When their father John Thompson met their mother Lani, he was serving in the U.S. Air Force and stationed in Vietnam. They married young and moved to Columbus, Ohio. In 1973 they had a daughter, Starla, then moved for professional reasons to England where a year later they had their second daughter, Jeannie.
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But their parents’ relationship didn’t last. They got divorced when the girls were one and two years old. Their father managed to win full custody of them and moved back to the U.S.
“We asked our dad a lot about our mom, and he never spoke ill of our mom to us. He just said that she couldn’t speak English because she’s full-blooded Thai,” Starla recalls of her late father. “He said she thought since we were American and he was in the military, he could take better care of us and provide us a better life than she could.”
Jeannie and Starla spent the decades growing up and shaping their adult lives always missing their mother and wondering about her. They begged their father to help them search for her, but in retrospect, they don’t believe he really tried. “He was trying to protect us, or he was scared he was going to lose his baby girls. They always say there are three sides to the story. His side, her side, and the truth.”
Their efforts never led anywhere. After years of futile perusals of databanks and phone books, the sisters finally gave up. They simply had too little information to determine their mother’s whereabouts in the world and the emotional stress wore on them. They both reached their 40s without ever knowing their mother.
Then at the end of 2016, Jeannie received a message from a stranger on Facebook. The first thing she saw in it almost made her scream: a baby photo she had of herself and Starla. How did this stranger happen to have it and what did he want?
Lani’s new husband Mark was that stranger. They now live in Pueblo, Colorado, and for her part, Lani never stopped thinking about her long-lost daughters. All she had was that one baby picture of the two girls together. She carried it with her everywhere for 40 years. Mark described how she would even still sometimes fall asleep crying at the thought of them.
So Mark finally sat down at the computer one day with what little information they had, albeit more than what Jeannie and Starla knew, and started searching. The Internet is an amazing thing: within a few hours, he’d tracked down John Thompson’s obituary. Then he found Jeannie on Facebook and saw that photograph his wife had tucked in her wallet for so long. He ran to get Lani and when he showed her, she broke down sobbing.
Within days they’d booked their flights for Kansas City to meet Lani’s daughters, whom she hadn’t seen in 42 years. There was no hesitating when they laid eyes on each other at the airport. She ran to them and they embraced, overjoyed.
Immediately feeling like a family again, they began making plans. “I’m going to cook for them. I’ve waited so long to cook for them,” said Lani, beaming.
“Miracles do happen. They truly do happen. Don’t give up hope. It may not happen right away, but it will happen and we are proof,” said Jeannie. And she would know!