was this a string of random happenings or was this a plan a plan that God had all along this could have been a coincidence a pretty big string of coincidences but I don't think so I think it was meant to be and a terrific job on the production editing and storytelling by John Elfner he's a high school history teacher and frequent contributor here on Our American Stories and by the way if you have stories to tell send them to Our American Stories a lot of you are historians about your family historians of your local town you don't have to have a PhD in history or storytelling to share your stories with us send them to and click the your stories button your stories are some of our favorite and by the way thanks also to Karen Olson for sharing her story and what a story it was imagine that moment when she found out her father wasn't dead well she got to know her father better understood her mom was probably just trying to protect her Karen Olson's story about the father she never knew the father she thought was dead here on Our American Stories the toolkit podcast is where your favorite filmmakers come to talk about their craft and process I don't want a sloppy angle in my movie ever it's like being a dancer you find the freedom in the structure it's where 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Whisper: medium.en / 2024-04-26 04:25:16 / 2024-04-26 04:34:10 / 9

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